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These Holy Days

A Reflection by Sr. Clare Walsh, MHSH

wi0821bi_4c1[1]Pange Lingua, the smell of incense, The Stabat Mater, ” Were you there…?”, crucifixes draped in purple cloth…. just a few of the sights and sounds of a Holy Week long embedded in memory.

When we are familiar with something, it can lose its edge, its ability to disturb us, move us to action, or rest in its solace. The scriptures of Holy Week are not immune from this familiarity. We know the narrative, we know how it ends. At least, we think we do.  Familiarity can lead us to dismiss the mystery, to fail to let it engage us, and to escape from “going the distance” with Jesus.

When Columbian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez was asked about his relationship with his wife, Mercedes, he replied, “I know her so well that I have not the slightest idea who she really is.”  For Marquez, rather than dismiss, familiarity contained an invitation. An invitation to adventure, intimacy, and mystery.

Marquez’s words challenge us to enter these holy days more porous, more vulnerable, more willing to render our hearts.   Do we know Jesus so well that we have not the slightest idea who he really is?

How can we accompany Jesus through Holy Thursday and Good Friday? How can we experience these days as if for the first time? How can we console Jesus for the betrayal, the loneliness, the feeling of abandonment? How can we be with Jesus at the table, walk with him in his suffering, and companion him in death?

As scripture scholars remind us – Jesus’ passion for the Kingdom of God led to the passion of his death. We cannot separate them.

Does my life story reflect the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Caesar?  With whom does Jesus stand today? Are we at his side?

What if, as Jesus did, we let the stranger break our heart and enter our prayer? The refugee, the prisoner, the person brought low by poverty, the neighbor who annoys us, the one burdened by life?  What would it take for us to wash the feet of the stranger, to accompany the one forsaken, to be Simon of Cyrene?

What if our prayer these Holy Days led us from the beauty of a Holy Week liturgy to the streets where Jesus lives?

The Place for Renewal, Discovery, Transformation

A Reflection for Lent

By Sister M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH

Last spring, during the Easter season, we enjoyed the beauty and fragrance of several hyacinth plants. After they had bloomed and then gradually wilted and dried, I continued to water them in the hope of a second bloom. Nothing happened and after a while I gave up and put the pots aside. Almost a year has passed and the other day something in the neglected flower pots caught my eye.

What was that yellowish, white thing? Could it be? Yes, it was a tender shot pushing through the earth saying, “I died and was buried but now, here I am emerging from the earth alive and new.” It took time, but the transformation happened. Another and another bud pushed through and I was awed at the miracle and determination of life over death.

We hear about such surprise and transformation in the Lenten readings. Jesus tells us that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

Being the servant, the follower of Jesus means that we understand the story of the seed, the lesson of the plant. Those periods of death, darkness, loss, doubt and confusion that every one of us experiences in our lives, are the environment, the incubation period from which faith, enlightenment and rebirth emerge.

And where is the nurturing place for such a faith? We hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts. I will be their God and they shall be my people.”

God has placed the seed of faith in our hearts. Our hearts are that place of incubation for renewal, discovery, transformation, birth. Our Lenten discipline enables us to clarify the direction of our lives, to face and deal with the dark places within and to accommodate the challenges of daily dying and rising.

May we nurture in our hearts during this season of incubation new stirrings of hope, possibilities and responsiveness to the call of the one who “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

Becoming Bearers of God

A Reflection for Christmas

By Sr. Elizabeth Langmead, MHSH President

Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) was a German mystic, theologian and philosopher.  He was a member of the Dominican order.  He spoke of the Feast of Christmas and the Eternal Birth borne by God and which God never ceases to bear in all eternity.  He says, “but if it takes not place in me, what avails it? Everything lies in this, that it should take place in me.”

During this year’s Advent time, I have been “sitting with” the words and meaning from the Christmas story:  “…and there was no room in the inn.” Of course, that phrase calls to mind and heart all those in our world who are seeking refuge, acceptance and inclusion.  How welcoming and inclusive am I/are we?

I reflect upon our Mission Helper outreach to women, men and children seeking asylum.  Those who flee from unspeakable, unimaginable persecution to save their lives.  They are bearers of the suffering, persecuted face of God.  They are bearers of hope and incredible courage as they leave all to begin anew.  What of my inclusion of those who may perhaps think or believe differently then I /we do? Can I/we make room for those people and life events that sometimes disappoint, exclude or dismiss me/us?  Can I/we make room for God’s surprises?

The phrase further calls me to reflect on how open my heart is to make room for God.  Do I welcome God into all of who I am?  Do I sometimes try to hide from God and clutter my life, thus leaving little room for that still, small voice of a God? Have you noticed, usually in retrospect, how people and situations come into our life and stretch or challenge us to make room for a new way of being?  We are all called to be bearers of God and to open ourselves to those many God bearers all around us.  Do I allow the Light of Christ to illuminate those dark, fearful, broken parts of myself that can only be healed by the love and compassion of God?

This Christmas may we truly experience the awesome gift of God’s very self coming to dwell within and among us!  May we welcome the Light of Christ that dispels the darkness and calls us to be light bearers. Let us celebrate Emmanuel – God with us!

We wish each of you a blessed Christmas and a New Year of peace and joy.  We extend our deepest gratitude to all our dear friends, donors and families who assist and support us in our efforts to give birth to Christ—the true Light of the World! Let us continue to raise our hearts and voices in prayers for Peace.

Let me end this Christmas greeting by sharing the following reminder of the Divine’s call to become the bearers of God:

Not to one
but to many you have called:
on the dancing wind
come
from the deepest forest
come
from the highest places
come
from the distant lands
come
from the edge of darkness
come
from the depth of fear
and become
the bearer of God.”

                                                  
–Jan Richardson, Night Visions

2017 Advent Day of Prayer

On Saturday, December 2, approximately 70 people convened at the Mission Helper Center for the annual Advent Day of Prayer. Facilitated this year by Sr. Mary Therese White, OSF, the theme was “The Radiance of Christmas: Celebrating Christ’s Light Within You”.

The morning session focused on celebrating not only the historical event  of Christ’s  birth, but his continuing birth in his people through the Holy Spirit and the waters of baptism.  We were invited to consider what is being birthed within us at this time, and what God desires to bring forth in us and others.



Attendees enjoyed a delightful meal prepared by Carolyn Rodgers and her granddaughter, Alex Holmes.

In the afternoon, we considered how we act as Christ’s light in the world. We were invited to reflect on the question of who has been light for us, revealing God’s presence.  We also reflected on how we bring the light of Christ to others.

Sr. Mary Therese’s presentations were accompanied by evocative music and prayers. Participants’  feedback indicated that the day was highly enjoyable, and extremely helpful to their spiritual journeys during Advent.

The day ended with Mass for the first Sunday in Advent, celebrated by Fr. Bill Watters, SJ.

Perspectives on Thanksgiving

 

 

[Background: The Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart are one of eight women’s religious communities who collaborate to support Asylee Women Enterprise (AWE), a non-profit organization that assists women asylum seekers as they build new lives in the United States.  The women hail from a variety of countries, and fled their homelands because of persecution.  They come to the US legally and go through an extended vetting process to gain asylum here. AWE and the other religious congregations support these women by assisting with housing, employment and education, and with building community.]

Recently, several asylum-seeking women who lived with the Mission Helpers have moved on to independent living, along with jobs and/or further education.  During their time living among the Sisters,  the women and the Sisters formed close bonds.  We cherished their time with us as we got to know each other. As we listened to their stories, we were filled with admiration for their strength, courage, faith and resilience in leaving home and loved ones behind, and starting over in an unfamiliar country.  The following are excerpts from letters that they wrote to us.

“I wanted to thank you for your love and care these last years. As a 19 year old girl in a new country, my only question was, what am I going to be?  Today, I can firmly say that I have a good future.  I stayed at MHSH, and not a single day did I feel like I was not at home.  I was surrounded by love, and good people.  I will never forget how you made me feel special on my birthdays.  You celebrated my life!  Today, I am leaving MHSH not as a stranger but a child of MHSH who is going to follow her dream.”  -G.

“To my amazing Sisters: Thank you for opening the door for me when I was homeless and had nowhere else to live.  The years that I lived with you made me so attached to Mission Helpers.  I feel like family and proudly call this place my second home.  The words “thank you” are not enough to express how grateful and indebted I am to the entire community”.   -S.

In reflecting upon our time with these women, we are profoundly grateful for their presence among us..  They have enriched our lives beyond measure.

We are also very grateful for you, who love and support us in so many ways.  We wish each of you a blessed Thanksgiving with your families and friends.

 

 

Celebrating our Jubilarians – Part II

At our annual congregational meeting in June, Mission Helpers celebrated seven Jubilarians.  Ranging from 25 years through 75 years, collectively these Sisters have dedicated 375 joyful years of service to the people of God.  Last week we profiled four Jubilarians. In this issue, we profile Sr. Dolores Beere, Sr. Barbara Wills and Sr. Mary Margaret.

Sr. Dolores Beere – 75 Years

Born and raised in Baltimore, Sr. Dolores entered the Mission Helpers Community in 1942.  Within the first years, her ministry began to focus on the deaf, beginning at the Mission Helpers School for the Deaf in Irvington, Maryland.

“I took to that ministry right away,” Sister Dolores recalled in a 2012 interview.  “The Sister I worked with was quite the talker, and she talked and signed at the same time, so I learned quickly.”

In 1948 she was called to Puerto Rico and taught at St. Gabriel School for the Deaf, the first such facility on the island, begun by the Mission Helpers in 1902.

Following a year there, Sr. Dolores moved on to serve in New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, West Virginia and New York.  In all these places, she managed to minister to the deaf in the community, even if that wasn’t her primary ministry.

Assigned to the Diocese of Detroit in the Apostolate to the Deaf in 1969, Sr. Dolores and the Cardinal established what was essentially a parish totally devoted to the deaf community.  Finally she was able to work with the deaf full time, establishing a seniors’ program and training deaf Eucharistic Ministers and lectors.  “I was determined that the deaf would be able to do everything in the church that anyone else could do,” she said.

She served there for 16 years. Returning to Baltimore in 1985, Sr. Dolores established a relationship with the deaf community in the area.  Well into her 90s, she held monthly luncheon meetings for a group of deaf seniors; she usually did the cooking and baked the bread.  Now, at age 94, she lives at Mercy Villa, but comes to Mission Helper Center once a month to meet with the deaf.

These words from scripture (John 10:10) have motivated her ministry: “I have come to bring you life and to bring it in abundance.”

“That’s what I want to bring to the deaf—I want them to live their lives to the fullest.”

Sr. Barbara Wills – 65 Years

A native of Baltimore, Sister Barbara first met the Mission Helpers while attending Baltimore’s Catholic High School. “Sister Justina came to talk with us about vocations,” she says, “and I visited the Motherhouse for a day of recollection. I thought that if I ever entered a religious community, it would be the Mission Helpers.  I loved children, and I knew the Sisters ran orphanages and worked with children.”

Still, it was seven years before she joined. During that time, she worked for Studebaker, the automobile manufacturer, first in Baltimore, then in Washington, D.C., before joining the Mission Helpers in 1952.

By the time she began her ministry as a Mission Helper, the orphanages had been closed, “But,” she says, “I loved being a Mission Helper from the beginning.

I sent my clothes and suitcase home on the very first day, and never, ever thought about leaving.  I loved it. And I still do.”

She has taught religion at all levels from elementary school to programs for adults, serving as Director of Religious Education (DRE) in many parishes and dioceses in Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, New York, Colorado and Arizona.

“I loved it out west,” she says, “especially Arizona, where I worked with the same priest in three different locations.  I had children’s classes—pre-school through high school, and adult education, which I especially loved.”

She served for 39 years as the Mission Helper Archivist, painstakingly maintaining the records of the Community’s long history and the lives of the hundreds of women called to service as Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart.  Anticipating the sale of the Mission Helper Center, the Archives have been moved to Catholic University of America’s Archives in Washington, D.C.  The Archives staff at CUA has praised Sr. Barbara’s diligent and meticulous care of this historic treasure.

Sister Barbara holds a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a master’s degree in Doctrinal Theology from LaSalle University in Philadelphia.

Sister Mary Margaret – 60 Years

Growing up in Indiana, Sister Mary Margaret says that one of her early memories was a “strong nudging that kept coming back to me.  I knew I wanted to spend my life with what is really important, and that seemed to be knowing that God loves us and that we are invited to love God in return.”

After researching religious communities specializing in teaching religion, the name and spirit of the Mission Helpers stood out, and she entered the Community in 1957.

Most of Sister Mary Margaret’s ministry has been in diocesan or parish missions with a focus on religious education.  She has served in Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana and Texas where she visited small, rural parishes where a priest was rarely available.

“There weren’t many Catholics in those areas,” she recalled in a 2007 interview.  “We had adult classes in which we just taught the basics of the Bible and prayer.  We visited the people in their homes; everyone was so open and faith-filled, hungry to learn more about their faith.”

She remembered another special mission in Baltimore: “I had the unique opportunity to spend time in St. Martin’s parish, where our foundress Mary Frances Cunningham began.  We rang every doorbell and welcomed the people to the parish.  Some of them remembered our Sisters from the old Biddle Street convent, and a few had even known Mother Demetrias!”

Sister Mary Margaret holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a Master’s degree in Catechetical Theology.

To read the profiles of our other 2017 Jubilarians,  click here.

Mission Helpers Celebrate Our Jubilarians!

Part 1 of 2

At the annual gathering of the congregation in June, the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart celebrated the jubilees of seven Sisters.  Ranging from 25 years through 75 years, collectively these women have devoted 375 years in  joyful service to the people of God.

In this first of two installments, we profile Sr. Princess Mary Dawson, Sr. Celeste Burgos, Sr. Clare Walsh and Sr. Susan Engel.

Sr. Princess Mary Dawson – 25 Years

Sr. Princess Mary was born and raised in Philadelphia and began to think about religious life during her high school years at West Catholic Girls High School.  There were Sisters from various communities at the school, and she began to visit them and participate in prayer days and weekend retreats.

She visited the Mission Helpers and felt more “at home” with them than with other communities.  She joined the Sisters for a two-week Vacation Bible School program in Hattiesburg and Lucedale, Mississippi, and became even more interested in joining the Community.

“I saw the Sisters in action there—having fun and sharing our love of God. I was particularly taken by their hospitality and acceptance of the people they served—they were down to earth and just themselves no matter what they encountered.

Sister Princess Mary joined the Mission Helpers in September 1992. She trained as a Medical Assistant and worked in healthcare in Altamonte Springs, Florida, before becoming a teacher’s aide at a Child Care Center there.  She has also served as an advocate for the elderly homeless and was a residential caregiver in Boston and in Baltimore.

She says that her most meaningful ministry so far is the one she has had since 2012 at Catholic Social Services of West Alabama, where she manages the food pantry and assists in many other services to the poor.

“This ministry has helped me grow in so many wonderful ways,” she says. “It is my responsibility to ensure that there is enough food and other supplies to share with the poorest of the poor who come to us.

“I am privileged to be able to serve these sisters and brothers, and I feel blessed daily because I feel valued here.  I am serving God where it really counts.”

Sr. Celeste Burgos – 50 Years

Sr. Celeste was born in Puerto Rico and joined the Mission Helpers in 1967.

In her early years she worked in parishes in Hispanic communities in Florida, Arizona, Baltimore and New York, followed by five years as an assistant for Catholic education to the Archbishop of Venezuela in Barcelona and Caracas.

In 1984 she was called to ministry with the Hispanic community at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston.  As director of religious education and pastoral associate to the Hispanic community, Sr. Celeste spent more than 22 years teaching religion to children and young people, conducting RCIA programs and preparing deacons and laity to teach religion at all levels.

Since 2007, she has been the Pastoral Associate and Social Services coordinator for the Hispanic Community at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where she serves the critical needs of the growing and underserved Hispanic members of the parish.  Most of the 250 families are undocumented and are very wary of seeking help from official agencies; instead they turn to the church and to Sr. Celeste.

She conducts bilingual catechetical programs for pre-school through confirmation; oversees the liturgies at the church, works with the choirs, and often sings at weddings and quinceaneras.

As the only Spanish/English translator in the community, she frequently serves in an advocacy role, communicating with immigration lawyers and other local officials on behalf of the Hispanic people.

In looking back over 50 years of service, Sr. Celeste believes that she has learned as much from the people she has served as they have learned from her.

She has a B.A. in Theology and a master’s degree in Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry.

Sr. Clare Walsh – 50 Years

Born in Stoneham, Massachusetts, Sister Clare grew up in Wakefield, just north of Boston.  She went to public schools, was active in the CYO and taught religious education while in high school.

She thought about religious life but didn’t want to teach.  “I didn’t want to be in an institution,” she says, “and I wanted to be with lay people.”

A magazine advertisement for the Mission Helpers caught her eye—the featured Sister—Sister Felicia—“had a warm, open and loving expression.  Also I was impressed that they were a Community without walls—no institutions.” She entered the Community in 1967.

Early ministries in religious education and faith formation took her to North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and upstate New York. In 1980 she returned to Boston and joined the staff of the New England Medical Center, serving as Director of Pastoral Care for eight years, and helping develop and co-lead the Ethics Consultation Center for 19 years.

Feeling that she was being called to something else, in 1999 she enrolled in the Jesuit School of Theology, earned a Master’s Degree in Spiritual Direction, and served for three years at the Center for Religious Development, a Jesuit training center for spiritual directors.

After serving on the founding committee of The Jesuit Collaborative, in 2005 the Jesuit Provincial asked Sr. Clare to be the Provincial Assistant for Ignatian Spirituality and the Associate Director of the Jesuit Collaborative where she served until 2015.

Today she teaches a practicum in spiritual direction at Boston College; she also offers spiritual direction and directs retreats in the Ignatian tradition.  Recently, she felt a “nudge” to do something that she had no formal preparation for—fundraising to support the Mission Helpers’ commitment to the Asylee Women Enterprise.

“For 50 years I have loved loving God and being loved by God,” she says.  “And I am so grateful that God has surrounded me with my Mission Helper sisters, women of the heart, as well as loving family and friends who do this so well.”

Sr. Susan Engel – 50 Years

Sr. Susan was born in Hollis, New York, and joined the Mission Helpers in 1967. At the time she was a buyer for an upscale women’s clothing store on Long Island, where life, she recalls, “revolved around the clothes you wore, the people you knew, the places you went and the things you owned. I wanted something else.”

She spent a volunteer year with the Mission Helpers among the poor in North Carolina.  “Those Sisters were happy, full of life and did an unusual ministry,” she says.  “They had the freedom to roam.  And they did.  They went out and worked among the people.”

In her first 18 years as a Mission Helper, Sr. Susan lived in 9 different states doing faith formation at the diocesan level and a summer in Germany giving workshops for a Master Teacher Program, sponsored by the Army.

In her last 32 years, as Pastoral Associate, at Annunciation Parish in Rosedale, Maryland, Sr. Susan’s faith has been influenced and shaped by the joys and sorrows in the lives of parishioners; by the 8 talented pastors and skilled staff with whom she has worked.

During those 32 years, Sister has also served as a Counselor at the Archdiocesan Counseling Center and is currently on staff for the Baltimore Marriage Tribunal.  While fulltime in the Parish, Sr. Susan also served the Mission Helpers as Vocation Director, Novice Director and Treasurer.

“Fifty years ago, she says, “religious life, the Catholic Church and Society were vastly different than today.  None of us ever knows what lies ahead, but how fortunate I am to have met the Mission Helpers and spent all these years among an amazing group of women I call Sister. We are still roaming around out among the people of God!”

Sr. Susan has a B.A. (Summa Cum Laude) in Philosophy and Theology from Loyola College and a Master’s Degree (Summa Cum Laude) in Behavioral Science from The Johns Hopkins University.

Our First and Most Important Duty Is Love…

…for without love there can be no service“.
Mother Demetrias, Founder of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart.

On Sunday, April 23rd, Sr. Elizabeth Langmead, MHSH President, joyfully welcomed approximately 60 people to the annual Donor Appreciation Mass and Brunch at the Mission Helper Center. Sr. Liz thanked our donors for their continued loving accompaniment and support of the ministries of the Mission Helpers, confirming that these are vital to the continued thriving of our varied works.

Rev. George Witt, SJ, Provincial Assistant for Spirituality Ministries of the Maryland Jesuit Province, presided at the liturgy. He reminded the congregation  that after the Resurrection the apostles were sent out on mission to carry on the work of Jesus.  Referencing the words of Acts 1:8,  “You shall be witnesses unto me to the uttermost parts of the earth”, he noted that this is also the call of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart.

After Mass, guests and Sisters enjoyed a delicious brunch in the dining room, prepared by Carolyn Rodgers. Patricia Dodd, Mission Advancement Director, thanked the assembled gathering for their loyal support. Two MHSH Sisters, Onellys Villegas and Danielle Murphy, spoke about their ministries, which are made possible in part by the financial support of our donors. Sr. Onellys spoke movingly about her full-time work with women victims of domestic violence through the House of Ruth. Sr. Danielle, now semi-retired, performs visitation ministry through Oak Crest Retirement Community, and also tutors children at the Immigration Outreach Service Center of St. Matthew Parish.

Attendees were given cards created by Administrative Assistant Tom Mackin, each with a quote from Mother Demetrias, including the title quote, above.