Friday, November 10, 2017

Living In Unity, Working With Love


...I am Sr Amy Hereford. I am a sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet from St. Louis Missouri. By way of ministry, I do civil and canon law for religious communities. So, I work with a lot of communities as they are facing tough issues, facing changes in their communities, and just walk them through that change, help them understand what their choices are, and what the consequences of the choices are. So, it brings me in contact a lot of fascinating people from different religious communities, different sisters, different brothers, etc.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Out of the Convent, Into the Street

The people of St. Louis are trying to process another not-guilty decision in another police shooting that left another young black man named Anthony Lamar Smith dead. I thought I was ‘woke’. I thought I 'got'  racism, as much as a white middle-aged woman could. And for this reason, I took to the streets.
On the one hand, I saw amazing moments of solidarity, community and grass roots work by blacks and whites and everyone in between. Keisha Mabry wrote a piece entitled 25 Magical Moments From The Anthony Lamar Smith Protest. Yes, yes, and double yes. I as a middle-aged white woman thought I was seeing this. I am so glad that Keisha named it so well. We are so far ahead of where we were in Ferguson just three years ago, though in truth, we have many miles still to go.
In Ferguson, we heard, we saw, we experienced, we cried, we raged, and we all went home, and many of us came together to try to do our homework. I went to groups where we talked about white privilege and how to address it in the white community. I learned about unpacking my own racism and how to begin being a better ally to my brothers and sisters of color. I wasn’t sure it was making a difference, but my brothers and sisters of color assured me this would make a difference in their lives.
I come back to the streets in 2017 much more prepared. And I think the black community was doing its homework as well. We come back to the streets organized, determined, ready to do the work of justice with the sometimes awkward, partially-woke white community. And the result is the magic we are seeing on the streets.
The police did their homework as well, but the narrative they were working from was how to quell a riot. Well, this is not a riot – this is a peaceful assembly with a clear and persistent message. The people show up: people of color, people of all colors and people of no color. We peacefully assemble, we speak freely, we petition the government to address our grievances, and it’s protected by the constitution which forbids:
…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
We are doing something fundamental to the very existence of our democracy. And the police show up in riot gear with tear gas, pepper spray, zip-ties for mass arrests, and riot guns. So the crowd chats:
I don’t see no riot here.
Why are you in riot gear?
The crowds, a few hundred strong are peaceful, collaborative, disciplined and proud.
Tell me what democracy looks like.
This is what democracy looks like.
One of the actions was an interfaith prayer service. We prayed together, and people even gave speeches to God. People spoke of their faith, their hope, their courage. People spoke of justice and of Gods creation of all peoples to be brother and sisters. People spoke of the grace that disturbs systems of injustice and calls us back to a holy indignation that recognizes and dismantles systems of oppression. Then we marched; we prayed with our feet. And we chanted:
Tell me what theology looks like.
This is what theology looks like.
At one point when I was out on the street, the group was gathered and chanting. Earlier in the day, the police had interrupted an otherwise peaceful protest and started indiscriminately arresting people. So we gathered outside the jail where they were being held. We marched around the area a bit.
I wanted to move outside the group and onto a nearby sidewalk to join a friend. In order to do so, I had to cross a police line that was forming. The officer in semi-riot gear said I couldn’t cross. What??? I told the officer I wanted to join my friend on the sidewalk. He said he had orders not to let anyone out of the group. What??? I asked “Am I being detained?” – knowing that he would have to articulate reasonable cause to suspect me of something. He said he would have to ask his sergeant. They ended up letting me go. But I’m a white middle-aged woman, and the first cop could have been my grandson.
No one was arrested in the action – but only because the protesters kept their cool, kept on message, kept strong and kept together, in the face of aggression from law-enforcement. I repeatedly see the elegance of their planning, organizing and actions. And by the grace of God, they elude the threatening officers.
Walking away from these actions, I am every more ‘woke’ to the brutality of racism. I can go to a protest or stay home. I can walk across a police line on the grounds of my race. But my sisters and brothers of color can't leave their race at home and breath the freedom I live - even just for a day.
Now I must say, that some officers have been courteous, fair and restrained in some tough situations. I thank them for that and I thank them for the many ways they serve and protect the community. At the same time, it is clear that the police have an element of brutality in their midst. These departments have clearly trained to quell riots. But they seem unable at times to distinguish between a riot and a peaceful assembly protected by the constitution.
I heard an officer report on his radio that a dispersal order had been given, when there was no dispersal order audible. I was close to the officers and the crowd and heard no such order. However, shortly thereafter, squads of riot police appeared on the scene. Why was that report given, when it was clearly wrong? What is wrong with this system? I hear the protesters’ chant, and I seem to see it validated:
The whole damn system is guilty as hell.
I see my brothers and sisters of color who have lived with this system day in and day out, year in and year out, decade after decade. I’m only beginning to see what they have lived with for a lifetime, and too often for a lifetime cut short by violence. My heart is breaking.
I turn to the men and women in blue. In another day, in another place, we walk the streets together, we do festivals together, we pray together in the same churches. Can we talk? Can we talk about the magical moments that are happening on the streets. Yes, sometimes the police protect the crowds as we come together to link arms and build the beloved community. Other times…. there is something powerfully and painfully wrong. And I believe that we can come together. Violence isn’t the answer.
–Sr. Amy

Friday, October 13, 2017

Summer Journey: Q&A with Sister Amy

by Kelly Davis, CSJ communications intern
Attorney and canonist Sister Amy Hereford combined work and pleasure this summer on a whirlwind trip that took her to Rome and across Ireland for six weeks. In Rome, S. Amy participated in an international canon law conference and other meetings before heading out to Ireland, where she met up with travel companion Sister Mary Louise Basler. Her work continued as she facilitated meetings and workshops with congregations of women religious in Ireland. Read about S. Amy’s recent journey and the cultural influences she experienced.
Q: How did this trip come to be?
A: It started when a community in Ireland invited me to come for a reflective workshop on the future of religious life. After that invitation came, another group invited me to work with them in Ireland. Since I would already be there, I said yes to them too. I also needed to attend some meetings in Rome and the canon law conference was in the same timeframe. It just unfolded piece by piece.
Q: What has impacted you the most from your experience?
A: The differences in the ways people think and believe shapes their culture, and I loved learning about these differences, because talking about the future of religious life and how it unfolds is impacted by culture. Having time to do some traveling, talk to sisters, learn about the similarities and differences in cultures and their experiences has been so rewarding. I learned so much about how the lives we live are very similar, even when our cultures differ.
Q: What was your favorite part of this trip?
A: When you walk down the streets here in America you pass a Taco Bell, a post office, maybe a coffee shop. When you walk down the streets in other countries you also pass a Taco Bell, a post office, a coffee shop, and then a giant castle. The history is so embedded in the culture, that eventually you think “Of course there’s a castle there.” The difference in culture was evident, yet there were also so many similarities.
Q: Were there any challenges you faced through this experience?
A: Because I have talked about the topic of the future of religious life before, I understand that each group is different. I can bring insight which can bring people together. But when I start to talk about the future, each group has something they specifically need to hear. It’s challenging to know what this particular group needs to hear, what insights it needs, what will spark their hope and their imagination. For me, it is a humbling challenge of asking God to work through me, and to allow these people to hear what they need through what I say.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: Right now, I am teaching a course at the University of Dayton. I continue to write, speak and reflect on the future of religious life; every time I have a conversation I gain new insights. When I present, people bring up things I may not have realized or thought about before. There is also more
writing coming for me. There is a possibility of another book and a few articles.
Q: What takeaways did you gain from this trip?
A: I continue to sit with the particular situation of a local church, and the ups and downs they go through. It makes me realize even though different churches in different places will have different challenges and different situations, they are still similar. There is a connection; no matter how different the underlying issues might be, we are all facing these things together. Making connections and building relationships plugs me into the global evolution taking place in religious life.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Crying Out For Justice

No automatic alt text available.A long anticipated verdict came out in the Jason Shockley case. Again. A cop shot a black citizen on the streets of St. Louis, and he is not being held accountable. Again. There is a recording of the cop saying he is going to kill Anthony Lamar Smith in the course of arrest. Then he did just that. A gun found in the car has only the cop's DNA on it. And there is video evidence that he went up to the car after the shooting, evidently to plant a gun to exonerate himself.
My heart weeps that my brothers and sisters of color have to live through yet another incident of injustice. If the races were reversed in this case, there would have been a conviction. If the races were reversed, Shockley would have been shot dead at the scene.
It is unacceptable to shoot citizens, and doubly unacceptable to shoot a disproportionate number of people of color. I stand with an for my brothers and sisters of color and pledge my ongoing support.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Gift of a Lifetime

We gathered to celebrate on the evening before Sr. Mary Flick (royal blue shirt) makes her final profession as a Sister of St. Joseph. Sr. Sarah invited us each to bring a card, a prayer and small gift. Some were funny, some were profound, some were touching. All together, they said that we have walked with Mary for these past years from tentative probing of inquiry, through the deliberate ‘getting to know you’ of candidacy, through the deepening discernment of novitiate and through the growing confidence of her  years in temporary profession.
We celebrated Mary’s upcoming final profession in which she definitively says yes to the journey so far and to the unfolding journey of a Sister of St. Joseph. We also celebrated the lifetime profession of every other sister in the room. Each of us has given our lifetime gift and each of us in turn receives and holds the lifetime gift of the others. Each sister’s life is unique, each sister’s gift is unique, and as we gathered, we celebrated the richness of that diversity and the deep mutuality of our community.
Jesus says:
There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time–houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions–and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
 In religious life, this gospel-promise is lived out in a particular way. “The young and the old, the frightened, the bold, the greatest and the least….” We come to walk together, we share a feast, we share a journey, we support one-another in hope, in challenge, in service.
Each time we celebrate a sister who takes a step forward in her formation journey, we renew the deepest and highest gift we share. The gift we give for a lifetime, the gift we receive for a lifetime, the God who is the author of all giving.
Thank you Mary for this opportunity to remember, celebrate and grow.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Be Kind

Send a message of kindness to everyone you can, including those you don’t know who may be behind you at a stop light or walking past your parked car.  BE KIND car magnets make it easy to remind everyone of the importance of being kind, even when it might be challenging or amidst difference. If you would like a BE KIND car magnet, they are available for a $5 donation to the Sisters of St. Joseph Mission and Ministries Foundation.  Click here to get yours.
Kindness — Get in the Habit!
Too often, we get caught in the busy-ness of life or feel the effects of the seemingly endless negative, divisive and violent messages we are bombarded with each day.  We all need reminders to be kind.
“If we acknowledge and reinforce kindness when we see it, we believe it will foster more kind acts,” said Mary Herrmann, SSJ. “We encourage everyone to use the kindness cards to acknowledge and increase kindness in our community.” 
In March of 2017, during National Catholic Sisters Week, we participated in a Kindness Campaign — a national initiative of several congregations of Catholic Sisters to promote kindness.  Locally we worked with the other congregations and launched a social media effort, ran television PSAs, billboards and distributed kindness cards — small cards given to anyone you see doing an act of kindness.  The kindness cards are available to download and print.
Thank you for your help in promoting kindness!
---from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Erie PA

Friday, July 28, 2017

What happens when they leave?

I recently came across an article about those leaving religious life during the formation program and the appropriate responses that might be given. Read the article.
I've thought a lot about this topic as I have worked with individuals and communities who are making this difficult journey. And I resonate with much that this article expresses.
The article ends with a poem by Tagore, and these lines express an important truth:
No; it is not yours to open buds into blossoms
Shake the bud, strike it; it is beyond your power to make it blossom.
This poem reminds me of the fact that vocation is not the work of vocation or formation directors, or of leadership or the sisters/brothers in community. Vocation is a mystery of gift and response and our task is that of a gardener who prepares the soil, waters and tends. Vocation unfolds in the life of the individual in relationship with their God.
In the vocation / formation journey, some will come, and some will go. Ours is to pray deeply, discern carefully, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God and with those on the vocation/formation journey. The decision to leave formation is complex, whether it is initiated by the community or it is initiated by the individual.

  • The individual in relationship with God and in their sense of self can experience a major personal turmoil. This will vary from one person to another, and with the length of time in formation, the reasons for leaving and the degree of mutuality of the decision. Sometimes the very characteristic that is the cause of departure is the characteristic that will show itself with a vengeance in the departure process. Communities do well to ensure that the individual is supported in discernment and in transition out of the community. Honesty and clarity, coupled with empathy and gentleness will help us to honor the blooming of this person's flower - even if it cannot bloom within the community. 
  • Others in formation are also impacted by the departure of someone in their group. That departure will likely raise questions about their own suitability and perseverance. It may also raise questions about the community and its formation program, and about those serving as leaders and formators. 
  • Formators can also feel the challenge of a departure. They have lived, worked and prayed very closely with the person leaving. From this experience, they can see both the potential and the challenges the individual is facing and they have their own sense of the propriety of the departure, which may differ from the one leaving and/or those in leadership. While maintaining their own personal integrity, as formators, they have a pastoral duty to the one they have been accompanying and the community.  Honesty and clarity, coupled with empathy and gentleness can also be applied to their own personal journey and to their work with leadership, others in formation and the community at large.
  • The whole community is invested in the formation program. Various brothers/sisters may have supported a particular candidate and encouraged them to pursue a vocation with the community. Confidentiality prohibits full disclosure of the dynamics of a departure. At the same time, that same honest and empathy that are used with the departing individual should be directed to those who have supported them in the community. A candidate, novice or temporary professed takes their first steps in our community. This can have the effect of touching each of us at the deep roots of our own vocation. It can be a moment of renewal, or a moment that touches our woundedness or unsettledness in our vocation. Awareness and compassion can guide us in this sensitive time. 
  • Families and friends of those who leave will also be impacted by the transition. Within the constraints of confidentiality, pastoral outreach to family and friends may be helpful both in supporting the individual who is leaving and in addressing the concerns of family and friends themselves. 

Many people experience the departure of an individual from community. When possible, ritual can help to express this experience and bring it to prayer, supporting everyone in their continued journey of faith.
The article touched on many of these factors, and helped me to focus my concerns about this issue. I believe that it is important to consider departure as we design vocation and formation programs. It is a reality of life, and as we invite people to consider our community, we should be ready to walk with them in good times and in bad, in arrivals and in departures.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Called to Serve

I have had several projects this summer that have been challenging for me.
Some months back, I agreed to give some presentations, or take on other projects, and it seemed to be a good idea. I have the qualifications, and they fall within the scope of my ministry.
As each of these projects comes up on my calendar, I prepare for them. I reflect on the topic at hand and do some extra reading and research. This part of the project I enjoy the most, reflecting on challenges that religious life is facing these days, and offering my insights, and the fruit of the many conversations I've had, and experience of the communities I've worked with, etc.
And then when the actual moment comes up to lead the workshop or retreat, or to give the presentation, I realize that immensity of the challenge to offer something new on the topic of religious life. People are looking for insights, for hope, for inspiration. And so at this point, I realize that each person and each community is also on an individual journey. Each person has particular questions, particular concerns and particular insights. All I can do is offer what I have prepared, and pray with and for the group that they will hear whatever it is they need to hear. I also have the gift of hearing from them the new insights that they bring and the new insights that come up for them as our time unfolds.
I feel so privileged to walk with individuals and groups in the challenging times of their lives. In response, I want to do the best I can to accompany them and help them along the way.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Vow of Poverty - explained to wealth managers

I was recently asked to discuss the vow of poverty with a journalist working for a wealth management magazine. "Are you sure you want to talk to me?" I asked. Yes, we're looking for different attitudes and perspectives. Well, yes, mine is different...

Here's the article - some of the details aren't quite right, but I think she did a good job of pulling parts of it together:

A Nun Tells Us What It's Like to Live With a Vow of Poverty
As a Sister of St. Joseph, Amy Hereford lives a financial life that's a lot different from most of us. But she thinks the lessons from it apply to us all.  Read more...

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Northern Ireland

Growing up in St. Louis, I remember hearing about the "troubles" in Northern Ireland. From the reports, it seemed like a constant war zone - bombings, etc. I carried this childhood impression with me to Portadown, where I was staying and into Belfast.
I arrived into Portadown in the afternoon and the Sisters couldn't have been kinder. They welcomed me into their home where we had tea and they showed me around the house. I went out for a little walk, and found a lovely riverwalk that had been the tow-path for the river traffic. It's now a 20 mile walking and biking path by the river Ban.
The next day, one of the sisters drove me to Belfast on her way to work. She brought me by her office. The Flax Trust is a nonprofit organization that is working for peace and reconciliation through economic development. It was so interesting and powerful to see that they have been working to get people meaningful employment as a way out of the poverty and frustration that is part of the tension there. There are signs of the troubled past in the many murals on buildings and fences. The Peace Wall, built to keep the two communities apart, is now the place of many murals testifying to the path to peace.
I also saw lots of old buildings, forts and churches. Our guide read a list of the waves of people who had come in to pillage and plunder over the years. It strikes me that all these old structures are so common place here. You have a bakery, a cafe, then you round the corner and there is a castle. Mixed in you also have book-makers and pubs. It's all part of the mix. There are a lot fewer chain stores as well.
The next day I went to Armagh, with its two Cathedrals of St. Patrick. One RC and the other Church of Ireland. The CoI has the old site where St. Patrick built a church in his day - on the site of a pre-Christian King's house. There was a guy at the library who took lots of time to explain the place and its significance. And there was a library with books and manuscripts all out there to see. They said I could look at any of the books I wanted - just ask for white gloves to handle them. Wow!!! The library was founded beside the church - 'to nourish the soul.'
I'm headed down to the southern shore today - it will take most of the day to get there. Then my workshop starts on Sunday, then I return home. It has been really great to be here. And it will be awesome to get home again as well.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Mystics and Prophets

I had several meetings over the weekend and it was good to engage with sisters who are living religious life and who know that religious life is changing and that we are changing with it. Together we explored the contours of the changes that we are living and the challenges facing us. At its core, our life is open to God in a very profound way. We are made by God for love and we surrender to the loving creative work of God. This is the task of a life time and it is what makes us who we are.
St. Paul encourages the Philippians: whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. These are the things that expand and lift our spirits. For me, it is often in the garden or in nature that I find soul-expanding joy and am absorbed in our loving - creative God.
Once touched in the nameless, but undeniable way, our hearts are re-created, empowered and emboldened to seek the ways of God in our daily lives. We reach out in compassion to the weak and the poor, we work for justice and raise our voices with and for others.
This is the core of religious life, a school of mystics and prophets. And as we face changes in our life together, it is important to remember that this core will never change.
I wrote a book some years ago entitled Religious Life at the Crossroads - that title focuses on the changes and challenges we face as we move forward. The subtitle is a School for Mystics and Prophets. That focuses on that unchanging core of religious life, that is also the core of Christian life and is in fact the fundamental human vocation.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

God Is Here

I just read a reflection from Mary MacKillop, founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Australia. She said that either God is with us here in the every day challenges, or God is nowhere. Don't wait for that perfect day, that peaceful moment. God is here.
In that context, let me tell you about the next leg of my trip. Our meetings for the vocation/formation team of Sisters of St. Joseph in the US and Canada went very well. There was a great spirit among us and we were able to continue our collaborative efforts for vocation promotion. We were also able to share our lives, our hopes and our challenges.
Friday morning, I headed to the airport so that I could travel to Rome. Due to weather in NYC, my flight was delayed, delayed, delayed and finally cancelled. The best they could offer was to fly me to NYC the next day, and I wouldn't be there in time for the next day's flight to Rome. So I rented a car and drove to NY that evening. It was really lovely country, and only occasional rain. After dark, there was a patch of dense fog, in northeastern Pennsylvania. I arrived in NYC after 10pm and stayed with a friend. We had a good visit the next morning. She was free, but had several things she needed to do around the house.
Then I drove to the airport and caught my flight to Rome. That was uneventful. And I'm here now, ready for my meetings to begin today. I've had a little time to catch up with a friend here on Sunday. We'll both be busy during the week. It was a lovely day yesterday - hopefully it will continue to be so.
And God is Here in all of this!

Friday, May 5, 2017


My upcoming trip involves more or less two weeks of work, followed by two weeks of vacation, followed by two more weeks of work.
So I'm opening up an old blog space to record some of my adventures for those who may be interested. I'll post photos and stories during the trip. 
First stop: Canandaigua NY.
I'm in the beautiful finger-lakes region of New York. I did a Soil Science class online in which they discussed the geological history of this region with multiple lakes running north-south, left by receding glaciers. Then went on to discuss the development of the soils of the region.
Sisters of St. Joseph from the US and Canada are gathered for a vocation/formation meeting here. There are about 30 of us gathered to pray, reflect and discuss our ministry with those discerning religious life. I will be presenting some material on Laudato Si', Pope Francis' letter on the environment - our common home. I will be co-presenting with Mary Rowell, a Sister of St. Joseph from Canada. We have met in the past and we have discussed our presentation over skype and email. Yesterday, after the introductory session, we had the opportunity to share our stories. It was delightful to hear the story of our circuitous routes into the community and to rejoice in the wonderful work of God in each of our lives.
Mary and I will lead the morning session, and I look forward to the discussion afterwards.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Celebrating Sisters

Celebrating Sisters was an online panel of the newer generations of sisters from around the country, sharing their best memories of religious life, their enthusiasm for religious life today and their hopes for religious life going forward. The recording will also be available after the live event.
What a joy to have the opportunity to reflect together about religious life. My life as a religious sister has given me incredible opportunities to grow in spirituality and in my relationship with God. I have had the opportunity to serve in various ministries and to receive so much from those that I serve. They really call me to a deeper and more authentic living of the Gospel. And finally, I've gotten to know so many wonderful sisters with whom I have shared prayer, community and ministry. They have inspired me, challenged me and supported me in so many ways.
I thank God that I have been called to sell all, give to the poor and to follow. And I thank God that I have received the promised hundred-fold in return.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Pray Like This....

Pray like this....
  • Our Father
    • My hope, my joy, my love
    • Our hope, our joy, our love,
    • God who dreamed us into life
  • Holy is your name
    • Praise, glory and honor....
  • Thy kingdom come
    • on earth,
    • in me, through me
    • in us, through us....
  • Thy will be done
    • on earth,
    • in me, through me
    • in us, through us
  • Give us today our daily bread
    • Gift us with life, with wholeness, with holiness
    • Today, this day, every day
  • Forgive us trespasses
    • We fail to live up to your standards, to our own standards
    • Forgive us
    • And give us the grace to forgive
      • others
      • those who do us wrong
      • forgive and reconcile us to be once again brothers and sisters.

Pray always.
Pray alone and in groups.
Pray with and without words.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Sisters and Sustainability

--by Christina Cappeci

The old farmers used to say you should leave a field better than you found it. Sometimes that called for heavy lifting. Other times it just meant picking up a rock as you crossed and placing it at the field’s edge.

That counsel stuck with Amy Hereford, who grew up on a 10-acre Missouri farm where sheep roamed and blackberries grew wild. She planted whatever vegetable seemed to be lacking.... Read more...

Friday, March 3, 2017

Celebrating Sisterhood

Join us!
I was chatting with our Sisters 2.0 group about the possibility of hosting a public conversation about religious life as we experience it. We talked about the unique perspective of younger women religious, which includes those now in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. We have lived our entire religious life after that massive waves that entered in the 1940s-60s. We also lived our entire religious lives after Vatican II and after the renewal. We have always been few in number and have struggled to find our place in our communities with the overwhelming majority of sisters that are 20-50 years older than we are.
Help for the project comes from
an NCSW grant
With all our sisters, we share community, we share life and spirituality, and we share a mission as wide as the world and as far-reaching as the gospel. Yet our experience and our culture are very different. Our experience of religious life and our hopes for the future are shaped by these differences as well as our shared reality.
We decided to invite some of our members into the conversation which we will host online on March 8, 2017 at 7pm Central, the first day of National Catholic Sisters Week. We are grateful for a grant from NCSW to help promote this project.
Our IT department will provide
technical support
On March 8, we will host an online panel of the newer generations of sisters from around the country, sharing their best memories of religious life, their enthusiasm for religious life today and their hopes for religious life going forward. The recording will also be available after the live event.
I have the privilege of moderating our conversation. I'm working with my community's IT people to ensure that the technology works for us.
Our panelists will be:

  • Sr. Michelle Stachowiak, a Felician Sister for almost 29 years. She has served as a teacher and physical therapist, and has worked with the homeless and served in leadership in her own community.  Currently from Pittsburgh, she has lived and ministered in many parts of the US.
  • Sr. Ann Mare Paul, a Sister of Christian Charity. She too has served as a teacher, teaching theology at the high school and theology levels. Currently, she brings hope through her ministry in a Neighborhood center in one of the poorest cities of New Jersey.
  • Sr. María de Lourdes López Munguía, a Franciscan Missionary of Mary. She ministers as a psychologist and has served indigenous peoples, the incarcerated, victims of domestic violence and those struggling with drug addiction.  

To find out more about the program and to register, click here.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Sisters Supporting Sustainability

Praying Mantis overwintering
beneficial insect
We received a grant from National Catholic Sisters week for a project entitled Sisters Supporting Sustainability. Sisters will work with a local ecovillage to enhance sustainability in the neighborhood and region by planting Missouri native plants, enhancing pollinator habitat, increasing soil fertility and augmenting rainwater management.
We will hold a potluck event on March 9 to publicize the project and the involvement of Sisters and ecovillagers. Publicity before and after the event will draw attention to the active involvement of Sisters in life at the margins, and particularly today, our involvement in environmental sustainability projects both local and national.
American Hazelnut
Flowering in February
Little red flowers are female
Long tan part is the male flower
I thought it might be nice to have a few blog posts to highlight different aspects of the gardens and the enhancements that we are making with the assistance of the grant funding. The photos this week focus on some of the work that is already underway and what nature  is doing all around us in mid February. On the right side, I have two photos of some Praying Mantis egg cases that I found around the garden while working on various projects. The Praying Mantis eats lots of other bugs, so it is a sign that there is a lot of life and diversity in the area.
Another species of Praying Mantis
On the right, there is an image of the Hazelnut in bloom. It blooms in later winter, just after the Witch Hazel. It is a native plant that provides habitat for native bugs and birds. And each of those tiny red flowers that gets pollinated will produce a delicious hazelnut in the fall. I'll have to work fast to get them before the squirrels do.

Elderberry starting to leaf out.
Our weather is definitely on the warm side. We have had some very cold days, but most of February has seen above average temperatures. On the one hand, its great because we can start planting veggies. but this is also problematic for a few reasons. First, gardeners all know that our climate is changing. Plants are blooming sooner, plants what we couldn't grow in this zone are now grown here, and other plants that we used to be able to grow are not doing so well. For example, Apples need a certain amount of cold weather. If it gets much warmer, we won't be able to grow them here. And second, we may still see killing frosts after the bushes and trees have bloomed. This could damage the plants and crops.
Wildflower Nursery - each pot is seeded with a different species
Packera obovata - a shade loving ground cover
that stays green all winder
The Elderberry is already beginning to leaf out - it won't bloom for a few months though. And on the right here, you can see the wildflower nursery. The seeds are collected locally, or obtained from a native wildflower nursery. Most native plant seeds fall to the ground in the wild and stay there all winter; they need that period of cold weather to break dormancy. So let's do as nature does and plant them outside in the winter and then get ready for them to pop up in the spring. The chicken wire is to keep the curious squirrels from digging out the pots to see if there might be something yummy hidden at the bottom. 
The Packera obovata stays a lovely green all winter long. It makes a great ground cover for a shady area and in another month, it will send up a flurry of little yellow flowers. 
Wildflower mix seeded
The scruffy area below is seeded with a wildflower mix. Growing a prairie patch from seed is a multi-year process. Last year was spent 'solarizing' this area to remove all the weeds. Most of the wildflower mix was seeded a few weeks ago. There are a few wildflower and all the native grasses that do better if they are seeded a little bit later. This year we are just hoping for some sprouts, and next year, maybe some flowers.
Pruning cut on the pear tree
One of the spring projects is pruning the trees and bushes. Some of this is done for the health of the plant, some is done for aesthetics, some is done to increase fruit production. My brother is a master pruner, so I asked him to come over and prune, and to let me know what he was doing. Things look a lot better now and I learned a lot about how and why to make each cut. Thanks Chris!
The next few shots are a few things that are starting to green up. Ratibida pinnata is a summer coneflower that I planted last year. It just sprouted, but did not flower. It is already up this year, and hopefully, it will flower!!

Then there is Rhubarb - one of the great spring harvests. This comes back every year and slowly spreads. This plant started as a tiny leftover from a plant sale. After a few years, it looks like it is ready to burst out of the ground and we should have a good harvest!

The next few shots are of a low tunnel where I have planted a few spring veggies: turnips, radishes, carrots, spinach, lettuce, chard and various other greens. I'm not a big fan of the brassicas because we get a lot of cabbage worms. Maybe I should do a few though.
Low tunnel for early spring veggies

In any case, I've made this small tunnel about 4'x5'. It is really simple to make - I have done this in the past, but I think it is sturdier that my past efforts. Most of the materials I had around the garden. I also got some floating-row-cover. It helps to retain heat near the plants, it is permeable, so it lets air in and out and lets the sun shine in to the sprouts. I have tried this with plastic, but it is hard to keep it covered in a wind storm. So I'm hoping this will be more successful.
Low tunnel
And finally, we have a photo of the Wild Sweet William peeking through the leaf cover. I've left leaves on the ground around the plants to protect them and to provide habitat for the little critters to overwinter. Many of our native insects need a little leaf and plant debris in order to survive the winter. The plants also appreciate a little protection from the harsher weather. And flower heads provide a natural bird feeder for all our feathered friends.
By spring, a lot of these leaves and debris have broken down. I'll clear them away a little to let the new plants get going, then tuck them under the plants for a layer of mulch that will continue to break down and nourish the flora and fauna.
So that's what's happening now. Stay tuned for more developments over the coming weeks as the time of our potluck approaches.

Wild Sweet William

Friday, February 10, 2017

All You Can Be

I'm a Sister of St. Joseph.
I'm a lawyer.
I live in an ecovillage.
How cool is that?!?!

I often have the opportunity to talk with other sisters from the younger and middle-aged group of sisters. There are not a lot of us, but I love having conversations that help nurture the amazing life among us in this middle-time.
One sister recently reflected that as sisters, we are able to do many things and experience many things. We are able to maximize our potential personally, reaching goals that might not otherwise be possible. We are able to maximize our spiritual potential with a lifetime dedicated to the spiritual journey. And we are able to maximize our potential for service.
Religious life is a gift to those of us living it, when we are able to move in this direction. It is also a gift to the wider community with whom we are able to share our gifts, our wisdom and our service.
So the phrase "be all you can be" has taken on fresh meaning for me as a way to describe religious life. It is not a selfish phrase, but a celebration of God's call and invitation to fullness of life and to sharing the abundance with those we serve.
I am full of gratitude for this wild and wonderful gift that is religious life.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Summer Sisters 2017

Once again this year, I would like to extend the invitation to join in building community with me here in St. Louis, for a period of time during the summer. It can be the experience you seek: Retreat. Sabbath Time. Vacation. R&R. Embodied Commitment to Sustainability. Emersion in an Urban Ecovillage. Nurturing body, spirit, the future of religious life.
We'll have to work around the house schedule which is a little crazy this year - but then when is life not crazy. Let's do what we can.
Here's a link to last year's invitation. If you're interested, drop me a line and we'll talk more.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Convent Crawl - Feb 2017 - StL

We are joining several other communities of religious women in the St. Louis area for a Convent Crawl. A Convent Crawl is an opportunity for single women ages 18 - 40 to visit with Catholic sisters in their houses and convents in mid-February 2017.
• Discover firsthand how sisters’ communities and ministries are making a positive impact in the world today.
• Join sisters for prayer.
• Get to know sisters and ask them questions.
If you think you might be interested, head on over to the event website:
There, you will find more information about the event along with an itinerary, contact information and a registration page.
When a person is discerning religious life, he or she will take time for prayer and for exploring this call that they are experiencing. It is also important to connect with religious communities to discover more about how communities pray, live and work. A good spiritual director is also a great help for discernment.

This particular event can be helpful if someone would like to get to know several religious communities in a short space of time. If someone is going to enter a community, he or she will want to build a more in depth relationship. This is more like 'speed dating'. A chance to meet some great communities and some other discerners. A chance to pray and spend time with others who are living the life you are considering.

So check it out! Pass this on to someone who may be discerning! And by all means pray for those leading and participating in this event.