viernes, 4 de julio de 2014

The Ceremony of Reunification of our Sisters

Father John H. Howard, CJM, Regional Superior of the American Region, presided at the ceremony of reunification of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd and gave the homily at the Mass presided by the local bishop. The ceremony took place at the Provincial Center of the new South Central Province of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Carrollton, Ohio. There were representatives of all the two other provinces of the Good Shepherd in the USA.

Merger of OLC with RGS – June 27, 2014 – Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus By Father John H. Howard, CJM

Dear Bishop, Fathers, Sisters, dear friends,

Today is truly an extraordinary celebration, not only for the two branches of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity founded by Saint John Eudes in Caen, Normady, on November 25, 1641, but for the whole Eudist Family. Certainly, nobody can accuse us of rushing things in this family, since it took a 180 year for this reunification to take place.

Being myself a Eudist Father I have been in contact with one branch of Our Lady or the other from the time I was seminarian. In Eastern Canada the Eudists who educated me had been chaplains for the Religious of the Good Shepherd at least from the beginning of the Twentieth Century. I first met the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity as a newly ordained priest assigned to Buffalo, New York. Then we called them Sisters of the Refuge; a name I found out much later they didn’t like. When I moved to San Diego, California, in 1976, I began a long relationship with the Mexican Sisters of Our Lady of Charity at Casa Eudes in Tijuana and the rest of Mexico. It was in Tijuana that I met Sister Marie-Paul Loubier, who was then the Superior General of the Latin Union of Our Lady of Charity. This Latin Union regrouped most of the sisters from France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Mexico. It was the predecessor to the International Union of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity which today has merged with the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd. At that time, the sisters in the United States and Canada were a federation of autonomous houses who had just voted to become a union, or a centralized congregation with a generalate. Two Eudists had been religious consultants to the federation. Father Fernand Lacroix at become first Superior General of the Eudist then bishop of Edmundston, New Brunswick, Canada. Father Virgil Blanchard had passed away. Sister Marie-Paul recommended me to Sister Helen Patrick Stapelton as a possible successor; that was 35 ago. We have all changed a great deal since then, my hair was brown at the time but, in spite of what some have said, it is not the sisters who gave me the white hair.

That was 1978. I interviewed with the General Council members in Buffalo during my summer vacation. I
decided it was my brotherly duty to help our sisters. Having been raised by a strong mother and seven rather assertive sisters, the prospect of working with women did not intimidate me, just the opposite. All those who knew Sister Helen Patrick know she was far from being a wall flower. I had always admired religious women who ran huge institutions way before it was even considered a possibility in the secular world. Bishop Lacroix had been my seminary rector and I had heard him talk a lot about his work with the sisters. Beside, our cannon law professor had given us great advice. He told us “If ever you are a chaplain or work for sisters, the Golden Rule is “Mind your own business. Great damage has been done by interfering priests in women’s communities.” Consequently I got along well with Sister Helen Patrick and her successors. I gave my advice when asked and if they didn’t follow it, never once in 35 years did I ever say “I told you so.” I thought about it, but I never said it.

At the second half of founding chapter in Green Bay, Wisconsin, it was obvious that the sisters were not use to running a chapter. After the first session I offered Sister Helen Patrick to facilitate the meetings. She said “You must be a glutton for punishment.” “On the contrary, I said, the punishment is to sit on the side and see you go in circle. I’m trained for this, I can run a meeting.” After that it was years of meetings, of councils and multiple visits to all the houses.

At this momentous occasion, I want to render homage to some of the women who made this day possible. First I want to give homage to Sister Helen Patrick Stapleton for without her vision, her strength and her courage we would not be here today. She was though in the sense that she was strong. She could take the blows and get back up. Like Saint John Eudes himself, when she thought it was the will of God she never backed down. What made the union possible and all that followed was, above all I believe, that she cared deeply for every sister. She called each sister many time a year. She listened, she consoled, she corrected
when needed but above all she loved them. She remembered birthdays and anniversaries. When a sister was sick I have seen her drop everything and go take care of her for as long as it took. Some of you asked me “I wonder what Sister Patrick would think of what is happening.” My answer is that she would have been proud to see this day. Why? Because she believed in the mission of Our Lady of Charity and wanted what was best for her sisters, and as you determined, this is it.

I want to give homage also to her successors, Sister Deana Kohlman and Sister Carol Pregno. They consolidated the work begun by Sister Helen Patrick. They pursued the unity within the union by eliminating the vestiges of autonomy and forming one cohesive group. They reached out to the other branches of the institute. The work was begun under Sister Dean and concluded under Sister Carol, first by joining the International Union and finally this reunification through merger with the Good Shepherd. None of this was easy but, as we read in the book of Genesis, creation came out of chaos and after each step the Lord says that it was good.

I want also to give homage to the thousands of women who, in the past 373 years since first foundation in Caen, have lived the mission of love and mercy of Our Lady of Charity throughout the world. And those who still do in the midst of wars and persecutions, like our sisters in Syria, Egypt, the Sudan and many other troubled places. They all rejoice with us and we give thanks for them.

It is appropriate that we celebrate this momentous event on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which was instituted in the Church by Saint John Eudes. It was Pope Saint Pius X who declared him “The Father, Doctor and Apostle of liturgical devotions to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.” By this devotion, Saint John Eudes found a simple but eloquent symbol to express what words alone could not described, “God is love” and “God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believe might have eternal life” ( Jn 3:16). The Sacred Heart of Jesus represents this incarnate love, this real heart beating for us, the image of the concrete love that God has for his children. John Eudes invites us to establish “The Kingdom of Jesus” in our hearts so that we in turn may work at establishing the Kingdom of God in this world. “As the
Father has sent me, so I have sent you” (Jn 20:21).

Saint John Eudes wanted all his spiritual sons and daughters to be missionaries of the love and mercy of God. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Live in my love” (Jn 15:9). This great mission given to us by our founder was lived richly for the next century and a half, but in a sense, it was under a bushel basket. It’s scope was greatly limited. The Eudist Fathers and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity had never left France.

For the most part they were clustered in Normandy and Brittany. Consequently when the French Revolution came, the Eudists were suppressed and were only restored 32 years later. The sisters’ monasteries were seized by the government and the sisters dispersed or imprisoned. Had they spread outside of France they would have survived. God bestowed a tremendous grace on our Eudist family when he called Rose Virginie Pelletier, the future Saint Mary Euphasia, to be a Sister of Our Lady of Charity.

When Rose Virginie joined the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity at age 18 it was far from being a vibrant community. It was instead a group of aged nuns still fearful that the days of the Terror would return. They didn’t want to draw too much attention to themselves for fear of the lurking anti religious sentiment always ready to explode again. Rose Virginie felt called to join them because she was attracted by the richness of their mission, the quality of their spirit and the strength of their zeal. She was literally a God sent. Mother Mary Euphasia was not only a saint, she was a woman of extraordinary vision and creativity. Let’s not forget a genius of organization and administration. With the grace of God and the zeal of a saint, in 33 years, she transformed a small town monastery into an international religious congregation with nearly 3000 members in 110 houses spread, in 16 provinces around the world. She was, to use a secular modern corporate term, the first woman CEO of an international corporation. How else do you explain such a growth in so few years? What a human dynamo! What a spirit filled woman!

On this day, June 27, 2014, feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in a loving ritual and embrace, the two branches of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, daughters of Saint John Eudes and heirs to Saint Mary Euphrasia join together for the mission. “May my joy be yours, says the Lord, and may your joy be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.”

Religious life might be going through a difficult time in our contemporary Church, but you have to remember that the call you have responded to is worth offering to others. Our mission of love and mercy is never outdated. Saint John Eudes and Saint Mary Euphrasia are models of the New Evangelization. They both lived and pick up the torch of faith after periods of great chaos: the Reformation and the Wars of Religion for Saint John Eudes, the Terror and persecution of the French Revolution for Saint Mary Euphrasia. Remember, they never gave up. They always persevered. So should we, for we have the same gifts of the Spirit. “It was not you who chose me, it was I who chose you and appointed you to bear fruit that will remain (Jn 15:16).

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