Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tidbits From Haiti

The latest news from Haiti via Sr. Vicky DellaValle!

November2014

On All Souls’ Day, Sr. Jo and I drove our little jeep to the chapel at 9:30 A.M.  It’s been very rainy this week which means that services started even later than usual.  By the time we left it was 12:30 P.M. and we both felt dead as doornails.  All I wanted to do was go home, eat something, and rest a little. However, God had other plans.  On the way down the path to our house, we were stopped by a young man who asked us to drive him and his pregnant wife to the hospital.  It was an emergency!  I dropped off Sr. Jo and away we went with the young parents, the girl’s mother, and Jilmak, the young Haitian man who works for us.  As usual we were surrounded by a whole group of villagers who came to see us off.  It was very muddy from all the rain, so we got caught in the mud a couple times.  I prayed all the way there that we’d arrive safely, especially since we were carrying “extra-special cargo.”  On the way we passed one of our young students from St. Rose de Lima School.  He was walking his pig on a leash.  Then we passed a man with two donkeys, one of which started heading in our direction.  The men ran up and caught him and got him out of the way.  Finally we arrived at the hospital in Pestel in one piece and with two very relieved young parents-to-be. It wasn’t a restful Sunday but it was certainly a blest one!
Last  week  our rainy season came into full bloom.  Unlike last year, which was my first time here during the fall months, the rain brought with it strong winds and cool air.  It really had the feeling of autumn which I loved because I was missing the fall season. Last year we had a terrible drought.  The Haitians and Sr. Jo told me that this is the way the weather usually is this time of year.  In fact, we had so much rain that the schools were closed for several days. The children can’t go to school because it is very muddy, making it very dangerous for traveling.  I’m told that there are two rainy seasons like this which correspond with our seasons of fall and spring. 
The other day we received some wonderful news.  You may remember the sad story I shared last year about a young couple who lost their newborn baby boy, and how heartbreaking it was to visit that tiny grave.  Yesterday we learned that they had another baby—a little girl named Esther. 
When Sr. Jo celebrated her birthday, we had a nice party at lunchtime.  Wilgens cooked a delicious concoction following Sr. Jo’s directions.  Banave and Jilmak were with us along with Fitho, a young Haitian who looks to Sr. Jo as a kind of second mother because she took care of him in the states when he went there for heart surgery.  I baked a strawberry cake with strawberry icing.  Sr. Jo said that she couldn’t have done better herself which was a great compliment, since she’s a terrific cook and baker.   We had a few simple gifts for the birthday girl. In the evening we had a special time of prayer, followed by a DVD.  It was a very nice day for Sr. Jo and for all of us here who love her.
This morning Sr. Jo and Banave went into the little generator house on our property to put gas in the generator.  When they got there, they found a little surprise on the floor— three newly laid eggs!
December 2014

We had a very unique experience with our last group of visitors.  They had with them a film-maker and his crew.  They are making a documentary about their visit here.  In addition to visiting the various villages and helping the people, they also visited St. Rose de Lima School.  They filmed the children praying and singing their Pledge of Allegiance, as well as working with their teachers, and playing outside during “repo” (break).  Needless to say, it was really exciting!  It was like being on the set of a TV production.  I took pictures of them taking pictures of the teachers and children. That evening they interviewed Sr. Jo and me in our yard. They had a microphone in front of us that extended from a long pole, just like in the movies.  They also had huge, blinding lights on us so that we really couldn’t see the person who was asking us the questions.  We were both nervous but it seemed to go really well.  If the documentary happens and gets some more help for our people, it will be well worth the anxiety. One of the visitors, was so touched by his visit here, that he made a very large donation to our little school.   We are going to use the money to raise the roof on the chapel (which is our school during the weekdays) in order to get more ventilation and light into the building.  With no electricity, it gets extremely hot in there and when it rains, it’s very dark.  The people in our parish of St. Rose have been wanting to do this for a long time but it would have taken eternity for them to raise the money.  What a wonderful gift!
This month our children in St. Rose de Lima School also received another wonderful gift through their benefactors, St. Rose de Lima School in the U.S.  They will be wearing uniforms for the first time when they return to school after the Christmas vacation.  Madame Wisney, the director of our chapel, and a seamstress who has her own shop, sewed them for us.  They are just lovely.  She followed the sample which one of our own dear sisters, Sr. Maria de Guadalupe Diaz, prepared before I came back in September.  The children, teachers, and director assistant are so happy!  Often in the states, children don’t want to wear uniforms but here it is considered an honor.  The teachers and Mali, our director assistant, also asked to have a uniform.  I can’t wait to see them all dressed up!
Well, our mother hen who laid her eggs in our generator house was prancing around our yard, followed by five precious little chicks.  However, as is often the case here, our joy was short-lived when someone killed the mother hen.  The talk is that one of the farmers gave her poison because she was eating in his garden.  I don’t know if it’s true, but that seems to be a common occurrence here.  The five babies were wandering all around looking for their mom.  The men here told us they would die because it is too cold for them right now. However, we weren’t going to give up without a fight.  We asked the men to gather up the babies and we put them in a box in our chapel with a little solar light.  One baby did die but the others seem to be growing stronger and a little bigger every day.  They must think the light is their mom. They huddle around it to get warm.  One of them already tried to fly out and actually popped his head out of the box.  Another one keeps trying to peck his way out.  They are just darling although it seems this should be Easter Season rather than Christmas Season!

 

 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

News from Nyumbani Children's Home

Sr. Julie Mulvihill works at Nyumbani Children's Home in Kenya where she takes care of children orphaned by AIDS and who were born with the HIV virus. She shared some of her experiences from this past Christmas with us and will continue to keep us updated. You can learn more about the Nyumbani ministries at http://www.nyumbani.org/.

Christmas 2014
As usual we had a great Christmas at Nyumbani.  The sisters led by Sr. Emily and with the help of the children did a great job decorating for Christmas Mass. Fr. Jim placed the Baby Jesus in the manger and our little ones lead us in singing Christmas carols.  They were also our dancers for the liturgy. Our older children and young adults did the readings and Mungai was our altar server.  Sr. Mary shared a special Christmas message with all of us. After Mass we had a celebration with chicken, popcorn, and potato chips.  Then it was off to bed so we would be well rested for the Christmas Day Celebration 

Christmas morning we were all ready to continue the celebrations.  Once again the little ones were our dancers and our older children and young adults with the help of Sr. Reena were our choir. After Mass we had tea and muffins and later a delicious turkey dinner in the dining hall.  When it was time for Father Christmas to arrive from the North Pole, everyone went inside to wait for Santa's arrival. At 3 P.M. we heard reindeer bells and we knew Father Christmas had arrived. He was accompanied by his two elves, Donna and Julie.  The first stop was Cottage D.  After being assured by Mum Jane that all had been good. Father Christmas distributed gifts to all.  The children happily received their presents and then sang “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to Santa as he moved on to Cottage G.  Mum Christine and the children were sitting around the table waiting,  All said they were good and Mum backed them up so Santa gave everyone gifts and then headed to the Respite Center.  Last but not least, Father Christmas made his way to AB Hostel where our teenage boys and young men were awaiting their presents.  They happily received their gifts and bid farewell to Santa until next year.

This little baby isn’t quite sure what to make of this man with the strange white beard.


 
Sr. Julie stands by waiting to assist Santa with the distribution of gifts.

After all gifts were distributed the final present was the surprise trip to Lake Navisha on the 26th for all the children who had stayed at Nyumbani.  Trip day was a bright, sunny day and the big boys got their special trip on the boat to look for the hippos while the little ones jumped on the bouncy castle and trampoline, paddle boated, or ran across the water in an inflated ball.  I think Lydia and Anthony were the best in the ball and Nathan, James, Paul, Anthony, and Sharon were the best in the paddle boats.  They also got their faces painted and enjoyed a nice lunch out with chicken sausage, chips, soda, and biscuits for dessert.  Thanks to donations they also got to have juice, biscuits, and candy on the way up to Navisha and a big soda and biscuits on the way home. We thank Santa's helpers for making this trip possible.

The children return to Nyumbani Children’s Home after a special Christmas trip.
 

January 9 2015
It has been busy here.  The teachers are on strike so most of the children are home and the Mums/Uncles are working with them in the cottages/hostels. We have six little ones starting Standard 1 this year.  They can't wait to get on the bus every day to go to school so they are really disappointed by this strike.  Only those who go to private high schools are in school and they keep trying to come home since the others are here.  I've been collecting and distributing textbooks. I also cleaned the library and labeled and shelved new books. People were so generous to us over the Christmas holidays.  Besides getting monetary, food, and service donations, we also got lots of clothing and shoes that needed to be sorted and distributed.. Since I had so much clothing at my fingertips, I decided to pack the January birthday bags. 

Donna and Ben went back home on Saturday night.  We had a great visit with them.  It seemed as if they had never left Nyumbani. Ben has grown and is doing well.   Kevin, Owen, and Mungai were happy to spend time with Ben.  Ben even spent a couple of nights in the AB Hostel.  Donna was happy just to be home with time to visit with everyone and help anyone she could.  She got to hang and fold clothes with the Mums, help in the kitchen, be a Christmas elf, and help sort through the clothing donations with me.  It was sad to see them go but all of us were so happy to see how well Ben is doing. He’s lucky to have such a loving, caring mom and Donna is lucky to have a son who loves her and loves to tease her and pick on her.  They have a warm, loving relationship. May God continue to bless Donna for caring so well for Ben and continue to keep Ben happy and healthy.

We have three guests at Nyumbani.  Two women from the University of Wisconsin are gathering data on our nutrition programs and Sierra, a nurse from Erie, Pennsylvania, is coming to help at Nyumbani for a few weeks.  Tonight Therese from Canada arrives to volunteer at the village.  She hopes to interview the grandparents and record their stories so we do not lose the wisdom stories they have to share. This is Therese’s second time at the village.  She relates well with the grandparents but just needs a translator to help her.  It always seems easier for people of the same generation to share their stories. The first job is to purchase a computer and printer to record and save the stories.  Please pray all goes well.

On Thursday Wesonga and I took Mungai to the audiologist, the only audiologist in Kenya who can program his cochlear implant (CI). There seemed to be a problem with the battery pack and we hoped Dr. Serah could help.  She couldn't but she did confirm that we were right about what was causing the problem and reprogramed his CI while we were there.  Listening to Mungai answering all of the questions about the four programs in his CI and how they were working made me realize how much he had matured  and how he really knew what he needed to do to be sure he was using his CI correctly.  He now has a CI that is working  but I am not sure how long it will keep working.  I am skyping Tomi today to decide our next step. Hopefully we will come up with a solution that will keep Mungai in the hearing world.   Please keep us in your prayers and especially pray for Tomi who have so generously shared her audiology skills with not only Mungai but other children in all 3 of our programs.

Today we had our first 2015 Management Meeting.  We are preparing for the 2015 Board Summit Meeting the end of January.  All of the managers are working on their reports for the meeting and the Nyumbani staff is in the process of preparing for the meeting. It is the staff’s opportunity to show the board members how much we appreciate the many ways they share their love, time, talents and support with our staff and children. Please pray for us as we pray for you.

Julie Mulvihill, OSF

 

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Special Video

I saw this on Facebook and it made my day! The children are from St. Paul's Church in Aukland, New Zealand. Leave it to children to be such a wonderful mixture of imaginative and literal! And the party at the end--shouldn't we all be celebrating this event?

https://www.youtube.com/embed/kWq60oyrHVQ?rel=0

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas At Our House: A Tour of the Motherhouse

Christmas--and all of the preparation for it--is always a big event at our motherhouse in Aston, Pennsylvania. This year it's even more significant for me because I recently moved here. So, I invite you to join me on a tour of the motherhouse!

Preparations begin, of course, with the beginning of Advent. Every Wednesday morning, we have a short prayer service in our main corridor for any of our employees who wish to join us. We take turns preparing the prayer services and gather at 9 A.M. around this Advent wreath which is situated in the center of our main corridor.


Our employees also organize a Christmas outreach, lovingly named Hilary's Christmas Outreach in memory of one of our employees who organized it for many years. Donations are made all through Advent for one of the ministries in which our are involved. Suggestions are made by the employees and chosen by a vote from the employees. This giving tree is set up each year in the corridor right outside our communication office. Each decoration indicates a donation made by an employee.
The giving tree

For the past two weekends our spiritual center has held Advent retreats each of which runs from Friday evening until late Sunday morning. The spiritual--beautifully decorated at any season of the year--is especially festive during this season.
Table where visitors to the spiritual center sign in and out
Table outside spiritual center welcoming guests. 
One of the tables in the spiritual center lounge
Inside the small chapel within the spiritual center
Most of the center's programs are held in Bachmann Hall and like the rest of the center, the decorations are exquisite.

Nativity scene at one end of  the stage
And a tribute to Mary at the other end.
The joy of Christmas atop the piano

 
Now let's go back to the main part of the house--to the main entrance.
Right inside the front door is a small crèche.
Before we move into the main corridor, we find an illuminated plaque with the final line of our Mission Statement and above it hangs a beautiful bough of Christmas evergreens--pretty significant, I'd say!
Simple but elegant--resting on a small table in the hallway.
Two of the windowsill decorations in the corridor!



This large tree stands in the Blessing Room--which connects two of our meeting rooms, the Assisi Room and the Copper Beech Room. The "walls" separating the rooms can actually be moved to make one large room either for meetings or, when needed, for use as an extra dining room. We call it the ABC Room!
 
Now before we go into chapel, I invite you to stop by the second floor area where I live with four other sisters. Sunday afternoon we decorated our area--enjoying Christmas music while we did the job. After the tree was decorated and the various ornaments set in place in the community and kitchen, we had a beautiful prayer service blessing our tree. Then we ordered takeout from a local deli and enjoyed supper together.
Our Christmas tree and the Nativity scene above our TV
Sr. Geralda with whom I live is a fantastic baker. Want to sample her scones and Irish bread?
 
Now, let's head back downstairs and visit our large crèche and chapel. Both scenes remind us what this season is all about.

This crèche with its life-size figures is in an open room in our main corridor where anyone walking down the hallway can pause for a visit. I understand that the stable was made by one of our former chaplains, Fr. Farrell.


Right inside the chapel door is this beautiful bowl of evergreens and holly.
Our Advent wreath is situated in the back of chapel.
 

When I arrived in chapel this morning, work was still in progress preparing for Christmas day. In the choir someone was practicing music and down below the chapel itself was being readied.
 Jeff and Kevin, two members of our grounds crew, are setting up the tree in the sanctuary.
Sue, a member of our housekeeping staff is making sure the pews glisten!
 

Hopefully this virtual tour of our motherhouse will entice you to come for a real visit. We'd love to have you and there's lots more to see--not just at Christmas. Our home and our grounds are beautiful during every season of the year!

 
 


Friday, December 12, 2014

Joining Together to Pray for an End to Gun Violence

Yesterday afternoon our sisters held an outdoor vigil commemorating the second anniversary of the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and focusing attention on the problem of gun violence in our country. The weather had been cold and dreary with intermittent snow showers during the day. By the time we gathered at 4:30 P.M. the lad afternoon shadows seemed to intensify the cold. About 50 of our sisters and friends braved the cold to join in prayer.

A week or so earlier our advocacy committee had set up colorful t-shirts bearing the name and age of each of the children and adults whose lives had been taken two years ago. Just looking at the age of each victim added to the sense of pain felt by those of us who gathered there. A reporter from a local paper told me that he had been sent to cover six of the funerals. "Six!" he repeated. Just seeing the names awakened his pain.


Sr. Marie Lucey opened the prayer service by explaining the purpose of the vigil and the efforts in which our sisters have been involved in working to find ways to handle the issue of gun violence and to change our country's attitudes dealing with gun possession.



We joined in singing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and listened to several readings--both from scripture and from the blog of Rev. Kurt C. Wiesner. The names of each of the victims of the massacre were read and as each name was announced, one of the participants moved and stood by the appropriate t-shirt holding a lighted candle.



We moved into a litany of the tragedy of gun violence which cited statistics from several sources, including Rev. W. Mark Koenig of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and the blog of Rev. Kurt C. Wiesner. Each of these statistics struck me to the core, especially these three:
  • "When a gunman takes out kindergartners in a beautiful Connecticut suburb, three days after a gunman shot up a mall in Oregon, in the same year as fatal mass shootings in Minneapolis, in Tulsa, in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, in a theater in Colorado, a coffee bar in Seattle, and a college in California, then we need to question our gun possession laws."
  • " In many places there is more oversight required to get a dog, catch a fish, or to feed someone a meal. Forty percent of guns sold legally in America do not require a background check."
  • "Of the world's 23 'most wealthy' countries, the U.S. gun-related murder rate is almost 20 times that of the other 22 and had 80% of all of gun deaths of those countries combined.
To each of these statistics, we responded, "Lord, give us a change of heart and the courage to act against gun violence."

Before our final prayer, Rabbi Linda Potemken, the spiritual leader of the congregation of Beth Israel in Media, Pennsylvania, addressed the group. She shared her thoughts on gun violence and led us in a Hebrew chant. We closed our vigil by singing "Peace is flowing like a river."

As I sat writing this post today, one of our sisters stopped by the office. She mentioned that as she passed the site this morning, she stopped to straighten some of the t-shirts. A passing car stopped and the driver--a woman--called out, "Thank you, Sister, for putting up those shirts." I can only repeat, "Thank you, God, and thank you, my sisters, for this powerful reminder of the task still ahead of us!"


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advent Reflection

Advent is a time of waiting--we all know that! But what are we waiting for? Our chaplain, Fr. Cyprian, addressed this question in his homily on Sunday. We might say that we're waiting for Jesus. But, he reminded us, Jesus has already come. Fr. Cyprian explained that we're waiting for the coming of the kingdom and stressed the fact that the "kingdom" is something that we help to bring about in our everyday lives.--our interaction with one another, our reaching out to others in acceptance and in our efforts to work for justice.

Sometimes I get discouraged when I watch or read the news and witness little in the way of "good news." War, violence, rioting, scandals--everything seems negative and each broadcast seems more frightening than the last. I consider my own lifetime--I'll turn 75 in a few months--and can count at least seven wars during my lifetime. God only knows how many others more "local" wars go on every day throughout the world. And I ask myself, "What are we waiting for? When will we learn that violence doesn't solve anything? I read account after account of politicians who hold steadfastly to their own ideas rather than listening and trying to understand one another. When will they learn what children learn at an early age--that it is possible to negotiate and to work together to  achieve more equitable solutions without compromising values?

Then yesterday, when I was working on an Advent prayer service, I remembered a poem that I had written a number of years ago. Although on the surface the poem is about the growth of a plant from seed to blossom, it is really about the willingness to wait and to trust--even when the waiting can sometimes be done in a time of darkness. In other words, the poem seems to capture the Advent message! It reminded me that life--like the growth of a plant--doesn't happen all at once. It's a slow process and many times we have to trust that the outcome of our plans, our dreams, our hopes will come to fruition. We wait for the outcome and while we wait, our hope is in the God whom the trust, the God who is--and who will always be--so much in love with each of us!

Journey
God-love waits . . .
Patient,
Still,
Holding deep within her rich and womb-like soil of
Hope
The promise of a newer day . . .
A vision for the seeds that dare the dark
And risk the journey
Into God.
 
Tiny seed surrenders to the
Dark,
Secure in knowing that
Unknowing
Does not need to fear,
Listening
To the whispered secrets of a
Gentle God,
Trusting
That her journey into
Light
Begins with roots
That burrow in the
Heart of
Hope. 
Nudged by nurturing
Darkness,
Drawn by unseen
Light
Fragile newness moves
Upward,
Outward,
And with gentle pressure on the
Womb of Earth
The slender stem is born,
Embraced and welcomed by the
Sun
And holding promise in its hidden roots. 
And promise comes,
Held fast within each tightly fashioned
Bud,
Unfolded gently by the
Morning Sun.
And promise lives
In blossomed beauty that reflects its
Many-petaled God
And does not mourn the passing of its day
For blossoms born of
Hope
Know well their roots. 
And God-love waits . . . 
                                                              Ann Marie Slavin, OSF


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Neumann University Students Explore Justice Issues in Theory and in Practice

For Neumann University students, the phrase “education in the Franciscan tradition” takes on a very literal interpretation, especially in regard to social justice issues. In mid-November six Neumann students joined 1,300 social justice advocates at the Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice. The students attended workshops, presentations, and discussions; rallied on Capitol Hill; and met collectively with more than 125 congressional offices. They addressed current issues such as comprehensive immigration reform, human rights policies in Central America, climate change, and issues affecting the economically poor.

On November 18—a night when temperatures hit a record low—a group of Neumann students participated in a sleep-out to draw attention to the issue of homelessness and to experience for one night what people who are homeless experience on a daily basis. The students processed from the Mirenda Center to the south drive of the convent where they met a group of sisters from the motherhouse and other local convents. The students and sisters shared a beautiful prayer service which culminated in the sisters singing the Blessing of St. Francis as they prayed over the students. When the students returned to the Mirenda Center lawn, they received the cardboard boxes in which they would spend the night.
 
Student getting ready to process from the Mirenda Center to the convent. With them is Sr. Peggy Egan.
 
Two different views of the sisters who attend the prayer service--just to give a sense of the number!
 
"May the Lord bless and protect you. May the Lord cast his merciful eyes upon you. May the Lord look toward you and grant you peace. May the Lord bless you."
 
Getting settled in for the night in a cardboard box!
 
 

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