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?

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!

God-love waits . . .
Holding deep within her rich and womb-like soil of
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
Secure in knowing that
Does not need to fear,
To the whispered secrets of a
Gentle God,
That her journey into
Begins with roots
That burrow in the
Heart of
Nudged by nurturing
Drawn by unseen
Fragile newness moves
And with gentle pressure on the
Womb of Earth
The slender stem is born,
Embraced and welcomed by the
And holding promise in its hidden roots. 
And promise comes,
Held fast within each tightly fashioned
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
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!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Updates from Haiti!

As she has for the last few years, Sr. Vicky Della Valle returned to Haiti in late summer to continue her work with the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania,  Ohio, a congregation with whom our sisters have been partnering in the Haiti mission. Recently Sr. Vicky sent us the first of this season's email updates. Hope you enjoy learning about her experiences and about the great work she and Sr. Jo are doing in Ferrier.

September 26, 2014

Well, we’ve been back in Ferrier for two weeks now.  It’s nice to be with our people again—  very warm and welcoming.  Actually we’re all very warm!  The humidity is really high right now. Thank God that at least we have fans.  The good thing is that the bugs haven’t been nearly as bad.  We only had one really close encounter—with a huge tarantula!  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that the body was about two and a half inches in diameter and with the legs, it was about 10 inches. I screamed—taking a picture, as I did with the snake, didn’t enter my mind! 

Yesterday Madame Chery, the pharmacist from our clinic, came for supplies.  She and her little son rode in on a donkey.  She has no official training to be a pharmacist but has been doing it for many years. After a nice visit, she and her son loaded all the supplies on the donkey.  I was petting him.  He was very soft and gentle but didn’t like when I touched his ears.  He didn’t seem to mind the heavy load.  He just continued eating grass until they were ready to leave.  Oh, how much we can learn from animals about taking life as it comes and just being ourselves!
Sr. Jo welcomed Madame Chery, her little son, and their donkey.

We’ve had so many people coming to us this month for medical needs, help with education for their children, money for home repairs which are still damaged from Hurricane Sandy, and food for the week ahead.  We try to help as best we can through our KPA Leadership and our clinic personnel in Abriko.  It’s difficult because the needs are so much greater than what we’re able to give.  It breaks our hearts when we have to turn people away, but sometimes there’s just no other option.  When we come together for prayer in the evening, we remember them and pray that God will provide for them in some other way.
Clare Rose, a friend of Sr. Jo, told the sisters about the extensive damage on her house resulting from Hurricane Sandy. The sisters will help with repairs after Christmas.
October 2014

In October Bill Plaza returned twice to our visitor’s house with two different groups.  When the first group of 10 were on their way to our house, some of the women were traveling in a truck with the Haitian driver.  Six Haitian men came out onto the road.  At first they helped them with some problems the driver was having with the vehicle but before leaving, the men asked for money and one of them stole an empty but expensive suitcase.  When the visitors arrived, they told us what happened.  Although they were shaken up, they had a very good attitude about the situation.  That was Sunday.  Then yesterday, Wednesday, one of the six young men showed up at our gate with the suitcase. He spoke with one of the visitors and told her that he was sorry about what happened and that it would never happen again.  She forgave him, and even shared some cookies with him as well as a Haitian New Testament.  It was a very touching experience of forgiveness and reconciliation between people of different cultures but of the same human family.

 Throughout the week the visitors talked about their experiences in the villages.  One village was so remote and so deep down in a valley that, when they tried to climb back up, they were exhausted.  One of the younger women couldn’t make it so they had to rent a donkey from a villager in order for her to make the journey.  They also met several different people whose bodies were covered with scabies, a parasite which people get from dirty water.  Two of the visitors were nurses and had brought some medicinal sprays which they used to treat it.  One man had been walking around for five months with a broken arm.  The team splinted it to keep it motionless in order to facilitate healing process.
Sr. Jo and Sr. Vicky gathered with one of the visiting teams who helped with both medical care and structural repairs.
The second team of visitors began immediately to repair gutters after a nine-hour drive.

Apart from medicine, however, the team’s main purpose was to bring water filters to the villagers to provide clean water for themselves and their children.  They are also hoping to build a community cistern in an area that is far away from any water source.  It was really inspiring to hear all about the good they are doing here.  Bill returned   at the end of the month with another group which included an engineer.  They were able, with his expertise, to fix our gutter, put up a gutters for our neighbors, and redirect the overflow of water from the cistern in our visitors’ house into the cistern in front of our convent.  This will allow us to have more water to share with our people during the dry season.   They are also working on a solution for the leak on the roof of our visitors’ house.  Yesterday we had a very strong storm and one of the visitors mentioned that “the River Jordan” was flowing through the upstairs community room.

Wilgens, Simeone, and Banave work with the sisters on a daily basis doing repairs and, in Banav's case, serving as interpreter.

 This has certainly been a busy month.  We reopened our little village school, St. Rose de Lima, on October 15.  There have been a lot of changes made for the good of the children. I think the parents are very happy, too. We have 12 second graders and 18 first graders.  Other parents would like to send their children but for now we just don’t have the space.  We have also hired a Haitian from our parish to be assistant director.  Both he and the teachers have been working very hard.   I think they are excited about this new beginning.  Thank God for that because enthusiasm is the key to success!
First graders at St. Rose de Lima School enjoy playtime during a classroom break.


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