Congratulations Jubilarians for over 370 years of combined religious life!
Religious life is a pilgrimage not just a journey
Celebration of this year’s Jubilarians started by acknowledging a contribution in their honour to a northern community in need, followed by Sister Sandra Shannon’s address:
Life has been described as a journey. It is a good metaphor. I’ve used it myself to explain what has happened to me in the past and what changes might happen to me in the future.
Today, though, I want to view the Religious Life of these six women not as a journey but as a pilgrimage. There is a difference. We are born into the journey of life with no say about it. However, we choose to begin the pilgrimage of religious life, usually from some inner feeling or sense of call from God.
Anne, Elaine, Catherine, Kay, Lucy and Karen, 70, 60, 50 years ago, you voluntarily began your pilgrimage through religious life.
Their first task was to prepare for this adventure. They bought provisions and gear. Remember the list sent from the Motherhouse? Then they had to travel, for some a long journey, for others a short one, to this strange land called the congregation. Here is where the pilgrimage really began. This land had its own language, e.g. mistress, grand silence, wet mop, dry mop, collation, congé, outside sleeves, etc. The people in this strange land, well, they all dressed the same.
A pilgrimage, deliberately chosen, is done for a purpose, or goal. What might that purpose have been for these six women? I think they had a threefold purpose/goal:
- To come to know and love God more deeply
- To come to know themselves more clearly
- To serve the poor in yet some unknown way
On a pilgrimage, the mode of transportation is walking. It was so with these women. They walked new terrain in this religious life in the early years called novitiate and temporary profession. They saw new vistas, learned a profession or honed the one they had. They learned prayers, the meaning of silence, how to pray, how to walk with others. Each year their pilgrimage brought them to small streams called retreats. Here they rested from their walking, found refreshment, and drew closer to their purpose, their goal of closeness to God. On the road again, they would see the far hills, and beautiful sunsets and know LOVE awaited them there as well, as clarity of self and mission.
Occasionally, the going was rough and the countryside unknown. Muscles were strained. Falling down was an occasional occurrence. However, always THE ONE whom they had come to know and for whom they continued their pilgrimage, lifted them up and set them on their way again.
Pilgrimages usually involve suffering. For those on the pilgrimage through religious life to discover God and self, the suffering can be loneliness. Why? Because only God can fill the void within. Yes, for our group of six there was loneliness but never aloneness. Their Lover always made sure others were there on the same pilgrimage. They were called community members.
The way forward often took many twists and turns brought about by life circumstances. Perhaps it was a change in ministry that opened up a whole new way of being. Perhaps it was illness that changed the route they walked.
The one certainty of a pilgrimage is - the experience itself shapes us. Anne, Elaine, Catherine, Kay, Lucy and Karen are who they are today because they have faithfully walked the religious life road for 70, 60, 50 years.
Have they finished their pilgrimage? Have they reached their goal? – Not yet! It will only be over when their goal of being one with their God has finally been accomplished, when they find their true self and when the poor they came to serve are poor no more.
I wish each of you strength, hope and blessings for the pilgrimage that is yet to continue and I express the gratitude of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul for your choosing to share your pilgrimage with us.
A Time to Remember
An excerpt from Sister Lucy Kearney’s response on behalf of the Jubilarians
Jubilees are times to remember, to give thanks for what has been up until this moment, and to prepare ourselves for the unknown future.
Thanks to our General Superiors and leadership teams we were challenged to grow, given opportunities to study, to recognize and adjust to the needs of the time whether in healthcare, educational field, social work, spiritual or pastoral ministries. At each stage, we experienced a “Letting Go”, both as individuals and as a Congregation.
Upon reflecting on letting go and planning for the future two quotes from former General Superiors always surface. Firstly, Sister Irene Forrester reminded us that good stewardship demands that we plan well for future sponsorship whether in our hands or those of some Catholic organization; secondly that of Sister Joan Whittingham when she said “Letting go of what was, is painful and needs to be grieved. At the same time, I invite us all to recognize the potential for responding to the needs in our time as our pioneer sisters did in theirs, by embracing our moment in history to ensure the continuance of the healing ministry of Jesus”.
Fast forward to the present. Sandra, Frances, Gayle, Diane you have relentlessly collaborated with others to plan that we Sisters of Providence will leave a legacy whereby our mission to work toward a world, where the vulnerable will experience compassion, justice and peace, will continue. Ever sensitive to the reality experienced by aging, uncertainty, accepting that we may be no longer in control, but believing that we are called to be channels of God’s Providence, you arrange processes to bring us to a place of peace. Your encouragement, your positive trust in the future, and your prayerfulness are most obvious and appreciated. Thank You.
I conclude with the words of St. Paul to the Philippians: “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will bring it to completion”.
We Jubilarians say, “We thank God every time we remember you, constantly praying with joy in our hearts for all of you. We are confident in this, that the one who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.”
Lives That Flow Like a Stream
An excerpt from Friar Ed Debono’s homily at Saturday’s celebration Mass
Your varied lives flow like streams from the Rocky Mountains. They flowed down from different paths, at different rates, in different ways and all in conformity with nature. Routes that had to be considered and a drive that was personal, strong and purpose filled. Without knowing what you would encounter along the way, rocks, roots, and refreshing pools, you kept moving, going somewhere, to converge at a common destination.
For it was the theme of your lives that empowered you to choose different paths, different objectives, different means, to reach the same objective. There was a basic drive, unclear initially, but as you journeyed you wondered: What am I here for? What does the Creator want me to do?”
The spark you had in your hearts when you entered is still there. It is like that stream of water that still flows and gives refreshment to others.
Keep that sparkle in your eyes and hearts as you deepen your spiritual life with the help of the Holy Spirit and may the Holy Spirit help you to keep on celebrating the joy of who you are.
Congratulations to all the Jubilarians from your own community, the Congregation of Notre Dame and the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph. Congratulations also from the Franciscan Friars and the Archdiocese of Kingston.
Jubilarians gift to a northern community
This year Jubilee celebrants made a donation to the Norway House First Nation community where Sister Una Byrne is currently missioned. Sister Una sent an appreciation letter presented in part below:
What a wonderful surprise to hear that you had chosen our mission in Norway House First Nation, as the recipient of the community recognition of your jubilee! I personally, was really touched! The people were surprised and happy. They have good memories of the Sisters who lived and taught here for many years at the Residential School. Our present church is on the site of the Sisters’ convent and I have heard many stories of “Sister Cook” who must have been a remarkable woman, as many seem to have gone to her for advice and consolation. They also speak of the good education the Sisters gave them. When I came, they asked if more Sisters would be coming back! So they remember Sisters as people who helped them! And now you come again to help them!
[We] discussed your proposed gift [and realized what] we needed were some hymn books for wakes, funerals and memorial services.
With the poor health and social problems here, we have a lot of deaths. The people take death very seriously, and spend whole days and nights mourning their dead. The musicians keep these services going, often, all night. The music they know is not usually in our books, so we have been at a great disadvantage when we are conducting these services. And you have come to our rescue!
The people want me to thank you for your kindness, for thinking of them and helping them in this way. When they come to me for prayers for their sick and troubled family members I tell them how our Sisters are praying for them and they like that very much.
Congratulations, may God bless you all with joy and thanksgiving in the gift of your vocation.