On Sunday, the Feast of Corpus Christi, nine children received Jesus for the first time at the Cathedral of St. Paul of the Cross in Mandeville Jamaica. In this photo: Passionist Fr. Michael Rowe, Deacon Dennis Hendriks and Catechist – Passionist Associate Julie-Ann Biggs.
Sister Eileen and Sister Anna Marie Becker have created a shared tradition for the Associates here in their home on the grounds of Our Lady Queen of Peace Retreat Center in the Catholic Diocese of Memphis, Dancyville, Tennessee. It could not be an overstatement for most of us to say this tradition has come to serve as our Holy Week holiday gathering no less important to us than the homecoming we all feel when we go forth to celebrate the rest of the Easter weekend with our immediate families of origin. Coming to Sisters’ home we gather around the table as brothers and sisters in a family where Sister Eileen is our “Mother” and Sr. Anna Marie, our “Grandmother”. And, no less than ‘real’ brothers and sisters coming home for the holidays, we bring all our baggage along with heartfelt gladness to see each other for a sacred event.
We gather in the Retreat Center for Good Friday Stations of the Cross and the Passion of the Lord services. Afterwards we ascend to Sisters’ home up the hill. The Associates, the retreat center staff, Good Fridays’ Presiders, Fr. Mickey & Deacon Bill, and our significant others have all been invited to participate.
As they greet us with delight, hugs and kisses, the Sisters have an intoxicating, contagious joy that seems to dance through the house.Our somber liturgy is replaced with the highest sense of celebration. The paradox of the Passionist charism is in full play.
Much in advance, Sisters and Alma have been planning and preparing a banquet meal in the kitchen, the aroma of which fills the air. The house is spic and span. Egypt and Asia are checking out who is going to be playful and give them some petting.
The very first order of business, after Sister Eileen takes off her shoes and hustles everyone into a circle in the den, is the Sisters of the Cross and Passion Traditional & Ultimate Toast of the year, always with a glass (or two) of smooth Sherry. And soon we are all the merrier.
After our toast this year, Fr. Mickey gave Sr. Anna Marie the Anointing of the Sick, because she’s been very ill. It was powerfully healing and blessed us all to participate in the Sacrament with her. It also made me cry to think there will come days when we will gather there with her in Spirit only. However, the fact is, she will be there much as are the Associates who have passed on, or are inhibited from being with us due to work, distance, illness, or life circumstances.
Not long and the hors’dourves are being passed around and the wine glasses are being filled. Things are bustling in the kitchen. We can’t wait to taste the Italian cuisine because we know the marvelous cooks we have, as much as any good mother and her elder daughter, are in full charge of the kitchen.
Sisters recall the old days in the convent when Holy Week was a week of fasting and ultimate ‘spring cleaning’. They describe how after a week of fasting, prayer and hard, detailed work this toast would take their Spirits into ecstasy! They talk about how this feast is the pinnacle that exemplifies their charism and the Order.
They explain what this celebration has been like and meant to them in the course of their Religious life. For Sister Anna Marie this year was her 60th Jubilee! We find this captivating ~because all our life have we not wondered to our core, what is it really like to be a nun? And more specifically, what is it like to be a Sister within this order whose charism lives inside and draws each of us. For them to share their personal reflections with us is like peering through the window of something we’ve at one time or another imagined, been drawn to, perhaps even coveted. Many of us are perplexed. How is it that they honor us with these intimacies? We are certainly not deserving of this privilege.
Of course, like all good children, then we clean up! Everyone joins in clearing the table, putting food away with leftovers parceled out, washing, drying and putting up the dishes ,sharing more conversation, prayers, hugs and kisses, saying goodbye and making plans for next gathering.
The spiritual growth and fellowship, the heartaches and joys, we’ve shared at each of our regular monthly meetings reaches a peak on that evening, and must be a glimpse of what life is for the Order of the Sisters of the Cross & Passion. We feel kindred in mind, heart and spirit and it feels where each of us in our strengths and weaknesses are accepted for who we are, where we belong, by who we have come to love.We feel grateful and loved. We want to come back. It feels we’ve been home.
- Kathryn Barnoud – Tennessee Associate
What inspires you? The word “inspire” means, literally, to breathe in. When we come in contact with someone or something that resonates with our own hearts, we are inspired. We stop and breathe IN, and our own spirit is changed by what has inspired us.
We can learn much about ourselves by paying attention to those things, people, situations, that capture our attention and inspire us.
Elizabeth Prout, who lived and worked in England in the mid-nineteenth century, was inspired by several things. At an early age she was drawn to Catholicism, and to the needs of the poor, especially women and children who were in so many ways victimized by the societal changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Finally, she was inspired by the Passionist charism as preached and lived by the Passionists in England.
All these elements came together in her to shape her spirit, her own charism, in a very unique way. Today, we can say without hesitation that it was the charism of Elizabeth Prout that brought her to actions filled with courage and virtue. It was her charism that led her to teach and to care for the poor in so many ways. It was her charism that led Elizabeth to make religious life available to women who did not have the usually required financial resources. It was her charism that led her to give of herself, her energies and her abilities until she could give no more. It was her charism that strengthened Elizabeth to withstand so much persecution, betrayal and misunderstanding, and still maintain her trust in the plan of God for her life.
Currently, the life and work of our beloved Elizabeth Prout is undergoing close scrutiny in Rome as part of the process of canonization. This process was begun some years ago in the Archdiocese of Liverpool, in England. There, all the historical information about Elizabeth’s life and work was collected and carefully documented. When this process was complete, all the findings were sent to the Vatican, to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, where the second stage of the process is now underway.
The key to canonization, simply stated, is the exercise of heroic virtue. Virtue, our theology tells us, is participation in the life of the Trinity, the source of all virtue and holiness. The existence of virtue in an individual is proved through the actions of the individual. Truly, in this canonization process, actions speak louder than words!
We trust that Elizabeth Prout’s exercise of heroic virtue will be proved through a study of her actions. It is the same for each of us. Our virtue is seen, or not, in our actions: in how we treat others, how we serve, how we live out the Gospel values given to us by Jesus.
If we are inspired by the life and work of Elizabeth Prout, our prayer will be that her virtue will be recognized by the whole Church. The inspiration we take from her will make our own spirits stronger, and our personal charism will be enriched by hers.
- Sister Elissa Rinere, C.P.
When I was entering the Sisters of the Cross and Passion in 1966, I remember being asked, “Why would you choose a community with that name?” All I know is that I had met the sisters in the parish where I grew up and seen their spirit of family and ministry. Then and now I experience my call as a Sister of the Cross and Passion as an invitation to be in relationship with a God of love.
The community, when I entered, was focused on education. I always wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to instruct others, especially in the knowledge of God in their lives. With a BA in Education and Theology, I had the opportunity to teach in parish grade schools in CT, NY and inner city RI. After receiving an MA in Theology I began teaching at Prout Memorial High School in Wakefield, RI, a school built and run by our sisters. When I arrived, it was an all-girls school, but in my last two years there we became a diocesan co-ed high school.
After leaving Prout, I went into parish ministry as Director of Religious Education at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Wakefield. What an opportunity it was to walk with the youth of the parish and minister to their parents, particularly in the sacramental programs. Also there was the excitement of doing outreach with some of the elderly in the weekly Share the Word program. As the years added up, I had the sense of being one with families. Programs I created were booming and parents were coming forward to help in a variety of ways. During this time I was also involved in our community Vocation Ministry team.
A difficult decision, made after deep discernment, drew me from parish ministry to my present involvement in retreat ministry at Our Lady of Calvary Spiritual Center in Farmington, CT. I had been invited both to retreat ministry and to be a member of a community being formed for young women interested in joining the community. That first year all the faces were new, but as time passed I found myself welcoming the familiar faces and spirits of arriving retreatants.
When some people asked me to companion them on their spiritual journey, I realized that I needed education in spiritual direction. Through the Spiritual Direction Program at Mercy Center, Madison, CT, as well as the prayer circle practice in our theme weekends, I learned more about myself and how to be present to others on their journey with God.
One of the elements in my own journey is the gift of music. I am inspired by Danielle Rose’s song God Is. It begins: “You want to know me…you want to see my face…” and goes on to say: “I am the beginning in the end. I am the faith in your believing…I am the color of truth…I am the dreamer of your dreams…I am the silence in the music…I am the music in the silence…”
So, that’s my life as a Sister of the Cross and Passion. There have been bumps and pot holes along the way. There have been losses and delightful experiences of gaining new friends and new insights into myself, others and God.
- Sister Ann Rodgers, C.P.
On April 15, 1928 I was born at home in the little village of Peace Dale, RI, near Narragansett Bay. A month later I was baptized at St. Francis of Assisi Church and given the name of Madalena. My parents, Luke and Henrietta, presented a baby sister to my brother Dan, who was four years old.
My first introduction to my Catholic faith came when I was about three. Every night when I went to bed, my mother helped me to make the Sign of the Cross. Later I entered the Stepping Stone Kindergarten where I learned to play with other children. One spring I was chosen Queen of the Maypole, a yearly tradition, and I wore a beautiful white dress my mother made for me. Two years later I entered Peace Dale Grammar School. During this time we had Catechism at church every Tuesday and Thursday. When I was eight, I received my first Holy Communion and it was a really special day for me. I had waited a long time for this event. Every week I went to confession and assisted at Mass and loved to receive the Eucharist on Sundays.
In 1939 the World’s Fair was held in New York. My dad, aunt, uncle and I went by train, my first trip to the big city. Being a country girl, I was amazed at the huge, high buildings, thousands of people, loads of noise and traffic. The fair was spectacular with so many exhibits from all over the world and many new inventions, especially the introduction of television, which was really most fascinating. When TV was finally on the market to be sold, my dad was the first to purchase one and placed it in the window of our store so people could watch it.
Several special events happened in 1941, my graduation from 8th grade, my confirmation, my entrance into high school and the beginning of WW2. I loved high school, had many friends and worked hard at my studies. My free time was spent going to the movies, roller skating, ice skating, riding my bike, working in my dad’s store, helping my mother, who worked at night, and being responsible for my two younger sisters, Marie and Carolyn. My brother Dan was in the navy. While in high school, I assisted at 7:00 am Mass every morning and in the afternoon many of us would go to the church hall to do homework, play the juke box or have a game of basketball.
In 1944 three Passionist Sisters were invited by our pastor to take charge of teaching catechism and visiting the homes in the parish. Most parishioners had never seen nuns before, so it was a new experience for all. When I was a junior in high school, our pastor asked two of my friends and me to help the Sisters teach the younger children after school. During the year I became very fond of them and often helped in many ways. Sometimes they invited me to pray with them in the chapel (in Latin and English). A Sister gave me my first spiritual reading book, The Autobiography of St. Therese, the Little Flower. I was very impressed with her deep desire to become a Carmelite Nun and to live a beautiful life of prayer, devotion and intense love of God.
One day in January the Superior and I were doing a project and just having some casual conversation, when she asked me a question I shall never forget, “Have you ever thought of being a Sister?” Suddenly, without any thought or hesitation I said, “YES!” Why my answer was so spontaneous I will never know, but it must have been God who intervened and changed my whole life. My future plan was to be a private secretary to a rich woman and travel the world. It never happened! I hurried home to tell my parents what I had done and they were very happy, gave me permission and provided all that I needed. I left high school after my Junior Year and entered the novitiate of the Passionist Sisters in Bristol, RI.
I have now been 67 years in religious life. I am so grateful that God chose me specially to be a Sister of the Cross and Passion. My daily prayer has always been of a deep appreciation for my vocation and that my love for Jesus and the crucified of the world will always be in my heart. Deo gratias.
- Sister Madeline Pucella, C.P.
After spending twenty of my 56 years of religious life in retreat ministry, I entered a new stage in 2010 when I moved to Union City, NJ, where I reside with Sister Mary Ann Strain in an apartment building erected on the footprint of what used to be St. Michael’s Passionist Monastery.
According to the 2010 census, Union City has a population of 64,405, slightly less than in 2000 when it was the most densely populated city in the United States. In September, 2009 it had an unemployment rate of 15%, highest in the state of New Jersey. 20% of its people live below the poverty line. In spite of its location atop the majestic Palisades and the views of the Manhattan skyline, the city is anything but beautiful.
The picture sounds bleak; yet Union City is actually quite a pleasant place to live: safe, friendly, well equipped with local businesses and public transportation. In the two years since Mary Ann and I have been in our apartment, I have become fond of Union City. Neighbors and salespersons and the UPS man have become familiar faces. It seems natural to hear more Spanish than English.
Until last June a community of Passionist men lived across the street in what was once The Sign building. I spent several afternoons a week amid their provincial archives, as well as daily joining the community for Evening Prayer and Mass. That routine came to an end when the offices were moved to Rye Brook, NY, and the community was reassigned.
However, I now find myself on the brink of a new “career” as part-time librarian at nearby St. Augustine’s School. The library science I never wanted to study is coming in handy once again. One duty will be to reading stories to the little ones. That should be fun. All in all, I look forward to welcoming children as I used to welcome retreatants as they crossed the threshold of Our Lady of Calvary Retreat Center.
- Sr. Mary O’Brien, C.P.