Saints Among Us

On September 8, 1845 a small group of young women from Baden, Germany journeyed to Steinerberg, Switzerland due to government oppression of religious orders. There they formed a community, the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. The early years were not easy. Ultimately the Sisters were forced to leave Switzerland because of the Swiss government’s hostility towards them. In 1848 they found a home in French Alsace. In 1857 a request for teachers came from Gurtweil, Germany, and so back to Germany they went. Once again, a hostile German government forced the Sisters to seek refuge. This time a group of sisters from the Gurtweil foundation traveled to America. In 1870, nine Sisters arrived in Belle Prairie, Illinois. In 1873 the Sisters temporarily moved to St. Louis, and in 1875 they established the motherhouse in O’Fallon, Missouri.

175 years later, their goal is straightforward. To love God and to be the reconciling presence of Jesus in the communities they serve. Often when I’m feeling spiritually bankrupt, I think of the Sisters and their determination to bring Christ to others. And I know that I am living among saints.

With my Aunts ~ circa 1958

As a Catholic, I know that we are the Church, not the Pope nor the bishops nor the priests but we, the ordinary, everyday, sinful, struggling, prayerful, bored, loving, argumentative, forgiving, messy, mass of humanity. We are the Church. I just occasionally struggle with being part of “We”. Sometimes my prayer life is what I can best describe as anemic. “Hey God, you know what I need, and I’ll try to do better about ‘that thing’ we’ve discussed, and oh by the way, you know what I’m thankful for, too. So, thank you – bla, bla, bla – the end.”

During some of those “desert days”, when I struggle to find God in my life, I am blessed with faithful friends who lift me up and humble me by their love and devotion.

Today in addition to the professed Sisters, a group of lay people known as “Partners in Mission” have joined to help bring peace to our world. Fortunately for me, I have been accepted as a Partner in Mission with the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. As Partners, we stand in solidarity with the Sisters in their commitment to social justice. Together, we join in prayer and worship. We are offered Spiritual guidance and renewal. In a world full of chaos and uncertainty we find refuge with these women who have devoted themselves to bringing the the love of Jesus to our world.

With my Partners in Mission ~ circa 2019

I’m honored to be a part of this mission. Sometimes it’s as simple as offering a kind word or a friendly smile. Which sounds simple unless I’m carrying too much anger, mistrust or heartache. Sometimes it means being involved in service to others in our community. Which can present its own challenges when I’m feeling particularly lazy or selfish.

Mostly for me it’s just being PRESENT. Giving myself to others with no expectation of anything in return. Listening to stories. Sharing joy. Making memories. Being loved. The best part is that there is no test of worthiness or holiness required – which I would almost certainly fail. No financial obligation or talent is necessary – again I am lacking in both regards.

When I am bereft of enlightenment or clarity or purpose, I am reminded that alone my journey is not easy, but I am never alone. I know that I am being carried along on this journey of love and faith and joy by the Sisters and the other Partners in Mission.

And I am part of “We”.



If you would like to learn more about Partners in Mission, click the link:

Women of Faith

Recently during a virtual papal audience via satellite from the Vatican, Pope Francis called out to Sister Norma Pimentel who runs a welcome center in McAllen, Texas, which has served more than 20,000 asylum seeking immigrants.

“I want to thank you,” Francis said. “And through you to thank all the sisters of religious orders in the U.S. for the work that you have done and that you do in the United States. It’s great. I congratulate you. Be courageous. Move forward. I’ll tell you one other thing. Is it inappropriate for the Pope to say this? I love you all very much.“

Three of my aunts were Sisters of the Most Precious Blood and they were testaments to devotion, service, and joy in Christ. What amazing examples of faithfulness I was blessed with.

Circa 1957 That's me on Gene's lap - a happy place to be.

Noel, Gene Marie & Lucy with my grandparents, my brother, my cousins and my dad – circa 1957
(That’s me on Gene’s lap – a happy place to be.)

My three aunts, Lucida, Noel and Gene Marie, embodied all that is good about religious life. They were loving women who served God by serving others. They lived in community and shared their talents accordingly. They were intelligent women who were well-traveled and well-educated, not something to be taken for granted by women born in the 1910’s and 1920’s. They were teachers, administrators, catechists, and persons of authority. But to me they were simply my Aunts.

They were our family’s “Blessed Trinity”. They were honored guests and were afforded certain special privileges. When they would visit, Mom would be sure to make their favorite meals (particularly their favorite desserts). At my grandparents’ house it was always a treat when all three Sisters would visit at the same time. Growing up Catholic in the 1950’s and 60’s while having three aunts that were Sisters was the pinnacle of holiness for me – I wore it like a scapular medal. And I must admit that I bragged about it at school or with my friends. I remember that there were kids at school who were afraid of nuns but I knew how loving my aunts were and understood that the Sisters who taught us were also daughters, sisters and aunts, too. It was de-mystifying having nuns in our family. They were just like us (only holier). Some of my happiest childhood memories are laughing and playing with Lucy, Noel and Gene Marie.

Mom & Dad celebrating Gene's 60th year as a Religious Sister

My Mom & Dad with Aunt Gene ~ Celebrating her 70th year as a Religious Sister

As I grew, I understood the many sacrifices my aunts had made in serving God’s people. I was also keenly aware of the joy that they knew while living in community with their Sisters. They modeled for me a progressive faith; where service to others was the ultimate service to God. Instead of dogma and hierarchy; rules and regulations, their focus was on loving ALL of God’s creation. They taught me how to love even the unlovable (which sometimes included me).  There were times when I didn’t believe in God but I always believed in Lucy, Noel and Gene. Priests and bishops would come and go. Crises in our Church (mostly caused by men) would dominate the headlines but my Aunts remained steadfast. Perhaps they saw the folly in a “male only” clergy or perhaps they realized it was insignificant in the grand scheme of God’s promise. Even as cancer and Alzheimer’s took their lives, it didn’t distinguish their light.

They remain alive in my heart and in the thousands of lives that they each served. I for one will always be grateful for their unconditional love. And I share Pope Francis sentiments. “I love you all very much.”



School Daze

Growing up there were two choices in my little world: both were Catholic schools. In my hometown there was also a Lutheran school, but it seemed foreign and exotic and I never knew anyone who actually went there. And Public School was taboo and frightening. We simultaneously prayed for and pitied the Public School kids but mostly we feared them.

St_Peter_Grade_School_1960Such was life in a small town in the 1960’s. There were as many as 40 kids in a single classroom. We sat in long rows. We took turns. We did as we were told. We attended Mass daily. We were (mostly) quiet, polite and respectful. We studied hard. We burned off excess energy on the asphalt playground. We helped clean chalkboards after school for fun. And Sister kept order and discipline at all times.

Nostalgia has a way of white-washing and sweetening our memories. But Catholic school in the 1960’s was far from idyllic. Learning disabilities were discounted or ignored (kids were either smart or stupid). Physical abuse went unreported. Bullies controlled the playground and bathrooms. And although Sister was always right, she was under-valued, under-paid and likely took out her frustration on the students in her care.

My granddaughters are now in school and tremendous advances in education have been made in the 50+ years since I started elementary school. As a society we are more aware of bullying (and have adopted zero-tolerance policies), we embrace and celebrate diversity, and learning disabilities are diagnosed and accommodated.

One granddaughter attends Public School, the other attends Catholic School. Each attend quality schools with small class sizes and safe classrooms. Both have sound nutritional and physical programs, as well as art and music at their respective schools. And both have attentive and engaged parents who value education.

Yet I’m in a bit of a daze. Teachers in 2013 still seem to be under-valued, under-paid and under-appreciated. Our children are in the hands of teachers who are often struggling to make ends meet. Not surprising that gifted teachers often leave their careers for better paying jobs in the corporate world. As a society it seems we pay more attention to the kind of athletic shoes, iPhones or fashion that our kids are sporting then to ensuring that they are being educated by well-paid, well-trained teachers.

Let’s invest in our future. Let’s appropriately fund our schools. Let’s support educators. And let’s thank the ones that taught us by working for a better life for the ones that will teach our future generations. I was blessed to be taught by Sisters who loved God and their communities and sacrificed their lives that we might learn. If you want to be nostalgic think of a teacher that you loved (and who loved you). And then pay that love forward to a future teacher who might just improve the lives of your grandchildren.



Rogue Nuns

A plaque at Plaza Mayor depicting the punishment inflicted on the unorthodox during the time of The Spanish Inquisitions

The Vatican recently accused U. S. nuns, specifically the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), of radical feminism because they focus more on the human rights and the poor, rather than pushing Church doctrine against contraception and homosexuals. 

This was the lead article that I was reading on my iPhone that was streaming from The National Catholic Reporter the day that I happened to be sitting in Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain. The irony did not escape me. The Vatican, particularly arch-conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke and pedophile protector Cardinal Bernard Law, is now targeting “rogue nuns”. As I sat in the very place that The Spanish Inquisitions took place, I couldn’t help but think that Burke and Law, like Ferdinand and Isabella, must feel very confident that they are purifying the Church and maintaining Catholic Orthodoxy – cleansing it of those who would dare to question the hierarchy.

God bless our rogue nuns! What the bishops fail to realise is that WE are the Church and that WE have been heavily shaped by the love and nurturing of those religious women in our lives. Cradle Catholics like myself were often taught by sisters who sacrificed their personal lives to enrich our own. My own three aunts were Sisters of The Most Precious Blood and tirelessly gave of themselves day in and day out – building up the Kingdom of God on earth. But mostly the nuns that I knew (and know) loved us. Lived with us. Laughed with us. Cried with us. And faced the joy and heartache of life with us. If they questioned official Church teaching it was only because they walked with us as we ourselves questioned a hierarchy that at times seems woefully out of touch with our lives.

So bring it on Vatican! Silence the nuns! Demand obedience above all! Threaten excommunication! But the love that these women have inspired and The Church that they have built will never go away!

I think of my Aunts Lucy, Noel, and Gene Marie and thank God daily for their presence in my life. I think of great teachers: Thecla – who inspired in me a love of architecture and design (and was instrumental in my career choice), Jeanine – who gave me the opportunity to speak in public (some folks wish I would shut up now), Fidesta – who always made learning fun (even when she was a little bit scary), and so many more. I think of friends like Lucille who gave my family refuge when I transferred to Wisconsin for a new job (and left Deb alone with 3 small kids), Nivard who welcomed me to a new city when I was feeling very alone. And Helen, Dorothy, Mary, Ruth, Annette, Carol, Cindy, and countless others that have lived, loved, laughed, cried and walked with me.

We all know that the Spanish Inquisitions were really about power and never about love. The WE that is The Church will never abandon the Sisters that have built US. And loved US.

Come Holy Spirit Come!