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In Pursuit of the Spirit of Gratitude

By Guadalupe Guajardo, SNJM

November marks a defining time of harvest and abundance, a diminishing time of light and the remembrance of those gone before us. Gratitude is an emotion, an attitude, and a virtue that covers all these dimensions.

Gratitude as an emotion: It’s a feeling like joy, happiness, delight, gaiety and bliss.
Gratitude as an attitude: It’s a mindset, a disposition, a worldview that we hold or lean toward.
Gratitude as a virtue: It holds a special place in our heart and soul. Some would say it can be a form of prayer. Meister Eckhart reminds us “if the only prayer you say in your whole life is thank you, it will be enough.”

In addition, gratitude goes by many other names. In academic circles it is often referred to as “appreciative inquiry.” In the private sector it may be referred to as “best practices.” In the psychology field it is called “attentiveness bias.” In the metaphysical world it’s called “the law of positive attraction.” And in faith-based circles we’ll hear the words “blessings” and “grace.” This is one sign that the concept of gratitude is universal. There are some wonderful synonyms for gratitude as well: appreciation, gratefulness, thanks and thankfulness.

Despite our current political climate, wars, declining living conditions, environmental crises and the worsening conditions for immigrants and refugees, there is much to be grateful for in our lives and in our world. In the U.S., we have refined religious life into a ministerial profession and opportunity for service and carrying out the call of the Gospel. So many corners of the world still have underserved and neglected communities. If you read the online resource Global Sisters Report, you will find daily reassurance that Sisters continue to be present wherever there are marginalized and disenfranchised populations. Regardless of terrible conditions these people face, a sense of gratitude prevails, even if it’s often in small ways.

Whether we are experiencing crisis, scarcity, loss or merely frustration, expressions of gratitude lift the human spirit. They help us see that with some practice, we may gain insights from the challenges in our life and work. Gratitude also encourages us to stay positive, to focus on what is going well around us.

Each life situation offers an opportunity to intentionally notice gifts, insights, blessings and graces received. Even during our most challenging times, we have a choice about where to focus our attention. It is important to develop an eye for the good around us. All religious orders and ministries are experiencing extremely high demand for human services, advocacy and social change. In the midst of this work, many of us already have a practice of cultivating gratitude in our daily lives. This season is an opportunity to ramp it up.

Today I am grateful for my position on the Province Leadership Team, which allows me to accompany our Sisters and to be part of our transition to a new vision of religious life. I am grateful for our sense of teamwork in service of the SNJM U.S.-Ontario Province. I am grateful for those I serve as liaison to Mission Centres and on various committees. I am grateful to those I go home to, who help me renew my energy for the next day. I am grateful for the comfort and security I am privileged to experience. I’m grateful for our excellent staff throughout the Province. I’m grateful for our separately incorporated institutions. I’m grateful for so many “best friends” within our religious community. I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of a positive collective force making a significant difference in this country and in the world. What are you most grateful for during this season of gratitude?

Stories from a Month at Villa Maria del Mar

By Teresa Shields, SNJM

Until I volunteered at Villa Maria del Mar, I had no idea how its ministry of hospitality reaches so many individuals and groups. I spent time there this fall and last spring, helping with the recovery groups, faculties, seminarians, prison chaplains, prayer groups, Sisters, individual retreatants, quilters and others who keep the staff busy almost every day of the year. I want to share just a few stories from my time there in October.

One day, as I welcomed the Diocese of Oakland’s school superintendent and about 35 principals, I talked about the Villa’s history. At the end of my talk, Jocelyn Pierre-Villa staff with foundress cakeAntoine, who is principal of St. Bede’s, announced enthusiastically, “And don’t forget that Friday (Oct. 6) is the feast of Mother Marie Rose, who was the founder of the Holy Names Sisters!” Jocelyn cherishes the SNJM founding of her school, and she’s on fire with love for Mother Rose and the charism of our community. The next day she brought in a cake surrounded by strawberries – the symbol of SNJM ministries in California – which we shared with our kitchen staff at lunch.

Another time, an elderly couple sitting quietly at a table overlooking the beach was visited by Sister Cheryl Milner, director of the Villa. When Sister Cheryl asked them what brought them to the Villa, the husband said the visit was on his “bucket list.” His last visit had been a vacation with his mother in 1954, when he was 9 years old and the property was known as the Hotel Del Mar. When he searched online for Hotel Del Mar, the Villa’s website appeared. He was thrilled to come back to his childhood vacation spot and be able to spend a few days relaxing with his wife.

Toward the end of my stay, I welcomed three Daughters of Charity from St. Louis. As I learned their story, I found out that one of them, who had been in Province Leadership for the past 18 years, was going to Durand, MS with two other Sisters of Charity. They will continue the ministry of Sisters Paula Merrill, SCN, and Margaret Held, SSSF, who were murdered in their home in August 2016. One will be a social worker in the medical clinic there, another will minister to youth 18-24 who are not employed or in school, and the third will volunteer at the county correctional facility.

What a healing place of beauty and hospitality to all who come to the Villa! 

Sister Teresa Shields ministered for 30 years in the Mississippi Delta as an educator, advocate and fundraiser for community improvements. These days she is part of the Sisters of the Holy Names community in Seattle, WA. You can learn more about Villa Maria del Mar at www.villamariadelmar.org.

In the top photo: Jocelyn Pierre-Antoine and Sister Teresa enjoy a sunny day at the Villa in Santa Cruz, CA. In the lower photo: Sisters Cheryl and Teresa are surrounded by staff who later shared the cake topped with strawberries.

The Link Between Sisters, Sustainability and Stories

By Heather Rockwell

Understanding the relationship between the environment and society is critical for the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. As fires, floods and a whirlwind of worry sweep over humankind, the Sisters faithfully embrace their responsibility as stewards of the earth.

The Sisters’ commitments – spelled out in a document known as the Chapter Acts – include Integral Ecology, which calls for “a comprehensive vision to address what are simultaneously environmental and human crises.” Pope Francis writes of these interconnected relationships in Laudato Si’ (#48), where he states, “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together.”

Sister Mary Annette Dworshak is a teacher of religion at Holy Names Academy in Seattle who has incorporated this holistic approach to ecology in every aspect of her life and ministry. “The difference Laudato Si' made in my life, commitment and teaching is a call to accept the challenge of speaking out about our responsibilities to care for our common home and to take the risk of inviting others to join in prayer, advocacy and responsibility,” she said.

Along with others involved in the SNJM Congregation’s Justice and Peace Network, Sister Mary Annette seeks to promote understanding of how important it is to make sustainable practices a way of life. The Sisters do not work alone but are blessed with opportunities to advance the cause of sustainable living in collaboration with local, national and international groups.

A touchstone for their efforts is the United Nation’s “17 Goals to Transform Our World,” established in the fall of 2015. Many of the goals – including Clean Water and Sanitation, Gender Equality and Quality Education – are closely tied to the Sisters’ vision and mission. These sustainability goals are woven deeply into their daily lives. Several are reflected in their corporate stands, which are positions affirmed by the whole community to focus their efforts in advocacy, ministry and prayer.

From undertaking projects to provide clean water in Lesotho to speaking out against human trafficking in the U.S., the Sisters have taken on these sustainability goals with rigor and passion.

One informal SNJM group called the “Green Ladies” challenges itself to promote dialogue and storytelling as a way of supporting the UN sustainability goals. One of the “Green Ladies,” Sister Linda Riggers, explains that changes in behavior stem from changes in attitude. “We all believe,” Sister Linda said, “that things like sharing our personal experiences, witnessing other people who care for the earth and storytelling shape our attitude and draw us to a conversation of our own ways of being.”

Our lives become stories that educate others to reflect upon their own attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. When others are inspired by our stories, change can begin its process.

With their historic focus on education, members of the SNJM community easily make a connection between being teachers and valuing storytelling as a way to promote change. Sister Marilyn Gooley, another member of the “Green Ladies,” shares a telling anecdote about downsizing her apartment. During her transition to a smaller living space, she recalls the words of an old friend who told her, “There’s never been a U-Haul following a hearse.” Relationships, she adds, are far more precious than possessions.

The message is clear: the material things that fill our homes cannot fill our hearts. But the vision of a future with clean drinking water for our neighbors, lush green forests, children with enough to eat and education accessible to all is a different matter. The contents of our U-Hauls will not follow us beyond the grave, but this legacy will.

Additional information and resources are available from the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center.

Heather Rockwell works as Communications Assistant in the SNJM U.S.-Ontario Province office.
In the photo: A few of the “Green Ladies” share materials about sustainable living. L-R behind table: Associate Frodo Okulam and Sisters Claire Durocher and Dianne Nixon.

Turning Towards a Sustainable Future

By Guadalupe Guajardo, SNJM

My choice is April, still!
By then the old must go,
By then the new must grow;
It causes some commotion,
Yet, calm is not my notion,
But that we have our will.

My choice is April, still,
Because it’s sweeping, storming,
Because it’s smiling, warming,
Because it has resources,
Subverts old winter’s forces,
Gives birth to summer’s thrill!

-Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

When we talk about facing an unsustainable future, it’s important to remember that we have choices. As Sisters of the Holy Names, we choose to look at the economic, social and environmental warning signs that surround us and respond with confident hope.

We are not in denial about the dangerous realities confronting our world. Our dominant economic system - typically described as "capitalism" – certainly has positive dimensions but it has lived out most of its usefulness and its disadvantages are becoming increasingly apparent. This economic system has global impact: it requires raw materials, low taxes, cheap labor and new markets. It determines who gets access to power, land, jobs and resources. There are some winners, but a vast number of losers. News outlets are filled with reports about the 99% who can't make financial ends meet, the disappearance of the middle class, the high rate of homelessness in one of the world’s richest countries.

Just as serious, the health of our planet is at stake. As the climate changes, we have experienced blistering heat in the Southwest, harsh snowstorms on the East Coast, an increase in destructive forest fires on the West Coast and a rising risk of adequate water to grow our food.

As part of our commitment to a hope-filled future as responsible stewards of the earth, the U.S.-Ontario Province has produced an issue of our own publication, Voyage, dedicated to sustainability. We've also supported the production of a primer on sustainability from the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center. These materials point to options for taking effective action to improve environmental and social conditions for all.

There is a degree of faith involved as we go into the future filled with uncertainties. Scriptures remind us, “For we walk by faith not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). As women of faith, we believe in the Pascal Mystery, that we are an Easter People in a Good Friday world, that death does not have the last say.

From chaos theory, we learn about the cycles of order, disorder and reorder in organic systems. Things fall apart when something better wants to happen. Futurists tell us that there are “futures,” not just a future. There are possible, probable and preferable futures. We want the preferred future to reflect our values and charism. We want a country and world that favors the disenfranchised and marginalized.

Some expect our current economic and social systems to begin to collapse within the next few decades. These times call for a commitment to a better vision for our future society, for new and different types of leadership. In our vision, leadership will come from the margins of society where people take unprecedented risks, are bold because they have nothing more to lose and where the greatest creativity exists. We will need fresh language that can only emerge as we become more welcoming, inclusive and affirming of differences working together for a common good. We will need policies that liberate the human spirit rather than attempting to perpetuate “business as usual.”  Human relationships must be at the center of this future society.

Some businesses already have pivoted away from conventional, profit-at-all-costs practices.  In an interview broadcast by NPR, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard shared how the company has reduced the production of new clothing items in favor of repairing items purchased by customers in the past. Manufacturing focuses more on garments that can be worn in multiple seasons and last for years. Patagonia’s work culture includes encouraging employees to enjoy the outdoors and supporting the needs of families with on-site day care. Not surprisingly, the company’s founder is committed to a spiritual practice that includes meditation and has established company values that put people before profits. The goal is to be around for the next 100 years, rather than shooting to the top with financial results.

People yearn for meaning. In his collection of essays, Logical Thinking About a Future Society, author Harvey Jackins wrote, “Don’t appeal to people on narrow, economic or self-serving issues, but enlist people in struggle primarily on the basis of offering them meaningful lives; on the basis that participation in social change and human liberation liberates them from the most destructive effect of the society, that is meaningless.”

Embracing our mission to advance sustainability, we go forth with faith, courage, vision and hope. We must continue building strong relationships that will sustain us through the certainty of challenging times.

Photo credit: Blynda Barnett

News from the Novice: Pray For and With Me

By Michelle Garlinski, SNJM

As I gather my thoughts to compose this News from the Novice, I am appreciating the smells of spring (minus the allergies) and longer hours of daylight. Thank you, God! At the same time, my heart aches as I watch the news reports of the ongoing acts of violence that ravage our world.

So many things happening in such a short time. I have successfully moved into my new apartment, with the assistance of my “moving team” (whom I highly recommend), though they have warned me that this should not be an annual event. Within the first 24 hours I had 90% of the boxes emptied and the kitchen organized. Admittedly, I ran out of steam and the last 10% has taken me longer to manage than the first 90%.

Following the move, I departed for Longueuil. It was an opportunity to share our sacred sites with four staff members from St. Mary’s Academy-Winnipeg. The Charism and Mission office at SMA has taken the initiative to invite staff to deepen their understanding of the charism and grow in their faith. Based on overwhelming interest by staff and the extremely positive experience of the first group, we hope to repeat this in the next school year.

It was wonderful to have Sister Carol Fleitz visit in early June. She was welcomed by the SMA community, our Sisters and even with warm weather! No sooner were the sheets washed than Sister Beth arrived for a lovely five-day visit. She attended the Jubilee celebration for Sister Cathy Laviolette (postponed from the fall) and although it was not her first visit here, we managed to include a few new Winnipeg highlights. The California visitors were wonderful about keeping themselves busy or just enjoying some quiet time while I went off to work. The Charism and Mission Office did not slow down even as the end of the school year approached.

My summer is going to be very exciting. I depart for Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on July 12 for a retreat with Fr. Ron Rolheiser, which is offered to religious in Canada who are age 55 and under. It is hard to believe a dream that took root last May during my prayer time has become a reality. A group of 22 participants will gather from many regions of Canada, representing various religious communities.  Following this, I will be in California visiting the Novitiate House and attending the gathering of Sisters who entered after 1970 in Santa Cruz. I am feeling very blessed to be invited to join these women. Immediately after Santa Cruz, I will travel to Chicago for the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities Leadership Institute for new Mission Officers. I am looking forward to adding some tools to the box as I prepare for my second year in this role.

I am confident that this summer will also provide opportunities for me to enter the quiet. I am eager and grateful to have this time to be with God, to listen deeply and attentively to the inner voice of the Spirit. The God of Surprises always makes me smile! I ask that you pray for and with me this summer knowing, “that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion.”

I am writing as we welcome the summer solstice. May this season offer all of us moments of re-creation and rest for body, mind and spirit.

Blessed be the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, now and forever! 

Note: Michelle Garlinski was received as a novice of the Sisters of the Holy Names in July 2015. During her first year living with Sisters at our Province’s welcome house in Berkeley, CA, she began sharing her journey through a series of "News from the Novice" letters. She is spending in her missionary novice year at St. Mary’s Academy in Winnipeg, Manitoba. To learn more about becoming a Sister and the SNJM formation process, please click here.

In the photo: Sister Michelle (on left) sits with staff members from St. Mary's Academy as they read "Pilgrimage of the Heart" study materials about the life and ministry of Blessed Marie-Rose Durocher.