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Educating Through Collaboration in Vietnam

By Mary Annette Dworshak, SNJM

Returning to a place where we have been before carries fond memories and sometimes apprehension. Last summer I returned to Hue, Vietnam, where I had taught Lovers of the Holy Cross nine years earlier as part of the ongoing collaboration between their order and the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.

Would I know some of my students from before? How warm and humid would the weather be? Would I enjoy mangostreens and dragon fruit again? Would I manage to get up at 4:30 a.m. when the rising bell clanged across the courtyard from the chapel?

After our long journey from Seattle to Taipei to Saigon City to Hue, we were met at the small airport by one of my students from nine years ago. Reconnecting with Sister Kim grounded me in the gift of teaching.

In the slideshow below, you'll see us gathered outside the Lovers of the Holy Cross chapel. Sister Agnes Ly is on the left, next to me, Sister Kathleen Hilton and Sister Kay Burton. The Sisters in blue are final professed members; the women in white are novices in the community. These were our students and travel companions when we visited some of the historical sites in Hue.

Another photo shows three of my students in my non-air conditioned classroom. Our purpose was to help them improve their spoken English. We drew pictures of our daily life and then practiced sharing stories with each other. Students enjoyed pairing with each other to prepare for their presentations to the class. Since many in my class would be teaching students in parishes, we practiced ways of helping others feel confident expressing their ideas. Sister Kathleen’s students and mine shared singing class together. I brought some action songs from our vocal ensemble at Holy Names Academy to teach to these students.  We certainly enjoyed laughter as we practiced saying the words and teaching each other the actions!

Since I knew I would be teaching young women who were college students or who had graduated from college, I planned lessons in which we would talk about current issues. We focused on the death of millions of fish in the South China Sea. Why was this happening? Who was involved? How were their families affected? What did Pope Francis have to say about care for the Earth and the needs of poor people throughout the world? We took a photo with the National Geographic cover story about Pope Francis and his concern for care for God’s creation.

Our summer school concluded with a program in the auditorium with traditional dancing, singing and storytelling, with our students in traditional dress and playing Vietnamese instruments, also shown in the slideshow. As a grand finale, the group presented the English song we learned — “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace”— sung with instruments.

Since returning to Seattle, I had a reminder of how much I remain connected with the beautiful country of Vietnam and these faith-filled young women. Recently I received this email from Sister Kim:

Dear Sister Mary Annette,

It's more than 7 months since I met you. How are you?

Many times I'd like to write to you but I lost your email. I'm sorry about that. Recently, I have contacted Sr. Kay to get your email.

I have just received information from my sister superior general that I will be taking the TOEFL [English language] test in April. I feel a bit nervous because this is a difficult exam and requires me to try a lot.

I would also like you to be able to help me to add ideas and to correct the essay that I am about to write these days.

Our connections continue in sowing the seeds of education and making it possible for others to teach children and young adults. May all of us continue to be blessed in bringing peace through education.

  • Traditional dancing, singing and storytelling.
    Traditional dancing, singing and storytelling.
  • Collaboration: A Call to Vietnam.
    Collaboration: A Call to Vietnam.
  • Gathered outside the Lovers of the Holy Cross chapel.
    Gathered outside the Lovers of the Holy Cross chapel.
  • Three students in the classroom.
    Three students in the classroom.
  • Students with the National Geographic cover story on Pope Francis.
    Students with the National Geographic cover story on Pope Francis.
  • Faith-filled young women.
    Faith-filled young women.

When Lay People and Religious Communities Connect

By Carrie McClish

I didn't see it coming.

"Would you consider becoming an Associate of the Sisters of the Holy Names?" asked Sister Carol Selak.

Sister Carol and I met at last year's 140th anniversary celebration at Sacred Heart Parish in Oakland. Many familiar faces, including hers, had returned to my longtime parish. She and I had played guitars in the parish choir for years. We took art classes together. We discussed the challenges of helping our aging parents.

Before I could get out a "What did you ask me?" Sister Carol had started the pitch.

Noting my current ministries as a lector and at my parish, Sister Carol pointed out my long connection to the Holy Names Sisters who had helped form my views of God and the world during 12 years of elementary and secondary education.

Being an Associate would build on my relationship with the Sisters, Sister Carol said. The Associates along with the Sisters gather each month for prayer and reflection, she added. No pressure. Just think about it, she said. I did.

I did some thinking, praying and research and learned that many religious communities, some since their inception, have special relationships with lay women and men who are attracted to the spirit or mission — some describe it as a charism — to a specific religious congregation or order but do not wish to make formal vows. The Holy Names Sisters as well as the Mercy Sisters, Presentation Sisters and a number of others refer to these lay people as Associates. Other terms include secular third order, affiliates, oblates and tertiaries.

In the SNJM community the charism comes from the life and work of Blessed Marie Rose Durocher and other foundresses who focused on education, promoting justice and standing with the poor and marginalized.

Whether they are called lay Associates or something else, these people are encouraged to live out their vocation in the way they live their lives — as part of a family, as a parishioner, as a co-worker.

Rosemary Brennan, an Associate of the Sisters of the Holy Names for over a dozen years, has lived her vocation in various ways. Currently she joins community faith leaders, residents, neighborhood organizations and others walking through the streets of Oakland on Friday evenings as part of a grassroots movement called Ceasefire Oakland/Lifelines to Healing. The weekly walks are an effort to stop gun violence and build a culture of peace and healing in the community.

It is "a ministry of presence" that only "requires showing up," said Brennan, noting that the walkers have developed a community among themselves while reaching out to people in the neighborhoods that they travel in. "There is no proselytizing, no handouts. Sometimes we stop in front of memorials marking where people have been shot. We greet people on the street. Frequently people driving down the street honk at us. Someone once stopped to tell us, 'It's because of you that we will get better.' That was a message of hope for us."

For Rose Carroll, becoming a third order Carmelite has given her an opportunity to love and serve God in a way that speaks to her. After leaving a different third order group that she felt was "too social" she chose the Carmelites because it complements her intense spirituality. Carroll loves to pray. Every day she schedules a pair of two-hour blocks — from 3 to 5 a.m. and 3 to 5 p.m. — for prayer, using a thick volume of Christian Prayers.

Second to Carroll's love for prayer is her love of service. She holds down ministerial duties as a lector and as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at both her "home" parish, St. Bonaventure in Concord, and at Oakland's Cathedral of Christ the Light. Then she somehow manages to serve as a cathedral docent. During her "down time" she takes Communion to the sick and the dying, and she distributes food to the hungry from supplies she keeps in the trunk of her car.

"Every time that I do something it is for the Lord," Carroll said. "And I forget my aches and pains."

In addition to ongoing discernment, the requirement or pre-requisites for becoming a lay Associate, secular third order or affiliate varies according to each specific religious order or congregation. Lay Carmelites, for example, must be at least 18 years of age and be practicing Catholics, according to the website of the Carmelite Order (www.ocarm.org). After an initial formation period, they are "accepted for profession."

To join the Dominican Laity, the oplaitywest.org website offers a list of guidelines that includes "a desire to search for truth through prayer and study."

Candidates for the Sisters of the Presentation Associate program go through a year of study and discernment, said Rosana Madrigal, director of communications for the San Francisco-based Sisters of the Presentation.

In addition to the research I mentioned earlier I have spent the past several months with members of the SNJM Community. At their retreat center in Santa Cruz, I met and listened to the stories of Sisters and Associates. I witnessed a candidate make a final commitment to become an Associate amidst songs of blessings and joy. I watched how the women and men prayed over an older Sister who was making a difficult transition from an independent life to assisted living. Late last year I attended a Mass in Campbell where dozens of Sisters renewed their vows and Associates renewed their promises to serve God and pray for one another.

Shortly before writing this article I was given an application form that I filled out. My sponsor, Sister Carol, and the local lay Associate coordinator, Marilyn Mackinnon, wrote recommendation letters on my behalf. As I await a response I will continue to pray and discern about this journey I am on. As Pope Francis would say, pray for me.

Carrie McClish is a staff writer for The Catholic Voice newspaper in Oakland, CA, where this article was first published.

In the photo L-R: Sister Carol Selak, Associate Marilyn Lewellyn Mackinnon, Associate Rosemary Brennan and Carrie McClish, Associate candidate.

News from the Novice: As Lego Batman Learned in the Movie...

By Michelle Garlinski, SNJM

Well, as I write on the eve of Valentine’s Day (which seems to be a true Hallmark holiday), it is a wonderful time to extend warmth from one heart to another. January started off chilly and forced me to wear multiple layers as I walked to work, but it must have wanted to impress our California guests because it brightened up when they arrived. We welcomed Sister Carol Sellman and Alan Liebrecht from Holy Names University to Winnipeg and St. Mary’s Academy for four action-packed days. I love the challenge of filling other people’s schedules! It was wonderful to share our city, my SNJM home and of course SMA. It was an enriching visit for all. Students are showing serious interest in HNU. Admittedly, there was a method to our madness in promoting a California university to students in Winnipeg in January!

Work in the Charism and Mission Office is progressing. SMA has just officially launched our five-year strategic plan, and charism is a priority. This, combined with a successful open house that welcomed 450 visitors to our school, might translate to some degree of job security. This is Catholic Schools’ Week for us so we are celebrating in a number of ways. One is by offering our annual “Retrally” (retreat + rally). This year we’ll combine multiple grades and walk to the synagogue where the theme, Women at the Heart of Change, will guide the day. The animators for the day are from Development and Peace (the Canadian counterpart to CRS). I am pleased that we will carry this theme through the Ash Wednesday liturgy, Lent and our Human Rights dinner in May. We conclude this week by hosting the division-wide faith day for staff.

My ministry at Gonzaga Middle School has a regular weekly rhythm where my understanding of First Nations culture deepens. I continue to meet with the young adults’ group every three weeks. At our last faith-sharing evening, we baked cookies and wrote Valentine’s Day cards for the residents at Despins. I was challenged and blessed to share a session with the RCIA group at the Catholic College on the campus at the University of Manitoba. The topic of “Vocations – A Way to Life,” served as an additional formation for me on the journey. Life continues to provide “on the job training” experiences for me and as difficult as it is in the moment, I appreciate the incredible support I have around me. As Batman learns in the Lego Batman movie, we were not created to do it alone.

I am looking forward to my visit to California this month. It is interesting – when I visited in November, we drove to Campbell for the Thanksgiving liturgy. This time, we will travel there again as we gather to give thanks to God for the life and gift of Sister Barbara Williams. I feel very blessed to be able to share in these special moments with our SNJM community.

As we greet one another on Valentine’s Day, let us remember the words of Mother Marie Rose, who invites us to “meet in the heart of Jesus” as it seems even more poignant on this day.

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 now spending 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: The young adults' faith-sharing group in Winnipeg. (Sister Michelle is in front, at right).

What Does Love Look Like?

By Mary Annette Dworshak, SNJM

What is a Catholic school? Some might say it is a building with a cross on top of the dome and where religion classes are taught. Others might say a Catholic school is a place where immigrants have found a pathway to inclusion in society. Others might say a Catholic school is an environment where students are challenged to achieve their potential.

Before I answer this question, let me tell you a story. For my parents, a Catholic school meant so much to them that they sold their Montana ranch and moved to the town of Miles City so that my sister Bernadette and I could attend Sacred Heart Grade School and High School. My father, whose own education ended with his eighth-grade graduation, worked in a produce warehouse and later for the Milwaukee Railroad so that the Ursuline and Dominican Sisters would educate his daughters.

For my mother, a former one-room country school teacher, commitment to her faith meant so much that she said "yes" to becoming one of the first lay teachers at Sacred Heart. My mother was my third-grade teacher in a room packed with more than 50 students. Throughout my years at Sacred Heart, Mom immersed me in community service long before there was any thought of whether it counted for religion credit or not. She instructed me in how to alphabetize papers, put up bulletin boards, play the piano for her class songs and later help with correction of spelling quizzes.

Beginning with this family story, I have learned that a Catholic school is a community of persons from many different geographical, cultural and religious backgrounds who share a belief in a better future for our families and for the world. We risk finances, careers and relationships to make a contract with others to “bring about a revolution of the heart” in the spirit of Dorothy Day. 

We're now beginning a new semester at Holy Names Academy in Seattle, where I teach. As I look back on the impressive scores students achieved on our first semester final exams in World Cultures, Scripture Literature, Morality/Service and Contemporary Problems, I think of Paul's letter to the Corinthians (I Cor. 1:1-13). These academic achievements, along with dozens of community service hours, are "a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" if we do not have love.

And what does love look like? Love is respectful in posts in our social media interactions. “Love is not arrogant or rude” in our comments. Love is patient, listening attentively to those with different points of view. Love is hopeful as a new year begins, with all its fear and violence. Love negotiates hour after hour online and face-to-face to bring an issue to the attention of others; love works together to analyze the causes of injustice; love moves to undertake action to improve education, housing and opportunities for others.

Love learns that as a child, I thought of "me" first, but now as an adult, I realize that I have sisters and brothers in many places and all are welcomed around the Earth table.

“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘This is my commandment: love one another as I love you’” (Jn. 15:12-16). This is the pulse beat within the call to “bring about a revolution of the heart.” We in our Catholic schools may often receive the “A” for doing the works of charity, but are we converted at the deeper interior level to this kind of radical love relationship that exists between Jesus and his Father, and between our Creator and us?

What is involved in daring to open ourselves to this ongoing revolution in our hearts? Let us pause for a moment of silence to reflect on what it means to welcome a revolution of God’s love into our hearts.

Are we willing to take that step today by pondering the words of Pope Francis? “God's mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (cf. Ez 37:1-14). ... Let us be renewed by God's mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish" (Easter Urbi et Orbi message on March 31, 2013).

Adapted from Sr. Mary Annette Dworshak’s address at Catholic Schools Week Liturgy, Holy Names Academy, Seattle, WA on Jan. 26, 2017.

In the photo: Holy Names Academy students carry necessities to people in need as part of the Urban Plunge in Seattle.

News from the Novice: Wrapping Up Christmas With Gratitude and Prayer

By Michelle Garlinski, SNJM

Happy Feast of the Baptism of the Lord! What a wonderful way to wrap up the Christmas season with the words, “this is my Beloved with whom I am well pleased.” I hope and pray that the abundance of God’s love and joy filled your hearts and homes this holy season. It was truly a white Christmas here in Winnipeg as the snowfall totaled nearly 18 inches (that is in addition to the 12 that came in early December). Needless to say, I traded in my flip-flops for a warmer model!

I had a wonderful trip to California at Thanksgiving, I was so grateful to visit with many from the SNJM community and enjoy quality time at the Arch Street. house. I also appreciated visiting some of the familiar places as I walked Berkeley once again. The morning at People’s Park to say hello and reconnect with people was good for the spirit. It is amazing how I leave more aware of community and grateful for their generosity to me. This deep generosity flowed through the Christmas season as I had several opportunities to host or be with our SNJM community, including cards and chili on a cold winter afternoon! My time with family and friends continues to enrich my love and appreciation of community too. I hosted our annual family Christmas Eve rituals. We also celebrate Ukrainian Christmas on the “old” calendar and some of my extended family continue our traditions started when my grandparents arrived from the Ukraine in the early 20th century.

The Charism and Mission Office is certainly rolling along. I am very excited to be accompanying four of our staff members to the Congregational House in May. This “Encountering Our Story” experience will be an opportunity to help our partners in ministry broaden their knowledge, deepen their passion and fan their flame to continue casting fire upon the earth. We also have two staff joining the SNJM Network of Schools pilgrimage in the summer. I have made presentations about the Charism and Mission Office to our Board of Directors, Foundation Board and those attending the retired staff brunch. I am invited to speak at our Parents’ Guild Torch Talks, which is a TED talk-style morning of parent professional development. We are also busy preparing for the Public Way of the Cross Good Friday morning, which SMA is hosting. This is an annual event which is co-sponsored with the Archdiocesan Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office. I am excited to oversee this experience as the planning team is composed of students, staff, alumnae and parents. Our theme is Living Peace through Justice Together and each station will focus on a topic (education, family, inclusivity, etc.) and will highlight a woman who was at the heart of working towards justice. I also look forward to welcoming Sr. Carol Sellman and Alan Liebrecht from HNU to SMA next week. It is even more exciting to share Winnipeg in January with them – they say misery loves company!

My continued ministry at Gonzaga School has been great. The students teach me so much and I look forward to seeing their smiling faces every week. In addition to formation via phone sessions with Sr. Beth, I try to keep living into the vows and asking God to continue to show me the next step. Experiencing meaningful faith-sharing with our Sisters in Advent, on the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus and with the young adults with whom I gather every three weeks has been food for the journey.

Well, it is time to sign off. As we put away all of the ornaments and symbols of the season, may the Spirit of Christmas lead us each day living peace through justice together!

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: The Garlinski family gathers to celebrate Christmas (Sister Michellle is seated in front, at right).