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Planted By Many Hands, a New Spiritual Direction Program Grows

By Molly Neville, SNJM

As petals begin to unfold on these warm May days by the Pacific Ocean, I’m anticipating a different kind of flowering: the first graduates are emerging from a spirituality program that was planted nearly three years ago at Villa Maria del Mar.

The Villa, which has served our Sisters as a retreat center in Santa Cruz, CA since the 1960s, has nurtured the spiritual direction education of nine women over the past 24 months. They will receive their Spiritual Direction or Spirituality Certificate from Bishop Richard Garcia at a Mass on May 17.

It’s a welcome blessing for the Diocese of Monterey, a rural mission diocese with no Catholic institution of higher learning where formal training for spiritual directors could be offered.

It all started when I arrived at the Villa for a vacation in September 2014. I found my mind racing with thoughts that first night – all because of a question asked by Sister Lois MacGillivray, who was then director of the Villa: "How can we make Villa Maria del Mar more of a spirituality center?"

I had connections among local pastors and parish leaders because of the 10 years I served as diocesan Vocations Director and Director of Evangelization. I couldn't sleep that night thinking about how this might come to be. I knew we were a strong hostess center. So I drafted a letter to the pastors and principals in the neighboring regions asking if they thought spiritual direction and some evening offerings on spirituality would be a possibility. They all responded affirmatively and said they would refer people to us.

The next challenge was finding the right people to staff the program. I teamed with Sister Lois and Lynn Rombi, who is now a Holy Names Associate. After meeting with retired Sisters trained in spiritual accompaniment, friends who are spiritual directors and interested lay leaders, we assembled a group of available spiritual accompaniers. Then Bishop Richard Garcia asked us to provide spiritual directors for new Permanent Deacon candidates. We were on our way! The Hurricane of the Spirit guided us.

Needless to say, I never got my vacation.

Those completing the Spiritual Direction program must receive at least 180 hours of training/supervision in active listening skills, the art of discernment and prayer development. Those receiving the Spirituality Certification must have 120 hours training in the same skills, in addition to designing and giving retreats under supervision.

Even before celebrating this milestone, we’ve already welcomed eight additional women who started a new session of spiritual direction training in March. The new students were drawn to our solid program of integrated learning – spirituality, theology, psychology, discernment – and hands-on training. Our spiritual directors meet with all kinds of people in our rural mission, where agriculture and tourism are major industries.

Participants come from many parts of Northern California. Pastors, principals and lay leaders of the Diocese collaborate with us on ideas, suggestions for leaders and referrals.

Today, the Villa provides a wide range of spiritual care including spiritual direction, monthly retreats, mentorship for retreat guides, and an annual summer “Intensive” session. This year’s Intensive theme is: “Renewal by the Sea: How to Live a More Mindful, Holistic and Centered Life in God.” It follows two previous summer sessions, “The Art of Discernment” and “The Joy of Pastoral Ministry: A Skills Intensive.”

I want to thank Sister Cheryl Milner, Director of the Villa for her championship and encouraging support and all the Holy Names Sisters and Associates who have been retreat directors, presenters and mentors for the program. Most especially, I want to thank my Spirituality Team of Sister Lois MacGillivray and Associate Lynn Rombi for their faithfulness, dedication and creativity.

This has truly been a collaborative ministry of the Spirit, an effort of love and joy. This outreach has brought amazing riches to individuals, parish groups, schools and all of us at the Villa.

In the photo: Sister Cheryl Milner, Associate Lynn Rombi, Sister Lois MacGillivray and Sister Molly Neville.

Sister Molly is Spirituality Coordinator of Villa Maria del Mar, owned and operated in Santa Cruz, CA by the Sisters of the Holy Names. Follow the Villa on Facebook or visit the website at www.villamariadelmar.org.

News from the Novice: Walking the Way of the Cross

By Michelle Garlinski, SNJM

Christ is risen – indeed He is risen!

I realize it has been a long stretch since my last update and all I can say is that life has been full. It is wonderful to be watching a glorious sunset as I write. I am appreciating the longer days and although we were surprised with some “white precipitation” last weekend, I am confident that God has it all sorted out now. While I was at Mass this morning, I was experiencing even more gratitude towards my parents today. Forty-seven years ago, they chose to have me baptized and gave me the gift that keeps on giving – faith!

My ministry at St. Mary’s Academy in Winnipeg continues to unfold. It seems like there are no two days alike in the Charism and Mission office! My primary focus in Lent was finalizing the coordination and preparations for the Public Way of the Cross, which we co-sponsored with the Archdiocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. It was a true experience of full community involvement. Though Good Friday started with thunder and lightning at 6:00 a.m., by the time the 1,700 participants arrived for the procession, the weather upgraded to cloudy and windy. It was a moving and humbling public expression of our faith. The SMA Winnipeg Facebook page has an archived copy of the live video that we provided for those unable to walk in the procession. You are also welcome to visit the online photo gallery.

As for the formation and day-to-day life of the Novice, Lent also afforded me opportunities to have necessary, grace-filled and honest conversations with God and those accompanying me on my formation journey. It has been a challenging year. I have learned more about religious life and myself through these experiences. I could name some of my needs as I live into the vows in very uncertain times. In response to these needs and in order to move forward in my discernment, I will move out of my current living situation in early May into a smaller apartment and live on my own. Although my preference is to live with others, it is not possible now. I am committed to living community alone, and the Manitoba and U.S.-Ontario provinces are dedicated to doing this with me. I remain open to whatever might develop, trying to KEEP CALM AND TRUST GOD.

I continue to gather with the young adults for faith sharing, and the space in the new apartment will facilitate this in the future. I resumed my commitment at Gonzaga following a Lenten hiatus. It is amazing to see the growth (physically, intellectually and socially) among the students. It felt like I was never away as they welcomed me back with such ease. Our Archdiocese has undertaken a Synod process, and I have been part of a focus group developing the recommendations and priorities for Youth and Young Adult Ministry. It was an intense and meaningful experience. I pray that we will be open to where the Spirit is calling us to go and grow as Church. It feels like there is lots of room for improvement!

I pray that you continue to experience the joy that permeates this Easter Season. May we hold in prayer the many people – Sisters, Associates, family and friends – who are now embracing the fullness of NEW LIFE with our loving God.

Blessed be the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary – Alleluia!

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 helps to coordinate the Public Way of the Cross procession in Winnipeg.

Youth Ending Slavery Representatives Inspired by UN Experience

Leaders of the Youth Ending Slavery group at St. Mary's Academy, Portland share this reflection about their recent participation in a major women's event at the headquarters of the United Nations. They were able to make the trip with financial assistance from the Sisters of the Holy Names.

This year we had the wonderful opportunity and privilege of visiting the United Nations headquarters in New York City and participating in the Youth Forum at the 61st Session on Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 61). The event is perfectly described by CSW as a “critical opportunity for young people and adolescents in all their diversities to convene in advance of the official opening of CSW to amplify their common concerns and advocacy efforts,” and that it was! As active members of the social justice community, we get excited about even the smallest events or gatherings in which we are able to share our opinions and fight for rights. Attending an event as big as the CSW ’61 was an amazing opportunity that we are incredibly thankful for.

What struck us most about the Youth CSW ’61 was the amount of diversity we experienced in fellow attendees. Knowing the event was taking place at the United Nations headquarters, we expected to see representatives from around the world, but we were nonetheless so impressed by the variety of countries in attendance. More than 600 participants attended the Youth CSW, and they came from more than 80 different countries around the world. On the first day, one could sit next to a man from India, befriend a woman from Uganda and hear speeches from people from Australia, Pakistan, Japan and more. Coming from a predominately white city like Portland, we found the experience of being immersed in such beautiful heterogeneity to be incredibly eye-opening.

It is at diverse and inclusive events like these that we hold up the efforts and concerns of youth where missions like ours are fulfilled. We were not only given a chance to share YES's work, but we were also invited to make our voices heard within the context of an international audience of individuals who share our broadest purpose.

Each one of us in attendance from the YES board felt inspired to expand our advocacy efforts in unexpected ways; as seniors anticipating moving to new campuses in the fall, we will bring with us this spirit of inclusion, curiosity, engagement and energy into our next roles, mobilized by the spirit of activism. And we shared our experiences with the younger members of the YES board who will carry on the important work moving forward.

We are so grateful for the support of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, who helped us attend this event and who generously empowered us to bring our local nonprofit to new heights. It was an experience we will never forget, which has inspired each of us to advance our advocacy efforts in ways we never thought possible.

Katy Foley, President of YES
Natalie Bojarsky, Treasurer
Molly Kelleher, Policy and Expansion Director

In the photo, L-R: Natalie Bojarsky, Molly Kelleher and Katy Foley at the Youth Forum in New York City.

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.