We, Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, stand in a tradition that points to Christ. We are ever grateful for this Foundation rooted in the charism of charity as exemplified in St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac. “The religious life enables an individual to join with others so committed to the life of the spirit that they have banded together for strength and support and spiritual guidance on the way to the reign of God.” (Religious life is still alive, but far from the Promised Land: Joan Chittister.)
Our first story tells of a sister who died January 20, 1992 in India. Having had a magnanimous heart like that of St. Vincent and St. Louise, Sister Mary Jude Howard was filled with generosity and compassion for orphans and poor people. She was like a mother to Bassie and Matilda. Bassie was one of the orphans that Nazareth Hospital sponsored during the first years of its existence. Matilda came as a young girl for nurses’ training from an orphanage elsewhere. Both experienced Sister’s maternal love and care. Mary Jude had special concern for the railway coolies both at Patna and Mokama railway stations who would help her carry the hospital supplies that she had purchased. She compensated them well. Manjur was a poor rickshawalla who took her around in Patna every Friday when she went there shopping or visiting. Sister practically supported him during one phase of his life.
She kept very little for herself; most of her belongings were distributed to the poor whom she met on her travels. Many of the Nazareth Hospital employees built their houses through financial assistance Sister Mary Jude solicited from benefactors. The members of the Rotary Club paid tribute to her at her funeral; in their estimation, she was a “goddess,” the “Mother Teresa of Mokama!” She believed in giving people a chance. She gave many poor people in and around Mokama a chance to live a dignified life.
“The ways in which expectations are lived are not solely internal; others observe how we live together, for better or for worse. …we should not forget that religious life is a form of witness to the Church and the culture. It bears a responsibility to be a living example of the Gospel and a working model of Jesus’ mission. (Re-creating Religious Life: Joel Giallanza, CSC.) “Wherever we may be, God is with us, so we must be always joyful.” (St. Louise de Marillac)
Sister Mary Brown lived and died in that spirit about which St. Louise wrote. She caused those who knew her to laugh often, and beneath the laughter was a genuinely loving, generous, and nonjudgmental person. It is said that an important part of the SCN spirit is to help people “feel at home” with themselves, with others, and with God. It would be difficult to find anyone who lived out that spirit of hospitality more genuinely than did Mary Brown.
It is thrilling to remember how God connected Mary with people who could enrich her life, especially at the time of her serious illness. A little more than a year before she died of cancer, Mary bravely attempted to make a retreat at Nazareth with Joyce Rupp. She became too sick to stay for the whole retreat, so a friend in the retreat group taped the remaining talks for her and gifted her with the published books of the retreat director. Mary thus had the opportunity for an “ongoing retreat” with the God she knew and wanted to know so much better: the God of song and dance, the faithful and passionate God, the God who would welcome her home before her 60th birthday.
As Mary lay dying, she said to sisters who came to visit her, “I don’t want any long faces. Remember the happy times.” In this spirit of faith, those who knew and loved Mary could envision her “crossing over” and being welcomed home by the One who looked at her with measureless love and twinkling eyes and asked, “May I have this dance?” (May I Have This Dance: Joyce Rupp, OSM). God and Mary then both laughed as their glorious everlasting dance began!
“If God is the center of your life, no words are necessary. Your mere presence will touch hearts.” (St. Vincent de Paul) And our third story talks of a sister whose presence touched the heart of a younger sister.
The psalmist writes, “seventy is the sum of our years or eighty if we are strong.” The older sister who sat in front of the younger sister took it further. The tiny, soft-spoken, slight-built sister was fast-approaching one hundred years. Her name: Sister Julianna Palya. The younger sister considered it her privilege to be her primary caregiver. However, her most cherished memories were the long conversations they had.
The topics of these conversations were diverse. Whether the talks were of caring for Frankie and Johnny, her siblings, for Donna, her niece, her years as a first-grade teacher to her years in community, her eyes sparkled and danced. The conversations most remembered were those concerning vocation, prayer, love of God, and faithfulness. She instilled gratitude for the younger sister’s vocation and encouragement in her spiritual life, and lastly, thankfulness for the “special people” along life’s journey.
And finally, the words to the song, Find Us Faithful, by Jon Mohr offer us additional thoughts which lead us to a personal reflection on our lives as daughters of Vincent and Louise.
(Jon Mohr/Jonathan Mark Music/Birdsong Music reprinted with permission.)
Questions for reflection and sharing:
- In reading about the faithfulness of the sisters to the tradition of Vincent and Louise, what sustains your faithfulness? What encourages your spirit?
- Please share a story of a member of the SCN Family who has lighted your way on this journey?
- How has this reflection helped you think about the footprints you are leaving behind that will shape the SCN future?
Upcoming Reflection themes:
Theme 5: We live in the Pioneer Spirit of Catherine Spalding and Mother Emerenciana.
Theme 6: We and our associates are committed to bring the justice and the compassion of Jesus to a broken world.
We are grateful to the many others besides subcommittee members who contributed to the reflections.
From the Bicentennial Monthly Reflection Committee:
|Bridgid Clifford, SCN||Joetta Davis, SCNA|
|Charlene Jacobs, SCN||Maureen Daugherty, SCN|
|Dorothy MacDougall, SCN||Rita Gesue, SCN|
|Jane Karakunnel, SCN||Shirley Kocinsky, SCN|