Parker J. Palmer in Let Your Life Speak describes “a love in which we represent God’s love to a suffering person, a God who does not ‘fix’ us but gives us strength by suffering with us. By standing respectfully and faithfully at the borders of another’s solitude, we may mediate the love of God to a person who needs something deeper than any human can give.”

“In fact, Saint Vincent became gradually convinced that ‘the poor have the true religion’ and that we must be evangelized by them.” He Hears the Cry of the Poor: Robert P. Maloney, C.M.

Our first story is of Sister Elizabeth Nadackal “who spoke little but worked hard and lived intensely.” Although her heart and desires lay in being with poor people in direct service, she faithfully answered the much-needed call to be in the finance office in Nazareth Hospital. In her work at the hospital in Mokama, she spent time helping the non-professional employees, sometimes listening to their stories, sometimes showing them how to invest and plan for their future, and especially how to save a little each month. Elizabeth saw that the widows of the employees got their benefits (death-linked insurance, pensions, for example). She was a caring, humble person.

When she was in Mokama for six months suffering from bone cancer, she offered everything to God. She was very faithful to the habits of her spiritual life such as: scripture reading, spending time before the Blessed Sacrament and praying the rosary. These practices contributed to her “other-centeredness.” Before others could ask how she was, she would ask how they were. Her face radiated peace and love even when she was in great pain. Whoever entered her room could feel the vibrations of peace and warmth. Hers was a spirituality of gratitude, thankful for every little thing done for her and never missing the opportunity to express her thankful feelings. Elizabeth was a source of inspiration to many.

As we continue our reflection of the mission to be with the poor, we can gain some insight from the words of Joyce Rupp in Rest Your Dreams on a Little Twig.

Who we are, how we are, always touches into other lives.

We may think we are alone, apart, separate, but not so.

Our positive (or negative) energy connects, unites, draws (or repels).

Always we touch others, always.

The next sister we remember in this reflection let her life “speak.” “Verbalizing is not the only way our lives speak, of course. They speak through our actions and reactions, our intuitions and instincts, our feelings and bodily states of being, perhaps more profoundly than through our words.” Let Your Life Speak: Parker J. Palmer.

It is not uncommon to hear the expression, “…if only those walls could talk…what stories they could tell.” This is especially true of the Vincentian Home in Pittsburgh which was founded as a nursing home for indigent people. The sisters who staffed it never lost sight of that mission.

Among those gentle, simple, holy women was Sister Fabian Funtal. No task too small or challenging, Sister could be found feeding a resident one moment and a short time later, sweeping the front foyer.

Prior to established health care programs, Sister Fabian made weekly trips to the Strip District of Pittsburgh where wholesale grocers sold goods. Sister would ask the merchants for donations of food for the residents at the Home. No gift was thought to be too small and was accepted with humility and gratitude.

During the summer months, young sisters were assigned to the Vincentian Home for mission experience. One young sister could not find her watch usually pinned to her habit. Noting the young sister’s distress, Sister Fabian asked if she might be of help. The young sister explained the significance of the watch, a gift from her father. Making it a personal crusade, Sister Fabian set about looking for it. When the young sister did find it on another habit, Sister Fabian was happy that the watch was found.

On pay day, Sister could be found at the entrance to the steel mill as the workers left for the day. As workers shared from their humble wages, Sister would offer her gratitude and appreciation and promised to pray for them and their families. Taking care of “the poor” was a mission taken to heart by Sister Fabian. A woman of few words, she performed the tasks with a spring in her step and a smile on her face.

Again, Joyce Rupp (Rest Your Dreams on a Little Twig) talks about “the multiple poor” we are to serve.

So much of this world lives in bigger than, better than, more than.

Those who are small seem to have no place among the strong, the
tall, the sleek. Yet, each one has a place and all is connected.

Our third story is of Sister Mary Kathleen Sheehan. “Surely God danced the day she was born into eternal life.” Those words were spoken about Sister at her Liturgy of Christian Burial in August, 1992. Sisters in the Nazareth chapel remembered the diminutive dancer’s Irish Jig at so many St. Patrick’s Day parties. In fact, they mused, Mary Kathleen never refused a request to enliven any party with her native dance.

Born in County Cork, Ireland, Sister Mary Kathleen entered the congregation from Brockton, Massachusetts. In the novitiate she went through such a bout of homesickness that she told Mother Mary Catherine that she thought she should be sent home. When Mother asked her why, Sister Mary Kathleen replied that her eyes were two different colors; one was brown and one was blue!

A brown and a blue eye notwithstanding, Sister Mary Kathleen’s homesickness lessened and she began a long ministry of serving others by being in charge of the kitchen.

The work she seemed to find most life giving was at the orphanages, where she served for many years. Certainly the children whom she encountered there were “poor” in multiple ways, and Mary Kathleen filled emotional and social gaps in their lives as she satisfied their tiny stomachs. The administrator at St. Peter’s Orphanage in Lowell, Massachusetts, aware of Mary Kathleen’s loving care of the children, stated at a community meeting: “We should never underestimate the value of our sister cooks; they nourish the soul as well as the body.”

The children and the SCN Community were fortunate to be the recipients of Sister Mary Kathleen’s delicious cooking. Others obviously also recognized her creative culinary skills, for she was granted a scholarship (in honor of Mr. Sexton) to a Stonehill Foods Institute in 1964. We can only imagine what the other participants learned from her while she was there!

Sister Mary Kathleen’s happiness reflected God’s love to all around her. When some school sisters expressed concern that the ministries of the sisters at the orphanage kept them with the children day and night, with few weekend breaks, Mary Kathleen is reported to have said that they did not realize “how much we love the children and enjoy being with them.” Perhaps we should all dance in thanksgiving for this delightful woman – a true “fifth Gospel!”

Inspired by the stories of our sisters who have gone before us, we turn to examine how we serve “poor people” in our lives.

When we hold suffering ones in the lap of our compassion, we put our own agenda aside and receive them as they are. We let go of what we want to have happen and what we think should happen. We put aside our judgments of them and allow them to be with us as they are. We do not cast aside our thoughts and feelings, but we do not allow these thoughts and feelings to dominate or control how we are with this hurting one.

Our lap or inner space can get full, tight, too guarded. It can develop walls around it. We can become “too busy” to call lonely parents, to be concerned about ill friends, or to really listen to the hurt of a child. We can become too self-oriented to notice the distress of another or to put aside our joy for the sake of someone else. Fear of the cost, distaste for vulnerability, lack of belief in our ability to handle the pain, non-awareness of the hurt of another, and many other reasons enter into our inability to receive someone who suffers.

Your Sorrow Is My Sorrow: Joyce Rupp

Stewart Walker, SCNA, was one who had a deep sense of prayer, liturgical worship and music.  He exemplified many of the virtues and services that all sisters and associates are called to practice.  One of his gifts was his presence to others at Nazareth Home in Louisville, Kentucky, as he treated everyone with respect and reverence.  He was especially sensitive to the poorest of the residents and their needs; the poorest in self-image, money, memory, limitations, or whatever else might have put them on the edge of society.  His gift of music, whether it was during a liturgy or leading a sing-a-long, was a joy to others.

Stewart had an eye for the beauty of God’s creation and a real talent with plants and flowers.  He cared for those in the chapel and many of the ones on the Nazareth Home grounds as well.  His love for the environment was contagious as he encouraged others to take care of the earth.

In 2005, Stewart made his First Commitment as an SCN Associate.  He stated that “I feel called to live the spirit and mission of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.”  After his death in 2007 he was surely missed by everyone at Nazareth Home. 

Questions for reflection and sharing:

  1. What members of the SCN Family do I look to as models of compassionate caring for those who are poor?
  2. How do I “speak” through my actions, my attitudes and my being in my interactions with others?
  3. Is there a way that someone’s love of sharing about her/his heritage has lead you to an appreciation of her/his heritage and/or struggle?
  4. What am I doing to help enable an SCN future that always gives preference to those who are poor?

Upcoming Reflection themes:

Theme 9: We are committed to work for justice in solidarity with oppressed peoples, especially women.

Theme 10: Our mission is to care for the earth and show reverence for all life.

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
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