Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sr. Catherine Murphy: a Sister of St. Joseph; a Woman of the Church

On Christmas Eve, one week ago today, a woman of deep fidelity and courage went home to God. Although she is at peace, we all mourn the loss of Sister A. Catherine Murphy, CSJ, known also as Sister Flavia. The Boston Globe worked with us on an obituary which appeared in the Monday, December 28 issue. Just click on the underlined words to follow the link.

Reflections on her life shared at Sister Catherine's vigil wake service are also available on our website at

The memories shared in these two articles barely scratch the surface of the impact this Sister of St. Joseph had on so many people. I recall the time when I was asked by the congregation to study for my masters degree at the University of Notre Dame. Unknown to me, it was a time when an alarming number of sisters had gone to Notre Dame but not completed thier degree. So I was a bit shocked and saddened when, initially, I was not accepted into the program. Sister A. Catherine was president of our congregation at the time. She was shocked but hardly saddened -- she was emboldened! She picked up the phone; called Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, then president of Notre Dame, and told him she had recommended me to study and she expected me to be accepted. I went to Notre Dame because she believed in me. I completed my degree at Notre Dame because she believed in me.

It was at this time that I also began writing music based on Fr. Jean-Pierre Medialle's Maxims of the Little Insititute [one of the founding documents of the Sisters of St. Joseph] because Sister A. Catherine believed in my creative abilities. At her Funeral Liturgy I sang "Quietly Await" one of my songs based on Maxim 84. As I sang, I knew in my soul that this was a moment of pure grace. I'm not exaggerating when I humbly admit that Catherine was praying though me in that moment. I wondered if anyone else noticed. I received my answer as we left the chapel and literally dozens of people commented on the song. At the time I couldn't speak. I've sung this song at hundreds of liturgies; but this time was different.

I tell these personal stories of Sister A. Catherine Murphy because they are small examples of the many sisters, students, family, and friends in whom she believed. Not only was she president during these transformative years of my life; she founded Fontbonne Academy where I went to high school. She taught us to be our best selves. She was a true Sister of St. Joseph; a true woman of the Church.

Did you know Sister A. Catherine Murphy? Do you have a story of how she touched your life? Please in the comments section of this post!

Happy New Year...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Christmas from the Sisters of St. Joseph

The Christmas issue of Soundings Update is now available on our website. This is the cresch that is placed near the altar in the front of our Motherhouse chapel.
Happy Christmas to all our readers!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Boston Area Religious Women Host Prayer Vigil in Commemoration of Human Trafficking Awareness Day

Boston, MA:
Local Catholic Sisters representing sixteen congregations in the Greater Boston area will gather on
Sunday, January 10, 2010, from 1:00-1:30pm
at 637 Cambridge St. Brighton, MA,
to commemorate
the third annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

A resolution passed by the US Senate on June 22, 2007 has forever marked January 11th as a day of awareness and vigilance for the countless victims of Human Trafficking across the globe.

Participants are invited to gather outside the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph, for a prayer vigil to raise awareness and pray for an end to human trafficking. All who are concerned about human trafficking are invited to join in this prayer vigil which is coordinated by the Anti-Trafficking Coalition of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious [LCWR] – Boston Unit.
Human Trafficking is modern-day slavery. While many call it a hidden crime, it exits right here, right now in the Boston area. The goal of the Anti-Trafficking Coalition [ATC] is to raise awareness of the reality of human trafficking both locally and globally and to alert concerned people of good will about how individuals can make a difference in eradicating human trafficking.

Roman Catholic women religious have been key leaders in the national and international movement to stop human trafficking. In the past two years the Boston area ATC has sponsored two symposia attended by well over 200 participants who want to be part of the initiative to end this crime against humanity. Another symposium addressing the issue of Human Trafficking is planned for April, 2010.
The prayer vigil is free and open to the public.

Sunday, January 10, 2010 1:00-1:30pm
637 Cambridge Street, Brighton, MA,
We will gather in the Chapel of the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse
and proceed outside for the vigil.

The Boston Unit of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious includes sixteen Congregations representing over a thousand women religious in the greater Boston area. Members of LCWR are Catholic women religious who are leaders of their orders in the United States. The conference has approximately 1500 members, who represent about 95 percent of the 67,000 women religious in the United States. The conference develops leadership, promotes collaboration within church and society, and serves as a voice for systemic change. Visit their website at

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

To Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation

At the beginning of each new year the pope issues a message for January 1, World Peace Day. The statement comes out a few weeks before the new year. This year's message came out yesterday. The title is powerful: "If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation." He goes on to speak of the concerns shared by those environmentalists who are worried about the effects of climate change.

I keep trying to pick out one part that sort of says it all. However, the whole thing is really worth reading and praying with as we approach the second decade of this millenium.

You can follow the link in the title above but I'll just quote this one part: from paragraph 7:
Sad to say, it is all too evident that large numbers of people in different countries and areas of our planet are experiencing increased hardship because of the negligence or refusal of many others to exercise responsible stewardship over the environment. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council reminded us that “God has destined the earth and everything it contains for all peoples and nations”. The goods of creation belong to humanity as a whole. Yet the current pace of environmental exploitation is seriously endangering the supply of certain natural resources not only for the present generation, but above all for generations yet to come. It is not hard to see that environmental degradation is often due to the lack of far-sighted official policies or to the pursuit of myopic economic interests, which then, tragically, become a serious threat to creation. To combat this phenomenon, economic activity needs to consider the fact that “every economic decision has a moral consequence” and thus show increased respect for the environment.

Two things jump out at me as I read the whole document. First: It's amazing that this comes right in the middle of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. Second: It reminds me of much of what Sisters of St. Joseph speak of when we refer to "the Dear Neighbor without distinction." As our CSSJ Federation website states: "Sisters of St. Joseph and associates today view all of creation as the Dear Neighbor. This has led many congregations to include a deeper appreciation of the universe story and the care of Planet Earth in their vision statements and actions for justice."

About a year ago the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph issued a statement about climate change. Here are a couple of excerpts:

As U. S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph and Associates, “We live and work that all may be One.” We are concerned for all of God’s Creation and our Sisters and Brothers everywhere. Pope John Paul II wrote, “Faced with the widespread destruction of the environment, people everywhere are coming to understand that we cannot continue to use the goods of the Earth as we have in the past. …a new ecological awareness is beginning to emerge.” (The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility, December 1989)

We recognize that what we do to Earth, we do to ourselves! Therefore, as the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph and Associates, we commit ourselves to support all LIFE on Earth.

There is much more to this statement. Check out the full text on the "Earth Watch" page of our website for more.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Being and Becoming Sisters of the Neighborhood of Boston and Beyond

This week our archdiocesan newspaper, The Pilot, has a special section titled "Women Religious/Vocations." We have an ad and an article in this section. If you have access to a hard copy of the issue, our ad is on page 6 and the article on page 7. However The Pilot does not seem to include their special sections on their website. So I've posted the ad, the article, and the accompanying pictures here.
Since 1873, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston have listened to the call and remained true to the dream of our foundresses “to undertake all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy of which women are capable.” In 1650, Father Jean Pierre M├ędaille advised six women who became the first Sisters of St. Joseph to “divide the city.” They were to go out into the various districts, discern the needs of the people who lived there, and respond to those needs. Today, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, share this mission with more than 13,000 Sisters of St. Joseph and 5,000 Associates in over 50 countries throughout the world.

As “sisters of the neighborhood,” we have served the people of greater Boston in countless ways for over 135 years. With excellence tempered by gentleness we make every effort to be faithful to our roots and meet the needs of people and seek to do whatever is possible for women to do. An ever-deepening fidelity to our founding spirit and mission calls us to be among the people of God in many and varied ministries. We serve as educators, lawyers, nurses, family therapists, social workers, health professionals, patient advocates, spiritual directors, parish ministers, hospital chaplains, campus ministers, theologians, psychologists, physical therapists, technology specialists, companions for those in need, advocates for the poor and marginalized, administrators, secretaries, artists, authors, musicians, poets and a multitude of other professions.

We are ordinary women doing ordinary things with an extraordinary vision rooted in the profound love of God and all God’s people. We desire to reach out to the “Dear Neighbor” without distinction enabling her/him to be embraced by God’s active, inclusive love. Our mission and the needs of the people have also brought us to places outside the Boston area including New Mexico and Peru. As a community of vowed apostolic women with a contemplative stance toward life, we seek to serve with “a generous heart.” We go wherever there is a need.

Recently we took a corporate stance decrying modern day slavery, the trafficking of women and children. Compelled by the gospel of Jesus, we are working to raise consciousness about this evil and to move people to action that will eradicate this sin against humanity. This past year, we also initiated “The Women’s Table.” Just as our earliest Sisters and Associates gathered around the hearth in Le Puy, France, so “The Women’s Table” strives to be a hub that promotes hospitality and connections among women, through circles of prayer, support groups, advocacy, networking, workshops, educational enrichment, and skill development. – all with an emphasis on empowerment of women from all walks of life.

Today, the tradition of loving service that began in 17th century France and continued in Boston in 1873 sustains us as we live into the twenty-first century. In community and prayerful contemplation we listen to this Spirit and move always toward profound love of God and love of neighbor without distinction.

Through our mission, ministry, and the witness of our lives we work to bring harmony to a dissonant world and unity where there is alienation. “We believe in both the possibility and the power of reconciliation and seek to let God bring about unity in our lives and in the lives of our sisters and brothers.”
Together with our Associates we embrace:
Gracious hospitality
Love and service of the Dear Neighbor without distinction
Peaceful resolution of conflict and
Care for all God’s creation.

Dec. 12: Our Lady of Guadalupe; Our Lady of the Americas

Saturday, December 12, is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, our Lady of the Americas. Each time we bring groups to Mexico the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the core of our experience. Each time the Benedictine Sisters of Guadalupana share the story of the Virgin. We also visit the people of Mexico who live her message.

When we visit these people who are very very poor, they don't ask for money, they don't ask for gifts, they ask only that we tell the story of their reality to the people in our part of the Americas.

The English translation of the words around the mandala are: "Am I not here, I who am your Mother? Have I not placed you on my lap? Who else do you need? Do not grieve or worry about anything." These are the words that are printed under the tilma [cloak] of Juan Diego where it is displayed in the basilica.

I call this the "Tu Madre" Mandala. When I first created this mandala, it was made into note cards and sold in the Sisters of St. Joseph Ministry of the Arts catalogue. On the back of the note cards I wrote this explanation of the mandala:

Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to the Mestizo peasant, Juan Diego, in 1531 on Mount Tepeyac. She came, not to the center of power, but to the periphery of a society which had been oppressed and stripped of their indigenous culture, religion and dignity.

The "Tu Madre" mandala combines indigenous symbols of hope, resurrection and transformation from both the Aztec, "Piedra del Sol" and the Mayan Pyramids of Xochicalco with the traditional image of the tilma of Juan Diego.

The Virgin wears the blue-green of divinity and her dress is the color of earth. Her head tilts in a listening, contemplative glance that radiates concern and compassion. Her hands are clasped in a gesture of offering. The black band indicates the expectancy of new life for within her dwells hope for salvation.
The Guadalupe event marks the beginning of a new era. Its universal message is not just for Mexicans.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is Mother of the Americas – south, north, central. Our Mexican sisters and brothers ask that we walk with those whose lives are lived on the periphery. They ask that we be open to the struggle of the marginalized even when it's painful.

I would also like to share this brief prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe in case anyone would like to pray with it on the occasion of her feast. It's adapted from a book called: A Retreat with Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego, by Virgilio Elizondo and Friends – St. Anthony’s Messenger Press, 1998. I highly recommend the book as a resource for prayer and for learning the story of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Lady of Guadalupe, we come before you to ask that you hear our prayer.
Help us to be life-givers by proclaiming your message of salvation to all people.
Fill our hearts with your compassion and your love.

Give hope to those who suffer because of ignorance, poverty and injustice.

Kind and gracious Mother, just as one day in Tepeyac, you recreated an oppressed culture with beauty and with dignity; grant us the grace to engender consolation for your people in these days of alienation and division.

Just as you encouraged Juan Diego to be your collaborator and ambassador in a new creation, a new alternative, grant us the grace to be agents of reconciliation and proclaimers of the Good News of your Son.

Bless us with courage to serve, creativity to open new vistas, and generosity and enthusiasm in contributing to the faith lives of those with whom we live or to whom we are sent. Give us a desire to be transformed followers of your Son and help us give birth to a more just and reconciled family and society.

You are invited to read general information about our pilgrimage to Mexico and how you can be part of this experience at

You can also watch a video about the experience at

Happy Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Advent...a time to ‘quietly await’ the coming of our God

Our December 9 issue of Soundings Update is now available on our website at
There’s no doubt about it. No matter how much we try to slow down during the Advent/Christmas Season, there is still much to do and many places to be. There are quite a few dates to remember during Advent, Christmas, and into January. Also in this issue are some opportunities for “alternative Christmas shopping.” Our Mission Advancement Office has cards available for gift-giving. Dear Neighbor Gift Store is offering some special shopping days before Christmas. As we live this Advent, may we take time to "quietly await" the coming of our God.
On another note: Today is actually the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception -- otherwise called a Holy Day. There are several places where Jean-Pierre Medaille, SJ. speaks about Mary in earliest documents of the Sisters of St. Joseph. In the Reglements or the original "rule" that dates back to the mid-seventeenth century he writes about the goal of the Sisters of St. Joseph. About Mary he writes: [bear in mind that this is an English translation of a 17th century French document]

In honor of the glorious Virgin Mary,
who is completely filled with
and obedient to grace,
they will live a life of perfect fidelity to all the movements of this same grace...

This reminds me of the maxim about which I based a song a few years back:

May your quietly await the movement of grace and when it
comes move gently with humility, fidelity, and courage. [based on #84 Maxims of
the Little Institute]
May this be our prayer for one another as we continue to live this Advent season.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Praying through Advent

Since posting links to Advent Reflections last week, some of our sisters have sent additional links to wonderful Advent resources. One is called "Reflect Emmanuel" and comes from Emmanuel College's Campus Ministry Department. What I like about it is that contributors range from the president of the college to members of the class of 2013.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to spend time at Weston Priory in Weston, VT. The prayer of the community is, as always, food for the soul. There was light gentle snow all day Saturday. It was like living in a real life Currier & Ives-type setting in the village of Weston. Here are a few pictures in and around the Priory. What a contrast to the July days we spent there at the time of the Feast of St. Benedict! Each season has its own special personality. What a gift!
If you haven't been able to take time apart during this Advent Season, maybe you'd like to consider something after December 25 -- which is, by the way, still the Christmas Season! Visit our Retreat Center website and read about what's being offered during and right after the Christmas Season.
  • Day of Prayer - 9:00-3:30: December 27: Chaos to Grace: For Women in Recovery
  • Private or Directed Retreat: December 29-January 1, 2010
  • Private or Directed Weekend Retreat: January 8-10, 2010