The worldwide Catholic Church is currently observing the Year of Consecrated Life, as proclaimed by Pope Francis. The Year officially began November 30, 2014, the First Sunday of Advent, and concludes February 2, 2016, the Feast of the Presentation and World Sunday for Consecrated Life.
Consecrated life refers to a way of living by women and men who, prompted by the Holy Spirit, freely choose to give radical witness to love of God and neighbor as members of a religious congregation or ‘order’. Each religious congregation is marked by a particular God-given gift or grace (called a charism) that contributes to the life of the Church and world. Members of religious congregations typically follow a specific tradition or spirituality rooted in their founding. They profess vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience as a way of deepening the Gospel call we all have received as disciples of Christ Jesus.
As the Second Vatican Council emphasized, all who are baptized are called to holiness, that is, union with God. Furthermore, all are called to follow Christ by proclaiming the Gospel through our loving, compassionate service to all our brothers and sisters, especially those most in need. In this sense, all Christians are ‘consecrated’. Individuals, however, live this shared call of ours in different ways.
In proclaiming a Year of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis emphatically says to members of religious congregations, “I am counting on you to ‘wake up the world’ ” (Vatican Radio, November 30, 2014). Here he is highlighting the distinctive characteristic of religious life: being so rooted in relationship with God, that one cannot help but see as God sees, love as God loves, serve as God serves—embracing everyone without limit or condition and as God’s beloved son or daughter. When women and men religious faithfully live consecrated life, their witness reminds us all who we are called to be.
Pope Francis also stated: “The Year of Consecrated Life not only concerns consecrated persons, but the entire Church”. He encourages every Christian community to see the Year as an opportunity to give God thanks for the fidelity and gifts religious congregations bring to the Church and world.
With this encouragement in mind, our parish bulletin will be including a column entitled Spotlight on Consecrated Life. The column will appear twice a month until February 2016, the official end of the Year of Consecrated Life. Look for the column to include profiles of various sisters in our midst at Christ Our Light. At times, the column will answer “frequently asked questions”. In addition to this column, watch for details about a special award-winning film to be shown on Saturday, November 14 at 2 PM!
I am an 84 year old retired Sister of St. Joseph. I live at Christ Our Light convent in Cherry Hill. I have agreed to share my bio for anyone interested in reading it.
After graduating from high school, I planned to study for the opera stage. This I did while working in order to afford a vocal teacher, an opera coach, and studying a variety of roles suited to my talent.
After singing in a light opera company as well as much oratorio singing it became evident that my next step would be to spend several years in Europe practicing the roles which I had studied. When a financial backer was found I was forced to make a decision. Did I want to proceed or face a growing desire to lead a life of prayer? I talked this over with my parents and was surprised by my father’s response. I could apply to any community except a contemplative one. Anywhere that would allow them to visit. To cut them off would kill my mother.
After much prayer I decided to apply to the SSJs whom I had driven on several errands while pursuing my operatic studies. I found these women to be fine educators and deeply prayerful. However, the community refused my application and I had to have priest educator sponsor me.
In spite of this set back I entered religious life in my 24th year. From the minute I stepped over the threshold, a profound peace settled on me and has remained with me. In the community I spent many years as an elementary teacher, an elementary school principal and a superintendent of schools. I retired from the superintendent’s office at age 74 and am waiting for my God to call me home.
If anyone is reading this to pursue her call I say the following to you. Pray. Eucharist and Scripture is a given. But pray. Pray in the deep recesses of your being where only God, the Author of your being can go. Pray there- He will lead you and send you guidance; but pray there every day. Live your life from there. Examine your decision from there and may God, your author, redeemer and lover go with you…..
Sister Stella Lotz, SSJ
My name is Mary Berryman, SSJ. I grew up the oldest of three sisters in Nativity BVM Parish, Port Richmond, Philadelphia. When I was in the 8th grade my family moved to Northeast Philadelphia where I attended Saint Hubert High School for Girls. Upon graduation, I made the decision to enter the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill the following September. The Saint Joseph Sisters taught me throughout grade school and high school and I felt the order would be a good fit for me. I wanted to be a teacher and be just like the sisters I had in school.
When I first entered the convent, we were wearing the old habits but that quickly changed when Vatican Council II came along and The Church was asked to “open the windows” and renew itself. During the next few years, several modifications were created for our habits until it was finally decided that we would dress in regular clothes like everyone else. Our original constitutions told us to dress like the people we served, so we dressed like the widows of the 1650’s because that was the time when the Saint Joseph Sisters were founded.
The community wanted to ensure that I had a variety of teaching experiences, so as a young sister I taught second through eighth grades in many places and was moved frequently. I started out in St. Athanasius in West Oak Lane, Philadelphia and then moved to St. Ambrose in Schuylkill Haven, PA. After that, I went on to St. Luke’s in Glenside, PA, Holy Souls in North Philadelphia, St. Michael’s in Gibbstown, NJ, Our Lady Help of Christians in Abington, PA, Norwood Fontbonne Academy in Chestnut Hill, PA, and finally, to St. Peter Celestine/ Resurrection Catholic here in Cherry Hill. For the past 24 years, I have taught religion, math, and social studies at the middle school level.
Christ Our Light is my home and I am very happy here. It has been a pleasure to see my students move on to higher education, get married, and become successful adults. Some have kept in touch over the years and it is always wonderful hearing from them. I know many parishioners from seeing them at Mass and around the neighborhood. I am very grateful to the many pastors who have welcomed the Sisters of St. Joseph to be part of this great parish.
As we continue to celebrate the year of consecrated life, I ask you to please pray for vocations to the religious life. Your prayers are wonderful ways to live out your calls to be disciples for the Lord.
Myth: Religious Life is dying. As a matter of fact, it will soon be extinct.
Fact:There are almost one million men and women religious in the world. Approximately 705,500 of those are Sisters.
Myth: No one is seriously considering religious life today.
Fact:CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Georgetown University) found that between 200,000-300,000 women per year in the United States seriously consider religious life. Over the past five years, more than 30,000 women have completed the Vision Vocation Match online. (This is the Match.com/E-Harmony of religious life.) 31% of them are between the ages of 20-29.
Myth: Most vocations are coming from older or second-career candidates.
Fact: CARA studies indicate that the average age of men who entered religious life since 1993 was 30. For women, the average age was 32. The data also shows that 71% of those in initial formation are under 40. Although there always has been and always will be a place for older or second-career candidates in religious life, study results have confirmed that an increasing number of younger people are looking at religious life as a possible life option.
Myth: Religious communities are lacking in ethnic and cultural diversity.
Fact:This may have been the case previously, but newer members are definitely changing the face of religious life in this country. 58% of newer religious are Anglo. Nearly 20% of newer members were born in a country other than the United States. Hispanic/Latino vocations make up 21% of the newer religious, while 14% are African or African American.
I was born and raised with my four sisters and two brothers in Philadelphia. My family life was filled with belief in God and helping others. My dad would go to an annual “policeman’s retreat” in Malvern. My mom would attend yearly retreats at Elkin’s Park. I was taught by Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of St. Joseph in grade school. From 6th to 8th grade, I was a weekly volunteer at St. Joseph’s Villa, the retirement home for SSJ’s. At Hallahan High School, I met many joyful committed Sisters.
I’ve wanted to be a Sister since I was in second grade. When I reflect on that desire, I recall that I was very attracted to the sacred places and holy people I met in my young years. The attraction to Jesus – that desire to be God’s – was deeply satisfied on September 8, 1976 when I entered the Sisters of St. Joseph (SSJ).
I have taught in elementary schools in the Diocese of Camden and the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Philadelphia. When I completed the master degree program in social work at Rutgers University, I was invited to work with the Jesuits at Holy Name Parish in Camden. On July 5, 1995, I opened Guadalupe Family Services. Every day, I see poverty, violence and suffering. There are so many people living in despair, darkness and devastation. I am so grateful to the many people who help me to help others in Camden. The Parishioners of Christ our Light have contributed to the relief of the distress experienced by many of the families I meet. Thank you for your generosity with the Christmas gift giving tree and the year-long supply of diapers. Your interest and support is a source of encouragement to me as I live my life as a Sister of St. Joseph.
We continue with the Sister profiles marking the Year of Consecrated Life. Today we hear from Sister Bonnie McMenamin, SSJ.
Celebrating the Year of Consecrated Life has provided me with numerous opportunities to reflect on my 43 years as a Sister of St. Joseph. I know that my vocation to the Religious Life is a response to a loving invitation from God “by the grace of God I am what I am, and God’s grace has not been ineffective” (1 Corinthians 15:10). However, I also feel certain that my vocation is a reflection of my parents’ deep love and commitment to each other, to God, Church, and their family. My Mom and Dad never walked anywhere without holding hands and for me, that affectionate gesture was a sign of God’s constant love and fidelity.
As a young Sister, I had the privilege of teaching children in typical elementary Catholic Schools and Deaf children in a small Catholic Special Education School in Philadelphia. For the last 12 years I have ministered in the Diocese of Camden with persons who are Deaf and persons with disabilities, as well as their families and friends.
A Sister of St. Joseph is all about relationships…our relationship with God and our relationship with the “dear neighbor” which is reflected in our mission statement: “We live and work so that all people may be united with God and with one another.” This desire for union is the charism, gift to the Church, of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Our spirituality is based on an Ignatian-Salesian tradition, with an orientation towards excellence, tempered by gentleness, peace and joy. As I minister with the Deaf and persons with disabilities, I have the privilege of living out this charism by listening to the life stories of the Deaf and person with disabilities, stories which are always connected to the Gospel story. As I accompany and advocate for Deaf people and persons with disabilities in the Church and in their everyday journey, I am reminded of Pope Francis’ challenge to the Church to embrace the “culture of encounter” rather than the “culture of exclusion.” Ministering to welcome and include Deaf people and persons with disabilities into all aspects of Church, society and family life I am drawn deeper into the mystery of each person’s baptismal commitment and experience God’s “active and inclusive love” in their everyday lives. It is a joy to experience their love of Jesus and their desire to share this love with all members of the Church. The SSJ hospitality of serving others with the same manner that Joseph served Mary and Jesus takes on new meaning for me.
I am most grateful for the gift of ministry in the Diocese of Camden and I appreciate the inclusive and welcoming environment extended by The Catholic Community of Christ Our Light. With your support, loving example and “Impelled by the Spirit of God and the consciousness that all is one” (SSJ, Chapter Statement, 2014) I minister to advance the rights and dignity of all people, especially Deaf people and persons with disabilities.
Sister Bonnie McMenamin, SSJ
When I entered religious life fifty-one years ago, I brought with me a budding relationship with God that had been nurtured by my parents and the Sisters of Saint Joseph who taught me in northeast Philadelphia. My experience of life in an extended Italian family provided a foundation for understanding what it means to belong to something bigger than myself. But I never could have imagined how deep the roots of that budding God-relationship would go and how expansive my world of relationships would grow as a Sister of Saint Joseph! All has been grace overflowing upon grace, received from the God who never stops inviting each of us to deepen and widen our heart.
My resume would tell you that religious life has offered me opportunities to teach in urban Philadelphia parish schools; to serve in the Camden Diocesan Family Life Office, coordinating marriage preparation and ministry to persons who are gay and lesbian; to minister in a large suburban parish in Maryland as part of a three-person experimental model of co-pastoring; to serve the sisters of my own congregation by accompanying them through significant moments in life’s journey; to return to the Camden diocese to help shape the lay ministry formation program, before briefly serving on staff here at Christ Our Light. Currently, I coordinate the ministry of spirituality for my religious congregation, as well as provide occasional retreats and workshops for Sisters of Saint Joseph, associates, and colleagues in mission throughout the United States.
However, none of that tells you what the experience of religious life has been for me! As often happens in life, it is only in hindsight that I have noticed what God has been doing. Through all of the people, places, events, highs, lows, joys and challenges, this is what I have come to know by heart . . . . All people are precious in God’s sight, regardless of age, race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, or economic status—and I desire to see as God sees: all are one. Over time, my sense of who is ‘dear neighbor’ to me has expanded. I have come to experience in a profound way that people who society pushes to the margins have a place in the center of God’s heart.
Interacting with married couples and parents, I have learned up close what it means to lay down one’s life for another in ordinary and not-so-ordinary ways. I have been challenged by the selflessness of so many church ministers, be they married, single, ordained, paid, or volunteer. In ministering alongside good and compassionate priests, I have been edified by their focus on service despite the skepticism that swirls around us. I have learned just how much I love my sisters in religious life and am strengthened by our shared desire for union with God and all people (our mission as Sisters of Saint Joseph). Years of ministry have broadened my sense of Church and have deepened my understanding of collaboration as ‘co-laboring’ with steady perseverance, with all the give and take that this implies. I’m not sure there is any other way to truly build the city of God. Together we are Church!
I have come to know by heart how faithful God is. It is only because I have come to know myself (by God’s grace) as loved unconditionally by God that my life has meaning. . . Yes, fifty-one years as a Sister of Saint Joseph can sound like a long time, but it feels like the blink of an eye! Perhaps that’s because Divine Love has been weaving through it all.
With gratitude for your companionship on life’s journey,
Sister Dolores Clerico
We continue with the Sister profiles marking the Year of Consecrated Life. (for previous columns, see the parish website). Today we hear from Sister Lydia Etter, OSF.
My commitment to religious life began many years ago in northeast Philadelphia as a student at St. Bernard’s. The feelings grew stronger throughout high school at St. Hubert’s. Since high school was an all- girl experience, I decided to attend LaSalle for a year. It had only recently gone co-ed and I entered as a math major. Talk about extreme opposite from SH! Then I joined the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia. Some may know us as “Glen Riddle Franciscans”.
The years since then have been filled with joys, concerns, highs, and lows. Teaching has always been my love. I have ministered in Lancaster, PA, Egg Harbor, Willingboro, and Lincroft in NJ. Then the fateful meeting with the provincial sent me to the world of administration. I have had the pleasure of working with wonderful teachers in Dallastown, PA, and several schools in New Jersey. Some I have closed the doors for good. This is my fifth year at RCS, and there is no thought of closing.
Religious life has changed greatly since I entered. Clothing is certainly different. The veil no longer conceals a “bad hair day”. I have lived with a variety of numbers, from 14 to only 2 of us now. Each presents challenges and opportunities. We find our own jobs and our own living situations. There is no one to blame but ourselves.
Prayer has sustained me throughout the years and the changes. Meditation, private prayer, and liturgy are all vital. The support of those whom I have met through my ministry is also. The joy of working with elementary age children is sustaining.