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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Changes and Developments I Applaud

A few weeks ago I wrote a reflection on changes I’ve seen in my lifetime that I lament. (See “Whatever Happened to…?” April 18, 2016.) I promised then that I would also write about changes I’ve seen that I applaud. Let me start with a true experience that captures some major changes I am very grateful for.

I took this picture of one of the murals on Red Cloud School when I was there in the 1990s.

When I was a little girl in the 1950’s, I saw a letter requesting a donation for the Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. In history class I had learned how unfairly Native Americans were treated by white people and I felt sorry for them. So I decided to send the school some of my allowance money. I remember taping two quarters onto a file card, slipping it into an envelope, and mailing it to the school. A few weeks later, I received a beautiful bookmark and more stories about the school and the reservation. So later on I sent them more money. Then more. Back then, $.50 was a generous donation from a little girl who earned $.25 a week doing her chores.

Fast forward now to the mid 1990’s. I am now a middle-aged Sister of Notre Dame. And I am ministering at the Jesuit novitiate in Detroit. I also do spiritual direction. And these Jesuits ask me to direct five Jesuit novices from Wisconsin and Minnesota for a week-long retreat. And where will the retreat be held? That’s right, in South Dakota near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation! What’s more, one of the Jesuits who served there for many years invited me to come early so I could spend a few days visiting the reservation with him.

I prayed at the tomb of Chief Red Cloud renowned as a warrior and as a leader of his people. In 1888 he asked the Jesuits to come and educate his people.

This experience captures in a nutshell some incredible changes I witnessed from the time I was about 8 to the time I was about 50—changes I am immensely grateful for. First of all, I had become a Sister. That change has been a great gift for me. And within this vocation, I have seen some other amazing changes.

I had spent over 20 happy years teaching in various schools and living in convents with all women. Who would have thought that in the 1990’s I would be ministering in a Jesuit novitiate and working in an all masculine environment? Who would have thought that a male religious congregation would want a woman on their formation team? In my early years as a Sister, it was always men (mostly priests) who directed us Sisters through retreats, confession, conferences, and books. Now I, a Sister, was directing a retreat for five men studying to be priests.

While in South Dakota I attended a few Native American Eucharistic liturgies that incorporated drums, smoke, and eagle feathers in their ritual. Adapting the Mass to specific cultures is a change I certainly applaud. Here are a few others: The developments made in our understanding of sacred scripture, the expanded role of the laity in the church, the reintroduction of the permanent diaconate, the rich variety of prayer forms available, the renewed emphasis on social justice, the ecumenical movement among Christian churches, the attempts at greater understanding and appreciation of other non-Christian religions, the ecology movement, and the array of spiritual writings by both men and women—clergy, religious, and lay.

There are many other changes in other areas of life that I’m grateful for—the invention of the Hubble telescope, for example, and how today’s fathers take a more active role in raising their children. Then there’s women! I still remember the time I was waiting for my plane to take off and I learned that our pilot’s name was not Tom, or Michael, or Jason—but Margaret! And today both my doctors are women too.

I hope this reflection is conjuring up in your mind changes you have experienced in your life that you are grateful for. Why not give thanks for them today?

(Note: Red Cloud Indian School is still going strong. But Pine Ridge Reservation remains in great need. A few facts: 80% unemployment, 49% live below the federal poverty level, its county is the second poorest county in the nation, and less than 1% of all philanthropic money goes to Native American concerns and organizations. Some things don’t change… I think it’s time for me to send another donation to: Red Cloud School, 100 Mission Drive, Pine Ridge, SD 57770 or   

Here is a Native American Prayer, “Great Spirit, Keep Us Free.” The lyrics were not included, but the song sings of Mother Earth, Father Sky, and the winds that flow in four directions. The pictures—especially the old and contemporary pictures of Native Americans—are very moving. I hope you enjoy the video.

What changes in the world have you seen that you are grateful for?

What did you think of the song/prayer?

PS: Thank you to the Sisters of Mercy of Philadelphia this past week for their wonderful hospitality. I really enjoyed facilitating the retreat for about 30 of their Sisters. What beautiful women! And thank you, my dear readers, for your prayers. Next week, June 26 to July 1 I’ll be leading another retreat at the Living Waters retreat center in Maggie Valley, NC. The topic is “Hope.” Thank you for your prayers for this retreat too!



31 Responses

  1. I am grateful for cellphone apps that help provide accurate directions and texting. Two great developments that keep us on the right path.

    Good one Sr. Melannie!


  2. I just purchased a new book that looks quite promising. It is related to your story of Pine Ridge Reservation and today’s song. You may be familiar with the book: “Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way” by Richard Twiss (IVP Books, 2015). The late author, a Sicangu Lakota, was born on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.

  3. Sister Melannie,
    My great aunt taught the wee ones at Pine Ridge in the 60’s, I believe.
    She was an amazing teacher and she shared many interesting stories regarding her time in South Dakota. ( I think most of those students were taller than this short little, albeit mighty educator).
    Thank you for your Monday morning pick-me-ups!

    1. Dear Jean, Wow! Your great aunt actually taught at Pine Ridge. How wonderful! And I’m sure she had some great stories to share with you. Thank you for responding to my blog! Sr. Melannie

  4. Hi Sister, thank you for sharing this story. I love seeing how God weaves small threads through our lives and keeps us connected to people, places and things.

    My brother spent 7 years working at the Pine Ridge Reservation so I have always had a soft spot for them in my heart as well. Your entry today reminded me of the need to put Native Americans back on my prayer list. I have also attended a Mass (Northern Michigan) with Native American practices incorporated and so enjoyed approaching God through their language and traditions.

    1. Dear Stephanie, What beautiful experiences you have had! Thank you for sharing them with us. I agree that God does weave small threads through our lives that “keep us connected to people, places, and things.” Thanks for connecting with me and my readers! Sr. Melannie

  5. Sister Melannie,
    That was great —-loved it !!! Have been reading some of your books–
    I like them all. Thank you for writing them.
    I made your retreat at our retreat house at Cape May Point N.J. about 7 or 8 years ago—-hope and pray you come back there soon
    God Love you—I sure do !!
    Sister Betty

    1. Dear Sister Betty, Thank you for your enthusiastic response. I gave a couple of retreats at Cape May, NJ at the SSJ’s place there–right on the ocean. A beautiful spot for a retreat! Thanks for invoking some fond memories for me. Sr. Melannie

  6. My college sorority, Alpha Sigma Tau, had Pine Ridge as their national charity (many years ago). I am an alumna at the University of Detroit-Mercy, before the Mercy part, and now faculty, along with some very fine Jesuits. Were you at the Berkley location where the student Jesuits live? My mother resided at a nursing home in Royal Oak, where the Jesuit seminarians ministered. Lots of connections! And I am grateful, most of the time, for those computers we hold in our hands called cell phones. Grateful, too, for more recognition for the dignity of the GLBT community.

    1. Dear Carolyn, Yes, we have lots of connections. Yes, I ministered at the Jesuit novitiate when it was in Berkley, MI. I lived in Royal Oak by the Shrine of the Little Flower. Thank you for mentioning other changes we can be grateful for! Sr. Melannie

  7. Thank you Sister! I also grew up in the 50’s. However my experience with the Native Americans was significantly different! When on a vacation, we would pay to see “Indians” dance wearing their costumes.” In essence, we paid to watch a side show of the time. There was no interpretation of the dance. Just name & origin of the tribe. “Now sit back and enjoy the show. Our fireworks will begin after the dance, so stick around.” Delighted to learn of changes honoring Native Americans and their inclusion.
    Thank you for the memory and learning of the changes!

  8. Pine Ridge brings many thoughts to mind. I too decided to send money
    on a fairly regular routine. Also, at that tender age, to Fr. Flanagan’s Boys Town. Later, I learned that Boys Town had an expansive amount in trust. No real need then, right? Not so with Pine Ridge based on your statistics. Thanks Sister for bringing the Reservation and its needs to mind. Yes, there are truly stories of the needy. Pine Ridge is one. It’s a sad tale when you read about various groups who accumulate donations above and beyond their needs. My “dream catcher” is hung in my office
    as a reminder. Steve

    1. Dear Steve, I sense we are kindred hearts–especially as children sending our hard-earned money to worthy places. I too have a real dream catcher. Appropriately, it hangs above my bed… Thanks for writing and for retaining a compassionate heart! Sr. Melannie

  9. A great change has been handicap accessibility: the awareness that even one short step can create a barrier to many people.

    1. Dear Tom, You mention a BIG change that I appreciate the older I get. For a few months I had to use a cane. While traveling, I was very aware of ramps and benches! Thanks for your response! Melannie

  10. Glad you arrived home safely and thanks for all…God’s blessings on your retreat in Maggie Valley.
    Changes I am grateful for would include space exploration which was science fiction when I was a child; the digital age…we have the universe at our finger tips; scripture study and Vatican II; multiculturalism…
    Go gently…

    1. Dear Beverly,

      Thanks again for making those two airport trips to pick me up and drop me off! I really enjoyed meeting you and the rest of your Mercy Sisters. I like your words, “We have the universe at our fingertips.” How blessed we are! Sr. Melannie

  11. My dad was a great photographer, who died at 35, in 1957. Back then, you looked in the little camera box and saw the picture upside down. He would be amazed at the advancements in the cameras of today. Thank you, sister, for the chance to remember my dad on this beautiful day after Father’s Day.

  12. Thank you, Sister, for a beautiful reminder of the many advances we, as a Church and country, have made towards a better appreciation for one another and the diverse world we live in.
    God bless you. Joanne

    1. Dear Joanne, Two phrases stood out for me in your response: “better appreciation” and “diverse world.” We could have a worthwhile meditation just on those concepts. Thanks for writing! Sr. Melannie

  13. Thank you Sr Melannie for all you do …I am grateful for that .
    .I’m also grateful that there are not more technology changes than there already are.Sorry for what appears to be a negative comment but in fact so many technology “advances” just seem to hinder the path of joy and beauty of a “simple”life.

    1. Thank you for writing, Ken. I think life comes to us with a lot of ambiguity: good and evil mixed up together. With everything good (like technology) there’s a dark side. And with things that look evil, there’s usually some good lurking there too. I agree with you that it’s a “struggle” to maintain a simple life… Thanks again! Sr. Melannie

  14. Loved the song and video! Thanks, Sr. Melannie. Have a wonderful time in Maggie Valley.

    Your friend!

  15. I loved the music and I, too, have a dreamcatcher hanging in my bedroom.
    Here is a positive change I noticed several years ago when I was the Music Minister in a small Episcopal parish in Plainfield, IN. Jackie Means had recently been ordained and was called to be the Rector. I was very apprehensive about how I would feel when she said her first Mass. Do you know, it felt perfectly normal. I wish the Catholic Church would realize that women priests would be acceptable both scripturally and functionally. It is the office, not the sexual identity, that is important.

  16. Sister Melannie, thank you so much for your reflection on June 20. I am an SSND presently ministering at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation and appreciate your thoughts. I’m sorry this is so late, I’m trying to catch up on your blogs. Please keep our ministry and children in your prayers…bless you!
    Sister Nicolette

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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