As most of you know, part of my ministry consists in giving talks and retreats all over the country. Along the way, I’ve learned many things. I’d like to share a few of those lessons with you today.
Ruma, Illinois: I gave a retreat here for a group of Sisters called the Adorers of the Precious Blood. In 1992, five of their Sisters were killed in Nigeria during a violent civil war. It is believed that two Sisters were killed in the crossfire between warring factions. Shortly after, men armed with rifles broke into the Sisters’ compound and shot and killed the other three. While in Ruma I read their stories, I talked with Sisters who knew them well, and I prayed at their graves. On the property there’s a beautiful statue of these five “martyrs of charity” as Pope John Paul II called them. It depicts five women standing in a circle facing outward. Their arms are raised high, their hands clasped, and their beaming faces look upward. In one sense, these five Sisters were ordinary women from Midwest America. Several were raised on small farms in Illinois. Their violent deaths while serving people in need reminded me: sometimes ordinary people end up doing extraordinary things.
Cleveland, Ohio: A number of years ago I gave a talk to 300 lay women, all active in the church. In my talk I referred to Sister Mary Cleophas, one of our Sisters who had taught math at Notre Dame College in Cleveland for decades and spent her later years collecting food for the poor. After my talk, six women, ranging in age from about 35 to 60, came up to me individually to tell me they had all been taught by Sister and how much they remembered and loved her. Lesson: never underestimate the profound influence of a single, good person.
Schuyler, Nebraska: St. Benedict Center is situated in the heart of the prairie, a two hour drive from Omaha. It is surrounded by rolling green hills as far as the eye can see. The retreat center, one of the prettiest ones I’ve ever seen, is filled with beautiful art work that inspires prayer and meditation. One of my favorite pieces is the statue of Mary outside in the garden. Called “Mary: Fruit of the New Creation,” it depicts Mary rising out of corn husks! The artist (John Laiba of Omaha) gave this explanation: “the husks, symbolizing what is old, fall away, and the new creation comes into being.” It’s a unique and fitting image of Mary in the cornhusker state!
Salt Lake City, Utah: While giving a Saturday retreat at a local parish, I learned that their RCIA program had 54 candidates! I was amazed at the number of people coming into the church that year.
Fort Worth, Texas: Before going to Texas to give a weekend retreat, I received a phone call from a former student of mine originally from Ohio who was now living in Texas. In her church bulletin she saw I was coming to town, so she contacted the retreat center and made arrangements to pick me up at the airport so we could have some time together before the retreat began. Small world!
St. Louis, Missouri: The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet’s motherhouse (close to the Mississippi River) was built in 1836. The original wing has been in continuous use for over 177 years! Lesson learned: Nuns tend to be “good stewards” of their buildings and property!
Immaculata, Pennsylvania: I addressed the Immaculate Heart Sisters in a large auditorium. Over 500 Sisters were present. My talk was transmitted live to their health care center across the road where 180 Sisters watched on several TV’s. At the same time the talk was “live streamed” to their Sisters in Chile and Peru. After I spoke, there was time for questions and feedback. One of the first
responses came from a Sister in Peru. Lesson: Oh, the marvels of modern technology!
San Francisco, California: While giving a retreat to principals several years ago, I met Sister Suzanne Toolan, the composer of many religious songs including “I Am the Bread of Life.” Now in her 80’s, Sister told me the story of how she wrote that particular song. In 1966 she was commissioned to write a song for the
diocese. She worked on it for days in a small music room in their high school. Eventually she got so frustrated with the song, she tore up the papers, threw them into the waste basket and stomped out of the room. A student was sitting in the hall outside the room. She asked Sister, “What was that song you were playing? I really liked it!” Sister humbly went back into the music room, retrieved the torn papers, and (as they say) the rest is history! “I am the Bread of Life” has been translated into over 20 languages. It can be found in hymnals used by Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists. The lesson: Sometimes when we get discouraged, God sends “an angel” to give us strength!
Do any of these stories resonate with your experience?
What are some lessons you’ve learned “along the road called life”?
PS: One of my readers, Jeanie from Michigan, sent me this photo of sunflowers. She wrote: “This happens every year outside the Ford Motor Company Headquarters in Dearborn where I currently live.” Thanks, Jeanie, for sharing this picture with all of us!