For All That Has Been, Thanks; For All That Will Be, Yes

by Sister Jo Ann Bonauro

— Dag Hammarskjold, Second Secretary- General of the United Nations

Most of us probably are very familiar with that quote, or at least have heard it. At first glance, the meaning seems quite clear: we are grateful for the past and we promise to respond positively as we embrace the future. Moreover, couldn’t that wonderful statement fittingly describe how we, as Sisters, Associates, Friends, Co-Ministers, etc. mark the 175th Anniversary of the Sisters of Charity, Halifax. But, and this is an important BUT, doesn’t history and our lived experience often show us that there always might be more?

Historians tell us that there is always more—if one goes deeper. Thus, it can be said that the Container which holds any “Past” is complex. Recently, haven’t we begun to witness a different re-telling of the workings and history of our Countries and our Church? Are there things that should have been different? And, isn’t it also important to remember those countless grace-filled moments and endeavors? 

“Our Congregation came into being through the action of the Holy Spirit in the heart of Elizabeth Ann Seton who found in the Rule of St. Vincent de Paul the expression of its purpose…” (Constitution #2) We know that passage so well, don’t we? Personally, as a student of history, I find one thing missing in that beautiful statement: St. Louise de Marillac. Vincent and Louise functioned as collaborators in ministry; and, isn’t that an integral part of our Charity Charism? 

With certainty, we can say that Louise played a major role in the Formulation of the Original Rule (of the Daughters), and Elizabeth was familiar with Louise’s spirituality, her leadership and ministry. What a blessing that our Congregation is rooted in the tradition of these three faith-filled, committed and proactive saints who embodied the Charity Charism with passion and zeal! 

I would like to suggest that it is only when we acknowledge our unique  history—beginning in France (1625) when Vincent de Paul founded the Congregation of the Mission, then, when Vincent and Louise de Marillac  established the Company of the Daughters of Charity (1633), that we see the vastness and diversity of the Charity Charism. It has defined us in the past, defines us now, and will always be the definitive quality in our future. But, as we know, there is usually more… Elizabeth Ann Seton, a native New Yorker, was encouraged by Archbishop John Carroll (first American Bishop) to found a Congregation of Religious Women in this newly independent and developing nation. Our Elizabeth, a prayerful and discerning woman, always tried to be attentive to God’s will. 

Following the prompting of the Holy Spirit, she found in the Rule of Saints Vincent and Louise, a model which could be adapted for this new American Congregation 

The development of this new Congregation is a captivating chronicle of outreach to those in need, development of new ministries where and when necessary, successful endeavors, heart-wrenching losses, challenges and setbacks; but most importantly, always having a total reliance on and commitment to God. The Charity Charism not only weathered life’s storms but, like the mustard seed it flourished!

In 1817, Elizabeth sent three Sisters to New York; and, in 1849 Sister Basilia McCann (a NY Charity) came to Halifax with three other Sisters. The Charity Charism had continued its northward journey into Halifax and this is what our upcoming celebration is all about! 

In these next months, let us pray that our Charity Charism guides us to reflect on and ponder where we have been and where we presently are. For we know with certainty, that as we look to the future: “There will always be more to Our Story! !”

What Do We Do With The Gospel Energy That Still Remains With Us?

by Sister Margaret M. Bickar

“……. all the while giving joyful witness to love with every breath” comes at the end of our commitment statement to plan for the eventual completion of our Congregation, a sobering task but one that, in true Sisters of Charity mode, we will face and work at. Our personal lives are moving toward completion as well so what do we do with the Gospel energy that still remains with us and over the years has permeated our personal and ministry lives? 

I recall the days when I seemed to have boundless energy that persisted fully throughout the day. While that is a thing of the past, I still can claim energies and abilities that remain. Last fall, we laid out before us some of the huge issues of our times like climate change, racism, and poverty. How will we deal with these at this point of our lives? 

It seems to me that we can do two things that can bring attention, truth and action to these issues, things that don’t require the physical energy of participation in demonstrations. First, we can study these issues, thanks to the mammoth research available in so many written and visual venues as well as from our conversations and discussions. We will become well-informed as we pursue our quest.  We will be touched and deeply affected by what we discover in our search for truths and from the people whose lives are profoundly marked by them. Then, as these issues arise in our relationships and encounters with others, and arise they will, we can articulate in those circles of our day-to-day lives what we have learned and experienced in a way that is permeated with “joyful witness to love”. And that is respectful, forthright, truthful and mutually challenging since we are immersed in these issues together. Jesus was convincing as he conveyed his message, using direct speech, sensitivity and kindness in a way that was engaging, perceptive, understanding and wise.

Second, the ministry of genuine listening can persist through a lifetime.  Over years of chaplaincy in healthcare and parish ministry, I’ve come to realize that selfless listening is truly a rare commodity, perhaps ranking among the most important gifts we can offer another. The quality of total focus on another without judgment is reminiscent of “He must increase and I must decrease”, be it sharing about climate change, racism, poverty, serious illness, family worries or the latest book read or film viewed to the marvelous vacation just experienced. 

Hearing “Thanks so much for listening” stated at the end of a conversation tells it all – the gift has been so gratefully received. It says to me that “….joyful witness to love…”  can translate into the gift of self to others in the name of Jesus who called each one of us personally many years ago to do just that.  


I Believe We All Have A Tremendous Capacity To Love And That Is Enough

by Sister Joan O’Keefe

It is being with others and listening to first voices especially when the joy bubbles up, not necessarily with every breath but with most.  Whether with a mom in need of support during labour and delivery or someone wandering in the park or a parent who lost his/her job or someone who has been treated disrespectfully, I draw on patience and time.  

I believe we all have a tremendous capacity to love and that is enough! Enough to be and to do what is in front of us.  Sometimes I have to remind myself to trust in that, especially when someone is suffering and I cannot seem to do anything to help.  Often later on there is a breakthrough. Someone else can help. The person herself sees a clear path forward. Together we see a way through. Someone we have called does return the call.  Often it is a matter of being truly present, not doing anything.

These days I have been particularly concerned about babies, other children, the unmarked graves and so many residential school survivors and their families. It is a heart-breaking time and yet, yesterday I saw a video of Carol Lavallee who attended the Marieval Residential School and she did not want to be called a survivor.  She said “I know how to love, I love myself, I love my family, I love my community. I am still here.  I am victorious.” Carol inspires me.  Is that not joyful witness?

Called Into Action With Every Breath

by Sister Kathleen Carven

Called into action with every breath in September, 2020, I responded to two hybrid, emergency situations brought about by the alarming pandemic. At Quincy High School as one of six hires, my position was to maintain the innovative, newly-designed structure of hybrid, remote learning for hundreds of students.  As volunteer at Harvest on Vine Food Pantry in Charlestown where surging numbers of immigrants were receiving half of their monthly resources, I committed to that hybrid reality as well.  These two involvements were the context of my sharing in our witness to Charity Alive.

By day at QHS grade 9-12 students. divided into Cohorts A and B, alternated two days apiece on site, the other three days the Cohort logged on to their program at home.  The team of “subs” were monitors/guides to large groups in spacious centers where each individual connected independently to Zoom lessons taught by the faculty.  Primarily, we were managers of the diverse learners  and their devices:  laptops and iPads.  School-wide congregant activities by design followed state guidelines;  social distancing was in effect to minimize the risk  of in-school transmission of COVID-19.  My focus of necessity turned most often to students needing academic support.  The assistance had a wide range:  organizational, technical, tutorial and bringing about the atmosphere conducive to concentration. The challenge was the rigorous pace students kept up as they pursued class goals with limited interaction.  Break-out groups were enjoyed!  I admired the stamina, perseverance and in many cases, high achievement.  Four hundred Seniors graduated at Veterans Field Stadium, Quincy on June 7 with an outstanding representation in the National Honor Society.  I was breathless for joy.

In free hours I share my energy and breath of hope twice monthly at the Food Pantry in Charlestown.  Lines of vulnerable individuals form with a sense of urgency hours ahead of the start time.  Wheeled carts testify to their hybrid lifestyle of  expecting a week’s resources of healthy food options.  Enthusiasm is contagious as families “shop” according to personal preference.  They receive the gamut:  from rice, pasta, cereal to vegetables, fruit, meat and milk and toiletries.  Harvest on Vine (HOV) serves a community of about 500 located in the largest federal housing development in New England. Tom MacDonald, Director, confirmed that  the Food Pantry has seen a 50% increase in families who have been hardest hit by COVID-19 public health and economic crises.  The pandemic has put a spotlight on the stark issue of food access for Charlestown residents,  There has been an increase of families with children, seniors, and communities of color: Asian, Black and Hispanic.  In a connected and collective breath, we have committed ourselves to  addressing inequities that stand as barriers to food access for all.  In the words of Project Bread, “While we are fighting hunger at both the federal and state levels, there is also a critical need to address food insecurity within local communities.” At HOV our families are hybrid–we walk hand in hand as neighbors striving to develop anti-hunger policies so that no one has to worry about putting food on the table.

My personal involvement in two hybrid experiences was a  rewarding and prophetic breath in their deep connection. In the words of Albert II Sovereign Prince of Monaco  (America, June 2021) referring to youth:  “We need to support them in their journey through education and awareness so we can pass on to them the keys to a more inclusive and sustainable world.”

With Every Breath

by Sister Elaine Simard

How do I give joyful witness to LOVE with every breath? By visualizing and seeing the whole CREATION as ONE, as ONE ULTIMATE HEARTBEAT in everything I am, in everything I do! Simple truth but yet challenging! 

Once, Teilhard de Chardin said:  To love is to discover and complete one’s self in someone other than one self!

Well, after more than three decades of embarking on this beautiful and yet challenging journey of love with the Sisters of Charity , this quotation of this great philosopher resonates even more than ever in my heart as we experience enormous challenges, drastic changes, uncertainties especially during this time of pandemic.

So many challenges to face in a troubled and unsettled world marked by divisions, envy and hatred, hurts and abuses in our church, and a planet out of breath, caused by greed, selfishness and ignorance. 

So many obstacles to overcome at this time in our history, but yet, if we really believe and I mean truly believe that we are ONE, ONE BREATH with GOD in this wonderful and challenging story of LOVE, the window of possibilities and of opportunities, proves to be LIMITLESS!!!

 We are a small but infinite part of that LOVE that cannot be contained, that manifested itself through an explosion of HEARTBEATS, that still to this day, continues to shape and fashion our beautiful Universe.

 We need to come HOME and to own this TRUTH deep within our hearts and to believe that we are God’s greatest reflection here on earth and that we are ONE with this great mystery of LOVE. In the “NOW where LOVE breathes”.

The challenge of our time resides in our ability and capacity to visualize and integrate this TRUTH in our every daily life.My heart beats in YOU, YOURS in mine, OURS in every living being, in the whole CREATION, and in the GREAT HEARTBEAT that contains the ESSENCE of life. Breathe and let us frequently call to mind this truth and ACT on it in everything we do. Let’s make it the main focus of our lives as we allow it to energize us in our mission.

I once heard ”LOVE is just a word till someone gives it MEANING”!

So, let us dare to take the road less traveled and behave in such a way that in our company, time is measured not so much by seconds or minutes, but rather by HEARTBEATS!

Now, let me ask you Sisters, when we hear the cries of the poor, will people remember us in our effort to bring comfort, hope and loving care to the stranger, the refugee, the homeless, the sick, the aged and the lonely?

Will people remember us in our tireless effort to bring a loving presence to those children who come from broken families and those young people enslaved by addictions of all kinds, to recognize their self worth and their importance in our society? 

Will people remember us in our ministry of social justice, in our effort to address racism in our world? To bring dignity and a fair distribution of the Earth’s wealth to people of different race, color, religion, gender and culture?

Will people remember us Sisters of Charity for having the courage to name and to acknowledge our faults, wrong doings, hurts, and abuses of the past to the Indigenous community? Andfor our tireless effort to bring justice and equality in an over powerful  institutional church?

Last but not least, will people remember us Sisters in the URGENCY and our effort to make the WORLD aware of the need to CARE for Mother Earth, our planet that is OUT of BEAT and practically OUT of BREATH? 

Let’s enter into the COSMIC dance of billions of heartbeats with the SOURCE of ALL, Jesus the COSMIC CHRIST! Let’s make joyful noise to SPARK and to REVIVE the BROKEN and DEFICIENT hearts of our world!  Keep up the BEAT, girls and let’s not give up! There’s still hope and countless opportunities as we try to breathe in UNISON! Now, let’s go into the world to give witness to love with every breath as we read the beautiful poem” ONLY BREATH” of Rumi, the Afghanistan writer and I quote:    

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim,

Not Hindu Buddhis, Sufi, or Zen.

Not any religion or cultural system.

I am not from the East or the West,

Nor out of the ocean or up from the ground,

Not natural or ethereal,

Not composed of elements at all.

I do not exist, am not an entity in this world or in the next. My place is placeless, a trace of the traceless. Neither body or soul. 

First, last, outer, inner, I am ONLY BREATH. BREATHE.

We are ONE!!!