There was a Sister whom I first met when I came here as a 14-year-old to our highschool, Mary Help of Christians Academy. Her name was Sr. Christine. She was an older Sister, and always handed out napkins to the students at lunch time. It was a simple act, and helped move the lunch line a little faster. But Sr. Christine didn’t just hand out a napkin, she handed out a good thought. She would often tell me she was praying for me, and that I could find my vocation. What a beautifully simple way to open my young heart to the call of God.
While I was visiting our community at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign, IL, Sr. Christine had a stroke and passed away. I had even spoken to her the day before I left, and she assured me she was praying for my mission of promoting vocations.
Here are the remarks our Mother Provincial, Sr. Karen, shared after her funeral:
“Many times people ask me how I understood God’s plan for me. One thing I knew: nothing in the world could satisfy my longings for a love that was as infinite as the sky and as limitless as the ocean….”
Such are the sentiments of Sr. Christine. Always the artist. Artist in her words here, artist with color, artist in her handiwork, artist in her response to God’s call, artist in her relationships that were permeated with His goodness. A life of beauty which wove that love of God through our lives, through our province, through her family, her friends, and the young.
Born in Borkenwirthe Germany on July 27, 1918, Sr. Christine grew up in a close-knit Catholic family of a deep, practical sense of piety. Across the years Sr. Christine witnessed her parents’ example of faith, tender devotion to Our Lady, and their courage in dealing with the sufferings and losses of war and their unfailing trust in God. Sr. Christine always took great inspiration from them.
How did this little girl turn to someone so great that would span the globe and capture hearts, building, creating, beautifying, and transforming the spaces and people that came near her?
It was her great heart. The heart of a missionary. Her 8th grade teacher, she writes, had a great influence on her choice of vocation. When she heard Christine tell her of her desire, she cultivated it, allowing the color and shape of her missionary dream to take shape.
One day Chrisitne found a holy card of Don Bosco. He had been unknown to her, but this “apostle of abandoned youth,” as the holy card described, became a springboard of her prayer. And on the day she was introduced to the Salesian Sisters, their simplicity, their joyfulness, and their way of dealing with the young brought her to the decision, “Yes, Lord!” Her spiritual director gave his prophetic blessing: Go! As a Salesian Sister the whole world is open to you!”
God’s working in my life has puzzled me in many ways. His Will was certainly not mine. Looking back … I see God’s love woven through all my life as a thread of spun gold, enhancing every moment and giving meaning to each event.”
Sr. Christine was a truly great missionary. Overcoming the perils of World War II, and patient on God’s plan, she made her way to the United States in 1950. So capable, so generous, so accustomed to take on whatever obedience was asked of her, she spent her years answering the needs of our works for the young from California, to Montreal, to here in New Jersey. Looking at her story, you see clearly someone who could be counted on for the serious and urgent eventualities that came up in the province. A woman of deep deep and simple faith, she poured herself out in her characteristic loving creativity, building the future of the province in her delicate, motherly kindness as the Superior in the houses of formation, as economer, or as the overseer of new constructions. With great balance, she spent her energies each day without fanfare and without ever losing sight of her original purpose. She led by example.
Once, mid school year, she was called out of community in southern California to the north to oversee the construction of Corralitos. With great tranquility she packed her things and prepared for the work by learning how to drive so that she could travel daily to the construction site. She followed the work and attended to the details, scraping the new paint off the windows and sewing the curtains by hand for the windows. Within a few months, the ambitious project was completed; but she was called back to the East, never to return again to California. She picked up and moved to her next mission with serenity, humility and grace.
At another moment, when she returned to North Haledon from a 3 month course in Rome for those in Formation, a surprised greeted her there. Obedience asked her to leave for Montreal to substitute as Animator of a community there. She says she felt like a missionary in the dead of a Canadian winter. The Parish meetings required various languages. “After some considerable time,” she writes, “I felt completely at home and ready to do the social work and home visiting as planned, when, I received a call from Mother Josephine Carini to return to New Jersey, to Mary Help to serve as the economer.” Again, without thought of self, without lament at this sudden interruption to the momentum and work she had just finished to prepare for, she moved back to Jersey.
Like an artist who follows the inspirations and promptings of the beauty around her, Sr. Christine left her mark in every type of work as it was needed. Director of Religious Ed, assistant in the fledgling youth center in Tampa, teacher, principal, economer, sacristan, assistant in the cafeteria, in the locker section. You name it; she did it. Always with availability, unassuming cheerfulness, heart, precision, and faith. Her artwork is still treasured and seen in our chapels. Already in her eighties, she was caught still climbing the 12 foot ladder to attach one of her signature banners in North Haledon. Until her last moments, Sr. Christine worked her stokes of love as she sat crafting her Easter greetings in her styled penmanship to her family, friends and her adopters who were like family to her.
A treasured and inspiration masterpiece of God’s goodness to us she was. An authentic religious who gave without measure and without condition. Sr. Christina says, “His grace has made possible what human limitations were not able to accomplish…. What a privilege to have been chosen by God’s mercy to be a living stone in the monument Don Bosco wanted to offer to Mary, the Help of Christine as a token of Thanksgiving!…. My mind and heart embrace with humble love and appreciation all who have crossed my path or have shared with me these years of Salesian life..my dear family, my past and present animators, my sister FMA, students, benefactors, adopters and friends.”
In the same writing, as if knowing the season of her passage to Heaven, she says, “It is time now to meet HIM the RISEN ONE, the only focus in my Salesian Mission. With Mary, my dear Mother, who has always been my confidant, guide, and support, I will sing: FIAT! MAGNIFICAT! ALLELUIA!”
Thank you, dear Sr. Christine, for the strong and beautiful way you have given to us: a life given completely to that God, that Love that is as infinite as the sky and limitless as the ocean, a life that has spun that gold you speak of… and that enhanced our lives as well. Pray for us and allow us always to pull those same beautiful threads through our lives as we continue our journey towards Him! * * *
“Before God, it seems to me that the Institute needs: Sisters who are imbued with the spirit of self-denial and sacrifice which fills them with the desire to work and suffer for Jesus Christ and for the good of their neighbor; Sisters who are firmly convinced that exact obedience, without any criticism or complaint, is the path they must courageously tread in order to attain perfection and holiness; Sisters who are able to master their own affections and keep their hearts fixed on God alone in order to be able to say together with Saint Francis of Sales: ‘If I were to know that one fibre of my heart was not for God, I would tear it out’; Sisters who neither regret having left the world, nor long for the possessions and conveniences they have renounced; Sisters who deem it a privilege to live in a condition of poverty and privation in imitation of their divine spouse Jesus who, being rich became poor in order to enrich men with His grace and to make them heirs of Heaven; Sisters who have no other ambition on earth than to follow Jesus Christ who was humiliated, crowned with thorns, and nailed to the cross so that they may, thus, praise Him surrounded by the angels and saints in the glory of heaven.
We have need of Sisters who have a strong physical constitution, a good character, and a reasonably cheerful disposition, who desire above all else to become saints, not by doing anything extraordinary but only what is normal, thus becoming an inspiration to their fellow-men, especially the young, attracting them to the practice of the Christian virtues; finally Sisters who are, or at least can become effective instruments for promoting the glory of God in the fulfillment of those responsibilities, and the accomplishment of those activities which are proper to the Institute.”
Lord, make me THIS kind of Sister!
Francis Dalmazzo heard of St. John Bosco’s sanctity and decided to study at Don Bosco’s school. He arrived in Turin on October 22, 1860, and tells us this story:
“I heard my companions speak of Don Bosco as a saint, and the cleric Ruffino told me how he had raised to life a boy from the Oratory; how he had multiplied Hosts and chestnuts; and how, when he had taken the boys on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Fields, the bells of the church of their own accord had rung out a welcome.
I had been at the Oratory only a few days, but having been brought up on delicate fare, I could not adapt myself to hte far too modest table. I worte to my mother asking her to come and take me away.
On the morning of my departure, however, I wanted to go to confession to Don Bosco and I went to the choir where he was surrounded by a crowd of boys.
While I was waiting for confession, two boys whose job it was to distribute the breakfast rolls came into the choir.
‘The boys can’t have breakfast this morning,’ they whispered to Don Bosco. ‘There’s no bread in the house.’
‘Don’t bother me now,’ Don Bosco replied. ‘Go to Mr. Magra, the baker, and get what you need.’
‘Mr. Magra won’t give us any more bread. He hasn’t delivered any since yesterday, and he says he won’t bring any more until he’s paid up, and he keeps his word.’
‘We’ll think about it,’ said Don Bosco.
Fr. Alasonatti (who was saying mass) was already nearing the end of mass when one of the two boys returned to Don Bosco’s side.
‘Mass is nearly over,’ he whispered. ‘What’ll we give the boys for breakfast?’
‘You again!’ exclaimed Don Bosco. ‘Let me finish confessions, then we’ll see. Meanwhile, gather up all you can find in the breadbins and dining rooms.’
The boy left and I continued my confession. I had just finished when the boy came back for the third time.
‘We’ve collected all we could find,’ he said, ‘and there are only a few rolls, far less than what we need.’
‘Put all the rolls you have in the basket,’ Don Bosco told him, ‘and in a few moments I’ll come and give them out myself.’
When he had finished with the boy at his side, he went to the door behind the altar of Our Lady, where it was customary to hand out the rolls to the boys as they came out of church. The basket of bread stood near the door. Recalling the wonderful things I had heard about Don Bosco and filled with curiosity, I went out before him to find a spot from where I could see everything. Instead, I found my mother at the door. She had been notified by letter and had come to fetch me.
‘Come, Frankie,’ she said, but I made a sign for her to stand aside for a moment.
‘I want to see something first,’ I told her.
As I took the roll from the hands of Don Bosco I looked into the basket and counted about fifteen rolls, certainly not more than twenty. Then I placed myself at a spot behind Don Bosco, that is, on the steps leading from the church. As the boys filed past, they kissed his hand, and he either said something to them or smiled at them.
The distribution went on until every boy, to the number of about four hundred, had received his roll. The distribution over, I again looked into the basket, and to my astonishment saw the same quantity of bread as there had been at the beginning, though no other bread had neen brought up nor had the basket been changed. I was amazed and went straight to my mother.
‘Come now, come!’ she kept repeating.
‘I’m not coming home,’ I told her. ‘I want to stay here. Forgive me for the trouble I caused you in making you come all the way to Turin.’ I described to her what I had seen with my own eyes. ‘It’s impossible for me to leave a house so blessed by God and such a holy man as Don Bosco.’
This was the only reason for my remainging at the Oratory then, and later for being numbered among his sons.”
I recently was going through some stuff in my office, (with the faithful assistance of my mother, RoseMary Clair), and we found a booklet by St. John Bosco…his advice to parents and teachers. Here is some of what he said:
- The primary happiness of a child consists in knowing one is loved.
- The young must not only be loved, butthey must know they are loved.
- I maintain that without religion no good can be done with the young.
- In every young person, even the most difficult, there is a vulnerable spot for good. The first duty of an educator is to find it.
- Teachers seen only in the classroom are simply teachers. If they mingle with the students outside the classroom, they become brothers and sisters.
- No good can come from education, until a young person has opened his/her heart in confidence.
- Remember that education is a matter of the heart.
- Personal contact and friendly relationships produce confidence, without which, no lasting good can be accomplished.
- Educators always speak in the language of the heart.
- Love must always be the mainspring of the heart.
Thank you, Don Bosco, for teaching us how to love the young, and to see Christ in them. By your word and your example, you offer us an efficacious path to holiness. I am happy and proud to be numbered among your daughters, and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians!
I recently received this email and couldn’t help but think of my father, whose anniversary of passing is today. I’m lucky Joe Clair was my father. Here is one of our email exchanges from the last Father’s Day he was alive:
I wrote: Dear Dad, we once had a professor who said that the kids in the class had won the lottery of life because of where and when we were born. I feel like I won the lottery of life, not only because I was born in the greatest country, but because I had the greatest parents. You and Honey (i.e. Mom in my family) are the greatest parents anyone could ask for.
His response – all in caps, just like this:
I CERTAINLY WON THE LOTTERY OF LIFE 17 TIMES…..FIRST OF ALL HONEY
THEN 16 OF THE GREATEST KIDS ANY FATHER COULD ASK FOR. NOT BAD
FOR A MAN WHO ISN’T CONSIDERED LUCKY. I HAVE ALWAYS FELT I WAS
ONE OF GOD’S FAVORITES. DON’T 17 WINS PROVE I WAS RIGHT?
LOVE – - – DAD
Facts of being Father
When I was 4 Yrs Old: My father was THE BEST
When I was 6 Yrs Old: My father seemed to be perfect person
When I was 10 Yrs Old: My father was excellent but he was short tempered
When I was 12 Yrs Old: My father was nice when I was little
When I was 14 Yrs Old: My father started being too sensitive
When I was 16 Yrs Old: My father couldn’t keep up with modern time
When I was 18 Yrs Old: My father was getting less tolerant as the days passed by
When I was 20 Yrs Old: It was too hard to forgive my father, how could my Mum stand him all these years
When I was 25 Yrs Old: My father seemed to be objecting to everything I did
When I was 30 Yrs Old: It was very difficult to be in agreement with my father, I wondered if my Grandfather was troubled by my father when he was young.
When I was 40 Yrs Old: My father brought me up with a lot of discipline, I must do the same.
When I was 45 Yrs Old: I am puzzled, how did my father manage to raise all of us?
When I was 50 Yrs Old: It’s rather difficult to control my kids, how much did my father suffer for the sake of upbringing and protecting us.
When I was 55 Yrs Old: My father was far looking and had wide plans for us, he was gentle and outstanding..
When I became 60 Yrs Old: My father is THE BEST
‘My father – The Best Father’
Over fifteen years ago I met the Salesian Sisters for the first time in Port Chester, NY. I was in my second year teaching first grade in a Catholic school in Queens, NY. I hadn’t even heard of St. John Bosco, and here were the Sisters only about 45 minutes away!
From the first visit, seeing the Sisters at Port Chester with the young people and how they related with each other, something just “clicked”. I visited a couple more times and then spent some time at Camp Auxilium in Newton, NJ. It was there that I decided 0 after much prayer and some struggle – that if I were going to be a sister, it would be a Salesian Sister. It is hard to express the experience of joy I found in being with the Sisters and the young people.
I’ve been a sister for ___ years. In this time, I’ve continued to experience much joy. There have also been some bumps along the way as well. Looking back, I realize that initial feeling of “something clicked” is that my plans fit with God’s Plan for my life.
There are so many religious orders out there. Google can’t even answer the question of how many orders there are, because God continues to gift the Church with new charisms, and therefore, new orders continue to be born.
Considering this, I can’t help but wonder how God was good enough to bring me here!
I didn’t know I was joining a religious family that was the largest group of women religious in the world. I didn’t know our brothers were the second largest group of religious men in the world. I didn’t know the Salesians would have over 100 people on their way to becoming saints in just over 150 years. I didn’t know I would get to live with saints. I didn’t know I would learn to play the drums and the guitar. I didn’t know I would do things I thought would be impossible for me. I had no clue. I was 17.
What I did know was that these Sisters loved kids, and that I loved kids. I knew these Sisters were happy, and I was a happy person. I knew that these Sisters loved Jesus deeply and I loved Him too. I knew they were fun to be with and, well, it seemed like a good fit.
All the rest…living with real saints, learning to be a teacher from the greats, having people around me who loved me and wanted what was best for me, learning to play the drums and the guitar, learning to speak another language, learning that I could do other things other people could see in me – all that, was just icing on the cake!
Of course, I can’t resist the obvious – “Why NOT become a Sister, here!” ;o)
You see, none of us, the Sisters that is, really thought, “Hey, I can do something fun. I’ll be a nun.” In fact, for most of us the idea of being a Sister was repugnant at worst and just plain scary at best!
But you see, it has to do with ideas. Sometimes people get crazy ideas. Sometimes, they try to shake these ideas, and they do. I had hundreds of looney ideas of stuff to do/say/discover as a child (and I still get some pretty crazy ideas) but the key is…the absolute clincher is…I can rid myself of these ideas easily. I can ignore them and they do go away.
Now the idea of being a Sister, well, it LITERALLY haunted me. Like God would just not leave me alone. The idea came back again and again, as much as I tried to shoo it away, and I really did try.
I think God continued to inspire this in me because He knew married life was just too small for me, and that my heart – my way of loving – was far too wide and far too big for the number of people in an average family.
God calls us to where we will be happiest. He wants nothing more than for us to be incredibly, unbelievably happy as we travel our path to Him! So, if you find joy, if you find yourself content, even through hard times (because they come to us all) then you have probably found the place where God wants you.
So this idea that came back again and again. I figured I’d give religious life a try, and guess what? I LOVED IT. That was when I knew, for sure and forever, that I had done the right thing with my life!