One who is searching for beauty and possibilities will always find them. One who if searching for ruin and disaster will always find them. The question of the angel to the women at the tomb on Easter morning rings true for each of us…”Whom do you seek?” Lord, give us the desire only to seek you in others and events.
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!
This is a story told in the book, “Give Me Souls” by Fr. Peter Lappin, SDB.
One of the most extraordinary – and one of the most discussed – events in Don Bosco’s life took place in the year 1849.
A fifteen year old boy named Charles who attended the Oratory fell ill and was about to die. The doctor informed his mother and she, in turn, advised her son to see a priest.
“Call Don Bosco,” Charles begged.
Unfortunately, Don Bosco was out-of-town. The parents then called in another priest who came at once and heard the boy’s confession. But Charles still kept calling for Don Bosco.
When Don Bosco returned to Turin and heard what had happened, he at once set out to see the boy.
“How is he?” he asked a servant.
“Dead these ten or eleven hours.”
“The boy is not dead,” he said. “He’s just asleep.”
“Don Bosco,” said the servant patiently, “everybody in the house is convinced that he is dead and that includes the doctor who has already signed the death certificate.”
“Just a misunderstanding.”
Seeing that it was useless to argue, the servant brough don Bosco to the living room where he met the stricken parents.
“My little Charles kept calling for you before he went to heaven,” said the mother in tears.
“Take me to him.”
The mother led him into the sickroom and he walked up to the bed surrounded by relatives, also in tears. The body was dressed for burial, that is, and had been sewn into an old bedsheet, and a white veil covered his face.
“Would you please leave us for a moment?” Don Bosco asked those gathered in the room. “His mother and aunt may stay.” When the mourners had left, he closed the door and silence fell upon the room. For a moment his lips moved in prayer. The he cried out: “Charles! Rise!”
The mother and aunt looked at him in amazement and an instant later trembled when they saw that the body had begun to move! Don Bosco then did another strange thing: he put out the lamp which stood near the bed, and seizing the bedsheet with both hands, tore it from the body. Next he plucked away the veil.
“Ohhhhhh….” A long drawn-out sigh issued from Charles’ lips. As if awakening from a deep sleep, he stirred, opened his eyes, and stared at his mother.
To be continued tomorrow…
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!
One of the things I learned in my time of novitiate was the importance of our title: Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.”
Sr. Carla Castellino, FMA, who was our Directress of Novices, used to say, “Novices, you are not making profession to be slaves or servants or handmaids or friends or company, but DAUGHTERS! So act as a daughter; love Mary as your mother!”
When you think of it, it’s impressive … our title, our very name, says “I’m part of a family.”
Our Regulations (the little book that gives practical guidelines for living out our constitutions), says, the commemoration of the 24th of every month is to be “for us and for the young people an opportunity for growth in filial love for the Blessed Virgin.” (R. 30)
I say, since it’s part of our title, why not make EVERY day a day of love for our Mother?!
To be cheerful we must go ahead in simplicity,
not looking for satisfaction,
either from people or from the things of this world.
Think only of doing your duty well for the love of Jesus
and don’t think of anything else. If you are humble, you will have confidence in Him.
He will do the rest.
So don’t keep crying for nothing.
Remember the time for acting like a child has passed.
You must be sensible and give good example.
Woooooof! My name’s Teddy and I have about 20 or so Sisters who look after me on a daily basis. This works well for me because I have a LOT of people to play with! All I have to do is put my face up to the glass and people come outside and play with me! Sometimes I have to run around the courtyard to convince people to come out – but who can resist my smile?
Life here at the convent is pretty cool! See, everyone is always so happy…which makes my day great because they come out and play with me ALL the time! Sometimes its fun to beg for treats. See, they keep them in this bin in my play area – that’d be the courtyard…. and if I beg – they give me a treat! And then later on, another Sister comes out…and I beg…and I get a treat! But see, these are no ordinary Sisters and I’m no ordinary dog, thank you very much. I don’t do the normal tricks like sit and lay down…nooooo…those are easy! The Sisters taught me to pray and to bow! Don’t believe me? Come and visit me and find out!
There is one downside around here – everything is so cleeeeeean! I can’t play in the mud without having to take a BATH. Speaking of which…oh no…woooof! It’s bath time and I see the Sisters are coming to clean me up…noooooo! See ya later!!!!!! I’m outta here!
-Teddy, the dog
I LOVE this question. What does a normal day consist of? Let me start with this: no day is like the day before! Man makes plans, God laughs! Our lives, in that regard, are no different than people outside the convent. Really! For instance – I might think I am heading up to my office to do work on the computer and then our dog decides to get into a heap of trouble and eat the electric chord on our Christmas decorations outside! The next thing I know I am out there in my coat, gloves, and apron fixing his little adventure. You never know what the day could bring in our house!
But if there was a “normal” day – it would go something like this:
Rise before the sun. Really, every house is different, but it is early.
You do NOT have to be a morning person to be a Sister…I’m not!
First thing we do: pray: Meditation, Morning Prayer, Mass. Don Bosco said you should never go a day without meditation – so we never do! Then: Breakfast! Most days we eat as a community, but it really does depend on your responsibilities.
And then its off to work! My job is in Vocations, so I talk to young women, make phone calls, work on the computer and around the office. Many Sisters teach, so they head off to school. Some have the task of keeping our house in order, though we all help out, and they head off to take care of that!
Somewhere around noon is lunch, but again, it depends on your responsibilities – a lot of Sisters eat with staff or at different times. Somewhere in there we visit Jesus in the chapel and spend time in prayer. He is always with us, but it is good to get some quite moments in with Him in the middle of the day!
The afternoon – back to work. We sound a little boring. But REALLY – you NEVER know what can happen in a day. Especially with so many great kids around! Our afternoon closes with Prayer: The Rosary, Spiritual Reading, Evening Prayer. Don Bosco wanted thirty minutes of Spiritual Reading always in our day – he found that very important – so half of that is built right into our schedule!
And then…you guessed it – DINNER! Oh, we Salesians LOVE to eat. And ask anyone who comes to our house, we always start with SOUP! It can be July and we will still have soup. It is a great time, as a community to catch up, laugh, and talk about our day. But we don’t end there! After or dinner chores are finished we all get together for an hour or more just to spend time together. We are a big, loving family after all!
We end the night with a goodnight – always a thought to think about for the next day – and then we prepare ourselves for sleep! While there is no required time for Sisters to sleep, and some of us do stay up quite late, most of us head to our rooms around the same time!
I think the real question here is, can Sisters have fun?
My answer: YES! Yes we can and we do!
The great thing about being a Salesian Sister is we are all for the YOUTH! Our lives are dedicated to working with the YOUTH! So of course we get to go to Amusement Parks and Water Parks! If the kids go, we go with them! I love these moments with the youth. I love heading out with a group of young people and watching their faces light up as we head off for a rollercoaster (better hang on to my veil!!!) or go play a game. God wants joy in our youth – and we want to bring that to them and share in it with them!
So – if the youth go there, we go there! Just this past week I went to see a musical on Broadway – Sister Act – of all things! It was so much fun! We go to the movies, we go to the Mall, we go ice skating. A lot of the young women in formation love to go sledding down our hills here and we’ve been known on occasion to go with them! And we’ve been known to have a few snowball fights with our students. This past fall the Aspirants in our house decided to challenge us to Volleyball. Much to their dismay, we creamed them (I think the final score was 25-3). But then we switched to basketball – hmmm – they must have been practicing late at night!
Being a Sister does not mean giving up the fun in life. Actually, I believe being a Sister makes life more fun! We have so much love in our house and so many people to share it with. How many people do you know have an instant volleyball team right after dinner? Really, being a Sister means being surrounded by prayer, work, and a lot of joy, love, and fun. Being in the Salesian Family is the great joy of my life!