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Choices of the Heart: Why My Heart Chose the Daughters of Charity

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Let me set the scene -
Three good friends, two postulants and one discerner. Three amazing vocations directors, one from Baltimore, one from Indiana, one from California.
Setting: Evansville, Indiana - home of many geese, jokingly the "Witness Protection" capital of the country, and home of the Seminary (novitiate) of the Daughters of Charity and a Sisters' retirement home.

All of that made from an amazing retreat.

It really led me to reflect on how much I absolutely love this community. There is no perfect community (if you're a discerner looking for one, sorry but you won't find it) However, the Daughters of Charity are the perfect community for me. There's something exhuberantly joyful about not only fitting into a community, but also them "fitting into you". The Daughters aren't for everyone - some are looking for something more contemplative, others are looking for a community that are only teachers or nurses, others are looking for a community without a habit, others are attracted to the spirituality of St Francis or St John Bosco or St Paul, etc - but they are definitely for me.

So, why do I love the Daughters? Here are my top 10 reasons:

The Motherhouse chapel
10) Our motherhouse is in Paris, France. I mean, come on, have you been there? Okay, me neither. But to know that as a Daughter of Charity, I will be visiting Paris at least once in my life is pretty awesome. On a related Paris note, our Superior General (the Superior General of the Vincentians) grew up just a few miles from me (in the US, not France)

9) They still have a habit. Certainly not reason #1, but there's something comforting about a Sister in habit, even our simple dress in blue. Plus, there's the option of the wearing the coif (veil) or not.

8) Their life is a balance of contemplation and action. St Vincent emphasized that service doesn't mean anything if we don't pray as well. We pray as a community twice a day as well as at meals. We have "Sharing" every week, which is a way for us to share spiritual reflections with each other, whether it be about our ministry or something else. In preparation for a life of service to the poor, the Daughters have Seminary, similar to a novitiate in a religious order - almost two years of contemplation, prayer, and reflection.

7) They're worldwide. Like really worldwide. There are about 20,000 Daughters around the world serving in more than 91 countries. On a smaller national scale, I got to see that in Evansville this past weekend as I visited the retirement home and local communities and met Sisters I had never seen before in my life.

6) The Daughters of Charity have a long list of saints and blesseds, with more on the way. Of the saints, we're the community of the patron saint of social workers, a young woman whom Mary appeared to, and the first American-born saint. Of the blesseds, there's a long list including martyrs of the French revolution, the first beatified Brazilian and a French Sister who served the poor (and rich) without counting the cost.

5) Their history is fascinating. From the founding in 1633 when St Vincent de Paul discovered a sly way of getting around the canonical rule that Sisters had to be cloistered, to the French Revolution when so many Sisters were martyred, to the 1800s with St Elizabeth Ann Seton and her community (which eventually combined with the Daughters) to the present with so many Sisters serving in so many different ways.

4) Despite the fact that their vocation was something revolutionary in the Church at the time (there were no 'apostolic' Sisters before) and they live a radical life, they also cling to what is considered traditional. The Blessed Mother appeared to St Catherine Laboure, a Daughter of Charity, and was the inspiration for the Miraculous Medal. Every Daughter has a deep devotion to the Miraculous Medal and postulants (like yours truly) receive a Miraculous Medal to wear. Every year, the Company is consecrated to Mary.

3) The Daughters are so down to earth. Maybe it's part of their charism - after all, our Founders Prayer says "at their school, teach us to love in the strength of our arm and the sweat of our brow". Or their history - they were the first Sisters that went out in the world to serve others. Whatever it is, they don't pretend to be perfect and don't show themselves as anything more or less than servants of the poor. Another related reason - besides the habit, none of them are the same. There is no "cookie-cutter" Daughter of Charity. One saying goes "when you've met one Daughter of Charity....you've met one Daughter of Charity"

2) Their entire mission is to serve Christ in the poor. Nothing less. And that means doing it in whatever way is needed, where it is needed, etc.

1) I feel a strong urge that God is calling me here. Things aren't perfect (but what is?) but I truthfully feel the most joyful when I am with them. I couldn't imagine myself happy anywhere else.

And that means everything.

Does God want you to be miserable?: Reflections from Jon Acuff

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Among the many blogs I follow, one is "Stuff Christians Like" written by Jon Acuff. Why? Because his stuff is hilarious, because it makes you wonder "oh my gosh, are there really Christians out there like that?" and because sometimes it'll really make you think.

His latest blog post is Does God want you to be miserable?. He explores the question "why do we assume that when we give God our life He's going to make us do what we hate?" which is actually quite a good question about vocation. Why do some people discerning think that, in order to become a Sister or a priest, they need to give up what they're passionate about? Why do they think that they'll be miserable but hey, they'll be doing what God wants them to do, right? Because there's something in today's Christian society - and I don't know what it is or where it came from - that tells us that.

Here is an excerpt from his blog entry. 
I do a joke when I speak to church groups. I say, “Every Christian knows that the first thing God does if you give him your life is make you move to Africa to become a missionary. You’ll go zero to hut in about 4.2 seconds.” And folks laugh, but there’s a crazy truth behind that joke. If we think the first thing God will do to us if we come close to him is the worst thing we can imagine, then we serve the worst God ever. 
If you’re not wired to be a missionary in Guam, if nothing about that feels at all like what God has uniquely created you to do, why would he immediately call you to that task if you trusted him with your life?
Go check out the rest of his post. It's worth the read!

Be Joyful! I Say It Again...'Be Joyful!': Blessed Giuseppina Nicoli

Friday, February 3, 2012

So I posted about the feast day of the Martyrs of Angers, not even realizing that the Daughters had two other feast days within a week - Blessed Giuseppina Nicoli today and Blessed Rosalie Rendu next week. I've already done a post on the life of Blessed Rosalie Rendu, one of my Daughter of Charity "favs", but Blessed Giuseppina Nicoli is even lesser known.

Sister Giuseppina was Italian, as you may have guessed already by her name. After becoming a Daughter of Charity, she spent most of her life ministering to the poor on the island Sardinia (yes, I had to look it up too) She became Sister Servant (the superior of the house) there and did something that may have been revolutionary in its time - she introduced the Sisters to the womens' prison. The Sisters then began to visit the incarcerated and minister to them. She organized the first youth group volunteers and taught catechism to the poor, illiterate and those without religious education.

A few years later, she was called to Turin (Italy) to serve as adminstrator of the province and then directress of the Seminary (noviciate), but soon the community realized that the climate of Turin wasn't doing well to her health and how attached Sardinia was to her and vice versa and sent her back there. Upon her return, she opened a School of Religion for young people and worked with sick infants and children. During World War I, she used her time to care for wounded soldiers.

But perhaps the greatest part of her reputation comes from her work with a group called Monelli di Maria, a group of orphaned, homeless, and abandoned children. Originally, these were just a group of street children that knocked on the Sisters' door asking for food, money, etc. Sister Giuseppina re-named this group something to the effect of "Mary's Street Kids" While she did make sure they went to Mass and were taught catechism, to Sister Giuseppina, serving them meant also serving Christ in the person of her neighbor. So she taught them how to read and write, as well as a trade that would give them a job and off the streets. By teaching them about God and His love for them, she also made them aware of their own dignity - they who had been denied an education because of their poverty, they who had been kicked out of their homes by their parents, they who had been orphaned, they who the world left behind.

Sister Giuseppina died in 1924 at the age of sixty one. Her last words were "Yes! Thank you!" That picture of Blessed Giuseppina Nicoli is probably one of my favorites of any Daughter of Charity in the cornette. She is so full of joy and energy in the picture - as if the photographer caught her at the end of a laugh. And when you think about all she was doing at the time of that picture - working with kids at the orphanage or school or working with the street kids - it really is amazing that she had all that joy and energy. Here's a pearl of wisdom she left us:
Joy is a great remedy. I recommend it to you and I do so very enthusiastically...! Be joyful! I say it again 'be joyful'! When we are joyful, we are less aware of evil and are cured more quickly. Cast all your cares on God; He is the best of fathers and will look after you as well as possible. (Blessed Giuseppina Nicoli)

Yet Another Daughter of Charity Feast Day!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

It seems like every month, there is at least one Daughter of Charity feast day. In November, we have three in a row!

Today's feast day is for Blessed Marie Anne Vaillot and Blessed Odile Baumgarten, two martyrs of the French Revolution, part of a group known as the "Martyrs of Angers" (a town in France). Another martyr of the French Revolution, also a Daughter of Charity, Marguerite Rutan, was beatified less than a year ago.

You can find a great homily about these two martyred Sisters here by Fr Richard McCullen, one of our former Superior Generals.

How blessed am I to belong to a community with so many saints!

(Picture from the Daughters of Charity Australia website)
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