Mother Katherine received the “Religious of the Year” award from the local Knights of Columbus on April 13. She was recognized for her role in founding our religious community and for her service to the poor through opening a mission house in downtown Steubenville. Immaculate Heart of Mary Council #472 in Steubenville celebrated its 114 Anniversary Dinner and also gave awards to a youth, volunteer, “blue coat” (law enforcement official), family, and Knight of the year. At the dinner, special recognition was given to the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts for their work for military veterans. Our beloved Bishop Jeffrey Monforton spoke on the goal of Lent, especially in this sacred time of Holy Week—welcoming the Lord into our lives and hearts. He quoted Psalm 24: “Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may enter.”
The Knights of Columbus has long been a supporter of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Some of our own sisters have been supported by the Knights during their time of formation. Read about their Keep the Faith Alive vocations ministries here.
Our team of 22 Franciscan University students, a priest and I flew to Nicaragua with the intent to incarnate Pope Francis’ apostolic letter , The Joy of the Gospel. In the course of the week, we ministered to the poorest of the poor as well as to the richest of the rich of that country.
For the first half of the week, there were 3 groups. As the mission advisor, I got to spend a day with each group. At the end of the week, the whole team came together to put on a retreat. Group 1 was assigned to the Abandoned Children’s Center in Managua where we volunteered last summer on our first mission trip to Nicaragua. This center is a safe haven for children who would otherwise work in the streets to help support their families. Our team helped prepare meals for the children, did catechesis, and played with the children. It was wonderful to love and nurture them and to see the huge smiles on their faces. We brought many of the children into our makeshift chapel to make a visit with Jesus.
Group 2 was assigned to help the Missionaries of Charity in Granada. At the sisters’ boarding school for young girls who have been abused, our team spoke to them to reveal to them their inherent dignity of being made in God’s image. On the last day, the team took the girls on a field trip to a challenge course. One of their guardians said that it is exactly what they needed to bond.
Group 3 was the Theology of the Body team, which led the retreat at the end of the week for high school seniors at Lincoln International Academy (where I just happened to teach 20 years ago!) At first, they seemed like a tough crowd, most of them young men with a reputation for living the party life. The mission team put their whole selves into serving these young people and testifying to the truth that Jesus is real and has the power to heal and transform lives. It was amazing the transformation that could be seen in practically all of the seniors at the end of the retreat. At the beginning of the retreat, hardly any of the students received communion at Mass. Father was available for confessions throughout the retreat and his genuine words really helped melt their hearts. At Mass at the end of the retreat, nearly every teen went up to communion. At a mission team reunion recently some of the team members were able to report (since they are now Facebook friends with the teens from the retreat) that the guys are changed. They’re having clean fun now, some now desire to attend Franciscan University, and one tough guy turned himself into a drug rehab program! Pretty immediate fruits God is allowing us to see!
The students truly spread the love, light, and joy of the Gospel to everyone they came in contact with. It was a real privilege for me to have been with such authentic young people striving for holiness and living an authentic and attractive gospel life. They are a real inspiration!
-Sr. Joan Paule Portenlanger, T.O.R.
Some students go to the beach for their spring break―I went along with 14 students from Franciscan University to Belcourt, North Dakota for a mission trip! Belcourt is on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, and all week the students and I worked alongside members of the Society of Our Lady of the Trinity and volunteers serving the Native Americans in a variety of ways: leading youth groups, performing a living Stations of the Cross, visiting the elderly, and helping to clean and repair people’s homes. It was a tremendous opportunity to see the face of Christ in the lonely, elderly, and needy and lives―both those of the students and those we served―were certainly changed.
-Sr. Agnes Thérèse Davis, T.O.R.
Here on the home front, Sr. Rita Clare led a group of 65 Franciscan University students in ministry to our friends in downtown Steubenville. The students spent the week following the Holy Father’s call to “go forth from our own comfort zone … to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ.” The students helped at Samaritan House and our LAMP ministries block party, visited local nursing homes, and volunteered at other local ministries to the poor, including Urban Mission, Urban Underground and Mama Nita’s Coffee House.
But some of the most profound experiences for the students came from being on the streets. They began the week with a Marian procession through the downtown area, consecrating the city to Our Lady. They walked the streets of Steubenville picking up trash and praying with and talking to the people they met. They interceded outside the jail and attended the funeral of a young man who was killed in a gang fight. They spent a day doing door to door ministry two by two. As Pope Francis says, “How beautiful it is to see that young people are ‘street preachers’, joyfully bringing Jesus to every street, every town square and every corner of the earth!”
Meanwhile, back at the monastery, 23 women from Florida State University drove from Tallahassee to Toronto to pray, work and minister with us during their spring break. It may have been a sacrifice to leave the beaches of Florida for the cold Ohio weather, but the women were elated to see snow the first night they arrived!
Sr. Maria Pio led the women in prayer during the week, as they reflected on the Luminous mysteries of the Rosary and spent time in adoration and praise and worship each day. They joined us at Father of Mercy Chapel for Mass each morning before splitting up into groups for their work and ministry.
A group helped at Samaritan House every morning and afternoon, and one afternoon all of the women joined our candidates in visiting Serra Village, a nursing home in nearby Weirton. They also volunteered at a Steubenville soup kitchen one day.
The rest of the time they worked on a number of projects here at Our Lady of Sorrows―everything from washing cars to making St. Thérèse sacrifice beads. Each work group, led by a sister, chose an intention and a creative way to intercede during their work, to make their service itself a prayer. Some worked in silence, stopping to pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet, and some set an alarm for every 15 minutes and stopped to pray a Hail Mary when it went off. Spring cleaning had concrete results and spiritual fruits!
On Sunday March 9th, we hosted around 90 people for an inspiring talk by Danny Abramowicz, a former NFL player, and our very own Sr. Rita Clare. Sharing Scripture and personal stories, Danny challenged us to be open to the Holy Spirit. With great passion he shared his own story of how the Holy Spirit has changed his own life. He encouraged us to let the Holy Spirit be our coach this Lent and to go deeper in our relationship with Christ. Sr. Rita Clare shared her vocation testimony and how following the Lord is a journey far more exalted than being on a professional winning team. We are on the winning team and it is a much more spectacular victory than any football game! We had people of all ages and of all denominations present. The talks were followed by a Mercy Chaplet sung by our Sisters and a reception in St. Elizabeth dining hall. Both talks are worth your listening time. Listen below!
Every year, our sisters at Our Lady of Sorrows take a weekend to enjoy one another and a little break from the routine. We call it “Winterfest” because it’s a little bright spot in what can often feel like a long winter here in Toronto!
The first weekend in March, the sisters from the Professed House trekked to Erie, PA to see the sights at Lake Erie and the surrounding area. They visited Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle, a peninsula a few miles west of Erie, and even walked onto the frozen lake to watch ice fishing and hockey and try out some ice skates! They were blessed to visit an adoration chapel at St. Joseph’s parish and attend Mass there and at St. Peter Cathedral, both in Erie, and at St. Gregory’s in North East.
Meanwhile, the sisters at the Formation House stayed home for a relaxing weekend together with a focus on being Daughters of the Father and Sisters in the Spirit. The sisters watched “A Little Princess” Friday night and had “tea time” on Saturday, during which each sister was invited to share a reflection, story, song or poem that was meaningful to her. Throughout the weekend, the daughters of the King wore the princess crowns they had created together.
We all marveled how it is such a gift to be able to stop everything and just be together. Truly, “we have been made for communion,” as our Constitutions say. “Our communion with one another flourishes in an atmosphere of reverential love, for when we see our preciousness reflected in one another, our true uniqueness and giftedness is unveiled.”
The women of Franciscan University were in for a treat when they heard Sr. Monica speak on the vocation to religious life for the annual Beloved Event in Finnegan Fieldhouse February 1. She had everyone in stitches one minute and tears the next!
Sr. Monica shared about how the three religious vows are remedies to the world’s myth that our happiness is dependent on persons or things other than God. Our desire for happiness, for love, motivates us in the choices we make. “Each one of us is a thirst in the flesh,” she said. “We long, seek, want and then we lack. Every person, regardless of her vocation, has this thirst!” What is the answer to that thirst? “Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” Sr. Monica gave a number of practical ways to live the evangelical counsels on a daily basis, including dying to one’s self in conversations, refraining from buying the latest fashions, asking the Lord what He wants you to do with your time, and committing to spend time daily in prayer.
She spoke honestly of many of the concerns that the women might have with the difficulties in living poverty, chastity and obedience. “Our culture and possibly even some of you might think that these vows are a deprivation and death,” she said. “I assure you we are deprived of nothing that really matters in life. But the truth is that they are a death, a death unto a fuller life.” We choose to live the vows because “we are motivated by love, we are motivated by another, not ourselves!”
The evening also included talks by Sr. Mariela, a Sister of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, two women living the single life and two married women with children, an exhortation from Fr. Dominic Foster, T.O.R. and time with the Beloved in Eucharistic adoration.
During the Christmas octave and in the weeks following, some of our sisters at home and abroad were blessed to set aside time to live our hermitage setting. The hermitage setting is one of three settings in our way of life (the others are the monastery and the mission house). We have not yet established our hermitage setting, but hope to sometime in the future. The way of life is one of more solitude and silence, enabling the sisters to devote themselves more intensely to prayer and penance, especially in intercession for all of God’s people. In this setting, as our constitutions say, “we imitate Christ in His prayer on the mountain, giving ourselves in communion with God and being drawn into a communion with all people through the Spirit.” Three sisters participated in the hermitage experience together at the motherhouse property December 26 to January 8. One of them, Sr. Elizabeth, a junior sister who lives at Santa Chiara, our mission house on campus at Franciscan University, participated in the experience as part of her preparation for perpetual vows. She offered the time for two intentions: for our community as we prepare for General Chapter in May and for the renewal of authentic femininity in the world. Sr. Elizabeth said her own awareness of her spiritual motherhood grew in depth during the two weeks. “My heart expanded in ways I can’t describe to encompass the world, particularly all the hurting, confused women in the world who are bombarded with lies about their feminine identity,” she said. “I felt my heart unify with Christ’s as I experienced the pain and sorrow and yearning He feels toward all His hurting children. I experienced and shared in a very deep way His desire to bring all His children back into His loving arms and to pour healing balm on all the walking wounded. I felt my heart become one with Him and His desires.” The schedule for the hermitage setting included more time for prayer. Instead of working from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 or 5 p.m., as in our ordinary schedule, the sisters began prayer at 3 p.m. with the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and had silent adoration until evening prayer at 5 p.m. Most meals were in silence, except for dinner and recreation together a few times during the two weeks. The sisters did more contemplative work during the day if possible, and kept their evenings free for prayer and spiritual reading. Sr. Elizabeth said the time gave her freedom to be still, both exteriorly and interiorly, quite a contrast from her life of college campus ministry. “I fall into being a very task-oriented person very easily,” Sr. Elizabeth said. “But during my hermitage experience, I was not so concentrated on tasks and my work assigned to me, but on prayer and offering my life as a sacrifice of praise; offering penances and acts of love; living and residing in a more conscious way in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The focus was completely different and there was a freedom in knowing that I was not there to complete a task or finish a job, but to walk and live and move and breath in a deep unity with my Beloved. As religious sisters, we are always called to ‘assiduous union with God in prayer’, but I was able to really experience what that meant during the hermitage experience.” Our four sisters at Greccio, our mission house in Gaming, Austria, also lived the hermitage setting for two weeks January 12 to 27. They offered the time for a number of intentions: our upcoming General Chapter, all the souls in purgatory, those who are close to death, Pope Francis, and the community at the Kartause in Gaming. They also felt called to pray for all children who suffer, including those who suffer physical, verbal, and sexual abuse, those who are victims of abortion, war, human trafficking and pornography, those who live in broken homes or in poverty, those who live in a household with two homosexual parents, and those with mental or physical handicaps. They also invited the Franciscan University community in Gaming to give their intentions to the sisters and to join them at the foot of the cross praying for the Father’s mercy.
101 teens. 7 religious sisters. 3 days in Texas. 1 Jesus in the Eucharist. That makes for one “Unstoppable” LifeTeen retreat. Jenny Lynn and Sr. Eliana left chilly Ohio for sunny Texas in mid-January to be present at a retreat for high schoolers from St. John Nepomucene parish in Ennis. The retreat was held at Sky Ranch, a Christian camp with activities like horseback riding, paintball, a zip line and “the pillow jump,” which provided lots of entertainment for the youth and the religious who attended! Sisters from the Marian Sisters of the Diocese of Lincoln and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville were also present, as well as a priest from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. Jenny Lynn told her vocation story and Sr. Eliana gave a brief meditation during Eucharistic adoration on the retreat, but most of their ministry consisted of simple interactions with the teens as well as intercession. They found that most of the young people were going through difficult life situations and needed to hear the message of God’s merciful love. The teens were able to have a profound encounter with Jesus in Eucharistic adoration Saturday night, as the priest processed through the crowd with the monstrance and stopped in front of each person. Many of them flocked to the Sacrament of Reconciliation as well. After the retreat, our sisters made a stop to Texas A&M on Monday, hanging out with college students at St. Mary’s and attending a worship event called “The Rock.” Sr. Eliana also gave a short talk on abiding in Christ and she and Jenny Lynn were blessed to offer prayer ministry for the students. They also made stops to sights in Jenny Lynn’s hometown, Pilot Point, and visited with some of Sr. Grace Anne’s family near Dallas.
WQED TV in Pittsburgh aired a 30-minute documentary January 9 on religious sisters and their impact on the local area: Change of Habit. We were honored to be included! Our ministry to the poor at Samaritan House in downtown Steubenville is highlighted. The film is also a beautiful testament to the generosity and sacrifice of the many sisters in Pittsburgh who have given so much in the areas of teaching and nursing.
The next day, WTOV-9 in Steubenville featured our community on the local evening news! Go here to watch the video.
Sr. Rita Clare journeyed with 30 students and 4 priests from Franciscan University of Steubenville to Jamaica on a Christmas break mission trip. It was her second time on the 10-day mission to the Diocese of Montego Bay, where there is a shortage of priests and a hunger for the sacraments.
The local parishioners in Reading greeted them with a jerk chicken feast, music and dancing! The next day, most of the 80-member parish returned to enjoy a skit, music and futbol with the mission team. There may have been no electricity, but the place was lit up with the smiles on everyone’s faces!
The rest of the mission included events for youth and young adults, door-to-door and street ministry, visits to schools and more futbol! One day the group visited an all-girls’ Catholic school with 1,400 students. After a skit on the effects of sin and our redemption in Christ, Sr. Rita Clare gave a teaching on sin to the whole school before they split into groups for classes on prayer, chastity, St. Francis, relationships and vocations. The team also led a Life in the Spirit seminar and did prayer team ministry at a local parish. Please continue to pray for the people of Jamaica and the missionary priests, sisters and deacons who bring Jesus to them!
While visiting her home state of Kansas in January, Sr. Sophia Grace spent some time with young women discerning religious life. On January 4 and 5, Wichita held its first-ever Fiat Vocation Discernment Retreat for women 17-25 years old at St. Mark the Evangelist Parish. Sr. Sophia Grace gave a talk, led a small group, participated in a panel discussion and hung out with the 39 women who attended.
During the weekend, she ministered with a number of sisters from other communities: the Marian Sisters of the Diocese of Lincoln and the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from Wichita. The retreat was a good chance for young women to get a glimpse of various expressions of consecrated life and to open their hearts to the possibility of God’s call.