By Barb Arland-Fye
Risk-taking, anchored in prayerful discernment and trust in God, has been one of the defining qualities of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in 150 years of ministry in the United States.
From teaching and nursing to housing the homeless and promoting care of the earth, among other ministries, the Sisters of the Humility of Mary (CHM) have sought to respond to the signs of the times in addressing needs.
Beginning this month, they’ll celebrate their 150th anniversary in the U.S. with a series of events focused on the theme “Celebrate the Legacy, Pursue the Vision.”
Award-winning journalist Cokie Roberts will launch the celebration with a public talk Friday, March 28, from 10-11:30 a.m. in Christ the King Chapel at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. She will speak about the founding mothers and courageous Sisters in U.S. history. Her presentation, free and open to the public, is being presented in cooperation with WVIK Radio, Rock Island, Ill.
“There was a suggestion that we have a major speaker who would provide an opportunity for us to open up this celebration to the public,” said Sister Mary Rehmann, past president of the CHMs and chair of the 150th anniversary planning committee. “Cokie had been a speaker at the LCWR (Leadership Conference of Women Religious) several years ago. She had been reared as a Catholic, grew up in New Orleans and was educated by the Sisters there. She has followed up with Sisters over the years and did the narration on the DVD for the Women & Spirit exhibit that documented the 200 years of Catholic Sisters in the United States.”
The Sisters of Humility were thrilled when Roberts agreed to extend her stay in the Quad Cities (following a fund-raising effort for WVIK) to give a talk for the Sisters’ anniversary celebration. It’s another example of God providing a way for the Sisters to reach out to others.
God has been providing from the start of the U.S. ministry, which began in 1864 when 10 Sisters, a priest and three orphans traveled by ship from France to this country. From Pennsylvania, some of the Sisters made their way to Missouri and eventually to Ottumwa, Iowa, in 1877. They also began ministries in Montana in 1907.
In the beginning, the Sisters were called to teach. “The poor children were not receiving the same education as more privileged children,” explained Sister Johanna Rickl, CHM president. The call to nursing also was in response to unmet needs.
For many years, “the ministries were more focused on Church institutions, and then later, particularly after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), our ministries began to change as we had more freedom to follow our own talents in keeping with the mission of our community.”
These ministries extended beyond Church institutions — to serving the poor, hungry and homeless in this country and in Latin America, to outreach to Hispanics and other ethnic groups, to environmental stewardship and peace efforts. For some of the elder Sisters, ministry involves prayer and contemplative presence. “In our community there are a number of Sisters whose ministry now is more prayer and witnessing to God’s presence in the world wherever they are.”
Prudent management of resources is essential, considering that the Sisters of Humility have 104 vowed members and 94 associates throughout the United States and abroad. “Attention to our sponsored ministries is where a great deal of our energy goes; today we have three sponsored ministries: Humility of Mary Housing (HMHI), which is celebrating 25 years next year; Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat; and Humility of Mary Shelter,” Sr. Rickl said. “Each one of those is a response to a very great, unmet need.”
Responding to needs, at times, requires risk taking. Sr. Rickl describes returning to the Quad Cities in 2008 as the new CHM vice-president and attending a board meeting at which HMHI was asked about taking over a shelter that had financially imploded.
“We didn’t have the resources. But if we look at what the Gospel says to us: ‘take care of the homeless,’ we said, ‘we cannot let this service drop.’” It wasn’t just a matter of rescuing a shelter that aids 80-some adults experiencing homelessness, but also preventing the loss of crucial grants that aided the shelter and other agencies serving people in need.
“We couldn’t stand by. We jumped in with a leap of faith and, praise be to God, the (Quad-City) community responded,” Sr. Rickl said. The Sisters of Humility discern “what needs God is calling us to. Whether the money is there or not, we respond in trust.”
In the case of the bankrupt shelter, all of the pieces came together swiftly — the funding, paperwork and other crucial details — enabling the Sisters and their coworkers to open the Humility of Mary Shelter in its place. “To me, that was nothing short of a miracle; that was looking at a situation from God’s view and from the viewpoint of how do we experience God calling us at this time.”
But the Sisters also acknowledge the need to collaborate with others in responding to needs in the greater community. “It’s clear that it’s not only our work. We have many, many collaborators and supporters without whom we could not do it,” Sr. Rickl continued.
The CHM anniversary theme “Celebrate the Legacy, Pursue the Vision,” notes the challenge of continuing to serve the poor and the marginalized (a major focus of Pope Francis), and the call to long-range planning.
In the celebration of the richness of God’s providence these past 150 years, Sr. Rickl said, “There are seeds of the vision we are pursuing into the future.”
List of events to celebrate CHM’s 150th anniversary
This year the Congregation of the Humility of Mary (CHM) celebrates 150 years of presence and service in the United States. The theme, “Celebrate the Legacy, Pursue the Vision” recognizes the legacy of the community’s leadership in the fields of education, health care and social services and demonstrates how these ministries have changed through the years.
The group will celebrate with a series of public events around the state:
• Friday, March 28: 10-11:30 a.m. — In cooperation with WVIK Radio (Rock Island, Ill.), a public address by award-winning National Public Radio (NPR) journalist Cokie Roberts will be held in Christ the King Chapel at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.
• Friday, April 4: 7 p.m. — Dominican Father Don Goergen will present a program on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, scientist, priest, mystic (1881-1955), at Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport. The event is sponsored by Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat, Wheatland. Tickets are $15 at the door or $10 in advance by calling (563) 336-8414.
• Saturday, April 26: 7 p.m. — Iowa Rep. Rob Hogg will speak on climate change and sustainability at the Humility of Mary Center in Davenport. His visit is sponsored by the CHM Care of the Earth Committee.
• Thursday, May 1: 5-7 p.m. — The CHM ministry, Humility of Mary Housing, Inc. (HMHI), kicks off its 25th anniversary with a public open house and thank-you celebration for community support in the HMHI Office and Donation Center at 3805 Mississippi Ave., Davenport.
• Saturday, May 24: Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa will host an anniversary celebration on its campus, the site of the former motherhouse of the CHM congregation.
• Saturday, June 28: 5 p.m. — Celebration of the Eucharist, with Bishop Martin Amos presiding, in Christ the King Chapel at St. Ambrose University.
Additional celebrations are pending in Iowa and Montana.
Visit the CHM website www.chmiowa.org to find “The Flame” which is featuring a series of articles on 150 years of CHM history.