By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Sisters from nine different religious communities, along with Bishop Martin Amos and several priests, gathered in Davenport to celebrate consecrated life and to remember their “younger heart’s desire.”
The Congregation of the Humility of Mary hosted the day of prayer and celebration on Sept. 13 in honor of the Year of Consecrated Life. Pope Francis designated the special year, which began the first Sunday of Advent 2014 and closes Feb. 2, 2016, on the World Day of Consecrated Life.
“Fundamentally, we are a people of hope,” observed Sister Catherine Bertrand, SSND, the Davenport event’s presenter. This day of reflection “provides us with an opportunity to be aware of the space within each of us where God’s spirit dwells.”
Sr. Bertrand, who has experience in vocations work, shared a humorous story involving an effort to inspire Catholic elementary school students. A priest, in his homily during a school Mass, told the boys that he wasn’t getting any younger and that one of them would replace him some day. He pointed to the principal, a sister, and said she wasn’t getting any younger, either. One of the girls would replace her some day. After Mass, a girl in third grade approached the principal and said, “I’m the one.”
“Can you remember a time,” Sr. Bertrand asked her audience, “when you clearly had a sense in reflecting on your call, of being ‘the one’…? Is the spark still there?” Do you remember your “younger heart’s desire?” Her questions laid the groundwork for reflection and discussion among the participants in small groups.
Sister Kathleen Storms, SSND, one of the event’s organizers, marveled at the representation among the groups — everyone from congregation leaders, a university president and a bishop to sisters who work with people on the margins. To see them sitting in circles discussing ideas from an uplifting presentation was so rewarding to Sr. Storms, director of Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat Center in Wheatland.
“We haven’t had this many sisters from the area together for a time of prayer and celebration for years,” added Sister Joann Kuebrich, CHM, another event organizer.
Participants expressed appreciation for Sr. Bertrand’s insights and a booklet of notes she shared that featured inspiring quotes, Pope Francis’ challenge to consecrated women and men and reflective questions for discussion. The Holy Father challenged those who had chosen consecrated life to “be men and women of communion! Have the courage to be present in the midst of conflict and tension, as a credible sign of the presence of the Spirit who inspires in human hearts a passion for all to be one.”
Participants at the Davenport event engaged in animated conversation over the questions — focused on relationship with God, with others and with one’s self — and on Sr. Bertrand’s talk. She invited the groups to share what it means to live out their vocation to consecrated life in today’s world.
“It’s the little things we do for other people; the kindness, the compassion,” offered Sister Lynne Elwinger of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns (OCD) of Eldridge.
As sisters who have devoted their lives to “doing,” for some the practice of simply “being,” is hard, Sister Greta Fitzgerald, vice president of the Sisters of Humility, observed.
One of the questions in the booklet, “What stirs the ashes of our long ago ‘yes?’” inspired the group in which Sister Judy Herold, SSND, participated. “Stirring up the fire; things like this (event) stir up the fire again, so we’re grateful for your reflections,” Sr. Herold told the presenter.
The most poignant response of the day came from 90-year-old Sister Francis Burke of the Clinton Franciscans, reflecting on the call to religious life. Seated next to Sister Cecelia Vandeberg, a Sister of Humility who is 97, Sr. Burke said, “We both agreed we’d do it over again.”