By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
CLINTON — Two Sisters of St. Francis, one professing first vows and the other renewing vows first professed 60 years ago, hugged each other warmly after a Celebration of Jubilee and Profession of Vows liturgy. Their embrace July 29 in the entryway of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Church reflected a religious community’s enduring commitment to God’s people from past to future.
Sister Emily Brabham, 32, the “baby” sister, as Bishop Thomas Zinkula referred to her (after calling himself the “baby” bishop) professed first vows during the Mass. Sister Michael Marie Burns, marking her 60th anniversary as a Clinton Franciscan, renewed her vows.
Sister Yvonne Gehant, a 70-year jubilarian, also was honored, but unable to attend the Mass. Deceased sisters who would have celebrated jubilees this year were remembered: Sister Teresa Ruggle (70 years) and Sister Marilyn Kapsch (60 years).
Bishop Zinkula reflected in his homily on what the sisters have given up and what they have gained in choosing to follow Christ. Like their founders, St. Francis and St. Clare, the sisters gave up house, land and having their own families. But they gained a broader family — Sr. Michael Marie and Sr. Yvonne through their teaching and Sr. Emily through her youth ministry work, and all together as members of the Clinton Franciscans.
Jesus said it is hard to enter the Kingdom of God but that followers will receive 100 times more by doing so, the bishop said. Community living isn’t always easy, he pointed out, sharing from personal experience as one of nine children (five of them sisters) living in a house with one bathroom!
He and three of his sisters were fairly close in age, and they drove him crazy, he joked. The ideal for community life, he noted, is pointed out in Colossians: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and love.
“Sr. Michael Marie no doubt could share with you, Sr. Emily, the many challenges she has faced during her 60 years of religious life,” Bishop Zinkula said. Sr. Emily has spoken “of the mission of the sisters — to promote active nonviolence and peacemaking, to seek justice for those marginalized, and care for all of creation. When you go down that road, you inevitably open yourself up to persecution,” the bishop said.
But, “when we give, we get a lot in return. … And that’s just in this life. There is also the age to come — eternal life, the fullness of the Kingdom. What are the characteristics of the Kingdom of God that Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel passage and in the parables we will hear at Mass tomorrow? What are the characteristics that Sr. Michael Marie, Sr. Yvonne, Sr. Emily and all the Clinton Franciscans and in fact all Christians devote their lives to finding, embracing, celebrating and advancing?” the bishop asked.
His answer comes from the Preface of the Solemnity of Christ the King, which reads, in part: “…a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice and peace.”
Striving for that Kingdom is what drew Sr. Emily to the Clinton Franciscans in the first place. “The sisters and their very presence inspire me to live the Gospel life in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare.”
Sr. Emily remains optimistic for the future of vocations, and of young people’s willingness, eagerness, in fact, to accept the invitation to Gospel living. “There’s freedom in not being in the rat race, in letting go, like Elsa in ‘Frozen.’ Let it go, be who you are as a daughter of God. My family has witnessed this in me,” Sr. Emily said. “I’m living a Gospel life. If I do that joyfully, others will follow.”
She has strived to set the example in her six years of youth ministry at a Catholic parish in LaGrange, Ill. Now, in her new position as campus minister for social justice formation at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., “I’m in a unique position to encourage that discernment process,” she said. “It’s important for (students) to see young religious joyfully living the Gospel.”