Today we have a special blog post written by our Sister Josephine Sferrella, IHM. Sister Josephine wrote this last summer and graciously gave us permission to publish it here.
For 164 years, we have had one place-which we call home: our motherhouse at 610 West Elm Avenue. It is here where most of us were introduced to the religious life as Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It is here that the foundations of our uniqueness as IHMs were planted, nourished and nurtured. It is here where we returned every summer (until the early 70s); it is here we come for conferences, learning seminars, congregational updates, meetings, assemblies and chapters. It is home for our major celebrations; especially our jubilees, anniversaries, and funerals.
It is a place of new beginnings when a sister makes her first vows and it is a place of retirement when one no longer can actively minister. It is the place where we make our first commitment and it is the final resting place when God calls us “home”. It is the intangible bonds which have developed over the years, the spirit underlying the relationships which define our uniqueness. Nothing can replace these relationships. What is it that makes this “home?” for me?
What is the strong link that binds me to “Home”?
- It is rising each morning knowing that in a short while our family meets together around the table, the altar in our simple but elegant chapel for morning Liturgy or the Eucharistic Celebration. Whether I’m confined to my room using in-house channel 11 or brought down in my wheel chair, walk with a walker, and drive myself with a mobile cart or walk unassisted I actually physically, participate with all our sisters in what is one of the essential parts of our religious life.”Together we know Jesus Christ in the breaking of the bread and in sharing the cup of salvation. We believe that where two or three of us are gathered in his name, Jesus is in our midst and that whatever we ask in his name he will give us.” (SSIHM Constitutions Chapter 3 Art. 20)
- It is in this place where we come together for communal evening prayers. It is here where I can sit quietly in the Presence of God uniting my prayers with the needs of the entire global world. But I am not alone; everywhere around me are sisters affiliated with me in an inimitable, specific covenant. “Like Jesus, who prayed-in solitude-in the midst of action, and-in public gatherings of his people, we promise to be faithful to personal and communal prayer.“(SSIHM Constitutions Chapter 4 Art. 32)
- It is here where the Eucharist is central to our lives; where the sacraments of reconciliation and anointing are celebrated communally; where we extend our times of prayer. The link among us is situated in the call we all answered in entering this congregation. This relationship is real but intangible embedded in spirituality but lived in practicality.
This Home is indeed sacred space for me: it is not just brick and mortar but rather the vitality which the various spaces imbibe from the relationships that formed our history, enhance our present and gives us courage to move into the future.
Its bricks remind me of the sacrifices our first sisters made and so many of us continue to make in order to ensure we would have a home. Whether I walk slowly through the cloister leading to the dining rooms or to the chapel or the cloister leading to health care or residents’ rooms it is this kinship which enables me to be.
The windows of this dwelling place bring in the light of God’s external beauty-landscape — flowers, bushes, trees planted and nurtured by the loving hands of many of my sisters — where each segment of the land recalls a blessed piece of IHM history in time and space.
The various wings of the building make real for me my life as a member of this religious family:
- the community room where relationships begun earlier now enable us to discuss our lives as women religious; our ministries; or come together to socialize when we celebrate jubilees of 75, 60, 50 and 25 years of service. The community room– a hallowed area in which we have been called to make serious decisions as a family — where each of us has actively entered into these life giving processes. This place is a hub— for fun times like card games or karaoke; even a tailgate party-another opportunity to meet with my sisters regardless of walkers, wheel chairs, scooters and or canes; for reflective times when we gather for contemplative prayer, yearly retreats or remembering those who died during the past year. Again entering into a close alliance forming the “I’ into the “we” a vital source of synergy.
- the library where our minds are fed with knowledge needed to carry out ministerial activities but more so where the soul finds great theological and spiritual resources–a quiet place to catch up on the news, locally and nationally; a book mobile that comes to my room if I’m not able to get to the Reading Room or the stacks — and if I wish, a time to be an active member of a book club — And it is all mine for the asking. Thus, the lifelong learning process begun in early years gels into savoring wisdom and expanding mental acuity even as the aging process shows its signs.
- the Health Care Center where so many of our elderly sisters reside — what sacredness is felt as one walks this cloister — knowing here live those who no longer can be active among us but are with us physically and spiritually, whose active life was an asset, gift to community and now is dependent on family, whose countenance glows when another sister visits, stops in to pray with or helps with reading or addressing envelopes … or simply reminisces days of yore —whatever is needed is there at the hands of another sister family member—Lovingly and graciously—anytime of the week, day or night—ties of a distinctive union spanning time and age ever increasing our relationships —”we are drawn together in community by Jesus Christ … ” (SSIHM Constitutions Chapter 3 Art 18.)
- the Health Care Center where I know I will be cared for—no matter how incapacitated I’ll be, I’ll never be away from family—I’II never be alone. That even though I receive the best of care from staff, one thing I’m certain—I can always be physically present to the community and to the activities I have committed myself as a religious member of this congregation whether it be via channel 11 and/or 12 or having an aide wheel me to the area of the specific activities. My sisters will be there waiting for me to enter into the event—or in many cases bring the event to me. Again, the ever present relationship-connectedness which no one can ever take from me for “The love of Jesus Christ unites us in community … ” (SSIHM Constitutions Chapter 1, Art 1)
- the dining rooms where we meet for meals several times a day; an opportunity for me to be with my sisters-my family-where I can be part of a camaraderie that is integral to a family’s life and energy. Whether it is in the main dining rooms or the dining areas in Health Care, sisters find life in discussions, reminiscing, reflecting, sharing today and yesterdays — in laughter or in somber wistfulness or in compassionate sorrow. Kindred souls empathize, intimately allied in vision and mission as we continue to forge vibrant forces within this community — this one of a kind family — in my home, our home.
This home is indeed sacred space for me:
- Where else can I hear the resounding peals of our chapel bells calling us to prayer at noon and at six pm every day, a united family heeding the call of Jesus to be who we are and do what we do best?
- Where else can I seek the willing hands, hearts and counsel of other sisters in pastoral care or close sister friends who understand the queries, the fears and joys I experience as a religious woman?
- Who can count the sense of belonging whenever I encounter a sister in hallowed cloisters narrating sacred history of who we are together by just being together?
- Who can measure the sense of security, love and affirmation that envelopes your very being as sisters remember your birthday with a shaky scrawling signature on a homemade card, or greeted by a great big smile, even at times belting out the happy birthday tune wherever and whenever one is met?
- Who can describe the underlying ‘esprit de corps’ that melds us as family in a ‘home’ that breathes the very spirit of our founders, which reminds us in every nook and cranny of the commitment we made living our life of vows within community (SSIHM Constitution Chapter 1 Art.4)?
- Where else will I find the loving attention of my sisters sitting with me as I begin my last journey of dying; no matter how long the process knowing that their physical comfort and encouragement and powerful prayers are with me even to the last?
- Or who can ignore the sense of “coming home” when we meet the coffined body of a sister as she is wheeled into our front foyer and met by all her sisters with a hymn of Thanksgiving and Praise for who she was among us, raising our hands in blessing as she enters into her ‘final home with God’? What more fitting manner to celebrate the end of one’s physical journey as sister among sisters gathered around the table in our magnificent chapel to celebrate the Eucharist, rejoicing in the shared gifts of a family member who has gone home to God?
Home is indeed a sacred place “where each lives for the other and all live for God”.