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Statue of Sister Maria Aloysia

Statue of Sister Maria Aloysia

Sister Maria Aloysia was born as Hilligonde Wolbring in 1828 and died on May 6, 1889. She founded the Sisters of Notre Dame in Coesfeld, Germany, in 1850 and is an important figure in the history of the congregation.

Today we celebrate the 125th anniversary of her death in 1889 with a collection of memories written by other sisters with Sister Maria Aloysia in mind. We hope her spirit will inspire you incarnate the love of our good and provident God.

“During the first years at Mt. St. Mary’s there were, naturally, many difficulties to surmount. Sister M. Aloysia viewed all these inconveniences in the light of faith, weighing their worth in the light of eternity.”

“During the cold winter months she would go to the very large dormitory each evening to assure herself that they were all protected sufficiently from the cold…Silently she went from bed to bed observing the breathing to ascertain if all were well before she retired to snatch a few hours of well deserved rest.”

“Life in an institution , because it is precisely regulated, generally runs along smoothly and uniformly day after day. And there it was also that way, but there were also happy diversions. It might be a walk in the woods with a jolly picnic, or the celebration of Sister M. Aloysia’s name day. Above all, there was Christmas! At the beginning of Advent, each child wrote a letter to the Christ Child telling Him his great or little wishes. This was an opportunity for Sister M. Aloysia to open her kind motherly heart and hands. And somehow her ingenious love would find a way to fulfill all the petitions.”

“Sister M. Aloysia’s esteem for the Blessed Sacrament was like a golden thread woven through her entire life, a thread which was never broken; rather it became more closely intertwined during the years of her cloistral [religious] life.”

“For her sisters, Sister M. Aloysia always had a kindly glance and a friendly word of encouragement. Honest with herself and others, she knew how to separate the person from the deed. The virtuous practice of true sisterly charity found support in her naturally optimistic disposition, which enabled her to empathize with the old and young alike, and so live in peace and harmony with all.”

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In one of Pope Francis’ reflections on consecrated life, he hit upon a reality that resonated deeply with me.  Speaking about community life, Francis acknowledged that

“It’s good for the elderly to communicate their wisdom to the young, and it’s good for young people to gather this wealth of experience and wisdom.”

I experienced this when I entered the community at the age of 18.  It was a different time, and at 18 women were marrying out of high school, so entering the convent was not such a surprise.  I was responding to the voice of my God and I simply trusted.

At that time there were four retired sisters living in the same building as we were as postulants and novices. It was an experience in history for me. Sister Mary Brigid, Sister Mary Walburge, Sister Mary Cletus and Sister Mary Balbina embodied all that it meant to live a lifetime commitment to consecrated life. At the time I didn’t even suspect what I didn’t know about the new life I had chosen- or that had chosen me!  But I could recognize that these women had succeeded in making it a lifelong choice. These were prayerful women, holy women, women who had lived the Gospel and their vowed life with joy and dedication.

Rosary-hands

I remember walking by their small rooms, noting the rosaries in their hands, and being sure that they were praying for me and for the needs of the world. It was only years later that I learned more about the many sacrifices they made in coming to California from their native Ohio, and about the many challenges they embraced in beginning a new venture in California. All I knew as a young postulant was that these were holy women, models of all I wanted to be. Their quiet lives in prayerful retirement motivated me to want to

“…carry it forward, not to safeguard it, but to move forward with the challenges that life brings us, to carry it forward for the good of their religious orders and of the entire Church.”

Pope Francis said it so well! As we celebrate our consecrated life, Francis’ words challenge us to allow the Holy Spirit to animate us, and to live our lives with joy

“always open to the voice of God who speaks, who opens up, who leads and guides us toward the horizon.”

– Sister Marie Paul Grech, SND

Sisters Mary Walburge and Balbina were among the first SNDs to come to California. Follow their journey here.

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In today’s Gospel, we hear the apostles voice a sentiment that should be our daily prayer:  “Increase our faith!”  They recognized, as we often do, that our faith is not always what it should be.  Even though we have hopefully tried to deepen our faith, especially in this Year of Faith, we may find ourselves overcome by the inevitable challenges of life—the illness of a loved one, the headlines in the newspaper, the constant barrage of “bad news” on the radio, TV and computer…our personal sense of loss, fear or doubt.  Our faith is tested! No doubt about it!

Jesus doesn’t ask us to have boundless faith, but “just a little,” that of the size of a mustard seed—which in Jesus’ time and in his locale, was the smallest seed.  As with so many of Jesus’ parables, he focuses our attention on the ordinary things around him…our faith, even though small, has great potential.  God delights in using what many might deem insignificant to prove a point. We hear Jesus talk about the child, the widow’s mite, the single lost coin and single sheep.  We know Jesus used only five loaves and two fish to feed 5000 people (not counting women and children).  And in this parable, we hear of the tiny seed which grows into a very large bush and is expansive enough to “house” innumerable birds of the air of various kinds.

We see the movement from a tiny faith to an abundant evangelization!  Our tiny seed of faith can draw others to Jesus if only we hold out our arms and embrace all those who come into our lives.  As faith-filled people, we can be the means by which others come to know and love and serve our God who loves all of us so much.  Like Pope Francis, with his gentle smile and welcoming touch, we can be instruments of God’s peace in our words and actions.  With arms outstretched, we welcome all people—not just those we know, but ALL people.  We aim to BE Jesus to them, caring for their needs, and not limiting ourselves in generosity.  So many of us are impressed by the simplicity, the life choices, the kindness and compassion of Pope Francis. What are we doing to challenge ourselves to follow his example, his spirit of discipleship?  We can all do our part!  We have many opportunities to do this…calling a lonely person, visiting the sick, showing patience toward a restless child, praying for the troubled parts of our world, contributing to Together in Mission, supporting a homeless shelter…and on and on. In the words of the foundress of my community, Sister Maria Aloysia, “You are not asked to do all the good in the world, but just the bit that lies within your power!”

-Sister Marie Paul Grech, SND

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Mpopeany of us have been touched by the joyful simplicity of Pope Francis, and it is telling that so many people refer to his simple lifestyle choices as an example for all of us.  His preferences in living quarters, dress, modes of transportation and so on have been commented on by the media, his fellow priests, and Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  His smile and obvious love for people radiate a God-centeredness that is refreshing and inspiring.  He is truly a man of faith, a man of hope and a man of deep compassion.

In Pope Francis’ first encyclical (letter), he called us as disciples of Jesus to carry the light of faith to all that we meet.  The encyclical was first drafted by Pope Benedict (intended to complete his three-part series on hope, love, and faith) but completed by Francis.

We are called to be people of faith:  “Those who believe are transformed by the love to which they have opened their hearts in faith.”

We are called to be evangelists, sharing our faith:  “Faith is not a private matter, a completely individualistic notion, or a personal opinion.”

Pope Francis challenges each of us: “Could it be the case …that we are the ones who are ashamed to call God our God?  That we are the ones who fail to confess him as such in our public life, who fail to propose the grandeur of the life in common which he makes possible?”

We are called to reflect on the gift of our faith and Pope Frances encourages us to ask Mary for help. He concluded the encyclical with a beautiful prayer to her, quoted here only in part.

 “Mary, help our faith!  Open our ears to hear God’s word and to recognize his voice and call…Teach us to see all things with the eyes of Jesus that he may be light for our path.  And may this light of faith always increase in us…”

-Sr. Marie Paul Grech, SND

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Half empty? Half full? What do you see when you look at the sky…? At a stranger on the street?  At your children? At your elderly parent? At your backyard? What do you see?  Do you see what is wrong or what is right? Do you see what needs “fixin’”? or what has potential…?

A friend of mine shared a picture taken by her granddaughter….a picture of wispy clouds…where some of us may see only clouds….she saw angels…and so did I!  Did her vision plant the idea in my head?  I really don’t know, and it doesn’t matter because I did see the angels! It is much like other things in life.  If we have the Spirit’s guidance planting ideas in our heads, we do see things differently. Are we able somehow to look at a friend and not be conscious of his/her faults but to see through them to the innermost heart? Will we be able to look at our child (even if he/she is in a naughty mood) and see the beautiful gift from God who lightens our life? Will we look at a weed-laden yard and see the possibilities? Can we walk with an elderly friend and experience the wisdom — and forget the slow steps?

So many things make a lasting impression on us….what we see, what we hear, what we hear about…opinions shape our thinking, our prejudices (yes, we all have them!), our ways of responding to people, situations, uncertainties. We are bombarded from all sides….and we seem to never be able to “get away.” We get emails, phone calls, text messages, snail mail. To whom are we most open? Who influences us most? Are we guided by the bold headlines in the newspaper, the news flashes we receive as text messages, the consumerism of advertising? Sometimes we are just not sure where we are going, in which direction we find our real peace. What role does our God play in our personal and family decision-making? Do I pray in a spirit of openness to whatever God’s answer may be? Do I believe that God always answers prayer…even when the answer is NO or NOT YET? Who is my compass….?  Where is my true north?

During these “lazy,  hazy days” of summer, may I be open to the Spirit so that I may be open to the good things God has in store for me!

– Sr. Marie Paul Grech

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Screen shot 2013-04-30 at 10.06.09 AMAs we welcome the month of May we look to Mary–we recognize that she gives us the example of how to put our gifts at the service of others:

First we see her as a young woman, using her gift of a listening heart as she hears the call of God to give of herself so that God’s love for humankind could be expressed in a remarkable way.  We then see her as a mother-to-be who could rightly have been focused on herself and her unborn child, sharing instead her gift of helpfulness as she hurries to visit her cousin Elizabeth.

We see her later, giving her gift of compassion as she notices the potential embarrassment at the wedding feast; and we see her gift of motherly insight as she tells the waiters to do whatever her son would tell them.  Throughout her son’s public life, we see her quietly living her gift of self-sacrifice, willingly letting go of her son, empowering him to go about his father’s business.

At the cross, she again shares one of her gifts–the gift of quiet suffering but she doesn’t stop there– from the foot of the cross she makes yet another commitment to give of herself–as our mother.  Mary wasn’t given every gift possible–we don’t hear that she was a good artist, or math scholar, or even a good housekeeper.  What we hear about are the gifts of the heart–one or more of her gifts may be ours as well–or we may have different ones–it doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that the gifts we have, we share.  Whatever light God has put into our hearts, we let shine.  Whatever it is that makes us “tick”, we know who our creator is–and we thank him for the gifts he has given us.

– Sr. Marie Paul Grech, SND

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As we welcome the season of Lent, we hope to share with you both the reflections of our sisters as well as good on-line resources that we have found to help us focus on this season of prayer. We came across this video in our research, and thought that it would be a great way for us to review the significance of this season. Clocking in at only 2 minutes, you can easily make a space for this handy reminder today.

Our favorite quote: “Only through the context of community may we continue to find a meaningful relationship with God.”

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