Missions of Hope [Official #NCSW2019 Documentary]

When you started discernment, what were some
of the challenge s that you faced? Partly the fact that I hadn’t known any
women religious. So I didn’t have an idea of what they might do or how they might live.
I still had kind of this image of the sisters from the sixties because that my experience
with what was portrayed in old movies. I was completely lost in terms of what sisters might
do and how they might live. When I felt called to religious life I didn’t
feel called away from archeology so it was a question of will you allow me to be who
I am and to continue to be who I am? And so when people said no, it wasn’t that I stopped
discerning with them but it made it much more difficult. It also strangely made it more
difficult when they said yes without thinking about it and I realized later it is was because
archeology is demanding on the community in a way that if they gave a blanket yes it meant
that they weren’t concerned about how it would affect the community. A firm maybe was
as it turns out the right answer because I do discern my ministry with the community
needs in mind and if the community needs me to do something else than I really have to
take that into account. In some ways it’s a great fit for living
in community because you know I work with animal bones or files on the computer, pictures
of ceramics. The animals been dead for 3.000 years they’re not going anywhere, if someone
needs to go to the doctor or if there’s something that’s going on that needs to
happen in community, I can be there. I can set my own schedule so I can be here for 6:30
prayer and 5:15 prayer. That’s less true now that I’m doing other ministries but
it was it was true for several years that my schedule was definitely one of the more
flexible schedules. But it also means that I’m doing fieldwork for a month, in my mind
two months every year would be an ideal, but this year all I could fit in was two weeks
because we had community meetings so those were the times that I could manage.
And in terms of thinking about as a ministry as a service to other people, I think Benedictins
have always been keepers of history; historical records and monasteries in Europe and towns
grew up around them. They were kind of the center of the town and stability of the town
and so they kept the historical records and they knew what people have lived where and
how they lived. So being able to tell those stories, I think is something that Benedictins
have always done. And archeology in particular I think gives voice to the people whose voices
aren’t heard in traditional histories. As a monastic community, our primary ministry
is to live community. And so we, for the most part, we all live together in or on the monastery
grounds. We don’t all live in the same building and pray together and share our lives together
and that is our primary focus in ministry. While we do go out to work, those of us who
can work outside the monastery, our religious life centers around this monastery. We take
a vow of stability to the community, we center our lives around that community. Almost nothing
that I do now can’t be done by somebody who isn’t a religious sister, but for me
being a religious is about the way I am called to become myself. And that isn’t necessarily
about what I do, but how I do it. What drew me to religious life was living out community.
When I was visiting other places, and I didn’t visit a lot of other places, but I remember
thinking that if I wanted to live in an apartment with a couple of people, I would just do that.
I was looking for community to call me to accountability and to guide me and nudge me
when I got off the path and those kinds of things so I was specifically looking for community. What we all do is we bring community to the
work that we do. So we live community out here with the thirty-three sisters who are
in this community and we try to bring that since of, the way I always thought of it is
the unity of all people and God out to whatever it is that we do. So when I go to Armenia
to do archaeology I don’t think of “it is us versus them,” it is all us and I think
we all bring that sense out to whatever ministry we choose to do. I did primarily archaeology
before I entered and a little bit of work in an academic setting with students. But
it was an academic setting and I was an advisor; as an academic I thought I was aiming for
an full-time tenure track job and I was making myself miserable by trying to fit myself into
this box and it just wasn’t working. And I love the research and I think part of it
was that the research became less consuming for me after I entered community, it wasn’t
as consuming and I wasn’t as concerned about getting it wrong or upsetting people by what
I was saying. I was much more focus on the patterns I was seeing in the ceramics and
how I could work with them. In terms of the work that I do in Armenia, I think I’ve
become much more aware of the people with whom I do the work and the country. Armenia
is a recently post-Soviet state and I’ve been going there since 2002 and just paying
attention to the changes that have happened there. The political changes and the economic
changes and the changes in the town where we lived and the cars that people drive. People
have pets now, which doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you’re first building
a nation you don’t have time or money or energy to take care of animals, but now people
do have pets. I think I notice that a lot more and I think about those things much more. When I was a kid we had what we called Legion of Mary. And our mission was helping the elderly
of our parish. So I thought to myself, well if I go to be a missionary, I’ll be a…
I’d like to go do something with the elderly. I found out I had a great rapport with it,
you know it’s kind of draw me to the elderly. I was at that time… when
Pope Paul VI was calling and launched the appeal for missionary, the Little Sisters of the
Poor was one of the congregation that respond to that call. So they came to Samoa. Of course
the first day they arrived at home, my father took a massive heart attack and it was the
wake and they came in to stop by and look because it was their first time to be in Samoa
and see a funeral in Samoa. They came into my house and we were talking and I asked them
“what do you do?” and they said “oh, we look after the elderly.” And that was…
once I heard that’s what they do I said, “that’s interesting” And I really thought
about it seriously, “I better do something about this being missionary.” I thought, “I’ll
go to the Little Sisters and I’ll go to a place with them.” But then our Cardinal at that time, he said
to me-he’s like an uncle to me-and he said the Mother Provincial is coming over. So I,
when she came, I went to visit her and I saw her and she was very kind and I said “well,
count me in.” My background is nursing. Not every Little
Sister is a nurse because there’s so many different functions. We need all different,
you know, we need sisters who cook, administrations. There all but not everybody is a nurse. But
we do have a formation in hospitality because hospitality is our fourth vow. In 2013, I
was told to become a Mother Superior, which is … I had no idea. I said, “Lord, you want
me to be a Mother Superior? So you better help me out.” My role as a Mother Superior
is because of the community my first responsibility is for the community and to help them in spiritual
and also make sure to keep the community together. Also that we are all working together
and living our role of life and our constitution that is asked of all of us. And then my other role
is to be the president or the CEO of the facility. In our home here, we do – some communities
are a varieties of different cultures, you know, some are Hispanic, some are from the Islands,
and some are from India or from Africa. Here in our community here, I am the only one from
Samoa but most all of them are American. When I say American – American with Scandinavian,
American Irish background – you know all kind of that – it helps to understand
the different nationalities and ethnicities. Here in our home here in Minnesota, we have
a variety of vast diversity because of our community, but also our residents – most of the resident
here in the home, we are American. I think we have one from one Vietnamese, but most
of… But, our workers, our coworkers are a lot of them, you find the whole world around me.
We have from Africa, Hispanic, we have a whole variety. Someone asked me a question one day,
she said “What are you doing for the immigrants?” I said, “What do I do with the immigrants?”
I said, “Come visit our home. Come visit us. Have a look. All different people here.
Most of our workers were refugees from different- and each one has a different story and there
is so many stories.” Because I speak French, we get together with
the French colonies. Sometimes if I need something to say it faster, I say it
in French to them. But it’s beautiful because we have a lot of different- And, when they come
into the country, they have – we have in Minnesota a very very good service, they have an international
institute for them and they teach them life skills and also help them with the transition
from one country. And then, we employ them and they’re great. They’re great workers.
How they do things, their perspectives of the elderly, which is one of the big, we can
learn so much from them because of their respect of the elderly in their own countries. I say,
when you look after the residents here think of them as your grandmother and you won’t go wrong from there. Before I became a sister, I was a fashion
designer. My experience with sisters was, sisters that were more strict, serious,
formal, and obedient, and things like that. Then I met a group of women who were
invited to my Pottish for a retreat before Lent and one of them was preaching. Preaching?
A woman preaching? And she didn’t have a habit. And she was preaching about personal
relationship with God, which was totally new for me. And that was kind of interested in those
women who were so different and so happy. Very joyful. And that was the starting of kind
of … kind of a quest, interested in those women because later I learned they were religious
and…and their congregation was in North America congregation which was….everything
was kind of new for me and I was just curious. At that time, they invited me to go to their
house. Oh, can I go to a religious house, Not being a sister? And uh….then we
started sensing a cold discernment. Discernment? What is that? And again, I invited a group
of my friends, I didn’t want to go alone to this exploring. And this is when I met
the sisters and I, I just was more and more interested in finding meaning of what I want
to do with my life. Uh, but that the same time I was so involved in my, in pursuing
my studies and my career that I was not ready at that time. I was nineteen. And uh, it took
me thirteen years to say, yes. The call never left me. The call that I discerned when I was
nineteen, never left me. And also, the sisters’ life impacted me. The sisters’ passion and
compassion with the poor, especially. The integrity of their work; they were involved
with social justice, they were involved in teaching, they were involved, again, with
many different issues that were very current in the island, and they even have a program,
Leadership for Life, for people who wanted, who came for impoverished community and areas,
and helping them to find their own truth within them and their strength, so their voice can be
heard. And they can also advocate for their own ministries and their jobs and their communities.
And also feeding the poor and the sugar cane. These women came to my county, they didn’t
know the language, they were many North Americans, some of them were from the island, Dominican.
And the love they have for the poor people, it was amazing, it blew my mind. And I say,
really people can just give their life away in some way and start doing things for people
they don’t know? And I couldn’t come to grasp this, I need to understand more of this.
Those women, I found them so full of life and full of energy, and it was hard work.
While in my work as a fashion designer, it was about me and myself and I. And it was
more about making a name and becoming famous. While….in the religious life, what I saw
was, it wasn’t about me, it was about…. us. That was the thing that was different
and, this selflessness, and the meaning behind that that gives essence to who we are
and what we do, what we do. It’s about love, right? Since I was a high fashion teacher, our congregation had a ministry in the border, specifically
in El Paso, Texas and in Mexico, on the border side of Juarez. But at that
time, I was a novice at that time becoming to first vows. It was a lot of violence
in that area, especially against women. And the ministries for women who were going
under domestic violence and they have a co-op; sewing clothes, sewing church garments,
table cloths. And the idea was to make a production that will be like making clothes and that
was my training, I was so excited to do it. But because I am not from the United States
nor from Mexico and the immigration issue plus the violence in that region, make it
almost impossible for me to go and pursue that ministry which I was so looking forward
to do. But then, we were looking what other ministry I could do. My sister is a doctor,
my blood sister. And I was her assistant many times in the island, especially working
in public hospital with poor people. And I was just happy here and I was very … hospital
work is like a second home for me. I grew up in hospital because of her since I was
very young and I was very familiar with medical term. She trained me very well in the medical
field so to help her while I was studying, in my free time. And then when I was a novice,
I was invited to go to a clinic to do a kind of ministry part-time, very small ministry.
Where I was kind of accompanying of people who came to the clinic who didn’t speak
English. At that time my English wasn’t that good, but it was much better than the
women who came because they were immigrants, who were uninsured or underinsured. And while
I was accompanying them and meeting with the doctors, I also had time to sit down with
them and listen their stories. And me, being an immigrant as well, it was kind of, I was
able to not only interpret their physical illness or struggle, also their emotional,
which sometime was hindering her healthcare. This is when I was introduced to a hospital
chaplain, which I didn’t know existed as a career, and this is when I came to Loyola
to be trained and to become a chaplain within clinical pastored official program. I belong to Giving Voice and I am part of the core team of Giving Voice even and uh,
what I’m seeing … what is happening right now in religious life is very different than
when I came ten years ago. It’s more and more, more diverse. Women from not only, uh,
racial diversity, but also from different countries. And I think that religious
life has been opening, and opening more. But there is a lot of work to be done still to continue
growing in the diversity in religious life in the United States. You know, we are human
and our sisters in the different congregations are part of this humanity and many times we resist. It’s hard for some community to integrate the diversity that is in religious
life today. And I know that some sisters had have some hardship in becoming sisters in
some congregation where the majority are white sisters. And again, these sisters from these
congregations are part of this culture and racism is many times, present. Resistance
to integrate those cultures is hard, it’s not easy and sometimes we see more multiculturality
instead of interculturality. I am blessed right now where I live. I live in a community
where we celebrate both interculturality but also intergenerational. And we named it,
that our sisters, even though they are white, they have their own background. We have Irish
background, we have French background, we have Polish background, we have a sister from
Cayuga, another, me from Dominican Republic, and other mixed of Irish and Scotland and
England. We try to be intentional and take a lot of energy to be intentional in building
the reign of God even among even ourselves as sisters. I think religious life is richer
now. These women who come from different countries, they also come from different backgrounds;
culturally, also intellectually, and different ways to do ministry; different ways to celebrate
our faith and our vocations, different ways to approach people. Many of them are people
oriented, they are community oriented, different of them being individualistic which is more prevalent in the United States. The diversity that I see in the religious life like a rainbow
of color and joy and also passion because again and again this county is becoming more
diversified. And to having women with all these different background help to flourish our
church and hence help and reach out to more people who are in need. Each time I get with these group
of women who are from all over the world, many times I feel like the United Nations
when I’m in the meeting, it helps me to believe more in this religious life and in
the future, but not only in the future, in the present, because this is happening right
now. And even here in the hospital, when people come for CP, sisters come from all over; from
Africa, from the Philippines, just name it, Korea, even Europe. People come here to be
trained, to serve the people. When I’m around the equivalent of eleventh
grade, I start feeling this like nudge in my heart but the sisters I’m interacting
with or these women in formation to be sisters, I could not find anything in common between
them and me. I’m what people would call a free-spirit and it all seemed proper. And
it seemed so proper and I kept thinking why would God call me to this life when I cannot
see a kindred spirit. So I remember that time we had a very kind Irish priest resident
in the parish next to our school and we had this conversation and he saw something in
me then, which was surprising to me because I think I was in trouble quite a bit in school
and he would know about it but here he saw something in me and would have this conversation
about faith. But it still took me ten years, after I finished high school to kind of make
the decision, to enter and try. And even then, it was despite not seeing … feeling like I
see people like myself in it. But my whole promise was, “Let me go and try, they might
kick me out, they might not” but I think I’ll have got this out of my system, I really
had deserved whether this is my life. But prior to that, I have actually spent three
and a half months living in a lay, a catholic charismatic community, kind of discerning
and spending more time in prayer. Because I realized, at that time, I was working in
the capital city of Kenya that, surrounded by my friends and being young and having fun.
I wasn’t going to make a clear decision, so I needed time apart from all of that.
So when I got to date in Ohio, we have all a big supporters of social catholic services,
but when I got there, Dayton is a welcoming city and there was this influx of former refugees
from the DRC coming into Dayton. So I went to volunteer there because of Swahili and
with the language, I could help out with the translating and that grew, so eventually I
stopped volunteering with catholic social services and I kind of just went out, trying
to meet the needs I was seeing, the gaps that the resettlement agents were not completely able
to meet. And that has kept growing and out of that now we even have a community garden
where families can plant indigenous vegetable and try to mimic our diet, our native diet
as much as possible just because I have struggled with a diet in this country and it has affected
my health sometimes. So when they’re coming in with bigger families and not as much money
to be able to go to Kroger for instance and buy vegetables for a family of seven or eight,
it’s good to be able to have a place they can plant their own vegetables and it’s
also good for I think community relations. It’s a time when you can come and do something
that you are good at, without having a supervisor, have time to share and relive your memories
of home. We all miss home in different ways. So that’s what I do a lot and my community
has been very supportive. So how the garden came about is I actually
wrote to my leadership and asked them for land because we had a bit of land lying fallow
and asked them also for the finances to support it for three years in binding the seeds and
cultivating it, and we will do the rest of the labor and take the produce. They were
completely in support of it and since so many of out sisters come from farming families,
their advice has been invaluable. When I chose to do this, I have never farmed in my
life. So in that way, there is now much more awareness and I am happy to say that there
is a lot more focus on migrants and refugees from our community. And even when I celebrated
my vows just to see our mother house with people from so many different parts of the
world, it battles something different. I think our conversations have become much richer.
Uh, we have sister called, Sister Gennette, who does a lot … So we do homicide vigils in Dayton and she also works in interfaith women’s group but she also does
a lot of social justice seminars, even addressing things like white privilege and racism, and
then being able to hear from someone living amongst them about my own experiences with
racism. I think that helps too, in shaping who we are and what we want to stand for and
examining our own history and seeing whether there are things there that perhaps could
have been done differently. And I think this is happening in so many congregations because
a lot of newer religious are coming from other cultures and, LCWR this summer made a stand
made a stand against racism, and I think in that way, our presence is changing the fabric
of our communities. And I can say this knowing that I speak so many younger religious because
we have given voice, so we do get together and talk about our shared experiences. I worked in an amazing ministry here in Chicago in the north side called Emmaus Ministries.
It’s a ministry that, it’s the only ministry of its kind and it works with men engaged
in survival prostitution. I loved it for different reasons, first of all, we lived
in a community, people from different backgrounds, different faiths, so that for me was modeling
ecumenism in that very unique way. The staff members were also from all kinds of denominations
so when we had a day of prayer once a month, you never knew what direction prayer would
take but it was amazing. So the ministry worked by having a center where the men could drop
in, they could take a shower, do their laundry, but also get a hot meal. But we also went
out at night, into the streets and tried to establish contact, telling the men we met,
“this is a safe place, you can come if you need help, with addiction, getting off the
streets, we are there”, but we’re not enforcing it. So it modeled unconditional
love. It was a place they could come and kind of leave this stigma of the work they did
behind. It was an amazing ministry, I was only there four months, but the day I
was leaving, the men cooked lunch. And then this guy, Demetri. Demetri could sing like
an angel. He sung Amazing Grace, we were all in tears, it was unbelievable. When I took
vow , some of those men came. Now, I worked for the UN for a year with refugees
also. And um, now Dayton and currently when I’m in Chicago, I do one day of ministry
at the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, You never know what to expect, each day is different. It is a place you can see the effects of racism and systematic structures that
are just geared to oppressive the people, it’s there. It’s a food desert. There’s no recreational
center within that area. Our kids are constantly in and out of the system because they’ll
act out in school and instead of a parent being called, the police are called. They get a
charge, they go to juvenile. That lingers with them. And, it’s a very hopeful place
but it’s also very sad because they question whether they will ever be able to make a step
forward because they find so many things just push them back, keep oppressing them. So I
do that one day a week. You sit and play games with them if they want to play card games.
They are chess wizzes. So if you like chess, that’s something you can do with them. Talk
a lot, I cook a lot. I love cooking. Every ministry I’ve been in, I have ended cooking
for people so we get some stuff from Trader Joe’s once a week, so I try to put up a
big meal because I do find that when people are eating together, lots of good conversations
happen. And we try to support the staff there all the time in bringing into life projects,
like now we got a grant and we’re trying to create a network of youth from different
parts of Chicago to initiate restorative justice projects in their own neighborhoods but have
a network where they come in for mentorship just to support each other. But also have
conversations to realize that we are all facing the same problems, so to see beyond that … the
siloing that has happened because of gang affiliation. And to realize we are fighting
the same wars. We are facing the same issues of having parents incarcerated, having drug
infested neighborhoods, having schools that have no resources for us. So there’s one staff
member whose been spearheading that so we offer support when we come in, draft the letters, try to attend the meetings so kind of doing whatever you’re told to do. I think that most important thing that you can show people is that you’re there with
them, in the long run. And not to come in trying to offer solutions but to really ask
them,”What do you need?” and help them, help them in that. And one of the things I
have to let go of is thinking I have answers or solutions and realizing that my priorities
are not other people’s priorities. So it’s mind boggling sometimes when somebody who’s
making minimum wage will spend a hundred dollars on a dress. But that’s not my life. And when
you’ve spent twenty, thirty years only wearing second hand clothes, perhaps that what you
need to give you hope and motivation to … or to make you feel like you have dignity just
like any other person. So our charism is all about reconciliation. I use healing myself
because Jesus as a healer is a very strong image in African culture. But healing and reconciliation
for me are the same thing. And that comes about in restoring people’s dignity and giving
them hope and that means pointing out to them the qualities you seen them that are beautiful and good.
And just standing with them. Standing with them i difficult times, but also being there
when the good times are happening. Celebration is a huge part I found of a lot of people
who live on the margins. People will question and say, “How can they have such expensive,
big parties?” But when you lived constantly in despair and like with refugees, you’re
faced with death so many times, you know, and escaped from it, it is so important then
to really celebrate life.

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