LVING S O T EV Blessings from
WINTER 2020 VOLUME 9, ISSUE 14
Generation to Generation
Holy Union Sisters
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LEFT TO RIGHT: Sister Carol Sister Kathee Sister Joan
United States Province Leadership Team Dear Friends, Welcome to the New Year! May it be rich in blessing for you and those you cherish. Our Evolving Story: Blessings from Generation to Generation is the theme of this issue of Response, as it was at our Province Assembly this summer. We’ll say more about the Assembly later in this issue. For now, we’d like to reflect with you on its appropriateness as we begin a new year.
Every new year reminds us that we are unfinished, that our story continues to unfold. And our life experience has taught us that blessing will abound in that unfolding. Yes, there will be challenges as well, but we know that even challenges can contain seeds of blessing. At the new year, we naturally look back and look ahead. What blessings did 2019 bring you? What do you hope for in this young new year?
We thank you!
Kathleen Corrigan, SUSC
Joan Guertin, SUSC
Carol Regan, SUSC
The blessings of our lives, the blessings we are to others, spin out across generations. So many of our families have immigrant roots; the courage and daring of those who left all that was familiar to them still bring us blessing. We Holy Union Sisters mark October 16th each year. On that day in 1886, the first Holy Union Sisters, ten young religious themselves immigrants from Belgium, France, and Ireland, arrived in the United States. Their lives have blessed generations: of women who followed them into our congregation, of children and youngsters taught in schools that sprang from that small seed, and of all those to whom we have been sent to minister, even people in other lands. We can recall Sister Alfred Therese, a young American sister who led the first group of Holy Union women to Cameroon and died within weeks of her arrival there. The blessing she was continues in a village school named for her in Massea, Cameroon, and in her family’s assistance to that school. Dorothy Vaill, a student at a Holy Union school during the Great Depression, was encouraged by the sisters teaching LVING S there to continue as a student when her family could no longer meet her VO T E tuition expenses. In turn, at her death, she left the congregation a genR erous bequest that supports the Dorothy Vaill Fund and new generaBlessings tions of youngsters enjoy the blessing of Catholic education. from Generation to Generation You are a blessing to us and your generosity to us spins out far and wide and into the future. You are blessing to all whom we touch in ministry: in schools and parishes, nursing homes, hospitals, and neighborhoods, in Cameroon and Haiti, in faith formation, evangelization, and religious education, in advocacy and in pastoral care.
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Kenneth Gustin Director of Mission Advancement and Communications
Dear Friends, It is our most sincere hope that you all had a wonderful Christmas and are still enjoying this lovely season. The holidays are often a time of gathering generations together to enjoy family traditions and create new memories. It is certainly true that the blessings we all receive ripple outwards like a pebble in a pond. They travel not just from person to person but from year to year and even from decade to decade. God works in mysterious ways and just a small act of kindness, or a word of support can ripple through lives and families in ways we could never have imagined. Too, as time progresses and our Province’s story evolves, we are presented with technologies which have the potential of spreading the faith, deepening existing relationships, and starting new ones. The Sisters have often been trailblazers in areas like education and social justice. As such, it is only fitting that they now embrace technology in new and positive ways to grow their ability to engage and interact with you our dear friends. To this end, the Sisters now have a social media presence for those who use Facebook, LinkedIn, and soon YouTube. They post content which ranges from faith, to current events, to light hearted fun, and give you an opportunity to comment on it all. Please let us know through these new channels how we can continue to aid you. As you know, our sisters remain very active in the world and are forever seeking new ways of revealing God’s love. Likewise, our website continues to evolve, offering helpful and even delightful surprises to support you on your faith journey. Some recent new additions include our Holy Union Music page where we have made our four albums from the early 1960’s available for you to listen to right from our website! We have also added a Growing in Faith tab to our main menu to help support your spiritual journey. And finally, we have made our free collection of memorial, prayer and special occasion cards available for you to request directly from our website. Our hope is that as our story continues to evolve, these new technologies will help us deepen and grow our relationships with you and through our efforts create new blessings which will ripple for generations to come in your lives and the lives you touch.
May God continue to bless you in all you do, and know of our gratitude for your on going support! Be Good !
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ssings e l B from
Cameroon to Harvard University
The Sisters’ goal was not to make the people they touched Americans, but to simply let them know how much God loved them. LEFT LEFT TO RIGHT: Justin, Clementine, Grace, Thierry RIGHT LEFT TO RIGHT: Clementine, Sister Marilyn
In the 1960’s Marie, a young widow living in the small town of N’Kongsamba, Cameroon, was hired by the Holy Union Sisters to help with the care of the convent where they lived. The sisters built and ran a school as well as ministered to the needs of the local people. Marie was pleased to have the job as money was scarce and it was helpful in providing for her young children. In those years, with growing sensitivity in the U.S. to civil rights, the Sisters were hesitant to hire local women to assist them with household duties. But clergy and local people assured them that providing work to the people of the town could make the difference between surviving or not being able to care for their family. And so Marie began working in the convent. She was a friendly woman and Sister Marilyn Gignac (Agnes Celine) began a casual friendship with her. They would stop and chat briefly when they met. Sister would occasionally visit Marie at her home. The house was small and simple, as were most of the homes in Cameroon. It had a dirt floor, a tin roof, and the wood walls let light through. However, the home overflowed with hospitality. A brief visit often stretched out to consume large parts of the day, and as the years passed, their friendship also grew.
With the money she earned Marie was able to make significant changes to her home. At the same time, she was able to pay for school tuitions. She instilled in her children the values and strength of character to work hard and do the right thing. Marie’s daughter, Clementine, married a man named Justin and together they had four children: Will, Thierry, Loic and Grace. They were well schooled, hard workers, and the family prospered. Sr. Marilyn stayed in touch with many of Marie’s children and grandchildren and enjoyed watching them grow in mind, body and spirit. But in 2004 at the age of 73, when Clementine’s children were still young, Sister Marilyn returned to the United States after 33 years of missionary work in Cameroon. She was sad to leave and missed her friends and Sisters in her Cameroon community. Earlier this year, Sister Marilyn’s phone rang. She did not recognize the young man’s voice. His English was excellent, but she detected a distinctive Cameroonian accent. He said he was Thierry, Clementine’s son. He said his mother was with him in Boston and wanted to meet with “Sister.” She was amazed that the young man had been able to find her, and was delighted to set up a day to meet them.
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The day arrived and Sister’s doorbell rang. When she answered it, there was Clementine with Justin, Thierry and Grace. Sister recognized her immediately and with a round of joyful hugs, there was great excitement at seeing each other after so many years. Sister asked her why she and her husband were here in the US. Clementine explained that they had come from Cameroon for their daughter’s graduation ceremony at University of Texas and now were visiting their son, Thierry, who is attending Harvard University in Boston to earn his Doctoral degree. Of her other children, Will has a good position with a firm in Texas, while Loic is studying in Germany and Grace is continuing at University of Texas, working toward a Master’s degree. Clementine had recognized the important role the Sisters had had in her family’s life starting so many years ago when they hired her mother, Marie, to work in the convent. She was determined to find Sr. Marilyn to thank her and to ask her to thank all the sisters for their kindness and help throughout the years. The family’s gratitude for such simple things was touching, and their ability to use the gifts they had been given for such good purpose was so inspiring. In just three generations they had gone from living in a simple home with dirt floors and a tin roof to earning post graduate
degrees at some of the world’s most prestigious schools. The potential of these young men and woman was enormous. Who knows how many lives around the world they would impact as the years progressed? Sister thought of the words from Isaiah, “For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return without watering the earth, making it bud and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so My word that proceeds from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and it will prosper where I send it.…” She felt that what the Sisters had done for this family was nothing extraordinary. It amounted to brief conversations here and there, visits to their homes to share stories and pleasantries, and keeping up with how the children were doing, offering what they could to encourage their progress. The Sisters’ goal was not to make the people they touched Americans, but to simply let them know how much God loved them. None of us can know the impact of our work here. But know that each act ripples outward in ways we cannot predict. Their effects can eventually be felt in far flung corners of the world and continue long after our time here is finished. . see and hear Sister Marilyn tell her story in her To own words visit www,holyunionsisters.org
In those years, with growing sensitivity in the U.S. to civil rights, the Sisters were hesitant to hire local women to assist them with household duties. ABOVE: Clementine with her husband, Justin..
ABOVE: LEFT TO RIGHT: Will, Thierry, Grace, Maman Marie holding Loic (N'Kongsamba)
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Why this theme for the 2020 Province Assembly? Why this logo? Clarity and conviction is a quick answer to these questions. It is abundantly clear that our province, indeed our entire congregation, is in a process of evolution. And we are firm in our conviction that this process, like earlier chapters in our story, will carry blessing. The immediate congregation context of our Assembly was the March 2019 Enlarged General Council where reflection on our reality, a young and growing population in the south, an older, diminishing one in the north, with the congregation’s financial strength in the north and its greater need in the south, led us to initiate a congregation-wide process of restructuring. There’s no doubt that the US Province is in the northern “half” of our congregation and so our reality within the larger congregation and its mission focused this year’s summer Assembly. Our keynoter was Sister Mary Hughes, OP, who is the Director of Transitional Services for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Mary’s title captures her mission: to work with religious congregations, provinces, and monasteries facing major transition in their life and ministry. We certainly fit that description! Mary’s presentation reminded us that religious life re-invents itself approximately every 500 years and that is exactly what is going on right now. Each form persists in a simpler, smaller form as the new emerges and leaves a legacy the new carries forward. And so there are still monasteries throughout the Catholic world but not in the number they existed before the Middle Ages and their valuing of solitude and a regular rhythm of prayer persist in all forms of religious life. Our form, the apostolic congregations addressing unmet needs for education, health care, social service and faith formation, began to emerge in the 17th century. It is changing dramatically, but it will continue and it will leave a legacy to the new that is slowly emerging … it’s a matter of blessings from generation to generation! What will be our blessing to the next expression of religious life? The thirst for social justice? The struggle against racism? The gift of the feminist perspective? Think of your experience of Holy Union Sisters and other women religious in congregations like ours. How would you name our legacy/blessing?
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Reflection and serious consideration of our present reality unfolded in an atmosphere of quiet, even stillness, and contemplative dialogue. The Challenge and the Blessing of Now was the title Sister Mary had given her presentation to us and, for sure, we paid attention to both. We heard and discussed reports and began to make plans for “rightsizing” our province as its reality now requires. This work will evolve in the coming years and as it takes shape, we will keep you informed. So much of our Assembly was celebration and interestingly, our celebrations called us to look at blessings we have received as our story has evolved. Twenty year ago, we transformed what had been the Fall River and Groton Provinces into the United States Province of the congregation. We had a birthday party of sorts and watched a video of October 16, 1999, when even the Taunton Fire Department joined our festivities (One of us had stood under a fire alarm while holding a burning censor aloft!). We remembered our beloved dead, sisters and associates who had died since our last Assembly. And we honored the Province’s Jubilarians, ten faithful women marking 80, 65, 60, and 25 years as Holy Union Sisters. This celebration concluded our Assembly and it was a wonderful note to end on: a festive Eucharist, a wonderful meal together, and lots of good cheer! We left the Assembly as we hope any family reunion, gathering of old friends, or anniversary celebration would end: heartened by the time spent together, one in spirit ready to
LVING S O T EV
welcome the days ahead.
Blessings from Generation to Generation
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Blessin Thirty YYears of g Thirty years ago Sister Helen McPeak arrived at St. Vincentâ€™s, a residential treatment center and special education facility for children in Fall River, MA. Since her arrival, Sister has been counseling young people who come from difficult family situations. In speaking with her, it is clear that her memories of each child are vivid. Her love for them is evident. And it is that love that these children most need. Founded as an orphanage in 1885 by the Sisters of Mercy, its mission expanded to include the care, protection and counseling of young people who have had a rough start and need guidance and direction in becoming their best selves. Each child and family circumstance is unique. But often what these young people crave is genuine love and concern from an adult with supportive action on their behalf. Sr. Helenâ€™s office walls are covered with hundreds of images of young people she has worked with over the last three decades. She has fond memories of every one of them. She marvels at their strength and
The energy in the room changed when the children arrived. It was different than when two adults are having a conversation.
resilience in the face of the obstacles they are overcoming. Her heart breaks when she hears an especially difficult story from a child. And she is often amazed at the spirit they exhibit and their ability to see life in a positive way. As children they naturally look to those in charge to protect, teach and guide them. There is a desire to please those who oversee them and a longing to be loved by them. I was fortunate during a recent visit with Sister to be present when three children stopped by her office unexpectedly. Their joy in finding her there, willing to make time for a chat and update on how everyone was doing was evident. She has a basket of snacks always ready. Sister lights up in their presence, and they sense it. They were sorry to have to leave after a while, but Sr. Helen told them to come back as soon as they could. The energy in the room changed when the children arrived. It was different than when two adults are having a conversation. It was a sense of joy, excitement, and, of course, love. I am sure the children would have stayed all day if I was not there, and Sister would have been happy to have them.
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The children inspire her. Her spirit, energy and love seem to have no bounds and she gives of them all generously each day. Sister makes clear that what she does for these children is very simple. She helps them to recognize the love of God that is always there for them, and that there is always hope and always a path to better times. They see in her a love which lifts their spirits and hearts and gives them hope that things can be better. We are all God’s children and crave the love of Jesus which often is made manifest in the actions of someone like Sister Helen.
She is grateful for the opportunity to be around such beautiful young souls and to witness their growth and healing. They inspire her. Her spirit, energy and love seem to have no bounds and she gives of them all generously each day. She is always sorry when the day comes when a child must leave St. Vincent’s. On that day, their picture joins the hundreds of others on the walls of her office, and she looks forward to a day down the road when they may return for a visit, an update on how things are going, and maybe even a snack. They may be gone, but they will never be forgotten, and Sister’s door will always be open. – by KENNETH GUSTIN
Three Generations of Musical Blessings We recently resurrected the four albums we originally recorded in 1960 and 1961 from our archives and had them digitized so we could make them available to you to enjoy at no cost on our website. No need to visit an antique store to buy a record player! Simply visit our music page and click on the songs you’d like to listen to, and voila! The albums include a wonderfully eclectic mix of genres including big band, hymns, and fun contemporary songs (circa 1960). The sound retains the hiss and crackle of the original vinyl records. So, close your eyes, click on your favorite songs, and enjoy again the music that helped us raise the money to continue our mission three generations ago, and still to this very day! A true blessing which has spanned three generations…and counting. Find them at www.holyunionsisters.org and click on Holy Union Music at the bottom of the page.
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s g n i s s
the story of its creation Since the early 1980’s the Holy Union Franco-Belge Province has created communities for mentally handicapped adults similar to the Jean Vanier L’Arche Communities. The Founder of these Holy Union Bethsaïde communities is Sister Marie Henriette Leconte. At a celebration in the city of Douai, Sister was asked to give a brief history of these communities. The following is a summary of her report. During my second year as a Holy Union novice, I took a course in Belgium dealing with the care of autistic and mentally handicapped children. From that time on, I harbored the dream of living in community with intellectually fragile adults. After my religious profession I was missioned to teach a ‘special class’ at St. Joseph’s, a Holy Union school in Douai. There, I discovered that the children, although intellectually challenged, possessed a capacity for appreciating the beautiful and the ‘marvelous,’ which sensibility, I thought, could be opened to spiritual values. To quote Jean Vanier: “Handicapped persons having no intellectual gifts need the gifts of the spiritual life more than anybody because that is their unique treasure.” Although I was happy as a “special class” teacher as well as a member of the Holy Union community at St. Joseph’s, I still dreamed of “living with” persons considered different, whose needs and capacities I
felt I understood. This dream became a “call” which I thought could become a new expression of the Holy Union charism and at the same time, be in accordance with the Holy Union Constitution. The leadership of the Congregation welcomed the idea of this new ministry with joy. I knew that the creation of this project would require the help of many people: parents, catechists, teachers, doctors, nurses, etc. Many questions and concerns came up at many meetings. Finally, the project was welcomed by all concerned. I then spent one month at Troly, France, in a Jean Vanier L’Arche Community where the study of Vanier’s book, Community, a Place of Forgiveness and Celebration, enlightened my dream. On my return to Douai, we sent out our first flyer requesting the participation and support of interested people. The first little community in Douai opened on September 4, 1982: Sisters Jean Vianney and myself (Marie Henriette) and two lay women. Slowly we learned to live together, creating links with the parishes and the
I was happy as a ‘special class’ teacher ... I still dreamed of ‘living with’ persons considered different, whose needs and capacities I felt I understood.
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The organization has become more “institutionalized” with salaried lay people gradually replacing the Sisters who have become volunteers.
city. Especially we prepared our hearts to welcome the handicapped women to the community. The first to arrive on November 4th was Chantal who was soon followed by three other women and then others. Very soon, this house became too small and we moved to larger quarters in 1985. In 1986, another community was opened, and in 1988, a third house was opened, this time in the town of Valenciennes. In 2003, a house in Douai was purchased to provide space for workshops and another to serve as a day care center. And in 2004, another community opened.
The Sisters with many lay volunteers continue to bring very precious help to the residents and participants of the Bethsaïde project which is now providing great love and service to the mentally challenged adults and their families of the city of Douai and the surrounding towns.
In 2015, the three Douai communities grouped together at a large facility which allowed one of the workshops to become another day care center for men. Sr. Marie Henriette (foundress of Bethsaide)
Our Story Continues to Evolve As was discussed at this past summer’s Assembly, as our northern Provinces gradually reduce in size, our southern provinces continue their growth. Please join us in praying for our recent perpetually professed Sister in Cameroon, Sr. Immaculate (seen here with our Superior General, Sr. Paula Coehlo, SUSC). May God continue to bless her and her ministries for many years to come. Congratulations, Sr. Immaculate!
Dear Friends, You can now request our memorial cards for all occasions on-line. Simply click on the card(s) you’d like, enter the quantity you need, fill in your shipping information, submit your request and we will send your cards straight to your door. Note: to make the process as easy as possible, no credit card is needed to request our cards, nor will you be invoiced. A remittance envelope will arrive with your cards, and as always, a donation is greatly appreciated when you use the card. Remember to include the name of the loved one for whom you are requesting prayers. Donations help us cover the cost of the cards as well as postage, and of course enable us to continue to minister to those most in need. Know that you and your loved ones remain in our prayers. May God continue to bless and keep you.
To request your cards visit www.holyunionsisters.org and click on the picture of our memorial cards.
Visit us at www.holyunionsisters.org. We are working on several new features for you. Please visit us regularly. Go to our Contact Us page to send us your email address and we’d be happy to send useful and timely faith formation information and other interesting content directly to your inbox. It will also give you a direct line of contact back to us for your prayer intentions so the sisters can raise them up for you. May God bless and keep you.
Exploring Estate Planned Giving
Correction: We apologize for an error in the 2018 Annual Report issue of Response. The following donors were not identified as members of the Debrabant Society. We are grateful for their generous and continued support of the Sisters. Mr. James A. Dulude Ms. Eleanor Gilbert Mr. George Harrison Ms. Pamela Hebert
Ms. Judith McCurdy Mr. Kevin O’Hare Dr. Gerard Weigel
Kenneth Gustin Director of Mission Advancement & Communications PO Box 410, Milton, MA 02186-0006 (617) 696-8765 ext 19 Fax: (617) 696-8571 email@example.com Anne Martens, Designer 22 Cape Cod Avenue Plymouth, MA 02360 (508) 224-2648 firstname.lastname@example.org Printer: Image Resolutions
The Holy Union Sisters would like you to know that there is an array of ways that you can remember Holy Union in your Estate Plan. Including the Holy Union Sisters in your Estate Plan demonstrates your love and support for the Holy Union mission. If creating an Estate Plan is something you are exploring, please consider including the Holy Union Sisters in yours. For more information about how you may do so, you may contact: Kenneth Gustin at email@example.com or 617-696-8765, as well as your own Estate Planning Professional.
Online Donations Please visit the Donate and Mission Advancement page at www.holyunionsisters.org in order to: • Make a one time, or recurring, donation on line • Learn about other ways to support our ministries
Norwell, MA 02061
Response is published twice a year by the Mission Advancement and Communications Offices for friends and families of the Holy Union Sisters. www.holyunionsisters.org
Cover photograph – Left to right: Grace, Will, Marie (their Grandmother), Thierry, and Loic.
This is the January issue of Response, the newsletter for the Holy Union Sisters.