The Power of Sisterhood

Sadly, it seems women religous are underappreciated, underrepresented and overly stereotyped in the United States. One of the unexpected blessings of this year has been the relationship our lay program has with the Sister of Saint Francis of the Neumann Communities. These women are progressive, educated and dedicated to social justice. Each month or so we share dinner and prayer with these sisters and every time I walk away with lessons and laughs. I wish that someone would stand on a soapbox and exclaim to the world NUNS MATTER, THEY ARE SAVING THE WORLD!
The Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, who claim St. Marianne Cope as one of their own, is a congregation of more than 460 vowed women religious whose Franciscan spirit motivates them to continue God’s work and respond to God’s people wherever there is a need. The sisters serve in 12 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Africa and Peru. Many of these women have multiple secondary degrees. I know of at least one that is a lawyer, nurse and social worker. These women devote their lives to their community, service and prayer. Their vocation is not cloistered but the opposite, bringing them deep into the needs of the poor and the world of academia. If there is a need for a financial position at the hospital that used to be run by the nuns, a sister would be chosen to fill that role. If she hadnt been educated in that field, she would be given the proper education. Many of these women have had multiple successful professions throughout their lives, all for the benefit of the community they are serving. The nuns are advocates for social justice, for stewardship for creation and their God.
The Daughters of Mary Mother of Healing Love ran the Saint Charles Children’s Home in Rochester NH. I volunteered with this program for three years while at Saint Anselm. Much like the women who make up the SOSF, these women were tenacious, motivated and very down to earth, working with extremely vulnerable children and their adoptive and biological parents. I think of those women often, especially in my service with Operation Safety Net. They provided me with a view of service that promotes dignity, love and humor. I sorely miss my Friday afternoons spent playing outside, dancing while doing dishes and conversing with the most inspiring women I have ever experienced.
Not to mention my favorite Dominican Sr. Maureen Sullivan, the master of all things Vatican II! I know this has been an exciting time for her with the double canonization of two amazing popes recently! Her course on Vatican II was pivotal in my view of the Church and helped spark my own little fire in seeking a life of hope, service and social progress.
I cannot reiterate enough how much these women have affected my life. Though I do not feel a call to religous life, I have the deepest respect and appreciation for the incredible women I have met. Their faith is endless, love pure and motivation unparalleled.
This is my personal shoutout to all the women religious of the world. Thank you for all you do, for having the courage to fulfill your calling and make this world more full of love.

The business end of things..

Work is always interesting and dynamic, but I am grateful that the winter is over and the weight of its perils are off our shoulders. That being said, there is still a lot going on in our little world on the streets and programs of Pittsburgh. 

I have been navigating the process of kidney failure and dialysis with one of my clients as of late. Working with him through this process reminds me just how challenging it can be to navigate the health care system. He was attending multiple appointments in different places for weeks, in and out of the hospital with imbalanced electrolytes and dehydration all while trying to learn and implement a ‘renal diet’ and manage medications. It is a wonder to me how anyone does this alone. Thankfully now he is well set up and no longer completely drained by his dialysis treatments. The chronic illnesses of our clientele cannot be ignored. 

We have another resident on hospice for cancer and this experience is much more seamless than the dialysis one for us case managers. Not only have we worked with this hospice program before, but they happen to be incredible at their jobs. They are attentive, patient centered and laid back. It is a pleasure to work with them and finally feel like I can leave the side of our resident without worrying that he will be judged, misunderstood or offended by the care of medical professionals. My biggest qualm this year has been the maltreatment of the homeless in acute care settings. It nauseates me to see the judgement on the faces of pink clad residents, the eye rolls of triage nurses and the unmasked disgust of PCA’s who have to help someone get cleaned up. They are why we spend hours waiting in the ER, why I do not leave the side of my clients if they let me, why we bring people to hospital across town just because they will not treat the client like a rat in their kitchen. 

Tye Dye and BBQ

In celebration of the first real WARM day in Pittsburgh since, I DONT EVEN KNOW WHEN, we got together at Milgate for a cookout! Rachel’s family came along with our Edmond friends and we prepared some awesome dinner for everyone. Ben and I tye dyed for the first time this season while the charcoals warmed up. Lots of food, a soccer ball and some friends made for a great night! 

We will be moving from Milgate sometime this spring to a different house but I will be sad to leave our awesome back porch. 

It is hard to believe that this year is already on its home stretch, with only a few more months left. The crisis they call winter is over so life at OSN is much less stressful. Though the cold is gone, there is still a lot going on at TLA and within OSN. There is never a dull moment! I am enjoying my time as much as I can, trying to experience it all. I am looking forward to the coming weeks as we have visitors coming from Franciscorps, I am volunteering at the Pittsburgh Marathon and all the unexpected things that pop up in between!

I’ll go anywhere, West Virginia baby I don’t care

Our spring retreat was in the backwoods of West Virginia, right on the border of Kentucky. Our caravan made it through two states, an active coal mine and up a mountain to the Big Laurel Learning Center. Our director Kelly Caddy has a close relationship with the program which she first experienced on her own college mission trip years ago. Big Laurel is run by two nuns and an Americorps member. They provide sleep away summer camp programs for the local youth, afterschool tutoring and community outreach to the holler and the surrounding community. The nuns are older, but rugged and motivated as anyone I have met. They host mission trips to help run the campus, which sprawls about 2 miles with a retreat house, home for the sisters, two bunkhouses, a camp activity center, small barn and expansive gardens. Only the daffodils were in bloom at the time, but seeing any sign of life was fulfilling to me. This experience was unlike any other retreat, which is typically structured programming and quiet contemplation. I spent my day structured by meals and the small chores I was assigned to in addition to the big projects that needed to get done around the mountain. Joy and I fed the horses twice a day and I also helped an elderly man with special needs take his medication each afternoon.

Travel was mainly via Mule or ATV, time was fairly irrelevant (an unfamiliar but refreshing Franciscan value) and living was simple. Water conservation was crucial, as the sisters and Americorps Chris depend only on rain water for their supply. I showered only once on our stay. The vibe of Big Laurel brought back a lot of Road for Hope and Maine nostalgia.

Sarah and I ahd the ATV in the afternoon, so we took full advantage. First we visited with our elderly friend Phil and helped him with his eye drops and taking his pills. He was raised in that community and was taken under the care of the sisters when his mother passed away. They moved him to a small house nearby their home so they could be able to help him. He kept a clean house, loves pepsi and riding his ATV. He has paralysis on one side, but is able to walk, chop wood and function well with his ‘good side.’ he bragged to us about overcoming adversity as a kid, showing the kids that he could chop wood one handed after they teased him for his disabilities. I know its not respectful to call a grown man cute, but man he was adorable. 

Friday Night we went to a local dance at a community center in Kentucky. Blue grass,modern and classic country played from the open mic all night/ Some of the women at the hall taught us how to line dance. Beyond the electric slide I was lost, but it was a ton of fun to dance and spend time with our community. 

Saturday night we had a bonfire with the community near big laurel. The fire went for hours as we chatted, made tons of smores and reflected on our experience and where we are at in the program year.

This weekend flew by for all of us, but we left with laughs, memories and a sense of peace.