Listening with my broken heart for His answer

By Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU

As I write this, I am sitting on the balcony of my apartment. It is peaceful here, even pastoral. But my soul is not peaceful. My heart is breaking! Breaking over all the things going on in our country and city and community. My heart breaks for the loss of four of our sisters. My heart breaks because we cannot celebrate their lives as we usually do. It breaks because their families and friends—many former students–cannot hear the stories we tell both funny and touching. Neither can we hear what our sisters meant to them in other settings. It breaks my heart.

My heart is breaking for the frail Sisters at both Nazareth Homes who cannot have visitors and who have been displaced from the familiar places and routines that give them comfort. One day bleeds into the next, and they all seem the same … and are the same. This isolation is debilitating and depressing. The sudden moves to hospitals and new rooms did not even allow time to gather necessities or reading materials or music. It had to be quick and efficient.

My heart breaks because we cannot participate in our “Liturgy and Lunches” or “Mass and Meals” or community conversations or Taizé Prayer. We cannot get together for potlucks or birthday or holiday celebrations.

My heart breaks for over 100,000 people in the United States who have been lost to this unprecedented plague. It has left me confused and sad and uncertain. How can this be in our day? Yes, it happened in history books long ago. I’ve read about plagues in Saint Angela Merici’s day, in Charles Borromeo’s day, even in our country in 1917-18 with the flu pandemic and 1940 with Polio, but it seems that plagues should be impossible now.

My heart breaks over my own sin of racism… our sin of racism… my country’s sin of racism. How could this have happened right under my/our nose? Why did I not realize? How many African-America women and men must die before our collective consciousness is raised? I ask myself now, “What can I do? How can I be a part of the solution rather than the problem?” Listen to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ words:

“Racism has rightly been called America’s original sin. It remains a blot on our national life and continues to cause acts and attitudes of hatred, as recent events have made evident. The need to condemn, and combat, the demonic ideologies of white supremacy, neo-Nazism and racism has become especially urgent at this time. Our efforts must be constantly led and accompanied by prayer—but they must also include concrete action.” 

These last words challenge me and call me to figure out what I can do. I feel so powerless. Recently, I participated in a day of prayer and the facilitator gave some questions for reflection. These two were important to me:

Is there a root of racism within me that blurs my vision of who my neighbor is?

Have I done enough to inform myself about the sin of racism, its roots, and its historical and contemporary manifestations?

I was raised in Louisville, the “Gateway to the South.”  During my formative years, segregation was something that I took for granted. I grew up in a segregated world, and I saw it simply as the way society was ordered. I know now that my family was shot through with racism. It is humiliating for me to own that. But it is real, and I must admit it. It breaks my heart and I must ask for forgiveness. I want to hear Jesus say, “God, forgive her for she knew not what she was doing.”  But now I know. Now I must act. I cannot plead ignorance anymore. Now, I must ask, together with the rich young man in the Gospels, “Master, what must I do?” And then I must listen… with my broken heart for His answer!

A Pentecost Reflection with Saint Angela Merici

By Sister Carol Curtis, OSU

After the Feast of the Ascension remain together in prayer with as much strength of spirit as possible until Pentecost, the day of the sending of the Holy Spirit, beseeching that great promise made by Jesus Christ to his well-disposed people. [Rule 4:15-16]

Attending together the sending of the Holy Spirit, Angela gathers the Company, strong in prayer, at the source of its charism. We sense the intense vitality of expectation swelling among them like buds in springtime. This simple convocation, remain together in prayer, sketches Angela Merici’s ideal of a contemplative and apostolic community, an image of the Church in communion and mission. Angela moves in the power and inspiration of the Spirit, even as she abides in that Spirit. Sharing her sure hope of the great promise of Jesus Christ to his people, we will consider the role of the Spirit in her Writings, as it recalls the Paraclete of John’s Gospel, the spiration of Love of the Father and Son, standing beside us always [Jn 14:16].

Our liturgical celebrations of Ascension and Pentecost depend on Luke’s account, while Angela’s own mention of the feasts is hidden in a humble rubric on fasting and a specification for prayer: seven Paters and Aves in honor of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit [Rule, chs. 4-5]. In fact, the Rule, Counsels, and Legacies, each have only a few explicit references to the Holy Spirit. In the 13th century Pentecost Sequence [Veni, Sancte Spiritus], however, we hear attributes of the Holy Spirit which resonate in Angela’s own expression: radiant light, Father of the Poor, kind Comforter, strength, confidence, gentle, moderate, mild. Reminiscent of the Farewell Discourse in John’s Gospel [chs. 14-17], the Paraclete breathes throughout her spirituality: indwelling each one, gathering all into unity, and teaching every Truth [Jn 16:13; Rule 8:4]. Notably, according to John, the Passion of Jesus itself culminates in his handing over his spirit. [Jn 19:30]

Isaiah [11:2] names the Spirit’s gifts upon God’s Chosen One: wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, piety, and awe (fear of the Lord). God gifts the person with a capacity to discern (conscience) and freedom to decide (free will) how to respond to the different invitations of grace and challenges of daily living. According to times and circumstances, is Angela’s repeated refrain, expressing delicate respect for persons and distinct situations above any hardline rule. Her boldness is greater than autonomy; it is parrhesia, the candor of conversation with God: Pray in the way and as much as the Spirit and conscience will dictate. [Rule 6: 7] This is an astounding personal echo of the early church pronouncement: We and the Holy Spirit have decided… [Acts 15:28] This interplay of the Holy Spirit and conscience is not merely a passive discernment, but a creative listening, an interior obedience realized in conscientious doing:

Above all, obey the counsels and inspirations which the Holy Spirit continually sends into the heart, whose voice we will hear all the more clearly the more purified and clean our conscience, since the Holy Spirit is he who teaches us every truth.
[Jn 16:13]. [Rule 8: 14-16]

Although conscience is personal, Angela recognizes the Spirit’s action within the community, also, as she addresses the leaders (colonelli): May the strength and true consolation of the Holy Spirit be in you all, so that you can sustain and carry out vigorously and faithfully the charge laid upon you. [Counsels, Prologue, 3-4] The consolation of the Paraclete is fortified with truth, a strength which gives stamina and vigor, for divine Truth is the bedrock of human faithfulness. Angela respects the ancient way and custom of the Church, established and confirmed by so many Saints…; yet not as a static tradition, but a springboard: under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit… live a new life. [Counsels 7:22]

In his farewell discourse, Jesus promises another Paraclete to remain with you always [John 13-16]. In Angela’s own Legacies, she confidently commends the vagaries of the Company’s future to the sure guidance and ready assistance of the Holy Spirit working in tandem with the Lady-Governors: provide for everything as the Holy Spirit inspires you; decide, among yourselves, according as charity and the Holy Spirit will enlighten and inspire you [Legacies 7:7; 9:6-7]. Angela lived in a time of upheaval and catastrophic circumstances, yet in her Last Legacy, as she hands over governance to the Matrons, she reassures them that their Advocate will engage with them, suggesting according to the times and circumstances. Thus, she invites them to eagerly step into the unknown: Rejoice, go forward willingly. [Last Legacy, 14] As they embrace their mission, they will taste the fruit of true joy, the infallible sign of the Holy Spirit.

May this strength and true consolation of the Holy Spirit be in us all.

[Counsels, Prologue, 3]

Feast of the Ascension

The following is a reflection given by Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU, on the Feast of the Ascension in 2011.

“Men of Galilee, why are you standing here looking up to the sky?”

Here they are again. These two men dressed in white asking obvious questions. We first met them in the tomb in Luke’s account of the resurrection with their question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The question implies that the followers of Jesus are looking in the wrong place. But really it is a natural place to look for the man they thought they left for dead. And then these “men in white” go on to give specific directions to those who have come to the tomb. Go spread the message about the risen Christ. Go, tell people I am alive.

In today’s reading, we hear those men in white ask, “Why are you standing here looking up to the sky?” Well, I think that is a natural thing for the disciples to do…after all Jesus has just disappeared from them in some sort of cloud and they were trying to make some sense of what was going on. I think I would have been right there with them looking up to the sky. This time the question of the “men in white” seems also to imply that the disciples were looking in the wrong place. Or maybe in the wrong direction.

In the case of both questions though, they are questions that are meant to move to action. At the time of the Resurrection, the “men in white” told the disciples what to do specifically. Today, there are no specific directions given by the “men in white,” but Jesus Himself gave the directions this time. Don’t’ stand here looking up but go and start looking around. I am sending you to Judea and Samaria and even the ends of the earth. You heard my messengers. Don’t stand here looking up at the sky; start looking around.

Look around you for creatures everywhere who need to hear the word of God. Look around you for people who need healing— spiritual and emotional healing as well as physical healing. Look around you for people who need to learn how to cope with what life is giving them. Look around for those who do not believe and tell them the good news of my message; love God and then your neighbor as yourself. Look around you to meet the daily needs of the hungry, the thirsty, those who mourn, those who are in prison.

And imagine if you can, what it would be like if the “men in white” would come here and ask us “Hey, you! Why are you sitting here looking up?” Would we realize that it is not about looking up but rather it is about looking around? Would we realize that it is about service to others? Would we be willing to reach out to our neighbor and offer whatever we can to help? We hear Paul telling us that there are lots of different gifts that God gives us. Some are pastors, some are apostles, others are evangelists and still others are teachers. All these gifts are used to build up the body of Christ. Would we recognize our gifts and use them for building up the Body of Christ?

But wait you say…all of this is a big order. It was a big order for the disciples, and it is a big order for each of us. The good news is that Jesus did not expect His followers to go to the end of the earth alone. Paul tells us He said, ”You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit. In a few days you will be baptized in the Spirit.” And Paul says again “Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

And just as Jesus did not expect the disciples to carry out His command alone, He does not expect us to carry out ours alone. We, too, can rely on the Holy Spirit. We, too, can rely on grace being given to us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. So, I guess we better get started…we better get started looking around.

Jesus is no longer physically present on this earth…the Spirit is about to come…Jesus now has no hands but ours and He has no feet but ours. So,” Hey, you! Don’t sit here looking up to the sky, get started looking around.”

The Canticle Of The Sun

Laudato Si’ Week 2020

The Canticle of the Creatures
by Franciscan Sister Mariella Erdmann

To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.

– St Francis of Assisi

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.

– St Francis of Assisi

“I will not leave you orphans…”

Reflection by Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU, on the Sixth Sunday of Easter,
May 17, 2020
St. William Church, Louisvil

When I was in 6th grade many years ago, I had a teacher who made us memorize poetry. I remember part of this one:

Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;

James Whitcomb Riley

An orphan—a word from the Greek meaning “bereft.” 

Then there is another Annie, who was an orphan, and in a loud song she and her sister orphans proclaim, “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” as they scrub, do dishes and sew.

An orphan—someone bereft.

And then there is Oliver Twist, the foundling boy who was orphaned and trafficked into pickpocketing in the streets of London. Bad things happen to orphans.

And finally, there is Cosette in Les Mis who is orphaned and falls into the hands of vicious foster parents who force her into child labor. Cosette is bereft.

Orphans find themselves exploited, taken advantage of, voiceless, and confused.

But there is hope in the end for every one of these characters I mentioned, because each one has an advocate. In “Little Orphan Annie,” it is the children—because they love her bedtime stories; Daddy Warbucks advocates for Annie in the musical; Mr. Brownlow advocates for Oliver and Jean Valjean protects Cosette until his death.

In today’s gospel, John tells us the touching story of Jesus taking leave of his friends. This is just about the end and he has so much to say. But today’s passage is only a part of what has come to be known as the last discourse or as Joan said last week, the commencement address. Who knows if all the things in the last discourse were really said that night or not? That is of no consequence really, but John apparently wanted to put these words together so that his readers would hear them as Jesus’ kind of farewell speech.

I once saw the Fountain Square Fools, a Gospel mime group out of Cincinnati do this last discourse. They showed Jesus getting up from the “last supper” and starting toward the door, then he would run back and sit down again and say something he had forgotten. He would get up again and take a few steps and then run back and say something else as though he had forgotten an important thing. It was so like any of us who are getting ready to leave and we are telling babysitters or pet sitters the last few things we may have forgotten to write down or say earlier.

But in the middle of all this leave taking, I think the sweetest, most touching thing Jesus says to this rough and tumble, sometimes slow in comprehension group of working men is, “I will not leave you orphans.” I will not leave you bereft; I will not leave you to be exploited, or voiceless, or confused. I will not leave you fearful or powerless; no, I will send you an advocate. An advocate who will lift you up. This advocate will help you find your voice; she will support you as you go to places, you never dreamed… to quote Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”—Samaria, Corinth, Antioch, Lystra, Ephesus, India… “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” because of the courage this advocate will give you, the voice she will give, the power to heal you will experience, the wisdom you will give to people when you lay your hands upon them. Oh, the difference this advocate will make in you!

This talk about orphans and advocates set me to thinking how often we become advocates for orphans in our society. “I will not leave you orphans.” I will send you an advocate. I think our St. Vincent de Paul group says that to those who need their rent paid or their electric turned on “We will not leave you orphans.” We will advocate on your behalf.

Some say that at the bus station to those asylum-seekers who come through Louisville hoping for refuge and a better way of life. “We will not leave you orphans,” and we will speak out on your behalf.

And, “We will not leave you orphans,” echoes to men on the street when they come to St. John Center for coffee or a shower or help with finding housing. We will advocate for you to be treated with respect.

And Just Creations says to artisans from around the world, “We will not leave you orphans,” we will see that you get a fair price for your beautiful work and your tasty coffee.

Now I leave us all with a personal challenge. Who are the orphans calling us? Who is calling us to be an advocate? Is it our planet? Is it those who have no work because of Covid 19? Is it those unjustly incarcerated? Is it our elders in nursing homes? Is it someone in our own family? There are so many bereft today… so many who are orphaned who have no one to say to them as Jesus did, “I will not leave you orphans.” Are we prepared to say that? Are will prepared to be an advocate? Are we prepared to live in Jesus and have Jesus live in us? What will that mean?

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him.
But you know him, because he remains with you,
and will be in you.
I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
In a little while the world will no longer see me,
but you will see me, because I live and you will live.
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father
and you are in me and I in you.
Whoever has my commandments and observes them
is the one who loves me.
And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
JN 14:15-21

Pope Francis Endorses a Day of Prayer on May 14 to overcome the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Ginny Schaeffer, Director of the Angela Merici Center for Spirituality

Let us be of one heart and will as we join believers of all religions imploring God to help humanity to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.  Pray as you can. Fast as you can. Perform an act of charity as you can.  If you do not pray then send forth thoughts of love, compassion, hope, healing and comfort.

A Prayer to Combat the Coronavirus Pandemic

Most Merciful and Triune God,
We come to You in our weakness.
We come to You in our fear.
We come to You with trust.
For You alone are our hope.

We place before You the disease present in our world.
We turn to You in our time of need.

Bring wisdom to doctors.
Give understanding to scientists.
Endow caregivers with compassion and generosity.
Bring healing to those who are ill.
Protect those who are most at risk.
Give comfort to those who have lost a loved one.
Welcome those who have died into Your Eternal Home.

Stabilize our communities.
Unite us in our compassion.
Remove all fear from our hearts.
Fill us with confidence in Your care.

(mention your particular concerns and prayers now)

Jesus, I trust in You.
Jesus, I trust in You.
Jesus, I trust in You.


COVID-19: A Prayer of Solidarity

For all who have contracted coronavirus,
We pray for care and healing.

For those who are particularly vulnerable,
We pray for safety and protection.

For all who experience fear or anxiety,
We pray for peace of mind and spirit.

For affected families who are facing difficult decisions between food on the table or public safety,
We pray for policies that recognize their plight.

For those who do not have adequate health insurance,
We pray that no family will face financial burdens alone.

For those who are afraid to access care due to immigration status,
We pray for recognition of the God-given dignity of all.

For our brothers and sisters around the world,
We pray for shared solidarity.

For public officials and decisionmakers,
We pray for wisdom and guidance.

Father, during this time may your Church be a sign of hope, comfort and love to all.
Grant peace.
Grant comfort.
Grant healing.
Be with us, Lord.


Surprised By Grief

By Ginny Schaeffer, Director of the Angela Merici Center for Spirituality

Spring has been in all its glory these last few weeks. As I have gone for my daily walks, I have relished how brilliantly white the Dogwood blooms have been and, when it has not been raining, how blue the skies are. Tulips and azaleas have shown off in their coats of many colors and jonquils have stood straight and proud with their yellow crowns. It has been a glorious spring in Kentucky; but, as the old cliché goes, “Looks can be deceiving.” Just beyond the extravaganza that has been this spring there is a reality more surreal then any I could imagine.

So much loss and grief. More people have died in the U. S. in the last three months then all the Americans killed in Vietnam over a twenty-year period. Those in the know tell us that the unemployment rate is likely to rival that of the Great Depression and we have the food lines to prove it. Families are separated from one another to protect us all – no birthday or anniversary parties, no grand weddings or receptions, no coming over to hold the new baby, not even gathering around a loved ones bed to say good-bye and certainly no wakes or funerals to share stories, laughter and tears.

In three short months our lives have been stripped down to the essentials – home, work and grocery. Our losses are many and range from the profound to the everyday. Our grief is both collective and individual.

Like me, you may have experienced a variety of feelings over these past seven to eight weeks of physical isolation, everything from anxiety to relief that we made it through another day without any COVID-19 symptoms. It was not until I woke up the other morning grumpy, irritable and itching for an argument that I realized that something else was going on.

I tried to shake what I was feeling by going on about my business, but the feelings persisted. I had no reason to feel so out-of-sorts, no recent disagreements or beef with anyone. Just the opposite, I had many reasons to be grateful. It was not until the next morning while I was sitting quietly that I realized that the source of my irritability was, of course, anger. As I followed that thread down into my heart, I was finally able to discern that what I was really experiencing was grief.

Yet, what reason did I have to grieve? I had not lost anyone. I am healthy and so is my family. I am still employed; still have work that is meaningful. I have a house in which to shelter, where I can be safe and warm. There’s food on my table and technology to keep me connected to those I love. It did not make sense.

That is the funny thing about feelings; they do not have to make sense. They just are.

So what losses am I grieving? There are the simple things I took for granted like sitting in

a darkened movie theatre, munching on popcorn and enjoying a good story or having a dinner out with friends, catching up and laughing until we cry or meandering through a bookstore until I find just the right book and, of course, handshakes and hugs.

I think the things I miss the most are my illusions. I believed I had more control over my life than I actually do. I thought that my way of life was safe and secure and certainly would never be threatened by a microscopic force of nature. I trusted in our federal government that, when push came to shove, our leaders would do the right things. I have even had to let go of some old and well-entrenched beliefs about God.

I also realize that my grief is communal. Like you, I have watched the nightly news and found tears burning behind my eyes as I witnessed bodies being loaded into refrigerated trucks, saw the numbers of the unemployed, the infected and the dead grow exponentially and listened to the heartache of health care providers.

I understand that the losses I have gotten in touch with these last few days are nothing, absolutely nothing compared to losing a loved one and, still they are losses and need to be grieved and let go.

We are a world, a country and a people in mourning. There will come a time when we will need to grieve collectively; but, for now, let’s tend to our individual grief. When the tears burn behind your eyes, let them flow. When the irritability and anger appear for no known reason just let yourself be with it and invite it to speak to you. Grief is meant to be shared. Tell someone you can trust, who will honor and respect what you are feeling, what you are experiencing. Journal. Walk. Care for yourself the way you would care for the person you love the most. Remember, too, that the same God who told Moses, “I see the suffering of my people” sees our suffering as well, is with us to love and bring us to wholeness and holds us as a mother holds her young child.

During the Last Pandemic, Ursulines Answered the Call

By Laurel Wilson, Archivist for the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville

“Schools in the city were closed. Even church services were banned. No public gatherings of any kind were allowed.” [1]

No, this is not a description of the current conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is what life was like in October 1918 during the influenza pandemic. It was during this crisis more than 100 years ago that 15 Ursuline Sisters of Louisville answered the call to serve as nurses to soldiers at Camp Zachary Taylor.

Camp Taylor was located on what was then the southern edge of Louisville, extending from east of the current Poplar Level Road over to Preston Highway. It was the largest military training camp in the country during World War I, with a capacity for 40,000 troops. The base hospital was staffed by more than 150 nurses from the Army and the American Red Cross. But by the end of September 2018, the camp’s hospital was overwhelmed with more flu patients than they could care for. Between 25-40 percent of the military was estimated to be infected. Twenty percent of the barracks at Camp Taylor were converted into emergency hospitals, but there were not enough nurses on staff to care for the patients overflowing into the barracks. Requests for more nurses were placed in local newspapers, but to no avail. [2]

Father Regis Barrett, a Benedictine priest serving as the camp’s chaplain, had the idea to ask religious sisters to help care for the soldiers. The base commanders weren’t sure that nuns would be a good fit and didn’t think Father Barrett could find any sisters regardless.[3] But their concerns proved to be unfounded. Father Barrett recruited 88 sisters from seven different religious congregations in the region to volunteer as nurses, despite the fact that most of them were trained as teachers and had no experience in nursing.

Fifteen of those sisters were from the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville: Sisters Marcelline Bloom, Ignatia Brinker, Louise Budden, Charles Convery, Cosma Coponi, Gertrude Fromhold, Charlotte Heitz, Johanna Hollenkamp, Generose Holtman, Gregory Klemenz, Boniface Lenz, Mary Louis Morgan, Camilla Sommer, Sienna Spaeth, and Joseph Winters.

For more than a month, from early October through early November, the sisters worked seven days a week for 12 hours a day, usually with just one or two sisters assigned to a barrack full of 125-150 men.[4] Their duties included assessing each patient’s temperature, pulse and respiration twice a day. Any soldier whose condition was deteriorating had to be moved to the base hospital, as the sisters were under strict orders not to let anyone die while in the barracks. The sisters also dispensed medication and generally provided for the men’s comfort, often writing letters to their loved ones.

Sister Boniface Lenz wrote an account of her experience at Camp Taylor that is preserved in our archives. Here’s how she described conditions in the barracks:

Patients were brought in from the drill grounds where they were dropping like flies, and laid down on the floor until we found either a bed or a few wooden boxes on which to put a quilt for a mattress. These men were the most pitiful looking human beings I really ever expect to see in my whole life. We had four ambulances assigned to each of these “hospitals,” which will give an idea how fast we had to get them out and how many, in order to be able to say that they didn’t die in the barracks. Though very many were dead before they arrived at the Base Hospital.

At least 22 of the 88 sisters at Camp Taylor became ill with the flu themselves, and one died: Sister Mary Jean Connor, who was a Sister of Loretto.[5] She received a military funeral. Among those who contracted the flu were Ursuline Sisters Marcelline Bloom and Cosma Coponi. Sister Cosma’s condition became so poor that she was sent home to die, but her mother apparently insisted that, “My Patrina is not going to die.” (Patrina was Sister Cosma’s baptismal name.) Indeed, she did not die, but went on to become Mother Superior and lived to be 90 years old.

All the sisters left the camp by November 11, as school resumed the next day. Sister Boniface recounted her experience returning to her convent:

The machine that was to take six of us home broke down before we left the campgrounds. Someone who had some extra room in their car took four of our group, and so it happened that as I was one of the first of the volunteer nurses there, so my companion nun and myself by waiting for the car to be repaired, were also the last of the nuns to leave. There were heartbreaking times, times when all of us felt that we would never come out of it all alive. But the same dear God who brought us there, took us there, took us home. A home we appreciated more than ever before, with companions who were our own.

[1] Gohmann, Sister Mary de Lourdes. Chosen Arrows. 1st ed., Pageant Press, 1957.

[2] Thompson, Mary Ann, and Sara Bolten. “‘They Buckled on the Armor of God’: Kentucky Catholic Sister “Nurses” in the 1918 Flu Pandemic.” American Catholic Studies, vol. 129, no. 4, Winter 2018, pp. 91-105.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

The Source of True Hope

By Ginny Schaeffer, Director of the Angela Merci Center for Spirituality

It is the second week of the great Easter feast and we still proclaim, “Christ is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!” We have heard the stories of the risen Christ showing himself to Mary Magdalene and the two travelers to Emmaus and how he made his way through locked doors to reassure and bless his fearful disciples.

It is still Easter and we celebrate the good news of the risen Christ; yet, there are moments or even days when it still feels like Good Friday. We are confronted daily by images of hospital hallways where the battle between life and death is being waged. We watch helplessly as bodies are loaded into refrigerated trucks because there is no room for them in the morgue or funeral homes. We listen in stunned silence as the number of newly infected, the hospitalized and those who have died grow exponentially. We are like the women at the foot of the cross, and John the disciple, standing helplessly by sometimes too stunned to think or wondering when or how this nightmare will end.

For many, the situation may feel hopeless: no vaccine, no proven treatments and an economy that is in freefall. Yes, if we keep our focus on possible outcomes our situation may appear to be and feel helpless.

At the Last Supper Jesus spoke of a peace that he offered that is much different than the peace the world offers. In the same vein, there is a hope that also surpasses human understanding. It is a hope that is very different from what the world offers and; as followers of the risen Christ, it is a hope in which we can become receptacles and instruments of in our daily lives, no matter the circumstances.

In her book, Mystical Hope, Cynthia Bourgeault, writes of a hope that is not rooted in the outcomes we might wish for or dream of and which may or may not happen. This hope is rooted in the Divine, in the Infinite LOVE that dwells in the ground of our being. It persists even when bad news arrives at our doorsteps.

This mystical hope is not of our own making but wells up within us as we live connected to the Source of our being.

Remember the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well how, in the middle of their conversation, Jesus, seemingly out of nowhere, proclaims, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I will give will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give will become a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4: 13-14) Our task is to stay in the flow of that living water. This “hope is not intended to be an extraordinary infusion [during difficult times], but an abiding state of being.”[i] It is the hope that allowed Julian of Norwich to proclaim:

All shall be well… For there is a

Force of love moving through the

universe that holds us fast and will

never let us go.

As it was for her, may it also be for us.

[i] Cynthia Bourgeault, Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God (New York: Cowley Publications, 2001), p. 16.

Earth Day at 50 and God’s Grace

By Lisa Steiner, Coordinator of Social Concerns for the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville and Ursuline Associate

April 22, 2020

Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. I do not remember the first Earth Day even though I was 10 years old at the time. However, our school celebrated Arbor Day each year, and so I do recall the spring that every student received an evergreen sapling to plant. I named my tree Sydney and I tended to him diligently. Many years later, the “For Sale sign in front of our family home stood next to Sydney, who had grown and flourished while celebrating our lives along with his.

This year also marks the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical letter entitled, “On Care for Our Common Home.” Many people around the globe have found inspiration from his urgent appeal to love all creation. I am moved by the way Pope Francis frames our existence. He writes, “Human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor, and with the earth itself.” (#66)

How ironic that in the year 2020, we remember Earth Day and Laudato Si during a time of social distancing due to fear of spreading Coronavirus. As we seek God’s will in all things, our current reality reminds us that we must surrender our individual interests, schedules, and habits for the sake of a larger calling: Life.

Many have written about whether this pandemic is part of God’s ultimate plan. For example, could God be calling us to see with new eyes how people are destroying planet Earth? Or how the least of our brothers and sisters are suffering the most? Or even how Lent is supposed to involve personal sacrifice to grow closer to God?

I have been contemplating these questions. As Mary Oliver says from her poem Thirst: “Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart.” I do not know about you, but I am praying differently these days. I am doing less talking and more listening. I am learning to be mindful of the present moment. And I am discovering God’s lovely and perfect handiwork all around.

Spring 2020 has been so beautiful — trees and flowers blooming, birds chirping, animals scurrying. Has spring always been this beautiful and I just have not been paying attention? Now I have more than enough time to take a walk or sit under a tree. I can ponder and breathe, read, and hum and doze. I can be of service by doing nothing, simply by staying put and letting the world be. What a revelation!

Years ago, a teacher reminded me that in a piece of music the rests are just as important as the notes. In order to enter the song (not just sing the song), I must embrace its totality and let it change me. I find I am experiencing nature this season in a similar way. I am fully participating, consciously aware. As God reveals the presence and rhythm of life here on Earth, I am using my God-given senses to be in complete relationship with it.

Losing myself in the beauty of nature calms my mind and brings peace to my heart. It helps me remember there is a plan for this universe. Whether I am anxious or not, the sun will rise. Whether I check an item off my “to do” list or not, bees will make honey and fawns will be born. I am but a small part of this grand ecosystem. The Resurrection could not have happened without the Incarnation, thanks be to God!

Blessings to you on Earth Day. We do not know what the future will reveal, but we are called to honor today. Our Creator has graced every living thing with purpose and dignity, inviting us to be in right relationship with the world. God is God. We are not to fear but rather to open our hearts to the promise of peace. I will close with a favorite poem, The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry:

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

Waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

To read more reflections about the first Earth Day, please visit: