Gospel Women and Men, Disciples All

The following is a reflection Sister Janet M. Peterworth, Ursuline Sisters of Louisville President, gave at the missioning ceremony for the Ursuline Sisters and Associates on July 21, 2019. She refers to Lydia from the Acts of the Apostles, who is depicted in this image by Mary Lou Sleevi.

A pig and a chicken were walking down the road. As they passed a church, they notice that a potluck charity breakfast was under way. Caught up in the spirit, the pig suggested to the chicken that they each make a contribution.

“Great idea!” the chicken cried. “Let’s offer them ham and eggs!”

“Not so fast.” said the pig. “For you, that’s just a donation, but for me, it’s a total commitment.”

  You know Jesus did not become a human being just to make a donation to humanity,  He came to make a total commitment…such a total commitment…that He laid down His life for us.

And so here’s another story:

One day a young woman was walking home from work when she saw a little girl standing on the street corner, begging. The little girl’s clothes were paper thin and dirty, her hair matted and unclean, and her cheeks red from the cold.

The young woman dropped a few coins in the begging bowl, gave the girl a smile and walked on. As she walked, she started to feel guilty. How could she go home to her warm house with its full pantry and well supplied wardrobe while this little girl shivered on the street.

And then the young woman’s guilt turned to anger. She found herself angry with God. She let her feeling be known in a prayer of protest. “God, how can you let this sort of thing happen? Why don’t you do something to help this girl?”

And then, to her surprise God answered. And God  said, “I did do something. I created you.”

So there you have it. The Master disciple who was totally committed and us who were created to follow in His footsteps and are being called to total commitment as well. Gospel people…women and men disciples all. A Gospel community imbued with the spirit of a 16th century Gospel woman, a saint of the church who in the brief moment of her life gave the Church her gift of a way of life…not a ministry, but a way of life. She gave this to anyone who would want to embrace it. Women or men, rich or poor, in the Roman church or in another manifestation of church, vowed followers or covenanted followers…disciples all.

Look at the card you have been given. This is a stylized picture of Lydia and her community in Phillipi. Remember Lydia? She was the only person in Philippi who was called by name in Luke’s account of Paul’s ministry in Macedonia. The only person…a woman! Of course, Lydia lived long before Angela, but Angela, Lydia and other women like her were not at the margins of the Jesus’ movement. When Paul first arrived in Philippi he found no synagogue, but he found a group of women in a prayer group—the local church…and he joined them in prayer and spoke to them of Jesus. Lydia, a trader in purple cloth and a business woman, was their leader.

These women were not silent in the churches or ineffective in evangelism. They cared for local congregations and were vital and strategic players at the forefront of the expanding Christian mission. Scripture scholars tell us that a church was established in Philippi because of Lydia’s open heart and her open home (Paul and his friends stayed there), and it grew because of her patronage, her initiative, her courage, her ministry. Lydia may have been a patron of the Jewish community at Philippi. It is likely she became both a patron and a leader of the new Christian church there. It is likely that she led the new Christian ritual of breaking bread around her house table. That is what your picture represents: the early church in Philippi—disciples all. The Orthodox Churches have given her the title of “Equal to the Apostles,” which signifies her importance and level of holiness.

And now I want take the liberty to pose a few questions that we can ask ourselves as we look at this picture of Lydia and her church.

  • How am I doing at being church? 
  • How Am I doing at using my gifts and abilities as Lydia did?
  • How am I doing what I can, where I am?
  • How am I listening to God’s word in such a way (as Angela did) that I am willing to take the next step on my spiritual journey?
  • How am I doing at opening my heart and all that I have (as Lydia and Angela did) to be a disciple of Jesus.
  • How am I doing at being willing to walk in their footsteps as a totally committed disciple?

As you look at this picture throughout this year remember Lydia, the disciple…the one equal to the apostles…the one who served the people of her city as a leader, a God worshipper. And remember that we are being sent to be disciples ourselves…not just to make a donation, but to make a total commitment.


Blessing for our building project

The Motherhouse is undergoing a renovation to add a new, handicapped accessible front entrance. The construction workers, supervisors, Ursuline Sisters and staff gathered on June 21, the summer solstice, for a blessing by Sister Janet M. Peterworth, president of the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville.

O God, please bless this building project that we begin today. It will provide a home for Sacred Heart Schools and the Ursuline Sisters. Let this site provide growth, development, relaxation and enjoyment for the many who serve here and the many who will visit here. Please provide all of the wisdom and resources that we will need to renovate this facility safely and with great care. We thank you that you have provided adequate funding, competent professionals, and skilled laborers to move forward with this project.

As these workers enter this workplace, go with them. Let them speak your peace, your graciousness, and your mercy while on this jobsite. God, we thank you for the gifts you have blessed these workers with. Help them to use their gifts responsibly and safely as they reshape this building for a new use. Give them a fresh supply of strength to do their jobs. Help them to realize that every part of this project, every idea that they bring to it and every bit of energy—even the smallest bit—brings you glory. 

Lord, when these workers are confused guide them, when they are weary, energize them, when they are burned out, infuse them with new light. May the work that they do and the way they do it bring joy and a smile to all they may contact in their work here. Bless the families of these workers and allow the workers to go home to them each day free from accident or hurt.

And,  Lord, finally we thank you for everything you’ve done, everything you’re doing and everything you are going to do here on this Lexington Road Campus. Amen.

Cultivating the Next Generation of Leaders

This reflection is reprinted with permission from the editor of The Laurel, a publication of the Sacred Heart Schools.

2018 Large cropped Angela image

How appropriate it is that the Jean Frazier Leadership Institute at Sacred Heart Schools on the Ursuline Campus in Louisville will foster future leaders. Leadership is in our genes, so to speak. Our Sacred Heart Schools’ ancestors were leaders. There are the many Ursuline Sisters who founded, formed, led and encouraged education. Imagine the Sisters who carried significant and prominent responsibilities year in and year out. Imagine also the Sisters whose quiet work made well-rounded education happen over the decades.

Imagine the Ursuline Sisters who served and continue to serve God’s people in so many other ways, whether in education or in other kinds of service. The teachings of Jesus call us to answer the needs we see in the people around us. Some of our Ursuline Sisters founded important social services in Louisville, in West Virginia, in Peru, and many other places. These services empowered people on the margins of society or people whose needs were neglected. And in providing these various kinds of assistance, many co-workers and volunteers serving in these agencies and programs learned the art and the practical skills of leadership.

I learned leadership in, among other places, my Ursuline congregation. I’ve heard stories from my Ursuline Sisters about how they were assigned considerable responsibility when they were young, no matter their own sense of how ready they were for it! It was a school of learning as you go—learning from the other Sisters who gave tips and common sense advice on how to do what you thought you could not do. That is how leadership is learned, from stepping up, giving it a try and from the good people around us who share what they know about leadership.

Whether it is the upper case “L” Leadership or lower case “l” leadership, it is all about learning and listening from the guides that providence puts on the path with us. I am most interested in the one leader at the very beginning of our Ursuline family tree, Saint Angela Merici. We Ursuline Sisters refer to Saint Angela in a familiar way because we feel she’s a friend and companion, an example for us in the ways of Christian living. So, I will call her simply, Angela.

She must have been a leader, although Angela may not have described herself as a leader. In fact, she put a significant emphasis on humility. But the best leaders have humility as they grow to know themselves as flawed and still growing into wisdom and maturity.

From what I have learned, read and reflected upon in Angela’s writings and in books about her (especially Sister Martha Buser’s book, Also in Your Midst), it seems that the people around Angela looked to her for guidance and counsel. They knew she was wise, not only from her lifelong experiences, but also as they saw her and encountered her as a woman of profound prayer and reflection.

Angela learned in her family about leadership, about running a farm and managing a household. She learned about leadership and responsibility in her young adulthood from the Franciscans who sent her to Brescia to be a companion to a woman recently widowed. She visited the holy women of the locale, learning from them and taking in their deep trust in God. It is important to note that it wasn’t only the people in religious orders who served the poor or who led charitable programs. The lay people in Brescia, guided by their deep understanding of Jesus’ teachings, began and took responsibility for the works of charity so needed after the destruction of civic structures and services caused by the wars and by poor leadership in church and society at the time. Angela was a leader among leaders. It was a shared effort, as we would say today, a team effort.

I hope that you consider and reflect on your own leadership, your contributions to the good of the world or to the good of your family and your community. Over the years, the Sacred Heart Schools have taught the various skills of leadership and taking on responsibility. Students have learned how to solve problems together, how to match their skills and interests with what is most needed at the time. Teachers and staff have grown in their roles and in their accomplishments. Leadership is everywhere you look if you know how to look. Leadership is in our history and with the work of the Jean Frazier Leadership Institute, it is in our future.

Sister Agnes Coveney, OSU
Vice President
Ursuline Sisters of Louisville
Cabinet Member 
Jean Frazier Leadership Institute

On speaking to each other with love


Sr. Janet M. Peterworth, OSU

Reflection on the Third Sunday of Easter:

When I was a teenager and my mother and I would get into tussles over something, she would usually say, “It is not what you said, young lady, it is how you said it.”  I thought about that line as I reflected on today’s readings because they are all about speaking, aren’t they?

Peter and the others spoke and got the people upset;…… angels spoke –they even cried out; and the elders fell down. ……Jesus spoke, “Have you caught anything?” and they were afraid to ask “Who are you?”

What is it about speaking? Is it the words we use? Is it the tone of voice we use? Is it the message words and tone carry? “Carl Sandburg reminds us to look out how we use words for they can walk off and they can’t be called back.

In today’s first reading after a debate with the Sanhedrin, Peter and the apostles basically say they won’t be quiet. They must speak about Jesus. They are compelled to speak. They are honored to speak.

Then in John’s vision, he heard angels crying out and before it was over every living creature in the heavens, on earth, under the earth and in the sea was crying out. What a mighty chorus.

But it is Jesus’ words in JN 21: 1-19 that gentle us today. This breakfast on the beach is one of the most endearing scenes that appear in John’s Gospel. And we almost did not get to hear about this breakfast on the beach.  Some scripture scholars think it was written later than the Gospel that seems to end with Chapter 20. Did John remember something later and add it? Did someone else add it because it has so much meaning? We will probably never know. But the story is important as it reveals a gentle way to speak.

Jesus was so gentle when he spoke to those men who had left Him. Translations vary on how he calls to them. Some say He said “boys”, some say “lads”, and some say “children.”  But whatever the word, Jesus is being gentle with them. They have gone back to what they know… fishing. Had they turned their backs on discipleship? Did they think it was all over? Or were they feeling guilty?  But the words Jesus spoke were so kind. “Come, have some breakfast.” He could have been harsh. After all, He had been known to scold them, “Could you not watch one hour?” “What were you discussing as you walked along?” “How slow you are to believe.” “I have been with you all this time and you do not know me?” But His words were gentle this time.

And later, Jesus took Peter aside and quietly asked (whispered?) to Peter three times “Peter, do you love me?” Asking the question three times was not lost on Peter. He knew why Jesus asked three times and he knew that he was being given a second chance at discipleship. It was such a gentle reminder.

And so it is all about speaking isn’t it? It is all about discerning when and how to speak God’s word. Do we keep speaking as Peter and the disciples did even after they were told to be silent? Do we keep speaking when others do not want to hear our message or when our words contradict “man-made” arguments? Do we continue to speak on the steps of City Hall or in front of offices named ICE? Do we continue to speak our message through writing letters or sending emails to the congress? Or do we speak even when we know we will be cuffed and taken before a judge?

Do we cry out as the angels did in John’s vision so that all the earth will join us? Do we stand on the street corners with over-sized banners that cry out welcome to immigrants and refugees?  Or do we cry out to passers-by with posters and prayer, “Trafficking is slavery—stop it?”  Or do we go to Frankfort and cry out telling legislators that mountain-top removal is immoral and untenable, and that teachers need to be valued. Are we crying out when we walk through down town Louisville carrying a cross?

Or do we take our cue from Jesus and speak softly and gently and non-judgmentally when we tell a despondent mother that we can help her with rent or her lights and heat? Do we speak gently to young people as they share in a candle-light circle what is was like for them to encounter a person choosing to sleep on the street or a hungry person who stands in line for a hot meal? Do we use gentle non-judgmental words when we have birthday dinners for women at Diersen Center or visit men at LaGrange prison? And what about the gentle prayers uttered by those who gather to remind us that murder and violence are not the answer?

It is all about speaking isn’t it? All about speaking up, crying out, whispering… and all about knowing when to do each so that God’s word is made known.













Participation in a “Reverse Caravan” to Honduras

by Kathleen R. Neely, OSU

After receiving the invitation to the Interfaith Root Causes Pilgrimage to Honduras, March 18–25, 2019, I felt called to participate. The Leadership of my community—the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville, fortunately affirmed my request. I became one of 75 delegates to walk for a week in solidarity with our sisters and brothers of this beautiful, but challenged, Central American country.

The pilgrimage was organized by Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity of Oakland, California, and included representatives from: Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR); Sisters of Mercy of the U.S. and South America; SHARE El Salvador of Berkeley, California; Central American Resource Center (CARECEN); Jesuit Conference of Canada and the U.S., and others.

At customs, we were told to state the reason for our visit: “We are faith leaders invited by Father Ismael “Melo” Moreno, S.J. to learn about the root causes of migration.”

The coordinator of our delegation, Rev. Deborah Lee, executive director of Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, gave us questions to answer upon our return home: “How am I changed? What have I learned? How will this experience live on through me? What have I learned about the way I live that will have to change? What did we see that I did not know? How was my world turned upside down or broken open?” Before I began to respond to these questions, my sister, Martha, simply asked me, “How was your trip to Honduras?” As I answered my sister, Rev. Lee’s questions were also answered, I believe.

We were given much information to share, most of which can be found on the organizers’ websites. Sister Doris Regan, OP, wrote an excellent article about the experience in Global Sisters Report titled “Faith Leaders trek to Honduras.”

The following words are a humble attempt to share something of this experience with the readers of our blog.

We were divided into three groups. My group, San Pedro Sula, visited a settlement of 250 families. This community offered us what little seating they had as their children played around us, laughing and running—truly children in their own world.

This group of families is very well organized. The women are their leaders. They take the risk of speaking out to claim what is just for their families. One mother brought her son to us, who has hemophilia. She has to be careful that he does not cut himself because she has no way to buy medicine.

This community built their homes eight years ago above a garbage heap on land that had been abandoned for 40 years. They cleaned up the space and settled upon it because they had no other place to go. A man, while on the campaign trail for mayor, promised that they would have titles to this land. He became mayor but has given no titles. He presently favors the company who owns the high-rise building beside them; the company wants the land in order to expand their business. The community asked us if we could write a letter to the mayor supporting their request for titles. We wrote, signed and sent the letter.

These people work eleven hours a day for very little pay at jobs in agriculture, working in the field on other people’s land; as security guards for offices; in micro businesses; as domestic workers, or seamstresses in the “maquilas,” or sweat shops.

The words of one of the women stays with me: “No one here wants to leave. If we leave, we die.” Ten people have already been killed fighting for this land. “We don’t want to go on a caravan. Now we live with tension.” A man seated, unable to stand, added, “We have always lived according to the law, but now we answer only to the law of God, our God of life who wants us to live.”  Later in the day we heard the words of the national anthem of Honduras: “Hondurans will die, but we will die with honor.” Those words spoke so loudly to me.

We also visited a center for families called “Paso a Paso,” which translated means step by step.  We were met with the smiling faces of the women and children, and a beautiful tree in the center of their patio—their “Arbol de la Vida,” or tree of life—that they planted from a small branch many years ago. Hanging from its limbs were five colorful banners expressing the five pillars of their work: education, non-violence, caring for self and others, respecting nature and feminism. These five goals are based on the objectives of Pablo Ferrer, a Brazilian educator.

With these goals in mind, the families work toward healing trauma, overcoming anxiety and growing spiritually to thrive in their lives. They proudly showed us the lovely crafts made in their shop, which make beautiful gifts to share. They make much of their art, bags and coin purses from recyclable materials. The mothers even repair clothes in their workshop. All learn to cook and are closely monitored. A phrase I heard that impressed me greatly is that they teach resilience, so necessary in all of our lives! The directress said very casually, “The children go to school each day, then come here to be safe.”

There is another experience that I would like to share. On the bus, Padre Melo asked if we wouldn’t mind stopping to be with a group outside the Taiwan Embassy in Tegucigalpa. A young man from Honduras was asking for asylum there. His family and friends were gathered outside the embassy. We spoke individually to persons in the group simply to show our solidarity and support, and to promise our prayers. I spoke with a woman who thanked us wholeheartedly for sharing five minutes of our time! Presently, I do not know the outcome of his situation.

Recently, as I was participating in the Stations of the Cross in the parish where I live and work, I was reminded of walking with the people as we prayed the Stations of the Cross in the streets of Honduras. Up to seven or eight individuals took turns carrying the large wooden cross through the streets. The idea was easily understood that we all must help each other with the burdens and crosses that we are asked to carry. Each of us needs to ask ourselves, “In what ways are WE responsible for what is happening in our own country and in the countries of our sisters and brothers?” For we are surely ALL ONE GLOBAL FAMILY on this very small planet called Earth.

What ARE the root causes of the migrant caravans? The answer is a combination of things: economic factors; organized crime; the drug trade; misuse of economic aid from the USA to the Honduran military each year which is used to repress the people; and large companies, such as United Fruit and Dole, which gain much profit and pay little to their employees.

There is so much more I could say; I have a book of notes to share. For now, I simply wish to quote Pope Frances: “Let’s build bridges and not walls.”


A Reflection on Cosmic Awareness

Space Galaxy Worship Background Image (1).jpg

By Sister Jean Anne Zappa, OSU

I saw a short video recently about a blind man sitting on the sidewalk with a tin cup and a sign that said, “I am blind, help me.” Needless to say, many people walked right on by him; a few put money in the cup. Then a woman stopped, took out a pen and wrote on the man’ sign. Shortly after she walked on. After that, many people walked up and put money in the man’s cup. The camera zoomed in on the sign– it now reads, “I am blind, help me see this beautiful day.”

This little video tells us about the importance of how we reframe an idea or message. I thought of this as we try to grapple with our chapter mandate: “promote cosmic awareness.” Just the idea or phase alone could overwhelm us and as we explore it more, we could almost shy away from it. Discovery, research, science and technology have expanded the concept for us. Knowing that the universe has been around for over 13 billion years is enough to blow my mind.

However, if we reframe cosmic awareness and begin with some basics of what we already know, I believe it can become an exciting concept to grapple with together, exploring the roots of a mystery, not something we scratch our heads about and don’t know where to begin but an unfolding of infinite, exciting knowledge and deeper understanding.

What helps me to get my arms around the concept is to begin to reflect on what I already know.

Beginning with the Genesis message, creation becomes the first act of salvation, the effortless activity of the one God, absolute transcendent God. The whole visible world came into being by a loving act of God. The productive power of the earth is not self -given, but given by God; for the procreative ability of humans comes from God. All life comes from God, for harmony of the cosmos is because of God’s divine love. Because of this, a special relationship is set up, a special blessing, to be made holy. This intimate relationship on God’s part never ceases. Harmony in creation is God’s blessing and goodness. Cosmos is about outer space and it is also about inner space. In inner space of oneness with our God and each other and the world, and self-—a phrase used to describe spirituality. We talk a lot about “my space, my time”—cosmic awareness is about our space and our time- a oneness we are called to embrace.

Harmony was expressed in the covenant relationship between God and God’s people; communally and individually. Many stories in the Old Testament talk about how the harmony was destroyed by humans and restored by God. The prophets as messengers had the task to help lead the people back to God who restores the harmony.

There are so many Psalms too that reflect a meaning of “cosmos”: When I
re-read the praise Psalms–65, 66, 67,68  they speak differently to me now. Ps. 136, the summary of Genesis and Exodus, most likely written before those two books and
Ps. 138,148, 149, 150 are all descriptions of the cosmos and praise for creation.

Ps. 150 has special meaning to me: When I was a postulant we had holy hour every Thursday, which was the time I mostly cried because I was homesick. But after private time of adoration, I was always thrilled when we sang Ps. 150 because it was not only upbeat, but because it moves us beyond the individual adoration to encompass all of God’s creation. “Praise God in the sanctuary, praise God in the mighty firmament for God’s mighty deeds; praise God according to God’s surpassing greatness. Praise God with trumpet sounds, with lute and harp, with tambourine and dancing, with strings, and loud clashing cymbals. Let everything that breathes praise the Lord.”

Saint Paul also invites me to reflect on cosmic awareness: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for in Him, all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible-all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things and in him all things hold together.”
–Col 1: 15-20

In the last counsel of Saint Angela Merici, she implores us to “live in harmony and union, long for it and embrace it; have no discord or ill will among you.”

And then we have something in our Ursuline Constitutions called the Ursuline Call that reflects cosmic awareness: Introduction: “All creation receives the call to holiness to “be glory to the only God.” The human person is privileged to respond voluntarily and to help all of creation answer the call. True Christian love is the ideal the Ursuline sisters strive for among themselves and with others in their response to the call to holiness. With all Christians they try to achieve in diverse ways perfect harmony in creation and among all persons in Christ.” (Ursuline Call)

As I share this reflection, perhaps the emphasis needs to be more on awareness than on “cosmic,” because we are so intimately bound with each other, God and others in all of creation. So, you see cosmic awareness is not new to us–we are just reframing it, so we can be aware of and see beautiful days and share with others,  just like what the blind man’s sign said.




A letter to Angela Merici

By Sister Martha Buser OSU

st ursula gardenDear Mother, sister and friend, Angela Merici,

Your feast day was January 27 and I failed to write then. But here I am now, a tardy daughter, to thank you and to wish you a happy feast day

First, I am grateful to you for giving us a way of life. Slowly we realize you never founded an order of nuns nor wanted us to be teachers in a classroom. We did this latter for a long time very well. But actually, what you left us was much more; you taught us how to love in the world as followers, disciples of Jesus Christ.

Your time of the high Renaissance, was so like ours: scandals in the Church, terrible political strife, broken families, people fleeing terror from tyrants, finding no refuge.

You told us to be present where we were needed as you did. Would you go to the border where so many migrants and refugees are suffering? I can just see you there.

And probably at soup kitchens or under the bridges with the homeless. You and your Lover would be there as well.

And you probably weep with sexual abuse victims, especially those abused by priests. The Church in your days was in shambles, worse than now.

Through it all you remained faithful to your conviction that God was your Lover, the Lover of us all. So, you were hopeful, simple, composed, peaceful, happy. You knew who you were and who God is.

I’m certain you were present to those who mourned the loss of loved ones. You knew their grief first-hand since you lost your parents and your beloved sister. Later, she seemed to be part of your religious experience that planted the first seeds of your later gifts to the Church, a profound love for others.

As a result, you loved your daughters and loved them, each one engraved on your heart. True love acts that way, as you told us.

So, it’s clear that the legacy you left your daughters was about love and service. Louisville Ursulines, Sisters and Associates—your daughters, express your gift to all ages as a contemplative love for others and a resulting openness to serve the needs of others.

Dear sister and mother, happy feast day a little late. Help us to remember that you are always in our midst, joining us in prayer.

With love,
Your tardy daughter,