by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Last week, I wrote about the importance of the charism of religious Sisters in the life of the church and in particular in the life of the Archdiocese.
I reflected on the extraordinary contribution these heroic women of faith and love have had upon the history of the church in northeast Kansas.
Without the leadership and heroic service of religious Sisters, neither the parochial schools nor the Catholic health care system would have been possible. Yet, as important as these educational and healing ministries are, they are not the primary reason why religious Sisters are so important to the life of the church. Even more important than these crucial ministries is the witness of religious Sisters to the truth of the risen Jesus and his Gospel.
The free choice of consecrated religious women to embrace the vows of poverty, celibate chastity and obedience only makes sense if the dying and rising of Jesus are true. Religious Sisters espouse themselves to Jesus. They stake their whole life on the truth of their Spouse dying on Calvary to redeem our sins and vanquishing death on Easter morning.
When I came to the Archdiocese in 2004, Archbishop Keleher asked me to invite the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George to send some Sisters to serve on the staff of St. James Academy in Lenexa that was scheduled to open its doors in the fall of 2005. Fortunately, Mother Regina Pacis, their provincial superior, and her council responded favorably to my invitation.
The students of St. James Academy have been very fortunate to have three young religious Sisters serving on their faculty for the past four years. While it is true that others could have been hired to teach the math, Spanish or even theology classes taught by the Sisters, no one else could give to the students of St. James Academy the powerful daily witness of complete trust in Jesus and his Gospel that is the fruit of the radical faith of consecrated religious women.
Before I arrived in the Archdiocese, Msgr. Vincent Krische, with the approval and encouragement of Archbishop Keleher, was able to attract a new religious community, the Apostles of the Interior Life, to serve the students at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. The Apostles of the Interior Life are specially trained and skilled in spiritual direction. St. Lawrence Center, because of the Sisters’ presence, is able to offer students, in addition to the opportunity for intellectual formation in their Catholic faith, the chance to develop a rich, personal prayer life, as well as a mature love for the sacramental life of the church.
However, the most important gift the Apostles give to the students is not their competence as spiritual directors, but the joyful witness of their lives totally surrendered to the Lord Jesus.
In May 2008, a new community from France, the Little Sisters of the Lamb, came to our Archdiocese. Their convent is the former rectory for what was St. Benedict’s Church in Kansas City, Kan. Presently, we are blessed to have six Sisters — three of whom are natives of France, one from Austria, one from Luxembourg and one from Spain.
The particular charism of the Little Sisters of the Lamb is to live very simply with a rather strict observance of the vow of poverty. They are a Dominican community that is striving to reemphasize part of the original charism of Dominicans — mendicancy. They humbly beg for their sustenance. In the process of humbly asking others to help them in their need, they share the truth and beauty of the Gospel of Jesus.
In order to be able to live this radical life of poverty and simplicity, they rely upon a very well-developed life of communal prayer. The Little Sisters sing like angels and spend a significant portion of each day in prayer together before the Blessed Sacrament. They radiate a beautiful and authentic joy which they accept as a precious gift from Jesus to whom they have given their hearts.
The following paragraphs are excerpts from the Christmas letter that the Little Sisters of the Lamb sent to their growing group of friends in Kansas. It illustrates not just the fruitfulness of the ministry of the Little Sisters of the Lamb, but the way in which the Lord works so beautifully and powerfully through consecrated religious women:
“Christmas drawing near, our hearts are filled with thanksgiving for so much Goodness received since our arrival on American soil.
“‘Emmanuel — God with us,’ we experience it on a daily basis in getting settled in a new country, learning the language, fixing our ‘home,’ translating the liturgy, doing all the necessary paperwork in view of building our ‘little monastery of the lamb’ as well as living our mission of announcing the Gospel either at home or on the way…
“— in a school, after the testimony of a Little Sister, a ten-year-old child came up to her: ‘While you were speaking, God touched my heart!’
“— at the doctor’s, a woman is moved to tears at seeing a Little Sister in the waiting room: ‘I knew that I would meet you. I needed to be comforted and here you are. God is with me.’
“— in the street a man calls us: ‘Are you nuns? … Could you pray for me? I might go to jail this afternoon.’ And there, on the sidewalk, we pray together: ‘Our Father, who art in heaven . . .,’ grant our friend peace.
“— at a door where we had begged for some food, a little boy hands us over the bag full of groceries his mother had prepared: ‘I give it with all my heart!’
“‘God is with you,’ ‘God is among us.’ We pray to the Lord that each one of you might make this experience all along the coming new year, in joys as well as in trials, for this is truly what Christmas is.
“We entrust ourselves to your prayer that we may live from Christ’s light and may share it with each person we meet.”
Our Archdiocese has been blessed throughout its 150-plus-year history and continues to be blessed by the heroic witness of religious Sisters. Let us pray for all those who serve the church so beautifully and unselfishly as consecrated religious.
May they always experience joy in the daily gift of their life to Jesus and his church and may their numbers grow!