February 14, 2024

A Special Visit to Huntingdon College

By Sr. Madeleine Marie, SsEW

Before COVID, Sr. Mary John Paul and Sr. Philomena had an opportunity to share a table with Curtis Martin, the Founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. Curtis encouraged the Sisters to visit the various campuses in our region, something we have done ever since. While we make monthly visits to the University of Alabama, Auburn, and the local campuses in Birmingham, we occasionally visit other schools as our schedule permits.

Back in September, Jimmy Schomburg, a young man from Sr. Clare Marie’s hometown of Decatur, AL, invited us to speak to the Loyola Society he started at his school, Huntingdon College in Montgomery, AL. Huntingdon is a small private school under the sponsorship of the Methodist Church, and there aren’t many Catholics on campus. Mother Louise Marie accepted this invitation and sent Sr. Clare Marie and I to visit.

Some of the Huntingdon students we met.

With the support of the campus minister, Rhett Butler, the room was full of both students and faculty members for our visit. When we realized there were only two Catholics in the room besides ourselves, we just decided to open the floor to questions. It was a new experience to present the beauty of our life and the Church to a group of people who have never encountered it, but I found it fruitful.

A few months before, a friend recommended Mike Cosper’s book, Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World. Cosper, an evangelical writer, makes the claim that the answer to “re-enchanting” our modern culture is by taking up certain practices, such as fasting and feasting according to the liturgical year, regular examination of conscience, praying the psalms daily, daily silence, annual retreats, and living according to a rule of life. As I read this book, I kept thinking, “This protestant pastor is describing my life as a Religious sister.” It turned out Cosper makes his annual retreat at the Trappist monastery in Gethsemani, KY, which influenced the development of his ideas.

Sr. Clare Marie explaining our habit to the students.

I’m pretty sure the Holy Spirit put that book into my life for that day. I remembered it as we were getting ready to leave, and I pulled it off the shelf of my office bookcase. One of the students asked how they, as non-Catholics, could live some of what we do. I pulled out Cosper’s book and went through how each of these spiritual disciplines–which I pointed out were all Catholic at heart and lead us to encounter Christ–corrects a specific defect of modern culture. It wasn’t what I planned to say, but the Holy Spirit really led us to speak to these students in way that they found both understandable and challenging.

Our experience with the students and faculty at Huntingdon was truly remarkable. We were edified by the zeal of the students, as well as well as the college’s support of its Catholic students’ faith.

Sr. Madeleine Marie and Sr. Clare Marie with some of the students who attended our event.

Recently, Huntingdon College posted an interview with Jimmy Schomburg about his work with the Loyola Society, the Catholic group on campus. We invite you to read about this young man and the good work he is doing to share the Good News of the Gospel to his fellow students which has been influenced by our community.

January 22, 2024

Pray for St. Joseph’s Aid in this Project!

Dear Family and Friends,

I am writing you to ask for your prayers and support as we begin to repair damage from a serious storm water issue affecting our pond. Many of you know that the drainage retention pond was required by ADEM Alabama Department of Environmental Management when we originally cleared the land and began the building. The damage to the pond has gotten considerably worse and more costly over the past several years. 

There has been a tremendous increase in volume and speed of storm water run-off onto our property due to land developments north of I 459 (Bainbridge housing development and the Mercedes dealership). This has resulted in periodic flooding, massive inflows of silt from other properties, and erosion to our retention pond wall on one side (where the road is closest to the pond).

Our dear friend Alain Gallet (Senior Vice President Terracon Geotechnical) who has worked with us since we began building in 1993, directed an impact study on the increased amount of storm water and the damage to the property. Alain is evaluating options and solutions to the underlying problem of the water entering the property. In the meantime, we are immediately beginning to repair and forestall any future erosion on the pond banks – a substantial challenge! 

We ask for your prayers as we seek the help of those who have the authority and ability to correct the underlying situation so our property can be preserved. Please join us in praying daily for this intention and asking for St. Joseph’s and the Holy Spirit’s guidance and assistance in this work.

You are in our daily prayers, with gratitude,

Mother Louise Marie

Sister Servants of the Eternal Word

December 28, 2023

Merry Christmas!

Christmas blessings to all our loved ones from the Sister Servants at Casa Maria! The Octave of Christmas is a joyous time of liturgy, visits, delicious treats, and the celebration and prayerful contemplation of the wonder of the Incarnation – God become man to save us from our sins and bring us with Him to Heaven!

May you find your peace and joy with the Holy Family during these most special days. You are in our joyful prayers!

December 13, 2023

Our Own Little Greccio

The Monastery of San di Greccio, where St. Francis was staying at the time of the first nativity scene

Have you ever heard the origins of the Nativity Scene? Have they been around for the entire 2,000 years of Christianity? Where exactly did it come from? The Nativity Scene as we know it today has actually been a custom since the thirteenth century. In fact, this year is the 800th anniversary of the very first one. It was St. Francis of Assisi who set up the first Creche in Greccio, Italy on Christmas Eve in 1223. He was passing through the area after going to Rome for the approval of his Third Rule. Christmas was only a couple of weeks away when he had the idea. He asked the pope’s blessing for his idea, and then sought the help of a nobleman to make a suitable space for the Creche. He then had a Baby Jesus made out of wax, and the nobleman’s ox and donkey were put into service, too.

The townsfolk were all excited about this and some volunteered for various roles. Everyone came out on the freezing cold Christmas Eve, with their torches making the area quite bright. They had Midnight Mass there, and St. Francis read the Gospel and preached a homily as he was a deacon. It is because of this event that we know for certain that he was a deacon. At the end of his homily, he went toward the Child Jesus in the manger to pick him up and kiss him. At that moment the Nobleman Giovanni Velita actually saw the Child Jesus wake up and look at St. Francis with a smile. Only the two of them saw Baby Jesus appear.

A further miracle from Greccio was that many people took straw from the manger home with them, and miracles occurred. There were both people and animals cured by the hay from that scene. In some places, people continue the tradition of taking a piece of straw home with them from a blessed manger scene. From the time of St. Francis’ first Nativity Scene, the custom has gone around the world to set up similar Nativity Scenes. Italy is especially known to be quite extravagant!

Now, some say Nativity Scenes were around several centuries before St. Francis, but a quick look at what they were talking about showed the scenes (as a mosaic in Santa Maria in Trastevere Rome) is really an Epiphany Scene. What’s the difference? For centuries, Epiphany was considered a higher feast than Christmas. The Epiphany Scene depicted Mary with the Child Jesus and the Wise Men with their gifts. The Wise Men represent all the other nations besides the people of the Promised Land.

Here at Casa Maria, our breezeway nativity scene is put up each year by December 8th. Somehow, it seems traditional that “Tree Day” is always a very cold day as we set up our little forest. In the cold, more critters keep making places for themselves in the hay! This year, you will see a special guest in our nativity scene, in memory of Greccio.

November 10, 2023

Dying and Rising Daily

While researching for an assignment on Church History the other day, I came across a startling essay on Ancient Monasticism. Scanning through the text to see whether it would be a helpful resource, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. While professing to be Catholic, the author openly declared that what he learned of monasticism went completely against his personal beliefs. Where he places a high value on self-improvement, he concluded that Ancient Monasticism was entirely focused on the opposite, on self-denial. He concluded the essay with expressing an unsatisfied curiosity about Monastic life – hopefully his curiosity continues to lead him to more enlightening sources!

In reality there is no contradiction at all between self-improvement and self-denial, which is the trimming away of things that get in the way of our well-being. Taking health for an example, it is obvious that the denial of unhealthy inclinations is actually a source of self-improvement. True, the selfish part of ourselves does not like to be trimmed back. Establishing better habits does need to involve a certain death to self – meaning, the part of myself that desires what is not ultimately good for me. It is in fact, extricating of oneself from the center of one’s life to put God there instead. Such a death to self prepares the soul for a new and beautiful flourishing of life, in the slow growth of holiness.

Mother Mary Francis, PCC, has a lovely reflection on this continual dying and rising throughout life. She comments on nature’s example of dying gloriously, in joyful self-sacrifice for the sake of the new life to come. 

Expertise is what we are after today. Nature has it in the sensitive area of death. She performs it like a Greek drama, with all the dignity of the inevitable freely chosen. Yet she dances it like an innocent child ballerina, spilling out the story with the effortless abandon of pure dedication. Again, she does it as purposefully as Francis of Assisi who sang because he had nothing left on earth and had found a Father in Heaven. She knows all about the return of spring and what makes that return possible. 

And so … each nun and novice was asked last week to go outdoors and take a lesson in dying and resurrection from nature. It was suggested (by which we mean: Go ahead and do it!) that each one take spiritual notes on dying from what God has to say in nature. A few main points were anticipated, such as: dying ungrudgingly, gloriously, gorgeously, gaily. Because this is the way to live. …some of us seem to have forgotten how one arrives at resurrection. How Christ did. That it was and it is through suffering and death. Odd, how we can miss such an obvious fact as that we have to die before we can rise from the dead. (From the 1973 Preface to A Right to be Merry, originally published in 1956)

Back row: Sister Madeleine Marie, Sister Ave Marie, Sister Rita Marie, Sister Mary Thomas, Sister Marie Francesca, Mother Louise Marie, Sister Rose Marie, Sister Mary Philomena, Sister Mary Jacinta, Sister Marianna, Sister Mary Catherine. Front Row: Sister Marie Therese, Sister Joseph Marie, Sister Benedicta Marie, Sister Clare Marie, Sister Mary Michael, Sister Mary Anthony, Sister Mary Faustina (Absent: Sister Mary John Paul)

As a final point of reflection, allow me to call attention to the beautiful hymn O God Beyond All Praising. Its glorious tune and reflection upon God’s gifts to mankind leave a deep impression. But the often-omitted middle verse, interwoven with themes of praise and thanks, reflects that all things of this earth must die to allow for our passage to Heaven. But again, these ‘earthly splendors’ can refer to the selfishness, pride, and ego with which we do daily battle. They must give way to the Love of God and neighbor that will not end. This, so that as Christ died and ascended to Heaven, mankind can also rise through death, to ‘final victory.’

 

A moment prior to the All Souls’ Day Mass in the cemetery