October 18, 2021

Finding Frassati…or How He Found Us!

By Mother Louise Marie, SsEW

We have so many books, devotionals, and pictures of Blessed Pier Giorgio in our bookstore that people often ask us, “What’s the connection between the Sister Servants and Pier Giorgio Frassati?” God’s Providence planted the seeds for our community’s love of Bl. Pier Giorgio through a friendship between two families that began many years ago.

Immediately following the end of World War II, my father, Peter Flanigan (pictured left), was stationed in England for several years and traveled throughout Europe, becoming close friends with Wanda Gawronska, Bl. Pier Giorgio’s niece. Through Wanda, he got to know the other family members. My father’s friendships were life-long, and during my childhood and young adulthood, our families continued their friendship across the ocean, sharing summers and other vacations together. At the time I knew nothing about Blessed Pier Giorgio and was too busy sight-seeing and riding horses to appreciate the connection and opportunity to get to know about this saint!

Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati’s sister, Luciana (pictured above), carried the work of making known her brother’s life and heroic virtue. She eventually authored A Man of the Beatitudes and My Brother Pier Giorgio: His Last Days. She also edited a collection of her brother’s Letters to His Friends and Family.

Fast-forward many years to my entrance into the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word in Birmingham, Alabama! My first exposure to Blessed Pier Giorgio was the televised World Youth Day in Denver, 1993. The EWTN coverage of Pope St. John Paul II’s engagement of the youth was deeply moving. Wanda Gawronska (pictured below), who to this day carries on her mother’s work with Bl. Pier Giorgio’s cause, was invited to prepare an exhibit at World Youth Day. Hearing about it piqued my interest in Pier Giorgio!

Wanda has continued the work of her mother, Luciana, in promoting the cause and knowledge of her uncle, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, throughout the world.

My brother, Tim, has also become a great fan of Pier Giorgio.  Tim loves having fun and spending time in the mountains, so he really appreciates Pier Giorgio’s attractiveness to youth and to all as both a mountain climber and a practical jokester! 

Mother Louise Marie with her brothers, Bob (left) and Tim (center), with a cut out of Pier Giorgio at the FOCUS SLS 2018 Conference.

Finally, during our pilgrimage to Rome in 2007 with Father John Horgan, we had a surprise: Pier Giorgio showed up unexpectedly!  My dad was also on the pilgrimage, and Wanda joined us for dinner one evening. In the course of the conversation we found that Father Horgan is a sort of expert on Bl. Pier Giorgio.  Wanda shared details with us about Pier Giorgio and the process of his canonization.  She invited us to meet her mother, Luciana, who was 104 years old at the time.  An unforgettable meeting!

Luciana showing photographs to Fr. John Horgan during this unforgettable visit.
Luciana sharing stories and chocolates with the Sister Servants.

The stage was now set for the threads of Providence to come full circle. During a retreat at Casa Maria preached by Fr. Jacques Phillippe, we met Christine Wohar, the founder and director of FrassatiUSA.  She has been a friend and collaborator of Wanda for many years and shared with me the story of how Pier Giorgio “called” her from work as a lawyer to her present vocation of making him known to the youth in the United States and beyond.  Learning that Christine needed help with shipping materials internationally, we offered to take on all the mailing for FrassatiUSA through our Casa Maria Bookstore!

In 2009, Christine Wohar and Wanda Gawronska visited Casa Maria together when they recorded the EWTN series on Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, Sanctity within Reach.

It seems that Divine Providence set us up long ago for this work and ongoing friendship with Pier Giorgio’s earthly family and spiritual family!  If you want to get to know Pier Giorgio better, I recommend you watch Pier Giorgio Frassati: Get to Know Him! (below) and read his sister’s books. You may also be interested in Christine Wohar’s new book, Finding Frassati and Following His Path to Holiness.  You will get to know him and pray with him on your own spiritual journey.  And as you “find” Pier Giorgio, you may find that he has first “found” you and has plans for you, too!

September 29, 2021

The Sister Servants in St. Louis

The Sister Servants enjoying the Ted Drewes experience.

By Sr. Madeleine Marie

“It is self-evident that St. Louis affected me more deeply than any other environment has ever done. I feel that there is something in having passed one’s childhood beside the big river, which is incommunicable to those people who have not. I consider myself fortunate to have been born here, rather than in Boston, or New York, or London.”T. S. Eliot

I am a St. Louisan, born and raised in the Gateway to the West. Like T.S. Eliot and countless other St. Louisans past and present, I have a great love for my hometown. I praise it so much that my Sisters at Casa Maria jokingly refer to St. Louis as the Holy Land.

A beautiful St. Louis sunrise from our hotel’s window.

I recently had the opportunity to go back to my roots for my first extended visit since my father died in 2008. Mother Louise Marie and Sr. Ave Maria were attending the annual CMSWR (Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious) National Assembly, and Sr. Marie Therese and I helped with the driving. Never one to miss an opportunity to show off my beloved city, I planned a whirlwind experience to introduce the Sisters to some of the people and places that had the greatest impact on me.

We arrived in St. Louis the afternoon of September 14. After zooming into our current Augustine Institute course on Moral and Spiritual Theology, we headed out to St. Louis Abbey where we joined the monks for Mass and Vespers for the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. We had a brief visit with Fr. Augustine Wetta, a good friend of our community who gives retreats at Casa Maria, before heading out to meet my former youth minister, Steve Allgeyer, for dinner.

Fr. Augustine being Fr. Augustine!

Steve is currently the Vice President of Ministry Advancement for Life Teen. During my time at Incarnate Word Life Teen in Chesterfield and even after my high school graduation, he was very influential in planting seeds and encouraging me to embrace my vocation as a religious sister. Steve and his family have always been an inspiration to me, and I wanted to introduce him to the Sisters. This was the first time I had seen him since 2008, and it reawakened my gratitude for the gift that he has been in my life.

Wednesday morning, the four of us went to Mass and took time to pray at the New Cathedral. Mother went back to the hotel to prepare for her board meeting, while the rest of us headed out to the Zoo. The cold front that had brought storms the night before gave way to a beautiful morning in the low 70s with no clouds. We only had two hours and only got to see about half of the animals, but we had a great time enjoying God’s creation and each other’s company.

From the zoo, we headed out to the Shrine of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne in St. Charles. It’s always been one of my favorite places to visit. My patroness, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, was a close friend of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne and sent her to St. Charles in 1818 to establish schools in the new frontier. Even though the historical parts of the convent were being renovated, Sandy Alheim, the Shrine’s director, gave us and Fr. Anthony Gerber a tour that made St. Rose Philippine’s life come alive.

One of the Sisters praying at the tomb of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne in St. Charles.

We picked up Mother Louise Marie and then went out to meet Fr. Fadi Auro, the director of the pre-Theologate at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. Fr. Auro, who as a layman accompanied us on our pilgrimage to Rome in 2007, invited us to the seminary to join the pre-theologians for a Holy Hour, Vespers, and dinner. The young men come from all over the Midwest, and we enjoyed getting to meet them and hearing their stories of how God has been leading them to discern a priestly vocation. On our way back to the hotel, we made a detour to Ted Drewes where we got “concretes” (frozen custard) and mingled with the different people who were there.

Visiting with Fr. Mason, Rector of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and Fr. Auro.

Thursday was a busy day for Mother at the CMSWR, and also for Sr. Ave Maria, Sr. Marie Therese, and me since we left early in the morning to join Fr. Gerber and the students of Sacred Heart in Florissant for Mass and visits to their classes. I visited the younger students who asked really profound questions. Unlike the usual questions we get, one third grader asked me, “What is the ultimate sacrifice?” The other two sisters were equally impressed by the students and their zeal at Sacred Heart.

We then left Sacred Heart and headed to St. Dominic High School, my alma mater. It’s hard to explain to an outsider, but in St. Louis, our high schools are very much a part of who we are long after we’ve graduated. Even though I graduated more than 20 years ago, I am proud to say that I am “Forever a Crusader.” St. Dominic has experienced a resurgence of its Catholic identity over the past several years. By becoming dynamically Catholic, about 1/5 of the Archdiocesan seminarians are now St. Dominic alumni and several former students have entered religious life. I reached out to Fr. Patrick Russell, the new Vice President of Mission and Identity, and Andrew Struttmann, the campus minister, and they put together an event for girls interested in hearing our lives as religious.

Speaking to the girls about our vocations at St. Dominic.

We joined the students for their daily Empower Hour Mass, and then we ate with the girls, shared our stories, and answered questions about our experiences in religious life. 57 girls showed up and were very engaged in listening to us. One student remarked, “I think it’s really amazing because it shows how the St. Dominic legacy of faith is being carried on. It shows just how strong our faith life here can be. It’s just really inspiring for the rest of us that people like Sister have been here before and have come from where we are now. You always think of Sisters as amazing women of God, but it’s easy to forget that they were high schoolers once, too.”

Posing with the Senior Peer Ministers in front of the school’s crest.

I invited Sr. M. Karolyn Nunes, FSGM, the vocation director for her community and one of my household sisters from college, to join us. Sr. M. Karolyn met the Sister Servants shortly after being hired as the DRE in Paris, TN, after after we graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville. Mother Mary Gabriel had taught her pastor, Msgr. Victor Ciaramitaro, and he recommended that she come to Casa Maria for a retreat. She called me when she came back and told me that I needed to go visit the Sister Servants. At the time, I was more attracted to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George. Providentially, I visited Casa Maria, and I knew that it was where I was called to be (Sr. M. Karolyn ended up entering the Sisters in Alton). This was the first time since we entered our respective communities that we got to spend more than 20 minutes together. We were able to tell our intertwined vocation stories together, and then afterwards, the four of us went to my favorite frozen custard stand, Silky’s, where we caught up and reminisced about our favorite memories together.

I also had the opportunity to spend time with other friends and meet some of their children for the first time. The highlight of the trip, though, was being able to see a lot of my St. Louis family. Since my mom moved to Florida, I haven’t seen any of my dad’s side of the family in three years, including my last remaining grandma. I surprised her with a visit during her assisted living’s weekly happy hour. We had a wonderful time listening to the music together, and then we went out to eat the next day with all of my dad’s siblings and a cousin’s children. I also got the chance to teach two of my cousins’ religion classes at Holy Child school in Arnold.

While we were in St. Louis, an opportunity arose to go to a Cardinals’ game with donated tickets, and we jumped on it! It was my first ballgame at Busch Stadium since 2006, and I was delighted that the Cardinals were just emerging from an extended slump. Our group included Fr. John Burns who spoke at the CMSWR meeting and 14 sisters from various communities. As the teams warmed up, Fredbird (pictured below) approached us, tipped his hat, and posed for a picture with us. It was a great game with great companions!

On our way home to Birmingham, we stopped at both Ste. Genevieve and the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in Perryville. Ste. Genevieve, a Mississippi River town founded in 1735, is the oldest permanent settlement in Missouri. We met the priests and seminarian assigned to the parish church, and Fr. Mitchell Baer took us into the Church’s basement where we saw the foundation of the first stone church building. In Perryville, we prayed at the beautiful St. Mary of the Barrens Church, one of the oldest consecrated churches west of the Mississippi River.

Visiting Ste. Genevieve Church

While we couldn’t see everything and everybody, I was happy to share part of my beloved city with my Sisters. As Mother Louise Marie kept saying, “Sr. Madeleine Marie, St. Louis is everything you said it was!”

If you want to hear more about Sr. Madeleine Marie’s journey to the Sister Servants, please check out this interview she did earlier this year with Dr. David Anders on our diocesan podcast!

September 12, 2021

Called by God: Sr. Marie Therese

In this video, Sister Marie Therese shares her story of how she came to hear God’s call to enter the Sister Servants. We hope you enjoy learning more about Sister!

Most of our Sisters learned about the community through the recommendation of a priest, a close friend, or a family member. If you know of a young woman who may be well-suited to our community, please feel free to invite her to join us for one of these upcoming vocations events to learn more about our life as Sister Servants.

On Saturday, October 2, we will have a retreat day for girls in the 6th-12th grades. The day will include times for prayer and fun with the Sister Servants and each other. This day will plant seeds in the hearts of these girls to discover their own personal vocations to holiness and introduce them to religious life and sisters.

Our Come and See retreat runs from November 10-14 and overlaps our weekend retreat with Fr. John Burns. This retreat includes times of prayer, service, conversation, and fun with the Sisters, giving young women between the ages of 18-30 a glimpse into our lives as Sister Servants.

For more information on either of these retreats, please contact Sr. Mary Faustina in our vocations office at (205) 317-8787 or through our website.

August 28, 2021

Vita Consecrata Institute 2021

2021 Vita Consecrata Institute at Christendom College

By Sr. Marie Isabel

Seeking prayer, formation, fraternity, and a little fun, Sr. Mary Anthony, Sr. Benedicta Maria, Sr. Madeline, and I traveled to Virginia for two weeks to attend the Institute on Religious Life’s Vita Consecrata Institute (VCI) at Christendom College.

What is VCI? VCI is a program of graduate level studies centered on the theology of consecrated life as it is lived in the mission and life of the Church. Religious from all over the country come to participate and develop a greater insight into the consecrated life as “a gift of the Father to His Church through the Holy Spirit” (VC, no.1).

The program’s director, Fr. Thomas Nelson, O.Praem., laid out the means used to achieve the spiritual goals of VCI at the opening Mass:

Common religious observance. All of the religious participating prayed the Divine Office, a Eucharistic Holy Hour, the Rosary, and the source and summit, the Mass, daily in common. As the saying goes “a family that prays together, stays together.” In all of our prayer, with voices lifted in unison and in praise of Our Heavenly Father, we are more deeply connected to one another. We intercede for one another and for the whole world. As religious, we are professional “pray-ers.” What a joy to come together in our diversity of backgrounds and communities and live that vocation together!

Classes, lectures, study, and reading. Our main reason for attending VCI was for the formation provided by the classes we took, one on Vatican II and the religious life, the other on the Scriptural foundations of religious life. Father Nelson highlighted that to enlighten the mind with Divine Truth enables us to better choose with the will. With contemplative listening to our lectures and praying with Sacred scripture, we have the opportunity to integrate the interior life with our studies. We grow in love as well as knowledge. I certainly found this to be true. Learning the history, progression, and effects of Vatican II, especially on religious life, increased my awareness and awe of the Holy Spirit’s ever-present guiding of the Church. Fr. Gregory Dick, O.Praem.’s class on the Scriptural foundations of religious life was essentially a class-long lectio divina. My heart was inflamed with love for Our Lord, His Church, and, most gratefully, the vocation He has called me to.

Fraternal life together. How beautiful and varied the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and call! It brings to mind the words of St. Paul: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one” (1 Cor 12:4-6). Together, we had music, basketball games, ice cream (a personal favorite), kayaking, a trip to D.C., and a talent show to top it all off.

It was so much fun meeting and living with the other religious attending VCI. I learned a lot from the experiences and stories of the other communities and was inspired by the vocation stories, trials, and triumphs shared. It was a vivid presentation of the Body of Christ in its richness. I am so happy to be a Sister Servant but am also so glad that other religious are who they are and live their own unique charisms. I also love meeting other people who love Jesus, for I love Him so dearly and meeting all of His friends warms my heart immensely. I want everyone to know Him and meeting others who feel the same always makes me so excited! How great a Savior we have! And He called us all.

All in all, I look back at VCI as a wonderful time with memories to spare, love to share, and a Lord to thank for the opportunity!

August 9, 2021

Camp Adventures in Louisiana!

This summer, the Sister Servants have been traveling the country! Collectively, we’ve visited six states to attend various conferences and camps, and have had many grace-filled opportunities in meeting with Catholics from all across the country.

One venture that was new to us this year was Beloved, a summer camp organized by the Diocese of Shreveport, LA for teenage girls. Sister Marie Therese, Sister Mary Faustina and I (Sister Rose Marie) each led a team of girls in discussion groups, competing in sports, Catholic trivia and more! A wide range of outdoor activities challenged the girls to learn learn new skills, build confidence and teamwork, while talks given by the Sisters challenged and inspired the development of their relationship with God and practice of the Faith. Moments of prayer were woven throughout the days, rooting everything in the groundwork of Faith. There was a consistent theme throughout the camp of seeking to know God’s purpose in creating us, and discovering the vocation He gave to each of us.

I was inspired to see the visible growth in the girls over the course of the camp, and amazed to see how they learned to tackle things they never expected to do – some even taking the challenge to climb a 35′ post and jump from it to catch a trapeze! (wearing a safety harness of course!) Even more impressive, was the building up in grace and the growing desire to seek Our Lord that was evident within all the camp attendees.

     Many of these girls had never been around religious Sisters before, and were excited to have this chance to get to know about our life. The last night of camp, we each told our vccation story and together answered questions about religious life. The Q&A was packed with non-stop, great questions about being a Sister. God was clearly working deep within each of the girls, to make Himself known to them and to draw them to Himself, and several girls expressed considering a religious vocation for the first time.

Events like this often prove to be a significant influence in helping open a young woman’s heart to the possibility of a religious vocation. Many Sisters, in telling their vocation story, include some interaction they had with a Sister as a teenager, when her calling began to take shape. For others, these events provide a chance to deepen their faith, their desire for Truth, and their love of the Sacraments, which then lead them to discover the Lord’s call for them. Please say a prayer for all these young ladies as they embark on seeking out God’s will for their lives!

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