Relevantly Speaking…

A man at my parish once asked me what I thought was the reason for the lack of vocations. There really is no one answer but I thought at the time that perhaps it was the question of relevance. In a world where anyone can be anything/ go anywhere, and ministry in the Church is not limited to a few, where the values and traditions of the Church are often viewed as old-fashioned or unrelatable, can people still find a reason to seek out the consecrate life?

In our ministries at St. Mary Church in Winneconne and Omro, Sr. Pam and I find more reason than ever, perhaps, for men and women to seek out a singular relationship with Jesus Christ and to encounter others out of that relationship. More than ever before, it is not about setting ourselves apart or above but, rather, joining in and walking with those we meet. As Christ himself joined his disciples on their journey to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), so do we join others on their journey.

Our day to day lives in the past months have been filled with various activities in which we meet others in such a normal way. We have prepared meals for the local “Community supper” along with the rest of our staff. Sr. Pam participated in the usual contest against the priests at our parish picnic.

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We have planned and held two “Meals with the Sisters” that parishioners won at our parish picnic this summer.

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We participated in the local Walk For Life. I have joined ProCLAYM, a group whose mission is to promote and support professional growth among those in religious education in the diocese. This year, I have also joined Sr. Julie Ann (the FSCC’s vocation directress) in meeting with young women who are discerning, traveling to the Motherhouse and Platteville as well as Marquette and Madison! Sr. Pam will attend the diocesan Leadership Convocation at the end of the month, the focus being on the promotion of the family. We listened to Dr.Brian Smith, theology professor at Ripon College, speak about Pope Francis’ vision for the Church.

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We will also hold an event discussing the slavery of Human Trafficking in our area this week.  Sr. Pam ministers to families at funerals. I attend the occasional school football and volleyball games. So many things that are just ordinary.

And yet these things hold the power of presence. We are regular people doing regular things and yet we have the distinct opportunity to be signs, to exist amongst God’s people and make His presence, His compassion, and His mercy known to them. In an individualized culture, our vows give us an opportunity to be examples of connection and communion in Christ-centered relationships. Where there is a frenzied pace and constant noise, we can model the importance of solitude and a contemplative stance to life. Where materialism reigns, we can strive to be a reminder of what it means to love God above all things, to be in the world but not of the world.  And in the face of modern busyness, the consecrated life allows us to be available for others and to the Other. The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, lived authentically, are (among many things) a testament that God is alive and well and that He speaks to hearts of many; they are a beacon of hope and a sign of promise.

Many people have written about this (and much more could be said) but it is in the context of our respective ministries that Sr. Pam and I daily discover the continued need for religious life and the power of the message that it speaks. So, is the consecrated life relevant today?  If you ask us, the answer is absolutely yes!!

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Relax: God is in Charge!

Rest. Wait. Slow down. Listen. Be still. In our ministry, these are the words that we preach but find very difficult to practice. During the season of Advent, as we prepared the members of our two parishes for the coming of Christ and readying them to enjoy the hope and expectation that comes with His birth, we were simply hoping that we could sustain our energy long enough to get through it ourselves!

The four week season began with celebrations of Mary, a newly established parish Holy Hour, and the hosting of a musical program called Behold the Lamb of God. Directly on the heels of Advent began the preparations for Christmas Liturgies: creating spaces for all the extra parishioners, finding musicians, organizing Liturgical ministers, tweaking sounds systems, setting up video cameras, and more! It was a lot of work but to see so many people come to make worship a part of their Christmas celebration was heartening.  I can’t forget to mention the staff Christmas party, held at our apartment, and a chili cook-off. Christmas was also a time to visit family, which comes with its own little delights and intricacies.

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                             Chili Cook-off

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Chili Cook Off Winners

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Taste testing at the Cook-Off

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Fellow Religious Ed. Coordinators

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                  Staff Christmas Party

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Covenant Renewal at the Presbyterian Church

Covenant Renewal at the Presbyterian Church

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                           Home Visit

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Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass

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Our Lady of Guadalupe Mariachi band

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Joint Staff at Joni Volkert’s going away party

Now on the other side of the Advent and Christmas season, Sr. Pam and I are taking the time to look back, reflect, and bask in the wonder and the joy of it all as well as the ways God spoke to us in the midst of our ministry and our lives.

We thought that, in January, all things would return to their normal schedule. Now in ordinary time, we expected to find ourselves recovering from the holiday hustle and bustle, finding a time to rest and slow down. But God has had other plans. There have been cancellations due to weather and meetings to reschedule. There have been unexpected deaths and funerals to plan. There are phone calls to be completed and connections to be made. For many we know and work with, there is the aftermath of holiday family drama to deal with. Much as the fields rest and the animals hibernate, we had hoped to be doing the same in this post-holiday time. Flexibility has become our new best friend!

Resting, waiting, being still, and slowing down are not easy. These things will always be a challenge because we are in ministry. It is important to look for those times and, when they are presented to us, to use them well. We are learning not to fill up unexpected free time with something else but take advantage of those God-given moments. We are learning to just BE.

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The winter season, with all of its special events, snowy weather, and dark days, is always a reminder that God is in charge. As much as we long for warmth, for rest, for calm, for normalcy, we must remember that even in this time of busyness and what seems to be irregular and sometimes chaotic, there is still good to be seen, there is still love to share, there is still beauty in the darkness, there is still life under all the snow.

A twist of faith

About two months, Sr. Pam and I went to a friend’s house for supper. It was at her house in Green Bay that I was thrilled to have my first encounter with the Little Free Library!

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It seemed to be the perfect juxtaposition between geocaching (a great love of Sr. Pam’s) and library visits( a great love of mine).  This first encounter spurred me on a mission to find all of the Little Free Libraries in my local area. I found that there weren’t many but I made frequent use of the ones I did find for a steady two weeks.  Little did I know that Sr. Pam had already been thinking about using one of these little bookworm’s box of delights as an evangelization tool at each our parishes!

So after a few weeks of talking, planning, finding builders, and a painter to decorate it (that would be my honor), the project began. Omro’s library is covered in colorful scenes of the Creation story while Winneconne’s library is painted with assorted stories from Scripture. In the week to come, St. Mary’s-Omro and St. Mary’s- Winneconne will both be mounting their little libraries for all to in the local community to use!

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In Pope St. John Paul II’s  address to the Latin American Bishops, he said , “Look to the future with commitment to a New Evangelization, one that is new in its ardor, new in its methods, and new in its expression.”  As I write this,  I am also reminded of  something a teacher once told me – we always have to be ready to implement the next best practice in ministry. The world is moving faster with every passing day and the ministry methods we thought were “new,” become a thing of the past all too quickly. With Little Free Libraries standing in 50 states and 40 countries worldwide,  this up and coming project may very well be a “next best practice” for inviting people to engage in good reading as well as to learn and grow in their spiritual life.

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Lesson: Sometimes there are things that are not immediately obvious as a means of evangelization but, if we are willing to step outside the box and be creative, the whole world is at our fingertips. It was once said that “sometimes you have to look at something familiar until it becomes strange to you and then, suddenly, it has the possibility to become new again.”  Our little free libraries are not entirely new but we are excited to use them to build up the kingdom of God!

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Fabulous Feasting

Tom Douglas, renowned Seattle chef, says ” Cooks throw recipes and menus together and scramble for virtuosity while bakers carefully measure their way to deliciousness.”  How right he is!  However, the presence of both a cook and a baker in our compact kitchen has inspired Sr. Pam and I to take up the challenge of creating fabulous feasts for friends and family- the parish one, that is.

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In the midst of Confirmations, Baptisms, First Reconciliation Parent Meetings, Funerals, Religious Ed. beginnings, new staff and much more, we have somehow found the time to experiment with cooking together. Sr. Pam, an avid baker, has found ways to infuse flavor into everything she makes. And I, with a love of cooking, like to focus on presentation. We often joke that, while her food looks terrible, it tastes amazing. Whereas my food looks like a 5 star restaurant but leaves taste to be desired. This is our standing joke of the kitchen…. even if it’s not true.

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Our guests have been a variety of people from Sr. Pam’s long time friends, our neighboring Sisters in Kaukauna, and parishioners who won “a dinner with the Sisters” at the parish picnic.   Whatever the case, each group has been a wealth of enjoyment and our new little abode has seen more than its share of edible delights!

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It is with full tummies and grateful hearts that we share our next life lesson.

Lesson #2: Food is not just about eating…or even dining! It may not even be just about conversation. It’s about the relationships we build around the table. It’s about sharing life’s moments and what they mean to our own personal understanding of life. Simply by watching the interactions of others that happen around a table of food, we learn more about them. The table is where we learn to share with all kinds of people and to carry the rhythm of a conversation. It’s where we experience the dynamics of family and come to appreciate the gifts each person has to offer.This is what life is all about. Don’t miss your opportunity to engage while you feast!

Tackling Transitions

Home, sweet home

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After two months in a new place and with all our boxes neatly stowed or secretly stashed away, we (Sister Pam Biehl and I, Sister Regina Rose Pearson)  decided that now would be our best chance of introducing everyone to the new convent on the block. Visitation Convent , on a quiet corner just off Hwy 41 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is the site of a new adventure which, so far,  has been loaded with new people, new routines, and new reasons to laugh. And trust me, there is plenty of fun and laughter! It seems that our philosophy of life is going to be work hard, play hard!

Here’s are few snapshots of our life here at Visitation Convent and a few of the excursions we’ve been having!

Parish Picnic included a long standing rivalry between the clergy and Sr. Pam.

100_1623 The parish “Picnic in the Park-ing Lot,” Sr. Regina Rose’s introduction to St. Mary’s Omro, included a long standing competition between the Fr. Michael Warden, Fr. Doug LeCaptain, and Sr. Pam . Every year has a different theme for their costumes. This year it was “X-Men meet Nun better”.

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100_1691 We spent Labor Day at Sr. Pam’s friend’s house: Rachelle Rebman. It was a wonderful day of food, fun and, of course, a Lord of the Rings marathon! Sr. Regina Rose also discovered the “little free library” for the first time! A time a wonderment, indeed!

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100_1702 On September 5th, we shared our Community Days with our nearby Kaukauna Sisters ( Srs. Delores Wisnicky, Sue Ann Hall, and Juden Lang). We had wonderful conversations on transformation, kolaches made by Sr. Dolores, dinner at the Out-of-Town Supper Club, and because of the rain, a trip  to the Oshkosh Museum.

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Sr.Regina Rose attended a Mass on the grass with Bishop Ricken at the Newman Center at UW Oshkosh. Mosquitos were in high attendance.

Sr.Regina Rose attended a “Mass on the grass” with Bishop Ricken at the Newman Center at UW Oshkosh. Mosquitoes were in high attendance.

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Sr. Pam and I have taken up biking and geocaching. Our favorite location so far is the nearby South Park.

Sr. Pam and I have taken up biking and geocaching. Our favorite location so far is the nearby South Park.

Believing that everything life throws at us contains a lesson to be learned , Sr. Pam and I have chosen to reflect on what we are learning as we live and minister together. We’d also like to share our discoveries with you!

Lesson #1: Transitions can be tough but they can also be an opportunity to develop new habits, make new priorities, and make a new “normal.”  Many times, change can mean loss but if we can open ourselves -even just a little bit- to the goodness and joy in every situation (even the challenges), we will find that wondrous things are waiting just around the corner!