The readings from both 1 Kings and Mark focus on good people who accept the limits placed on their lives by circumstances not of their choosing. What we see is that their lives are not destroyed by deprivation. When Elijah approaches the poor widow who had only enough flour and oil for one last meal for herself and her son, she surprisingly agrees to share it with him, thus depriving herself and her son even further. Her heart sensed a need she should respond to, and she did. In the Gospel, Jesus admires another poor widow willing to offer “all that she had to live on” to support the work of the Temple. As we see so often, the people who share most willingly are those whose hearts are moved by something, and that overshadows everything.
Such was also the case in our own history, when the Sisters of St. Mary began. Jerome, a simple Benedictine monk “accepted God’s new ways for him when his personal dreams were shattered” by the dissolution of his monastery during the French Revolution (cited from an SSMN brochure, circa 1970). Through prayer, his heart surrendered to the surprising new direction God opened before him: to lovingly minister to those who struggled to survive the devastation caused by a war not of their making… It also happened that the hearts of 2 young women (Josephine Sana and Elizabeth Berger) were touched by the exploitation of women in the aftermath of the war. When the lives of these compassionate and prayer-filled people intersected, in spite of religious communities being banned throughout Belgium and France, Dom Minsart sought to enable the young women to experience a life dedicated to God combined with ministry to those devastated by a humanitarian crisis.
On November 11, 1819 the 2 young women, “burning with love for God” began their simple life in a home Dom Minsart had obtained for them. They would offer sewing lessons along with religious instructions to women in need of “honest work”. Humility marked the unostentatious ministry of teaching sewing to these young women being swallowed by the depravity of their broken world. Their beginnings were difficult, and their own early dreams of expanding as a community were shattered by the deaths of those who had seemed destined to lead this group of young but faith-filled women.… Sister Claire was only 26 years old when Dom Minsart died, yet she moved forward, and “inspired and encouraged her sisters to always carry a flame of love… Without prayer… without a burning heart filled with compassion… without faith, courage and love… we cannot undertake and live to the end our mission as Sisters of St. Mary.” (1970 brochure) They persevered, trusting that if this dream was from God, it would not perish – and it hasn’t…
As we prepare to celebrate 200 years of Sisters who embraced this call to proclaim God’s love to broken and burdened people around the world, we beg for that same courage and faith. We beg for a new FIRE within as we embrace the future God opens before us. The Spirit drove our founders to humbly take one step, not knowing where the second would take them. May that same Spirit continue to inspire us and free our hearts to respond as we can to the needs that surround us.
-S. Patrice Yarborough
Sisters of St. Mary of Namur . 241 Lafayette Avenue . Buffalo, New York 14213 . (716) 884-8221