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See a Need. Meet a Need.

By: Rhonda Miska 

During my “summer of humility” – a two month working retreat with the Sisters of the Humility of Mary at their motherhouse in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania –– my days have been marked by prayer.  I prayed in the Magnificat Chapel where the afternoon sun poured through the stained glass windows, in pepper patch on the Villa Maria Farm while I weeded and harvested, in the Sisters’ cemetery, in the archives as I translated documents written by the community’s founders, and in the meditation attic of the Art House. 

As I worked and walked and prayed on these acres of almost-Ohio Pennsylvania land the HM Sisters have called home for 150 years, I have been acutely aware of what is happening around the world.  This summer has offered no shortage of heartbreak to bring before God:  Iraq.  Ukraine.  Gaza.  Ferguson, Missouri.  The surge of children fleeing Central America.  And on and on. 

I prayed for peace as well as guidance in my own discernment of how I might – in the words of the HM Mission statement – respond as a “Gospel woman” in “bringing about more abundant life to God’s people.”  Three weeks ago, I joined in a gathering of HM Sisters, Associates, and partners in ministry for community days – a time of learning, fellowship, ritual, and visioning. Perhaps – I wrote in my journal the day before community days – something would come from the gathering to guide my next steps. 

I found myself in a working group identifying needs and forming action steps.  There I met Sister Catherine Cassidy, HM, the co-founder of Americans for Immigrant Justice, a non-profit legal service agency which protects the rights of poor immigrants in south Florida.  Sister Catherine spoke to us about the humanitarian crisis of thousands of Central American children fleeing violence, coming the US border, and being sent to the courts in Miami.  She requested funds and support from the HM community to support AIJ’s work of providing care and legal representation for the children. 

I thought of the words of one of the Sisters who describes the HM approach as “see a need, meet a need.”  The need was clear. 

I took a deep breath and raised my hand, “I can go.  I’m not a lawyer, but I speak Spanish and I’ve lived in Central America.  If it would be useful, I can go.” 

The pieces quickly fell into place:  Sister Catherine arranged housing for me in Miami.  I raised funds from the Sisters and family and friends to cover the expenses of a month of service.  I began researching the situation to prepare myself.  I fly out a week from Saturday.

I don’t know exactly what I will find in Miami.  I expect it will be hard and heart-breaking, as ministry on the margins so often is.  But I know that I go with the blessing of the HMs.  I know that I am sent.  I know I go with the backing of community.  I trust that the hours of prayer logged during my Summer of Humility have left me strong, spiritually sturdy and prepared to serve. 

I have spent the summer with Mary’s humility – her “yes” to God’s call without knowing exactly what it meant.  So I offer my own “yes” without knowing where the road will lead, trusting there will be sufficient grace.  The power of this land; the legacy of these Sisters; the mystery of the charism; and the witness of the HM founders who cared for orphans -all of this will ground me as I prepare for my time in Miami.

About the Author:   

Rhonda Miska is a former Jesuit Volunteer (Nicaragua, 2002-2004) and a graduate of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.  Originally from Wisconsin, she has spent the last nine years living in Central Virginia where her ministries have included accompaniment of the Spanish-speaking immigrant community, Muslim-Christian dialogue, social justice education, direct outreach to people who are homeless, congregation-based community organizing, and coordination of a community with adults with intellectual disabilities.  She has published in various print publications and blogs, and is a regular contributor on the Young Adult Catholic blog



By: Eilis McCulloh

I must admit that Pentecost has long been my favorite church celebration. In my childhood parish, the priest always read the Gospel in his native Polish. This gave an air of excitement. I instinctively knew that something big was happening, but wasn’t sure what that was. At another parish, everyone wore red to celebrate the day. I could sense the excitement in the air.

It wasn’t until I was on a young adult retreat at Villa Maria over Pentecost weekend. I remember sitting in silence for my first experience of lectio divina and being struck by the following:

On the eve of the last day, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst. (John 20)

I imagined myself hiding in a cedar chest and controlling the lock. Who would I let in? If I controlled the lock, then I could control when I let Jesus into my perfectly ordered life. I was challenged to reflect on, “what would happen if I let Jesus into the box with me?”

That question (and line from the Gospel) haunted me until I knew what I had to do. I had to let Jesus in and see where that took me. Jesus took me away from all comfort to St. Cloud, MN where I worked alongside the Somali refugees and built community with them and with my fellow volunteers. The Holy Spirit showed up in a big way. From there, being open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in my life, took me to the Villa for the Just One Year (JOY) program, to Cleveland and continued work with refugees, and, now, back to the HMs. In each place, I have witnessed the Holy Spirit moving—the building of community, of identifying with one another despite our many outward differences, of building and sharing mission, and to growth and change.

When the time for Pentecost came, they were all in one place together. (Acts 2:1)

I see this communal aspect in action as I actively participate in community building. I watch bonds strengthening and changing. I am witness to the power of this movement. My life is richer each time I let the Holy Spirit work and shine through me. I can’t imagine what my life would be if I kept Jesus out of that box. I wouldn’t know any of the strong women I call my Somali aunties, my fellow FCV volunteers, the experiences of JOY, or the Nepali and Burmese families whom I call my brothers and sisters.

Where do you hide? What would change if you let the Holy Spirit in your life and let go of control? Who is part of your community?

About the Author:

Eilis grew up in Youngstown, OH and is a Cleveland transplant. She currently works with the refugee community in Akron, OH. She completed a year-long volunteer program with the Franciscan Community Volunteers (St. Cloud, MN) and the Just One Year (JOY) program with the Sisters of the Humility of Mary.

A Justice Pilgrimage

 On May 15, 2014 seven young adult women, six from Cleveland: Nicole Varnerin, MaryLynn Delfino, Janece Schaffer, Ellie Wollenhorst, Michelle Blevins, Melissa Olenik and Jeannie Nguyen embarked on the SND Justice Pilgrimage with Sr. Ruth Lubbers, SND, Sr. Teresita Richards, SND and Sr. Kate Hine, SND. Their destination was New York City and their purpose was to pray and reflect on justice issues as they experienced them through the eyes of a Catholic Worker experience and trips to the Museum of Tolerance, Times Square, the 911 Memorial, Ellis Island and the United Nations. Encounters with poverty, homelessness, sexualized advertising, the effects of intolerance and prejudice, the plight of the immigrant, and global issues provided learning and much to bring to prayer, both individually and as a group. The pilgrims walked many miles, boarded crowded trains and subways and tried to adapt to the endless bustle of a fast-paced city with so many different kinds of people. Our home base was with the Maryknoll Sisters in Ossining, NY and at the end the day when we were tired and perhaps discouraged by the weight of all we saw, it was wonderful to be warmly welcomed and well fed by a group of dedicated women who have given their lives for those in mission countries. 

This is the first in a series of blog posts and reflections about the SND Justice Pilgrimage. Check back here in the next two weeks for more from this series.

Nothing Like the Love of a Mother (Or Is There...?)

By Trena Marks Pacetti

The closest one can come to fully understanding the depths of a mother's love is to raise a child.  One of the greatest blessings of my life has been mothering our three children who are 11, 7, and 5 years old.  Words alone cannot encapsulate the depth of love I felt when I held each newborn baby, the wonder and awe I feel every time I see myself, my husband, my parents, my siblings, and my in-laws in their features and behaviors as they grow up. How magnificent it is to recognize my small part in the miraculous macrocosm of God's creation!  

I remember crying the night before our second child was about to be born, wondering how I was going to love two children equally!  I was so worried that our oldest son (who was 3 years old) would somehow be "missing out" because my time would forever be divided.  My husband reminded me that the new child would be a gift to his older brother, that he wouldn't be missing anything, but gaining a whole lot!  He also reminded me of the wisdom a friend of ours (and father of four) shared with us, that with the birth of each new child, your heart grows a little bigger. 

I like to think that's how God 's love must be too, that in the words of St. Augustine,"God loves each of us as if there is only one of us." Just like God's love for us, a mother's love for each of her children is unconditional, sacrificial, boundless, undivided, and eternal. 

However you celebrate Mother's Day, try to spend a few moments in stillness and silence, contemplating the gift of your mother's love, recognizing all the ways God has loved you and given you life through her.

About the Author

Trena Marks Pacetti and her husband Augie have three children and reside in North Olmsted, Ohio. She is a graduate of Walsh Jesuit High School and John Carroll University.  Trena is a former high school theology teacher and is currently the Confirmation Coordinator at St. Angela Merici Parish, also serving as the parish's Social Justice Commission chair.   She volunteers for Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services of Cleveland mentoring refugees from Nepal.  Both she and her husband have taken several mission trips to Central and South America and hope to take their children someday. 

Easter: Christ can even transform where and how we work.

Author:  Bryan H.

Is there any surrender greater than the surrender of Christ on the cross?  The eternal entity through whom all that has been created came to be, stepped into that same creation and became bound by mortality and time.  The limitless became just as limited, in many ways, as you and I are.  This Incarnation is a profound mystery that we celebrate most directly during Christmas, but it is a mystery that we re-experience any time that we speak of Christ – Son of Mary and Son of God.  And as quickly as we move from winter to spring, which in February may not seem rapid at all, Easter is upon us.

I’ve been asked to reflect on the relationship of work, occupation, to Easter.  This can take any number of directions of course, but I have chosen the central role and power of surrender in any walk of life.  We may most immediately think of the monastic life when we think of complete surrender to God, but surrender is no less important, and no less possible in the “active life.”  I often say that the distinction between sacred and secular realms is a human construction.  If all that has come to be was created by and is sustained by God, then there is not any aspect of our lives where God is not present.  “I will be with you always” does not just refer to Sunday or morning reflection time.  It means 24 / 365 / lifetime.

So what is “surrender” at work, and why would one even try?  Work is about struggle and adversity and getting noticed and achieving and promotion, right?  Well, it is perhaps these things, and I say this as someone who has been employed since high school, and I am nearing 45.  But it can and should be something more.  There is a strong current in Catholic social teaching, renewed beautifully at Vatican II, that there is dignity and purpose in work.  Not that there is dignity in itself in working with our hands, or applying our minds until we have spent ourselves in exhaustion.  But rather, there is dignity in taking all of our strength, creativity, and much of our time and investing it in something greater than ourselves.  Corporate profits?  Not as an end in itself.  Rather, allowing others, who may not have the most remote interest in church, to see that Christ really is risen, alive, well, and powerfully active.  And that happens through you and me.  But only if we surrender.

I will be learning about and improving my surrender until the day I pass into the next life, and quite possibly well beyond.  I have learned a great deal about surrender in the past year, the desire to allow Christ, who offers His fullness to me constantly through the timeless celebration of Easter, to live in and through me.  Transformation comes in fits and starts, but the truly transformed person becomes a vessel through whom Christ shines without obstruction.  Through Sarah Young’s “Jesus Calling,” and Brother Lawrence’s “Practice of the Presence of God,” I have been called very profoundly in the past year to the challenge of living in Christ’s presence all of the time, even at work.  What does this mean?  Most directly, it means being at least faintly conscious of Christ all of the time.  It is the most profound understanding of “What Would Jesus Do?”  It is allowing Jesus to do through us, what we would not or cannot do ourselves.  I find constant reasons at work to become frustrated and impatient.  Change does not happen rapidly enough; people make the same errors again and again (the bane of any Quality Manager!).  But all of this is because I am trying to change things.  If I give my best, and then leave the outcome to God, then God is glorified through my actions, rather than just drawing praise to myself.  And along the way, I treat people with the respect, honor, and appreciation that makes the world around me truly different.  I become an active builder of the Kingdom of God.

There is no greater model of surrender than Christ crucified.  And the process of surrender is an often-painful process of self-emptying.  But we know now, even on Good Friday, that the Passion happened in one day, and that a perpetual Easter waits on the other side.  One of the most amazing things about the Catholic understanding of God, to me, is the appreciation that God does not expect or ask us to walk perfectly as a disciple.  Perhaps most clearly understood because Jesus himself suffered and struggled, our High Priest is very aware of our limitations.  And He offers to carry the yoke, the cross, the burden of our challenges with us.  Jesus does not ask us to change the world, or to be His presence in that world, so much as to step out of the way and allow Him to get to work.  And He is willing to help us even with that surrender.  If we are willing to risk it, Christ can even transform where and how we work.  May the joy of Easter live in your heart always. 

About the Author

Bryan is a working husband and father.  His family and friends will tell you that he is a deeply thoughtful person who lives with integrity and faith.  


Unending Joy

Author: Caitlyn Buttaci
Growing up, I don't think Easter was ever my favorite holiday. The candy was nice, but overall it was always insignificant compared to Christmas. There was no build up or mounds of presents. Just church, a meal, and an over sized bunny who apparently laid eggs and delivered candy in the stealth of the night. 
Then as I got older, Lent became more real to me. Easter had more meaning because it was the end of my meager sufferings. It was on Easter that I could finally drink that soda again, or gorge myself in chocolate, or sign back on Facebook.  In college I would bask in the glories of beautiful liturgies and celebrate with great dining hall feasts. 
Now that I'm grown and have a child of my own, Easter has taken on another new meaning. It's often joked that raising children (young ones in particular) is a perpetual Lent. Why give anything else up for 40 days? We've already given up everything we have for these little monsters. But with a perpetual Lent comes an Easter of unending joy.  Sharing Easter and the Christian life with children is a daunting task but a highly rewarding one. While a two year old may not have a very large capacity for understanding the Easter story, they do have the ability to show a great love for Jesus. As Catholic parents we have been charged with the great responsibility in raising our children in the faith. What a joy it is to watch these little souls grow into full fledged Christians. It is often very trying (those of you who have taken toddlers to Mass know this well) but the sacrifice is worth every second. For, like any sacrifice, this brings us closer to our own resurrection and better yet, the hopeful resurrection of our children and any future generations. 
About the Author
Caitlyn Buttaci is a working wife and mother who blogs over at be merry, kate. She's anxiously awaiting the arrival of their second child and likes to run, sew and dream about homesteading.


The quest to reach God does not end on Easter

Author: Suzy Dean

Ever notice a child's expression and attitude as they count down the days until Easter? One day gets closer to the big day. They are full of wonder and excitement to get that chocolate bunny from Malley's; or maybe an assortment of their favorite jelly belly's; or perhaps even their favorite toy. And it might be even more exciting for the child if they decided to give up chocolate or candy for Lent. For the child, it takes a great deal of patience and discipline until joyful Easter comes!

As adults, we must take this innocent approach and apply it to our own lens of meeting God. We must keep the bigger picture off of the spotlight and zoom in to the baby steps and examine our actions, our words, the way we live our life, and our faithfulness to God daily. Though the destiny of the bigger picture is God, the baby steps are the direction of the journey we must take to reach God, which is through patience, discipline, wonder, trust, and prayer.

The quest to reach God does not end on Easter. These weeks are only the beginning to re-group, re-fresh, and take a brand new step. It has been said that faithfulness leads to fruitfulness. We can be reassured that if we remember to keep the faith, we will find God's grace to keep going into His light and ultimately be united with Him in eternal life.

Though the child's anticipation has diminshed now that Easter is over, God is still with us. God wants to be apart of our lives. God is still living within us and the bigger picture of God will be forever in our midst.


About the Author: 

Suzy Dean was born and raised in a small city on the west side of Cleveland. She has her B.A. in Communications from The College of Wooster and received her Early Childhood Education License from Ashland University. Recently, Suzy just published her first book of poetry.

Journeying with Jesus

Author: Mary Ann Spangler, HM

Holy Week and especially Good Friday offers us an invitation to companion Jesus during His final days and hours of crucifixion.  One way to “pray” as we make this journey, is to choose one of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ Passion and to actually imagine being present as myself engaging my eyes, my ears, my feelings and emotions as one who companioned Jesus. In praying with our imaginations, as St. Ignatius of Loyola suggests, we want to imagine ourselves right there, in the midst of it all, seeing with new eyes, listening to all the voices and chaos around me, feeling the intensity of this life-giving, moment of salvation.  

What part touches me?  Can I hear words of forgiveness?   Can I see beyond immanent darkness, suffering, violence and death with hope in new life and resurrection?  How might I understand this more deeply?  In what ways am I challenged to look at “Who am I now” as I ponder Jesus’ life, death and resurrection?  How does it impact my life and my relationships with others?  

As we continue life’s journey, we pray for hope as we reflect on the journey of Jesus and prepare to celebrate His Resurrection on Easter.

About the Author

Sister Mary Ann Spangler is a Sister of the Humility of Mary who serves as spiritual director and retreat facilitator, with a special focus on the needs and interests of young adults.  She has been an integral part of the development of the Coalition with Young Adults and Leadership for a New Day.

The Weight of Us: Preparing the Way for the Triduum

Author: Natalie Terry

A door opens in the center of our being and we seem to fall through into the immense depths which, although they are infinite, are all accessible to us. 

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1961), p.227.

As Easter approaches in the midst of the busyness of work, school and all that is life, I have a sense that I’m not ready. I’m digging my heels into the ground and I’m asking for just a little bit more time. A little bit more time to slow down and prepare to make way for the One who shares with us His unfailing love, everlasting compassion and immeasurable faith. I am fearful of experiencing the weight of this week, fearful of what saying ‘yes’ to what Jesus’ resurrection will mean. What if it is too much to bear? This time feels heavy, full of expectation, sorrow, anticipation and joy, like the immense joy that Mary Magdalene experiences when she hears Jesus call her by name after the resurrection. 

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to lookinto the tomb;12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,“Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

John 10:11-18 (NRSV)

This Holy Week is about God calling our names. It is about Jesus sharing with us who we really are. The question is this: Do we believe it? Do we believe that we are people called forth by God to be co-creators, to be bearers of the Good News? Do we believe that God might call us by name and ask us to say ‘yes’ to a life rooted in radically living Jesus’ love command, to love God and our neighbors as ourselves? 

I fear that I am not ready for the weight of it. Not ready to say the ‘yes,’ to respond to the call. I am continually asking God for just a little more time. This fear of not being ready is shared by Jesus’ disciples. They misunderstood His teachings and it took them time to recognize that He was the Son of God. During much of Jesus’ life it was the sinner, the outcast, the ones on the margins of society who recognized Jesus and understood who he was. Jesus asks us to be with Him in his suffering, to accompany Him to the last supper, have our feet washed, wait with Him by the cross, hold vigil at His tomb and be awestruck by His resurrection.

This Easter, who will Jesus be for us? Will we recognize Jesus in the faces of the ones we love and in the faces of our enemies? Will we recognize Jesus in the ones we cast to the margins? This is what Jesus asks us to do today and every day. This week, amidst all of the tensions and complications of our lives, let us hear Jesus who is calling our name. If we are not ready, Jesus is. So as we enter into this Holy Week, we are all reminded, that the time is now. Jesus is among us and we are called to live our lives in this Light. Let us have the courage and the faith to recognize who He is within us and amongst us. May we be open to say ‘yes’ when we hear the One who loves us call our name. May we believe who we truly are.

About the Author

Natalie Terry is a graduate student at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, CA and a graduate assistant for Immersion Programs in the Ignatian Center at Santa Clara University. She is an alum of John Carroll University where she graduated in 2010 with a B.A. in Religious Studies. Natalie is particularly passionate about fair trade, local food and farming and has served as a full time volunteer at Villa Maria Farm, Education & Spirituality Center in Northwestern PA. 

A Deeply Troubled Love

By: Nicole Varnerin

I have a confession to make: I love Cleveland. Yep, I said it. I am obsessed with Cleveland. And I choose to live here. A lot of native Clevelanders are astonished when I tell them I love Cleveland. But I am not alone. A lot of young adults choose to live in Cleveland for its many different facets. Some are here for the art scene, the great food, or a job in one of the many companies that call the greater Cleveland area their home. But I choose to live in Cleveland for a different reason. I am here because of the city’s great care for the poor in their midst.

Cleveland has a special way of “taking care of their own”. There are countless service organizations for all kinds of people. Elderly? Check. Homeless? Check. Disabled? Sick? Check and check. But Clevelanders don’t just serve to help people or to feel good, Clevelanders serve because they love. They love their city and they love the people in the city. The different service organizations that I have had experience with here, are all about being with the poor and loving them for who they are. It’s not about how many we serve, it’s about who we serve and how we serve. 

The organization that first taught me how to love the poor goes out into the streets to be with the homeless on their own turf. Volunteers may bring food and clothing, but the most important thing they bring is friendship. It is through my interactions with my friends on the streets that I began to understand how Jesus saw the blind man, the lepers, the hemorrhaging woman, the people who needed his help and love. A line from last week’s gospel about Lazarus caught my eye. When Jesus saw Mary’s sorrow at her brother’s death, he was “perturbed and deeply troubled.” Jesus felt her emotions and loved her so much that her sadness permeated him. It is this kind of love, the kind that moves us when the ones we love suffer, that I learned on the streets. The thing that was most surprising is that I learned this love not only from those I served with, but also from those I served. These people have every right to be angry at the world and shut people out, but they love so freely and so purely. It is through their love that my understanding of love has been transformed. And now I can’t look away from their pain.  I have become “perturbed and deeply troubled” and act out of that love and sorrow. Their needs are so great and so beyond my control that the only thing I can do is love.

Now I transfer that “deeply troubled” love to the rest of my life. Even though I may be doing different things, or serving different people, I do it with love. I love my stroke patients at work even when they ask me for the 15th time what their MRI looks like. I love the students at a school I volunteer with even when they act out only to get the attention they don’t have at home. It is not always easy to keep loving, but along the way I have met some religious sisters who have shown me what it means to love always. I have not seen anyone better at loving the poor than women religious. They are experts at being sensitive to the needs of others and being able to offer support without seeming intrusive. They love unconditionally and let the Lord’s love flow through them to meet each person’s needs. These sisters love more than I have seen any one person love before. It is with this spirit that the Collinwood Neighborhood Catholic Ministries (CNCM) was founded. A group of women religious recognized the need for a supportive presence on the east side of Cleveland. But they entered with a spirit of love, listening to the residents and programs already in place. They did not aim to take over, but only support. And I am blessed to be a part of this group. I have learned a lot from these sisters about love, listening, and gentle perseverance. In every move CNCM makes, they keep the residents of Collinwood in mind and continue to love above all else.

As the season of lent comes to an end, let’s remember to be “deeply troubled” by our neighbors’ sorrow and to love them deeply through all stages of life. Lord, let me see every person through your eyes of unconditional love. 

About the Author

Nicole Varnerin is a candidate with the Sisters of Notre Dame in Chardon, OH.  She works at the Cleveland Clinic doing research with stroke patients and volunteers with the Collinwood Neighborhood Catholic Ministries in her copious amounts of free time. She is passionate about the issue of homelessness and poverty in Cleveland. To learn more about her spiritual journey to becoming a sister, check out her blog:


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