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The Link Between Sisters, Sustainability and Stories

Understanding the relationship between the environment and society is critical for the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. As fires, floods and a whirlwind of worry sweep over humankind, the Sisters faithfully embrace their responsibility as stewards of the earth.

The Sisters’ commitments – spelled out in a document known as the Chapter Acts – include Integral Ecology, which calls for “a comprehensive vision to address what are simultaneously environmental and human crises.” Pope Francis writes of these interconnected relationships in Laudato Si’ (#48), where he states, “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together.”

Sister Mary Annette Dworshak is a teacher of religion at Holy Names Academy in Seattle who has incorporated this holistic approach to ecology in every aspect of her life and ministry. “The difference Laudato Si' made in my life, commitment and teaching is a call to accept the challenge of speaking out about our responsibilities to care for our common home and to take the risk of inviting others to join in prayer, advocacy and responsibility,” she said.

Along with others involved in the SNJM Congregation’s Justice and Peace Network, Sister Mary Annette seeks to promote understanding of how important it is to make sustainable practices a way of life. The Sisters do not work alone but are blessed with opportunities to advance the cause of sustainable living in collaboration with local, national and international groups.

A touchstone for their efforts is the United Nation’s “17 Goals to Transform Our World,” established in the fall of 2015. Many of the goals – including Clean Water and Sanitation, Gender Equality and Quality Education – are closely tied to the Sisters’ vision and mission. These sustainability goals are woven deeply into their daily lives. Several are reflected in their corporate stands, which are positions affirmed by the whole community to focus their efforts in advocacy, ministry and prayer.

From undertaking projects to provide clean water in Lesotho to speaking out against human trafficking in the U.S., the Sisters have taken on these sustainability goals with rigor and passion.

One informal SNJM group called the “Green Ladies” challenges itself to promote dialogue and story as a way of supporting the UN sustainability goals. One of the “Green Ladies,” Sister Linda Riggers, explains that changes in behavior stem from changes in attitude. “We all believe,” Sister Linda said, “that things like sharing our personal experiences, witnessing other people who care for the earth and storytelling shape our attitude and draw us to a conversation of our own ways of being.”

Our lives become stories that educate others to reflect upon their own attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. When others are inspired by our stories, change can begin its process.

With their historic focus on education, members of the SNJM community easily make a connection between being teachers and valuing storytelling as a way to promote change. Sister Marilyn Gooley, another member of the “Green Ladies,” shares a telling anecdote about downsizing her apartment. During her transition to a smaller living space, she recalls the words of an old friend who told her, “There’s never been a U-Haul following a hearse.” Relationships, she adds, are far more precious than possessions.

The message is clear: the material things that fill our homes cannot fill our hearts. But the vision of a future with clean drinking water for our neighbors, lush green forests, children with enough to eat and education accessible to all is a different matter. The contents of our U-Hauls will not follow us beyond the grave, but this legacy will.

Heather Rockwell works as Communications Assistant in the SNJM U.S.-Ontario Province office. In the photo: A few of the “Green Ladies” share materials about sustainable living. L-R behind table: Associate Frodo Okulam and Sisters Claire Durocher and Dianne Nixon.

Turning Towards a Sustainable Future

By Guadalupe Guajardo, SNJM

My choice is April, still!
By then the old must go,
By then the new must grow;
It causes some commotion,
Yet, calm is not my notion,
But that we have our will.

My choice is April, still,
Because it’s sweeping, storming,
Because it’s smiling, warming,
Because it has resources,
Subverts old winter’s forces,
Gives birth to summer’s thrill!

-Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

When we talk about facing an unsustainable future, it’s important to remember that we have choices. As Sisters of the Holy Names, we choose to look at the economic, social and environmental warning signs that surround us and respond with confident hope.

We are not in denial about the dangerous realities confronting our world. Our dominant economic system - typically described as "capitalism" – certainly has positive dimensions but it has lived out most of its usefulness and its disadvantages are becoming increasingly apparent. This economic system has global impact: it requires raw materials, low taxes, cheap labor and new markets. It determines who gets access to power, land, jobs and resources. There are some winners, but a vast number of losers. News outlets are filled with reports about the 99% who can't make financial ends meet, the disappearance of the middle class, the high rate of homelessness in one of the world’s richest countries.

Just as serious, the health of our planet is at stake. As the climate changes, we have experienced blistering heat in the Southwest, harsh snowstorms on the East Coast, an increase in destructive forest fires on the West Coast and a rising risk of adequate water to grow our food.

As part of our commitment to a hope-filled future as responsible stewards of the earth, the U.S.-Ontario Province has produced an issue of our own publication, Voyage, dedicated to sustainability. We've also supported the production of a primer on sustainability from the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center. These materials point to options for taking effective action to improve environmental and social conditions for all.

There is a degree of faith involved as we go into the future filled with uncertainties. Scriptures remind us, “For we walk by faith not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). As women of faith, we believe in the Pascal Mystery, that we are an Easter People in a Good Friday world, that death does not have the last say.

From chaos theory, we learn about the cycles of order, disorder and reorder in organic systems. Things fall apart when something better wants to happen. Futurists tell us that there are “futures,” not just a future. There are possible, probable and preferable futures. We want the preferred future to reflect our values and charism. We want a country and world that favors the disenfranchised and marginalized.

Some expect our current economic and social systems to begin to collapse within the next few decades. These times call for a commitment to a better vision for our future society, for new and different types of leadership. In our vision, leadership will come from the margins of society where people take unprecedented risks, are bold because they have nothing more to lose and where the greatest creativity exists. We will need fresh language that can only emerge as we become more welcoming, inclusive and affirming of differences working together for a common good. We will need policies that liberate the human spirit rather than attempting to perpetuate “business as usual.”  Human relationships must be at the center of this future society.

Some businesses already have pivoted away from conventional, profit-at-all-costs practices.  In an interview broadcast by NPR, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard shared how the company has reduced the production of new clothing items in favor of repairing items purchased by customers in the past. Manufacturing focuses more on garments that can be worn in multiple seasons and last for years. Patagonia’s work culture includes encouraging employees to enjoy the outdoors and supporting the needs of families with on-site day care. Not surprisingly, the company’s founder is committed to a spiritual practice that includes meditation and has established company values that put people before profits. The goal is to be around for the next 100 years, rather than shooting to the top with financial results.

People yearn for meaning. In his collection of essays, Logical Thinking About a Future Society, author Harvey Jackins wrote, “Don’t appeal to people on narrow, economic or self-serving issues, but enlist people in struggle primarily on the basis of offering them meaningful lives; on the basis that participation in social change and human liberation liberates them from the most destructive effect of the society, that is meaningless.”

Embracing our mission to advance sustainability, we go forth with faith, courage, vision and hope. We must continue building strong relationships that will sustain us through the certainty of challenging times.

Photo credit: Blynda Barnett

News from the Novice: Pray For and With Me

By Michelle Garlinski, SNJM

As I gather my thoughts to compose this News from the Novice, I am appreciating the smells of spring (minus the allergies) and longer hours of daylight. Thank you, God! At the same time, my heart aches as I watch the news reports of the ongoing acts of violence that ravage our world.

So many things happening in such a short time. I have successfully moved into my new apartment, with the assistance of my “moving team” (whom I highly recommend), though they have warned me that this should not be an annual event. Within the first 24 hours I had 90% of the boxes emptied and the kitchen organized. Admittedly, I ran out of steam and the last 10% has taken me longer to manage than the first 90%.

Following the move, I departed for Longueuil. It was an opportunity to share our sacred sites with four staff members from St. Mary’s Academy-Winnipeg. The Charism and Mission office at SMA has taken the initiative to invite staff to deepen their understanding of the charism and grow in their faith. Based on overwhelming interest by staff and the extremely positive experience of the first group, we hope to repeat this in the next school year.

It was wonderful to have Sister Carol Fleitz visit in early June. She was welcomed by the SMA community, our Sisters and even with warm weather! No sooner were the sheets washed than Sister Beth arrived for a lovely five-day visit. She attended the Jubilee celebration for Sister Cathy Laviolette (postponed from the fall) and although it was not her first visit here, we managed to include a few new Winnipeg highlights. The California visitors were wonderful about keeping themselves busy or just enjoying some quiet time while I went off to work. The Charism and Mission Office did not slow down even as the end of the school year approached.

My summer is going to be very exciting. I depart for Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on July 12 for a retreat with Fr. Ron Rolheiser, which is offered to religious in Canada who are age 55 and under. It is hard to believe a dream that took root last May during my prayer time has become a reality. A group of 22 participants will gather from many regions of Canada, representing various religious communities.  Following this, I will be in California visiting the Novitiate House and attending the gathering of Sisters who entered after 1970 in Santa Cruz. I am feeling very blessed to be invited to join these women. Immediately after Santa Cruz, I will travel to Chicago for the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities Leadership Institute for new Mission Officers. I am looking forward to adding some tools to the box as I prepare for my second year in this role.

I am confident that this summer will also provide opportunities for me to enter the quiet. I am eager and grateful to have this time to be with God, to listen deeply and attentively to the inner voice of the Spirit. The God of Surprises always makes me smile! I ask that you pray for and with me this summer knowing, “that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion.”

I am writing as we welcome the summer solstice. May this season offer all of us moments of re-creation and rest for body, mind and spirit.

Blessed be the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, now and forever! 

Note: Michelle Garlinski was received as a novice of the Sisters of the Holy Names in July 2015. During her first year living with Sisters at our Province’s welcome house in Berkeley, CA, she began sharing her journey through a series of "News from the Novice" letters. She is spending in her missionary novice year at St. Mary’s Academy in Winnipeg, Manitoba. To learn more about becoming a Sister and the SNJM formation process, please click here.

In the photo: Sister Michelle (on left) sits with staff members from St. Mary's Academy as they read "Pilgrimage of the Heart" study materials about the life and ministry of Blessed Marie-Rose Durocher.

Sisters Respond to Economic Injustice with Quiet Ministry of Lending

Community development investing is a quiet ministry for the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. Although it’s low-profile, it’s a high-impact way of responding to the needs of people who have little or no access to credit.

By investing in people who would never qualify for a traditional loan, the Sisters leverage their financial resources to promote economic justice in low-income communities. These innovative and highly collaborative efforts bring together religious women from many different congregations who, as Gospel people, have committed financial assets to raising some of society’s least privileged people out of poverty.

How much does it take to make a difference? In 2013, the Sisters of the U.S.-Ontario Province acted to dedicate 3% of their investment portfolio to community investment initiatives. Province CFO Vicki Cummings, who has been involved with community investing for 30 years, says those funds have helped poor women in Haiti start small agricultural businesses, helped conserve land and clean water in the Pacific Northwest, and supported organizations in several states that assist low-income residents who need adequate housing, education, health care, food and jobs. And that’s just a few of those who have benefited.

In May 2017, Sister Rosemary Delaney and Sister Marcia Frideger had a first-hand encounter with the work of the Northern California Community Loan Fund (NCCLF), one of the organizations with which the Holy Names Sisters have a loan. At NCCLF’s 30th anniversary gathering in San Francisco, they met Sisters from other congregations who contribute to the same loan fund, as well as supporters from business and local government. As part of NCCLF’s commitment to California’s low-income communities, it has partnered with socially conscious impact investors and mission-driven organizations to promote affordable housing, education, health care, food, jobs and economic opportunity for individuals and families in need.

One of its recipient organizations is Planting Justice in Oakland, CA. It’s a grassroots organization with a mission to democratize access to affordable, nutritious food by empowering urban residents with the knowledge, skills and resources they need to work in food production. With an NCCLF loan, Planting Justice purchased 80,000 square feet of land in East Oakland to develop and expand a plant nursery. Planting Justice collaborates with San Quentin State Prison’s Insight Garden Program to provide inmates with training in permaculture gardening and employment opportunities after they are released on parole.

NCCLF also lends to Salud Para La Gente, which began in Watsonville, CA in 1978 as a storefront “free clinic” to serve the health needs of local farmworkers. Over the years, it has become a Federally Qualified Health Center with its main clinic in downtown Watsonville. In 2015, NCCLF provided tax credits financing to renovate and expand the main clinic. The expansion has allowed the clinic to increase services, including counseling and medical, dental and vision care for about 30,000 patients each year.

Community development investing is a gift that keeps on giving, according to Vicki, because nearly all the borrowers pay their loans back, making the funds available for reinvestment. This success rate is due to making the loans highly affordable, combined with proper due diligence to assure the borrowers’ repayment ability.

Rather than lending directly to individuals, the Sisters of the Holy Names work through several specialized community lending organizations. One of them is the Religious Communities Investment Fund (RCIF), a coordinated effort that pools investments from about two dozen women religious congregations to promote economic justice, compassion, human dignity and environmental stewardship.

Vicki, who serves on the RCIF board of directors, points out that the Sisters can support causes they care about both directly and through RCIF. Among the many recipients of RCIF loans worldwide, one example is Fonkoze, an entrepreneurial banking organization in Haiti that focuses on some of the country’s poorest women. In February 2017, Sister Mary Ellen Holohan and Vicki visited Haiti to witness how effectively Fonkoze is using low-interest loans to assist women in remote rural areas by first helping to meet their basic living needs, then accompanying them on the road to literacy, financial self-sufficiency and confidence. As a result, families that once struggled to survive are becoming assets to their communities. Fonkoze receives investments from the Holy Names Sisters both directly and through RCIF.

Community development investing by the Sisters of the Holy Names touches lives in places where Sisters have ministered for decades, including Latin America, Africa, upstate New York, Washington, DC, Florida, Oregon, Washington, California and Mississippi. The Sisters consider it part of their Gospel call to love their neighbors, and to live out their charism of the full development of all human persons.

Photo courtesy of Planting Justice (www.plantingjustice.org)

Collaboration: It’s Part of Our DNA

By Guadalupe Guajardo, SNJM

I like to think of collaboration simply as bringing things together as firmly as possible. As we examine our history, it’s very apparent that this dynamic element of collaboration is in our DNA as Sisters of the Holy Names.

We have been carrying out our charism and ministries through our daily activities in a collaborative spirit since our beginning days. Mother Marie Rose Durocher was integral in collaboration involved in running her priest brother’s parish in Quebec, Canada. And before long, she collaborated with two other young women to birth the Society of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM) in 1844.

Archival records also show we’ve been collaborating with the wider society ever since our arrival in Oregon in 1859. When babies were left at our doorstep, we founded the Christie Home for orphaned children. We’ve partnered with other religious orders in the Pacific Northwest since the arrival of our foundresses. We stepped in where the need for girls’ education was needed, while the Providence Sisters took the lead in the health and medical domains. This was a coordinated effort under the guidance of Bishop Ignace Bourget of Montreal, under whose patronage our Congregation began.

Collaboration has two cousins, "cooperation" and "coordination." Let's first understand the subtle but important distinctions in how they are related and deserving of their own “personalities.” This helps us notice how collaborative we in fact have been and continue to be today.

Coordination is about efficiency. Our Province managers and staff, with the guidance and direction of the PLT, coordinate many of our functions, from the separately incorporated institutions to health and well-being of our Sisters. Cooperation is about assisting and supporting larger efforts. We sit on the board of directors of nonprofits that ask for our presence.

Our Associates and Lay Consecrated women also cooperate in living out our vision, mission and charism. Recently, Sisters stepped in to cooperate with a vision of one our Associates who was inspired by the concept of intentional (pioneering) communities. This was one of the exciting dreams embraced during our 2016 General Chapter, the gathering every five years that brings together SNJM representatives from throughout the world.

Collaboration is undoubtedly hard work. Yet our Sisters happily take it on, knowing that their many joint efforts with others add up to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Today’s collaborations aren’t just accomplishing a lot for internal and external ministries. They’re helping us to reimagine religious life itself.

Whether we inch our way or make quantum leaps in the transformation of our SNJM religious order, we must stay steadfast in our commitment to working with others. No doubt the future will continue to be marked by the thumbprint of our SNJM DNA, leading us to ongoing collaboration, coordination and cooperation for the good of our society and world.

Guadalupe Guajardo, SNJM, is a member of the SNJM U.S.-Ontario Province Leadership Team.