Sister’s passion for teaching served her well at Faith Connections

Published in Canada
WASHINGTON – Royal wedding fever has caught on in many places, but it has a particular soft spot at Immaculate Heart Middle School and High School outside Los Angeles, the school Meghan Markle attended from seventh to 12th grade.
Published in International
HANOI, Vietnam – St. Paul de Chartres sisters in Vietnam were attacked by construction site guards while they were protesting the building of a house on their former land. One nun was beaten to unconsciousness, reported
Published in International
MANILA, Philippines – Philippine authorities have arrested, detained and intend to deport a 71-year-old Australian nun for allegedly engaging in illegal political activities.
Published in International
LOS ANGELES – Sister Catherine Rose Holzman, 89, was one of five remaining members of her religious community, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles.
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SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy – Sister Consolata di Santo, one of the first religious sisters to work in the hospital developed by St. Padre Pio, died March 2 at age 101, according to the Italian publication Avvenire.
Published in International
ROME – As the Catholic Church celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, a French bishop announced the 70th officially recognized miraculous cure of a pilgrim to the Lourdes grotto where Mary appeared 160 years ago.
Published in International

LIMA, Peru – When people wave at members of the pop band Siervas as they drive through the city, the nuns in the musical group know they've arrived on the world stage.

Published in Arts News

Updated 07/16/14

AMMAN, Jordan - Two Iraqi nuns and three orphans kidnapped in late June have been released safely, according to the Christian rights group Middle East Concern.

Published in International

The American nuns who were publicly scolded by the Vatican’s top doctrinal official for disobedience and promoting unorthodox beliefs have rejected the criticisms, and say their “attempts to clarify misperceptions have led to deeper misunderstandings” between Rome and the organization representing most of the 50,000 sisters in the U.S.

Published in Vatican

TORONTO - When Angela Farrell was unsure about a career change, she turned for guidance to the sisters at the Notre Dame convent in Toronto.

“I think of the convent as the North Star,” she said. “This is the true north and you orient from there.”

So she is saddened now to learn that her North Star will soon be dark. After 60 years, the convent on Kingston Road in Toronto’s east end is closing.

The packing has already begun and the nuns, several in their 80s, are to all be moved by next August, although the date is not set in stone, says Sr. Eileen Power. She is clear the sisters are not leaving Toronto, but will cease to live in community as they move to other locations in the city.

“We have been engaged in a process of long-term planning for some time now in our congregation and in our province and many other communities are doing this too,” said Power, the local house leader. “The location is no longer meeting our housing needs.”

The convent and property will be sold but Power said she has no idea who the buyer will be.

“Only God knows that right now,” she said.

The convent has housed up to 20 people but is currently home to just 11 sisters, some of whom have lived there more than 40 years. The youngest is in her early 40s but most are retired. There are about two dozen Notre Dame sisters living in Toronto, said Power.

“The sisters here are looking to the future with hope and courage and they are hearing God’s call in this,” she said.

When Farrell was growing up in the neighbourhood, the convent was a much busier place. The Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame provided teachers for many east-end Catholic schools and, in 1941, founded Notre Dame High School, which still operates nearby the convent. Farrell almost always lived close to the sisters. A graduate of Notre Dame, she has taught religion and belonged to the chaplaincy team at the school the past 12 years.

“My whole growing up was shaped by the presence of the sisters and there was always a sense of structure and security in knowing they were there,” she said.

The order has been in Toronto for 80 years. The first nuns arrived in 1932 at the invitation of Archbishop Neil McNeil to bolster Toronto’s Catholic teaching community, originally settling in a convent near St. Brigid’s Church. Over the years, the sisters taught in more than 20 elementary schools and several high schools. They’ve also been active in parishes through outreach to the poor, catechetics, retreats and social justice initiatives.

As their numbers increased, and after Notre Dame High School was built, the sisters obtained a plot of land near the school for a convent. It has been occupied since 1952 but, with vocations in dramatic decline, some difficult decisions were required.

“I think most families experience this,” Power said. “The kids grow up and move away and three or four bedrooms are empty and the parents say, ‘We need to do something now.’ We don’t have a lot of younger people at the moment here in Toronto.”

Power said it is important that the order prudently manage its resources.

“We pool our resources as sisters and then we support people who are doing other ministries,” she said, highlighting activities for social justice in Central America, Africa, Japan, France, the United States, as well as across Canada.

Nancy Devitt-Tremblay, a Notre Dame graduate (class of 1974), says the sisters gave the incredible gift of education to her mother’s generation.

“My mother grew up in an inner-city parish at a time when her brothers didn’t go to high school,” said Devitt-Tremblay, a teacher at Senator O’Connor College School. “If Notre Dame hadn’t opened, she probably wouldn’t have had a high school education.”

Ursula Thomson was a part of that generation. One of 16 members of the first graduating class in 1944, she keeps in touch with Notre Dame nuns almost 70 years later. She is grateful for the kindness, intelligence and devotion of the sisters.

The relocation process for the 11 nuns still in the convent will be co-ordinated between the leadership and administrative team in Halifax, Power said.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

BOSTON - Growing up, the toughest person in Tom Coughlin's life was not the local playground bully, the wise guy at the school bus stop, or any one of his rough and tumble friends.

No way. Not even close.

The person most respected and most feared was a St. Joseph nun. Her name was Sr. Rose Alice.

"She was tougher, faster, she could hit harder and she could out-talk anyone," said Coughlin, the head coach of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

As an elementary school student at St. Mary's School in Waterloo, N.Y., and an altar boy at St. Mary's Church, Coughlin received a solid Catholic formation.

"The Sisters of St. Joseph were great," remarked Coughlin, who led the Giants to victories in Super Bowl XLII and XLVI. "They were totally dedicated to Jesus Christ, the Catholic faith and to the welfare of each and every one of their students. Who I am today can be traced to the values I learned from the faith-filled Sisters of St. Joseph."

Coughlin, 66, grew up in the Finger Lakes region of New York state. He is the oldest of seven children. His father, Lou, worked for an Army supply depot. His mother, Betty, was a non-Catholic who went out of her way to make sure her children fulfilled their Catholic obligations.

"My mother was really more Catholic than anyone," said Coughlin in a telephone interview from New Jersey. "Every Sunday she made sure we were dressed and ready for Mass."

Beginning with his baptism, Coughlin looks to the tenets of the Catholic faith as the roots of his formation and development.

"The importance of conscience was pounded into you by the priests and nuns," he said. "We learned that there are consequences for our actions. Ultimately, there is a greater court, judge and jury. I am far from perfect so it has always been vital for me to know that you can't be a phony. There is no hiding from God."

In high school, where he first excelled in football, Tom set the school's single-season record for touchdowns with 19. That record still stands. He went on to Syracuse University where he played in a dream backfield with two of the Orangemen's all-time greats, Larry Csonka and Floyd Little. A wing back, Coughlin set the school's single season receiving record in 1967.

At Syracuse, Coughlin played for legend and College Hall of Fame coach Ben Schwartzwalder, who as a collegian was a scrappy 146-pound centre and wrestler for the University of West Virginia Mountaineers. Much of Swartzwalder's character and toughness rubbed off on the future Giants coach.

"I have great respect for him," said Coughlin. "At age 32, during World War II, he was one of the oldest soldiers to parachute behind enemy lines on D-Day. Because of his age, his airborne unit nicknamed him 'Gramps.' ”

Coughlin's life attests to the fact that faith without works is an empty proposition.

Before becoming the first head coach of the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars, he was the head coach at Boston College from 1991 to 1993, where he posted a 21-13-1 record, including a dramatic last-second victory over top-ranked Notre Dame. One of his players was Jay McGillis, who developed leukemia while on the team and died from the disease. In his memory, Coughlin launched the Jay Fund Foundation, which has raised more than $2 million to assist families of cancer patients.

As a coach, Coughlin is known for his intensity, sometimes called competitive fire. Giants President John Mara, following a huge victory over the Jets that fueled the Giants' late-season march to Super Bowl XLVI, said about Coughlin: "He is never going to give up. He seems to be at his best when his back is against the wall."

Giants Chairman Steve Tisch added: "Look inside the locker room. He (Coughlin) has inspired every single player to play for each other and not just for themselves."

A disciplinarian and a detail-oriented taskmaster, cut from the same cloth as the great Vince Lombardi, Coughlin was asked how he would like to be remembered. He paused, then answered: "Fair, firm, honest and demanding."

Coughlin and his wife Judy, who were classmates in high school, have been married 45 years. The couple has four children and 11 grandchildren. He also coaches his son-in-law, Giants guard Chris Snee, who is married to Coughlin's daughter Katie.

Coughlin is no lace-curtain Irishman. Sometimes his rough, tough, no-nonsense exterior masks how much he cares. He is particularly gratified when former players return to see him.

"They thank me for helping them become the best that can be, on and off the field," said Coughlin.

"Those moments are special. Man to man. You can't top that."

Published in International

WASHINGTON - Conflict between the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith over the reform of LCWR boils down to whether one can "be a Catholic and have a questioning mind," the conference's president said in an interview on National Public Radio's Fresh Air program.

Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell also said in the July 17 interview that she would like to see discussion about whether "freedom of conscience in the Church (is) genuinely honoured."

Published in International

Sisters, brothers and religious priests across Canada are praying for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, but they’re not talking about the organization that represents about 80 per cent of U.S. nuns.

“The LCWR has asked us not to comment at this point,” said Canadian Religious Conference spokesperson Louise Stafford. A number of religious communities across Canada contacted by The Catholic Register  also either declined comment or did not return calls.

Published in Canada

Many of you by now have heard about the Vatican’s doctrinal investigation into the words and actions of American nuns. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the main protector of right Catholic thinking, released an official document a few weeks ago outlining several concerns.

The CDF is generally worried about the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents about 80 per cent of America’s nuns, because of what the Vatican sees as a move away from orthodoxy into a more freewheeling Catholicism, a blend of American independence and secular thinking mixed with some right belief. In other words, the nuns are Catholic but not Catholic enough.

The CDF said the nuns’ leaders, not necessarily the rank-and-file women on the ground, have drifted into “radical feminism” and speakers at leadership events have expounded “moving beyond the Church and even beyond Jesus.”

The investigation did not pop out of thin air. It was launched in 2008 but apparently the Vatican telegraphed its concerns to the LCWR as early as 2001.

American mainstream media has played this as the bullies from the Vatican picking on the nuns. In three stories on the issue by The New York Times, America’s paper of record, not once does anyone appear to defend the CDF.

On June 1 one of these stories led with the following:

“The American nuns who were harshly condemned by the Vatican in April as failing to uphold Catholic doctrine finally responded on Friday in their own strong terms, saying the Vatican’s assessment was based on ‘unsubstantiated accusations’ and a ‘flawed process,’ and has caused scandal, pain and polarization in the Roman Catholic Church.”

Another story had this as its second paragraph:

“The bus tour (the sisters are undertaking) is a response to a blistering critique of American nuns released in April by the Vatican’s doctrinal office, which included the accusation that the nuns are outspoken on issues of social justice, but silent on other issues the Church considers crucial: abortion and gay marriage.”

“Harshly condemned,” “blistering” and “accusations” may seem like mere words, but they are in fact editorializing as to what the Vatican was doing to the nuns. Any non-Catholic reader, or any reader for that matter, gets the impression that the CDF has parked naval destroyers along the U.S. coast  as part of a full-fledged action against defenseless sisters. That rings especially true when the stories have absolutely no balance.

The nuns do have a case. Some of the language used in the CDF document is hard to understand. I am not sure what a “radical feminist” is and complaints about certain speakers attending LCWR events seem picky. The nuns are often the ones on the frontline dealing with the most difficult cases in society, and so to improvise on what the Church teaches may not be an act of a rebel but of someone finding a pastoral solution in a situation demanding immediate action.

But anyone who has any loyalty to the Church has to believe that the Vatican does not act on a whim. God knows no one has ever accused Rome of acting too quickly. That which may seem petty or even vindictive to The New York Times has a more profound meaning for those who do not make decisions by popularity polls or to satisfy current trends.

The Vatican must obtain a certain order, demands certain obedience, because that is how the Church has survived and thrived for 2,000 years. Those demands may rankle the ears of those outside the Church, but frankly that should not be the concern of Rome.

But there is more here that should concern Catholics, especially Catholics who have bought into the storyline that the Church leadership is made of ogres and should simply leave the sisters alone.

A part of me believes that what we are seeing is just more anti-Catholicism at the expense of the sisters. The very idea that journalists are jumping to the nuns’ defence probably has more to do with a chance to bash the Church rather than aid the good sisters.

When this fight has passed and is long forgotten many of those same people who today love the nuns will continue to find ways to attack the Catholic Church — and perhaps the nuns themselves on an occasion when they are no longer media darlings.

(Lewis writes about religion for the National Post and he is the editor of the paper’s religion site, Holy Post.)

Published in Guest Columns
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