Tag Archives: Catholic

A TRIBUTE IN TWO PARTS to Sister Mary Helen Rogers

Sister Mary Helen Rogers, OLVM died January 13 at the age of 100. This tribute to her is reprinted from THE BEST OF BEING CATHOLIC.

Sister Grandma

It all began over forty years ago, when after service as a Papal Volunteer in Belize, I knew I couldn’t return to start the graduate program at University of Chicago I’d planned. After a year of living with poverty, I needed a more gradual transition back to the wealthy U.S. Fortunately, my aunt, a Victory Noll sister, ran a Center in one of Denver’s worst neighborhoods. Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty had provided funding for a summer program for children, which my cousin and I offered to direct. It was a match made in heaven!

Our aunt and her community happily introduced us to the neighborhood, the local attractions, and best of all, the mountains. Although they worked daily with grindingly difficult situations, violent gangs, drug and alcohol addictions and suffering people, they were a remarkably cheerful and upbeat bunch, celebrating everyday miracles. Dinners with them were always fun, with dessert an essential, and the table often decorated. Perhaps because they’d given me such a warm welcome, or because I loved the mountains so much, I stayed in Denver, completed the graduate work, and married.

Some eight years later, our oldest son was feeling his lack of grandparents. His only living grandfather was in another city, but his sister, my aunt, had always been a joyful presence in his life. He approached her shyly: “would you be my foster grandma?” She of course was delighted, and scooped the kindergartener into her arms. “Of course! I’d be thrilled!”

The other children quickly assumed that my aunt was Granny; it didn’t bother them that she was also “Sister.” One day, they were leaving her office as a client entered. “’Bye Granny!” each called sweetly. She apologized for the interruption to the woman who said graciously, “Oh Sister, you be with your grandchildren!”  Over thirty years later, slight embarrassment crosses my aunt’s face as she tells the story. “She didn’t quite get the concept of nuns. So I told her this was my niece and her children before any rumors could get started.”

Granny had a knack for gifts and notes on each child’s birthday, candy for the “major religious feasts,” which included Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter, and root bear floats. “Royalty were never treated as well; no child was ever cherished as much as we were,” one daughter remembers. Faithfully, despite blizzards, she’d attend First Communions, Confirmations and graduations. Now engaged in their own work with nonprofits, the children see her as a model of how to live with compassion and treat all people with a profound and gentle respect. From her they learned that justice is about making love tangible in ways large and small.  To be continued…

Feasting on Thanks, Part 2

Thanks in Unlikely Places

Some may feel that they don’t have a lot on the list to be grateful for.

But as Paul told the Thessalonians, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18). No matter how desperate a situation may seem, there’s always room in it for thanks—or a scavenger hunt to find something good there. A few examples, probably from worse times and places than ours:

• In the letter to Philippians, “joy” and “rejoice” appear 16 times, despite the fact Paul wrote from prison, awaiting a trial which could’ve led to his death.

• Corrie ten Boom, author of THE HIDING PLACE and survivor of a Nazi concentration camp was grateful for the fleas, because their presence meant the German guards would leave prisoners alone.

• “Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into grateful joy,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who remained grateful even until his execution by Nazis, despite having to tell his fiancée goodbye.

• Those who survived the terrible tragedy of 9/11/01 in New York City were more resilient and less prone to depression if they could somehow find gratitude in the ruins. While a mixture of positive and negative feelings seems natural, it’s heartening to read remarkable relief despite terrible circumstances. One who was in the World Trade Center that morning said: “Each day that I stay as a guest on this green Earth suddenly seems like outrageous good fortune.”

Practical Steps

So how does a busy family fit shared meals into a packed schedule? Most families can spin out a litany of reasons why they can’t eat together: soccer games, meetings, choir practice, travel, work, etc. etc. But forgiving the pun, table the excuses. They all seem pretty flimsy when held up against the studies done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. Their surveys found that the more often a family has dinner together, the less likely their teen is to smoke, drink or use drugs. Each time the family dines together reduces the risk of children’s substance abuse. Nothing in the reports suggests it must be a five-course meal; macaroni and cheese is fine. What matters is telling the stories, chewing over the day, being nurtured together.

Can gratitude be incorporated into a tight calendar too? Many reasons to do so come from Robert Emmons. His book THANKS! says multiple clinical studies have proven that a regular practice of gratitude can elevate what psychologists call the “set point” of happiness. Though a devastating spinal cord injury can dramatically decrease happiness, and winning the lottery increase it, most people over the subsequent six months will adapt and return to the “set point.”

Grateful thinking helps people extract the most possible enjoyment from their circumstances. It prevents adaptation (returning to the “set point”) and improves mood because people don’t  take blessings for granted.

To receive these benefits, giving thanks beyond one day in November must become a deliberate habit. Thus, Emmons recommends a regular practice such as keeping a gratitude journal, naming the three best things that happen each day, writing a letter to or visiting someone we appreciate. A family can do this together, drawing or writing blessings on a big piece of newsprint hung jauntily on the refrigerator. Or make placemats from paper. In the center write THANKS, then surround the word with drawings or names of gifts: My dog. Music. Naps. Hot soup. (Laminate so they’ll last a while.) These practices can cascade throughout the month, becoming an avalanche of thanks by the feast itself. Seeing so many blessings, most people would want to continue every month. Bon Appetit!

Profile of Bridging Hope in National Catholic Reporter

Kathy Coffey recently profiled Bridging Hope in the September 28-October 10 issue of National Catholic Reporter.

Bridging Hope is a nonprofit founded by Franciscan Sister Sen Nyguyen.   The article profiles Nguyen’s journey from Vietnam, to Denver, Colorado, where she became a Franciscan Sister, to her return to Vietnam in 1991, which motivated her to start Bridging Hope.

“Some bridges are hard to negotiate, but this ministry is a significant start. Many feel overwhelmed by world poverty, yet finding a direct, trustworthy way to alleviate it is the first step on the bridge. Even one small, practical action restores hope.”   To read the entire article, visit: National Catholic Reporter: “Franciscan sister’s nonprofit aims to create bridges between U.S., Vietnam”