FROM THE BEGINNING
Born into a devout Catholic family, in Mountmellick, County Laois, Ireland my mother a daily communicant and my father a quiet, peaceful man, religious practices including the daily praying of the Rosary was part of my childhood menu. Educated by the local Presentation Sisters who acquainted us with their Postulants and Novices – girls from their near-by Secondary School surrounded at home and in school with religion, thinking of becoming a Religious one day was easily imaginable. It became my desire and goal.
While still quite young, a Bishop from China came to Ireland to visit the various schools promoting mission work. Even though ours was only a Primary School, he spoke to us. From that day on, I was determined to be a Missionary, go to China despite the fact that I didn’t know anything about it or where it was located. It was far away and that was sufficient to satisfy my longing for missionary work, at that time.
When I was in Secondary School, a Missionary Franciscan Sister came to our town seeking girls interested in Religious Life: this was my opportunity to become a missionary. My application was accepted and October 4th of that year, 1936, twenty-two of us went to Bloomfield Juniorate Mullingar, Ireland, to begin preparation for Religious Life. August 1937, we were given two weeks’ vacation with our families. When it was time to go to Rome, four of us were given the bad news that we were to remain in Ireland until later. Instead of us, four older girls had been recruited and the Roman Convent was not large enough to accommodate all. What a disappointment and shock!! Fortunately, February 1938 brought good news. Several of the newly professed sisters were needed for ministry in Egypt and a few Postulants were leaving the Community. The Sister who accompanied the Postulants came to Bloomfield and she brought us to Rome, on her return. Rejoice! Rejoice! No one realized the joy and happiness in my heart that day.
July 2nd 1940, we pronounced our vows. December of that year, three of us were chosen to go on the missions, disappointment again, not to China but to the missions in the U.S. “But hope springs eternal”. We were delayed, however, in getting on our way. The voyage of the Italian liner on which we were to sail was cancelled; the ship was sunk later-World War 11 had begun. We went to Lisbon, Portugal where a smaller ship was available and we embarked. The trip was an eventful one: mid-Atlantic we encountered a severe storm, suddenly, about 2:00 am a huge wave struck the liner turned it on its side and all the passengers were thrown from their bunks and everything was in disarray. Immediately, another larger wave struck from the other side, righting the ship – lucky for all of us! The Captain told us it was the closest to sinking he had ever been. The older Sister with us, said, “Sisters, get dressed, we will go down with our Habits on us”! She must have thought that God wouldn’t recognize us in our night attire if we sank!. It was quite stormy sailing for some time, after that. Unexpectedly, another ocean surprise and trauma awaited us. Coming close to New York our port of entrance, the liner was speeding to the amazement of everyone. Having docked safely, the Captain had the explanation – we had been chased by a German submarine. God was surely on our side all the way!
My first assignment on the missions was the Bronx, New York taking the census of the Parish, making the Altar Breads for Church, starching and ironing the guimpes we wore in those days. Next year, 1941 Elementary Education became my responsibility for the next thirty-eight years beginning in Chester,
Pennsylvania and continuing in Mount Alvernia, Massachusetts; Little Falls, Minnesota; Pittsburg, Pennsylvania; Milton, Massachusetts; Belle Prairie, Minnesota and Seminole, Florida. They were delightful years and a marvelous experience. My longing for China had evaporated.
A whole new world opened before me in 1979. The Pastor with whom Sister Eileen Hurley and I worked in Seminole petitioned Sister M. Angelica, then Provincial, to allow us to join him in Grove City, Florida, to where he had been assigned by the Bishop to initiate a Parish. Grove City was certainly a misnomer for the place, a real grove but no city. Angelica and her Council acquiesced to Father’s request. August 1979, I was in the Grove. Two years later, September 1981, the Grove had disappeared replaced by Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.
Monica’s classroom days were ended, Parish work and my responsibilities differed greatly from my school days and my new ministries were : Director of Religious Education; R.C.I.A; Moderator of the Third Order Franciscans; preparing Liturgies for the installation of members into the various Church Groups; readying Documents for people desiring to have their cremains interred in the Memorial Garden; filing all transactions and reports accurately; arranging flowers and decorating the Church for special occasions; keeping Church bulletin board captions current, attractive and inspirational; from time to time aiding with the Sunday collection and recording the individual contributions into the computer. Forty years passed unnoticed in that rewarding and fulfilling atmosphere.
Most grateful for God’s Call to Religious life, presently, I am a very happy, relaxed, retired person living in our beautiful, comfortable, recently refurbished Convent, Newton, MA. keeping myself busy. Again, the Eucharistic Liturgy begins the day and trivial things follow – knitting and/or crocheting for the poor, reading and continuing my artistic work of making all-occasion cards. Since all work and no play would make Monica a dull girl, I play two or three games on the computer and access the internet daily to keep in touch with international events so:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
My spirit finds joy in God my Savor” Luke 1:46
Sister Monica Hayes M.F.I..C.
Advent Reflection: “How did I get here?”
As a young girl I was fascinated by the wonderful sisters who taught me in grammar school. They were outstanding teachers and I loved to spend time with them. I found myself playing school as “Sister Bernadette” (the movie “Song of Bernadette” was newly released) and wishing that I could be a sister. As I graduated from the eighth grade Sr.Wendrona, CSJ, told me that she believed I had a vocation to religious life. I smiled and said: “yes Sister!” Off I went to a Franciscan High School.
I loved the Franciscan spirit of the sisters at my high school but with a little money in my pocket from a part-time job and a new boyfriend, I forgot all about my eighth grade teacher’s prediction. I had decided to be a high school Spanish teacher. During my college years, every now and then I felt a little tug at my heart saying that maybe God was asking more of me but I dismissed those thoughts very quickly. I had developed a love for travel and surely that was not part of religious life. During the semester break of my junior year of college I went on a college- sponsored trip to Europe that brought us back to school two days late for the start of the second semester. As I walked into my first class I was so surprised to see a Franciscan Sister there. I recognized the modified habit from my high school days and immediately began a conversation with her, catching up on the news about my former teachers.
As the weeks went on I noticed even more of the sisters studying in the library. Alas, those thoughts about becoming a sister began to resurface as did Sr. Wendrona’s little nudge. There were many questions to be asked and answered. I had a strong faith but did I really want to be poor and obedient? Did I want to have a family of my own? As I grappled with these questions a missionary priest came to our parish to ask for financial assistance for his ministry. During his homily he spoke about religious life and vocations and said: “it is not that there are fewer vocations but there are fewer people who think they might have a vocation and are willing to say, ‘I will try.’ ” At that moment, in that church, I said “yes”!
Forty-two tears later, I live a full life as a Missionary Franciscan Sister. Through my life in community and ministry I have experienced God in profound ways as a teacher, administrator, care-giver for people with HIV/AIDS, pilgrimage leader and spiritual director. I remember with deep gratitude the sisters from St. Clare High School who modeled for me a Franciscan way of Gospel living. Their love of God, each other, their students and all of creation continue to inspire me and call me to deepen my commitment to this way of life.
During this year of Consecrated Life may we remember with St. Clare that: “Among the other gifts that we have received and continue to receive from our magnanimous God and for which we must express the deepest thanks, there is our vocation.”
Fall 2014 ReflectionMany of our sisters in the USA Governance Circle gathered at various Franciscan places on October 3rd to celebrate the Transitus of St. Francis of Assisi. As followers of St. Francis, the Transitus, a reflection on the last hours of St. Francis’ life, serves as a reminder to us of St. Francis’ commitment to a Gospel way of life and invites us to reflect on the ways in which we are called to cultivate that Gospel spirit in our lives. The following is Sr. Margaret Henry’s reflection shared at the Transitus at 790 Centre Street.
We are gathered this evening to relive the last days and hours of the life of Francis of Assisi, to remember him. We have heard how, as he lay dying, he was filled with the joy of many memories: his conversion, his burning desire to follow the Jesus of the gospels, his love for the brothers given to him by God, his oneness with everything in the world of nature, his longing for the coming of “Sister Death.”
Let us for a few minutes go back to that time and place and join the brothers gathered around him for the last time. They were united in their sorrow and grief. Each of them, as one does when gathered around a loved one in the quiet time of waiting, was reminiscing about his own relationship with the dying man.
There was Bernard, a wealthy and learned man from Assisi, who was the first to join Francis, having been deeply moved by his preaching. He recalled how Francis and he had opened the book of the gospels and found the words of Jesus that became the basis for the poverty that was such an essential part of their lives: poverty in imitation of the poor Christ. He felt again the great joy of selling his goods and giving the money to the poor.
Sitting very close to Francis was Brother Leo, affectionately called by Francis “Little lamb of God” in contrast to his name. He was Francis’s constant companion and scribe, witness to so many of Francis’s encounters with God in prayer, not least of which was the imposition of the Stigmata two years earlier. Soon after this, Leo was disturbed by the thought that his beloved father was soon to die. To ease Leo’s distress, Francis wrote a special blessing on a piece of parchment. As Leo waited for the coming of Sister Death, he held it lovingly, knowing that it would give him consolation in the bleak days ahead.
Then there was the young brother invited by Francis one day to come with him to preach. They walked through the villages, joyful in their demeanor, speaking courteously and peacefully to one another and to all the people they met along the way. Then they returned home. The brother asked Francis why they hadn’t preached that day. Francis told him that they had, in fact, been preaching all day. This incident gave rise to the expression attributed to Francis: “Preach, and if necessary use words.”
Present too was Brother Angelo, who shared a love of music with Francis. He recalled the many journeys made with Francis throughout Italy. Their long walks from town to town were shortened by their joyful songs as they traveled, praising God as troubadours of the Great King. His most vivid memory was when, after Francis had composed the Canticle of the Sun, they sang it together for the first time. For Angelo, as for all of us, the canticle has beautifully depicted Francis’ affinity with the entire natural world, as he calls on each element, sun and moon, wind, clouds, fire, and earth to praise the Creator.
Then there was Brother Elias, away in a corner by himself. Francis had given him charge of the Friars. Elias had seen how quickly the group had grown over the years and had recognized that the simple life that Francis and the early brothers had lived was no longer possible, now that the number of friars had increased so much. This caused him much soul-searching and heartbreak. Many of the early followers of Francis were upset and angry about the seeming relaxation of the early rule of life. Brother Elias wanted to be faithful to Francis and yet provide for the brothers – he prayed that he would do the right thing after Francis was no longer with them.
All of them remembered the example Francis had shown them in following in the footprints of Jesus and imitating his life so closely.
Someone who was not there in person, but very much with them all in spirit, was Clare, the first woman to follow Francis. Like the brothers gathered around Francis, she was remembering: she recalled many aspects of her life: hearing Francis preach for the first time and being touched to the depths of her being by his spirit and his words; her journey on Palm Sunday night from her parents’ house down to the valley, where Francis cut her hair and clothed her in a rough habit similar to his own; her move to San Damiano, where Francis had received the message from the crucifix, “Go and repair my house, because it is falling into ruin.” It would be up to her now to carry on the spirit of Francis and support the friars.
And now, to bring the story back to the present – what about us? What are our favorite memories of the life of Francis? What part of his spirit will we take with us this evening from our commemoration of the days and hours before his death? What aspect of Gospel living will we cultivate? As we reflect on our own lives, we can take comfort in knowing that, in spirit, Francis of Assisi lives on.
Summer 2014 Reflection
On July 15th, the Franciscan family celebrates the feast of St. Bonaventure. Born in 1221 in Bagnoregio, a small hilltop town in central Italy, he was cured of a serious illness as a boy through the prayers of St. Francis of Assisi. Inspired by St. Francis and the example of the friars, especially of his master in theology at the University of Paris, Alexander of Hales, he entered the Franciscan Order, and became in turn a teacher of theology in the university. Chosen as minister general of the Order in 1257, at the behest of the brothers, he wrote a life of St. Francis and other works reflecting the vision and spirituality of Francis of Assisi.
Sr. Ilia Delio writes the following, describing Bonaventure’s belief in God’s overflowing goodness and love seen in creation.
“St. Bonaventure described the created universe as the fountain-fullness of God’s expressed being. As God expresses God’s self in creation, creation, in turn, expresses the Creator.
We can compare the manifold variety of things in creation to the stain-glassed windows of a great cathedral. Just as light strikes the various panes of glass and diffracts into an array of colors, so too the divine light emanates through the Word and diffracts in the universe, producing a myriad of “colors” expressed in a myriad of things, all reflecting the divine light in some way.”[i]
As we move through the summer months, listening to the songs of the birds, seeing the blossoms of beautiful flowers, tasting the fruits of our gardens, experiencing God’s presence in all we meet, may we savor God’s overflowing goodness and love for us and for our world.
January 2014 Reflection
Each year thousands of pilgrims who visit Assisi spend time at the Basilica of Saint Clare praying before the San Damiano Cross. This six-foot icon has a story to tell and a message to be heard. It inspired both Saint Francis and Saint Clare in their commitment to live the Holy Gospel. Our Governance Circle has chosen the San Damiano Cross as the logo for our Gathering in April. During the months leading up to the Gathering we are invited to reflect on the image of Jesus. What is the story we need to hear? What is the message to be heard?
In Mark’s Gospel we hear that Jesus looked into the eyes of the rich young man and loved him. Saint Francis told the Minister, “When a brother (or sister) has wronged you in any way they should be able to tell by the look in your eyes that they are loved and forgiven.”
What do we see as we look into the eyes of Jesus? What does Jesus see as He looks into our eyes?
“Behold, I make all things new” is the theme we have chosen for our Gathering. As we spend time reflecting on the San Damiano Cross, may we be filled with hope and anticipation and openness to God’s promise that all things are being made new in us.
November 2013 Reflection: Thanksgiving
The Canticle of the Creatures is a beautiful hymn written by St. Francis at San Damiano shortly before his death. As he wrote the Canticle, his eyesight was nearly gone, he was in poor health, and his order was struggling to maintain his original vision. None of this kept Francis from seeing the world with a heart filled with gratitude for God’s unconditional love. Francis had become so familiar with creatures that he embraced them all as “brother” and “sister.”
Recently, parts of our country have experienced tornadoes that have leveled entire towns. The people of the Philippines are struggling to rebuild after Typhoon Haiyan. Government leaders cling to a power that precludes dialogue and compromise. Like St. Francis, none of this should keep us from seeing our world with hearts filled with gratitude for the countless ways that God has showered us with love.
For generations our sisters have helped to mold and shape countless young people, hoping that as they matured they would take their places as women and men who would mirror God’s love and see all creatures as “brother” and “sister.” This month a student at Mount Alvernia High School turned 16 years old, a big birthday to celebrate! She is a triplet, and her other two sisters go to a different school. In lieu of birthday gifts, these young ladies asked their family and friends to send an offering to Mount Alvernia High School. A $3,000 gift was made to the school in their names. Clearly, they see the world with hearts filled with love and thanksgiving.
This Thanksgiving, we pray with St. Francis:
“Praise and bless my Lord, give God thanks and serve God with great humility.” St. Francis
October 2013 Reflection
The San Damiano cross, which we are all very familiar with, is 6 feet, 10 inches high, and it is painted on cloth and glued onto the wood. In the movie Francesco the cross is not hanging from the ceiling, but leaning against the altar. Francis is lying beside the cross in prayer. He then picks it up, hangs it, and embraces the crucified and living Christ! That embrace unlocks for us a door that leads to a beautiful story.
The Jesus on whom Francis gazed, the Jesus Francis embraced, was stretching out loving arms on the hard wood of the cross. In The Reluctant Saint, Donald Spoto writes, “This image brought Francis to life, gave him purpose, and rescued him from chaos. Francis experienced God as author, renewer and Savior. He knew in a way that was deeper, that surpassed all other modes of knowing, that God saved him from turmoil, and had given him meaning. He was therefore no longer centered on himself and his needs, pleasure, pain, glory, fulfillment, but from now on he had one goal in mind, to remain accessible to the voice that had just called him – to enable the conversion to continue.”1
The loving embrace of Jesus freed Francis to keep growing, to keep discovering, to keep on listening to and being led by God! To embrace the leper! As we stand with Jesus, in the warm, strong, unconditional loving embrace, we are free, invited to carry the embrace to all those we meet.
1. Spoto, Donald. The Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi. New York: Viking Compass, 2002, p. 46.