November 11, celebrated by most Americans as Veteran’s Day, is celebrated yearly by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth (KS) as “Founders’ Day.” On that day in 1858– two years before Kansas entered the Union–the first Sisters of Charity disembarked in Leavenworth from a riverboat steamer, answering a summons of the Kansas Territory Bishop, John B. Miege, S.J. to “Come North.” At this year’s celebration, Sister Anne Marie Burke, SCL, reflected on what came from that small band of women. Following is her reflection.
Founders Day Mass
Reflection by Sister Anne Marie Burke
When I think of our Community as a whole, two scenes come to mind: One is Grand Junction, where I had a lovely house, sparsely furnished, better to show off the painting of “The Landing.” There were glass sliding doors, which ran the width of the room, and close-by, a view of St. Mary Hospital, and the construction of an expansion which included a 14 story tower.
Whenever I had company, I used to point to the picture of the little band of women, and say “Look at this!” Then pointing to the largest hospital between Denver and Salt Lake City, I would say, “Now look at that!” Terry Weinberger had given a presentation on “The Landing” for our reflection at one of our SCL/SCLA meetings. He asked, “What do you think that this little group of women were feeling?”
In pointing out the contrast, I was trying to share my own sense of wonder at what God had planted with this tiny group. It was an example of my amazement at the growth in ministry. The community gave employment to thousands of people, compassionate healing to many more, and instruction and care for generations of children and adults. It founded a community in Peru, worked in other mission fields, and provided opportunities for spiritual growth for many. These works are what Simplicity, Humility and Charity have built, along with what I think are specifically SCL charisms, humor and music. The majestic harp in the parlor has evolved through the years into choirs and instrumental ensembles which enriched our liturgies and entertained at celebrations in and out of the community.
The sisters could always find the funny side of things. One of many amusing incidents in the life of the community was that concerning Sister Regina McGrainey. She had come with the original group from Tennessee. She had suffered a stroke but did what tasks she was able. After some time she became very ill and was expected to die, but survived for two years during which there were a series of summonings of the doctor, who had become skeptical about her “dyings.” At last she was so ill that Sister Josephine was sitting in vigil by her bedside late at night. A commotion arose in the street, and Sister Josephine, seeing that her patient had undergone no change, went to the front door to see what was happening. It was a fire on 3rd St. She became aware of someone watching with her – Sister Regina out of bed and curious.
There was a later Regina, a gad-about during life, whose remains were misplaced for a while between the hospital and mortuary when she died. Well, said the sisters, we never did know where she was.
The other scene I ponder is in the Mother House, in the first floor hall – two beautiful wooden carvings by Sister Bernardine Hon flank the portraits of what Danette Sullivan called our “Queen Bees.” Mother Xavier is planting a sapling, in one of the carvings. I remember when several little trees were planted in front of the Mother House. They had still to be supported by stakes. Look at the carving – now look at the front circle, and the campus. The other plaque is from Proverbs. The wise woman. Look at that – look at all the gray hair.
True, we are dwindling in numbers, but the community has had other diminishments. Between 1858 and 1898, 70 sisters died and many deaths occurred during the great pandemic of 1918. Someday, perhaps, another smaller group of sisters will rely on God’s Providence to guide them as they face as yet unknown challenges. This time they are not alone but have numerous affiliations: the associates, the Federation, the Vincentian Family, the LCWR, NETWORK, ecumenical comrades, a global Sisterhood, and untold others. Perhaps they will be part of a world-wide movement to equalize the distribution of resources and wealth or a more earnest and universal rescue of the planet’s environment. We are no longer a sapling, but part of a forest, with deep roots, branches outspread to the poor, and where small communities can find shelter for their own growth.
Teihard de Chardin, like St. Paul, was a great visionary and said that God intended for things to cease replicating themselves indefinitely, but to form something new. We are part of a great transforming convergence on the threshold of union with Christ, the Omega. We are a Church and a community that looks to the future with the promise of Isaiah:
If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted…the LORD will guide you always…and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails.