By Tammy Townsend Denny, TI Executive Director
In Mary Oliver’s poem “Six Recognitions of the Lord,” she writes:
Oh, feed me this day, Holy Spirit, with
the fragrance of the fields and the
freshness of the oceans which you have
made, and help me to hear and to hold
in all dearness those exacting and wonderful
words of our Lord Christ Jesus, saying:
My husband and I have been watching The Chosen, slowly working our way through each episode. As I watch the show, I am always a little jarred when Jesus says, “Follow me.” (Watch a compilation of scenes from The Chosen here). What does it really mean when Jesus says, “Follow me”?
I understand Mary Oliver’s desire to be fed by the Holy Spirit with the “fragrance of the fields” and the “freshness of the oceans.” But the simple words “follow me” seem so much more complex.
What do the “exacting and wonderful” words “follow me” mean to you?
For an interesting exploration of “those exacting and wonderful words of our Lord Christ Jesus,” consider listening to a few of the Old St Pat’s Podcast episodes (available on Spotify). I especially recommend You Can Never Get Enough of the One You Love 6.4.23, Transforming Hearts 6.13.23, and A Little Help for My Friends 7.9.23.
Yes, tranquility can exist with chaos
Things are a bit chaotic at home these days. One of the “offspring” (a term of endearment my husband and I use to refer to the four children in our blended family) is raging through our house like a Category 5 hurricane. Just when we think we’re nearing a moment of calm at the eye of the storm, another round of 160 mph winds hits us. It is an exhausting, soul-tearing experience!
The storm has my husband and me pulling out all our survival supplies: prayer, love, healthy (and enforced) boundaries, and support from our circles of community. And we’re finding moments of rest and connection, like a Sunday bicycle ride along the river or picking mulberries off the trees in our backyard.
Our experience reminds me of something author Parker Palmer recently posted on his Facebook page. He writes, “When the world’s heartbreak threatens to take me down, it helps to remember that this is not the only world to which I belong.” He goes on to describe how each of us is part of a “vast and very real world of nature” that stretches from the “cells in our bodies” into the “immensity” of the “cosmos.” We are members of a vast and interconnected community of life. But experiencing our connection to this great whole “is not about evading heartbreak,” Palmer says. Rather this connectedness is a way of entering into life’s ups and downs “neither crushed by a sense of futility nor lost in fantasy.” (I admit I’ve fantasized about moving into a tiny house in the middle of the woods and not leaving a forwarding address.)
As part of his Facebook post, Palmer shares the William Stafford poem, “Time for Serenity, Anyone?” The poem begins with a “reminder” that “this world still is alive… and I’m part of it.” Stafford writes of “tranquil chaos” and “motionless turmoil” that co-exist in the “great peacefulness” of “wilderness.”
Yes, tranquility can exist with chaos. Yes, there can be peace even with turmoil. Yes, there can be bicycle rides and berry picking even when the winds of a hurricane-force “offspring” threaten to blow the roof off the house. We can, in the words of Stafford, embrace this “everything dance.”
What is your hurricane? When the storms of life surge, are you dancing with the winds or are you hiding under the bed? Are you connecting with God, your Theresian sisters, and your other support communities or are you being crushed by a sense of futility?
Wherever you find yourself, I invite you to join me in this everything dance. I’m going to look very silly if I’m the only one on the dance floor in the middle of a hurricane!
P.S. For those who would like to explore more about nature’s interconnectedness, I am currently reading Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard. It is a bit of a dense read, but Simard’s discoveries about interdependence among trees are fascinating.
Community, vocation, ministry, synodality, and hope
By Tammy Townsend Denny, TI Executive Director
On the May 30 episode of the podcast Beyond the Habit, Sisters of St. Joseph Erin McDonald and Colleen Gibson interviewed Sister Nathalie Becquart, a Xavières Missionary Sister who currently serves as the undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops in Rome. (To learn more about the Synod, click here.)
As women in support of women reaching out with Gospel values, it is important for Theresians to pay attention to the work of people like Sister Nathalie who is the first woman to hold her position at the Vatican.
During the interview, Sister Nathalie offers insights into community, vocation, ministry, synodality, and hope. She also talks about women and young people in the church today. She believes that “the driving force of synodality and solidarity are young people and women.”
Take some time to listen to this “Journeying Together” episode. (Click here to listen.)
By Tammy Townsnd Denny, TI Executive Director
My spiritual director recently shared with me a reflection called “Morning Rituals” from the blog Sunflower Seeds: Celebrating Everyday Spirituality. Written by Sister Melannie Svoboda, SND, the reflection asks us to think about how we begin our days. Do we rush around grabbing coffee on our way out the door? Or do we pause and pray, maybe even bowing to the wonder of the world around us?
A morning pause can be challenging, though, especially if we have kids and pets and spouses vying for our attention. But, it takes less than a minute to look out the window and say, “Thank you, my dear, sweet God—for everything!”
Read Sister Melannie’s “Morning Rituals” here.
By Tammy Townsend Denny, TI Executive Director
The Theresian Foundation recently held their annual meeting and call to serve. Join with me in welcoming the new officers and members of the Foundation Board of Directors:
President - Stephanie Hawkins, Illinois
Vice President - Sharon Staffel, Texas
Secretary - Marilyn Arendt, Texas
Treasurer - Stephanie Wallace, Montana
Lynn Moroux, Louisiana
Mary Anne Camello, Philippines
Claudia Pieske, Illinois
The Foundation’s mission is to provide financial support to Theresians International in perpetuity. The Foundation Board of Directors achieves its mission by meeting investment goals established by the Foundation Board, receiving contributions and donations, conducting fundraising activities that are related to and support the work and mission of Theresians, making an annual distribution to Theresians International (TI) in accordance with policies and procedures established by the Board, and balancing investment growth goals with current spending needs of Theresians International.
While the Theresian Foundation and Theresians International work in collaboration with each other, each ministry is a separate legal entity with separate boards of directors, separate reporting requirements, and separate bank accounts. The Theresian Foundation is focused on managing the investment funds that began with an endowment fund established by our founder Msgr. Voss. These funds have continued to grow thanks to the generosity of Theresian benefactors. The Foundation distributes a set percentage of these funds annually to Theresians International.
To learn more about the Theresian Foundation, please visit Theresian Foundation FAQs. If you would like to consider a contribution to the Foundation, please visit Giving to the Foundation to learn more.
“Women’s Cry” exhibit
By Tammy Townsend Denny. TI Executive Director
A new exhibition recently opened at St. Peter’s Square in Rome called “Women’s Cry.” The online publication Aleteia reports:
“Organized by the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO), in collaboration with the Dicastery for Communication, the exhibition seeks to give visibility to women from the world’s peripheries, whose portraits are accompanied by quotes from Pope Francis’ 2020 encyclical Fratelli tutti.”
I encourage you to watch this three-minute video about the “Women’s Cry” exhibit and to reflect on the images. As Theresians, we have dedicated ourselves to being women in support of women. How does “Women’s Cry” call to you about supporting women around the world?
By Tammy Townsend Denny, TI Executive Director
On May 14, we will celebrate Mother’s Day in the United States, a day to honor and recognize all the mothers in our lives. But for some of us, motherhood and Mother’s Day are complicated! And messy!
I agree with author Anne Lamott who says Mother’s Day “feels incomplete and imprecise.” The day seems to forget those who are mourning miscarriages, infertility, or death. It loses sight of birth mothers who place a child for adoption and foster parents who open their hearts and homes to other people’s children. It fails to adequately honor those who are caring for a child with mental or physical illness. And it does nothing for those who are caring for a parent. It misses grandparents and stepparents and aunts and uncles and dads and cousins and friends and teachers who do so many mom duties – if mom duties can even be defined. It forgets those who never knew their moms, those who have been abandoned or abused by their moms, and those who have moms (or children) who are incarcerated.
Mother’s Day feels awkward for many of us.
A few months back, a good friend called me in tears. Her stepson didn’t want her to attend a parent event at his school. He wanted his mom there, not his stepmom.
I shared with her my stepparenting experiences, recalling moments when I cleaned up, picked up, supported, calmed, cheered, cringed, and cried for my husband’s daughters. Yet, I have never been invited to be at their schools’ parent-teacher conferences or acknowledged in any sort of parenting role with them. That is because my husband’s two daughters have a mom. And it isn’t me, even though I sometimes do mom-like things for them.
The stepparenting experience, as awkward as it is, has taught me a lot about humility. I try to do the right things and be of service when I can even if my efforts may be rejected. I reminded my friend to do the same.
If this Mother’s Day feels incomplete and imprecise for you, you’re not alone. It’s a wonky kind of day.
I encourage you to spend some time praying with Eve or Mary or Mother Earth, if that sort of prayer speaks to you. I invite you to join me in letting go of the expectations and envy of flowers, chocolates, and overpriced brunch at overcrowded restaurants. Instead, embrace the support of women throughout the ages who have mothered us into being in all the complexity and messiness of life.
P.S. If you would like to recognize or remember a mothering influence in your life, consider making a donation to the Theresian Foundation with a “Celebrate Life” gift. Click here to donate. We will send the person of your choice a card acknowledging the gift.
Did you know that there is a very easy way to share the gift of Theresians with the world? Simply wear your Theresian membership pin to church, to the grocery store, or on a trip. It’s a small way to show that you are part of a global ministry of women in support of women.
If you have misplaced your pin or if you never received one, you can order pins online here.
I challenge you this summer to wear your pin when you’re out and about in the world, especially when you travel! You might be surprised to find Theresians you’ve never met!
P.S. Send the TI office photos of yourself wearing your membership pin in the world! We would especially love photos when you discover other Theresians on your journeys! Photos can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Tammy Townsend Deny, TI Executive Director
There is a bit of scripture that has always confused me. In Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, we hear Jesus calling out before his death, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
For years, I struggled to understand why the authors of Matthew and Mark would attribute this cry of seeming desperation to our Redeemer. Why would Jesus say God had abandoned him? It didn’t make sense to me.
Maybe you already know this, but I only recently learned that Jesus’ dying words in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark are the first lines of Psalm 22. This psalm is a lament that begins in hopelessness but ends in faith that our Creator is always with us.
The message in Matthew and Mark is not one of hopelessness, but rather one of hope. God, our Creator, is always with us. Every one of us. Even in moments when we feel abandoned, and the world does not make sense.
Jesus’ words on the cross have been on my heart lately as I try to make sense of a tragedy that our parish community recently experienced. A dear member of our church was killed by her mentally ill son. A leader in the parish, Beata organized retreats and led small faith communities. She radiated a Christ-like kindness and generosity, even as she faced the challenges of caring for an adult child with mental illness. Beata touched a lot of lives. And her death has stirred up emotional memories for me.
Nearly 30 years ago, my oldest brother was killed in a random act of violence by two men who were battling their own demons. Like Beata, my brother Ed was a kind and gentle soul who overflowed with generosity – one of the truly good people in this world. His death, Beata’s death, and the countless other violent deaths of truly good people make no sense to me. I am lamenting: God, have you abandoned us?
As I reflect on these tragedies and violence, I am also reminded of Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” We are called to forgive as we are forgiven. But forgiveness is a challenging process.
I’ve been told that one of the paths to forgiving someone is to pray for that person, asking for everything I would want for myself to be given to them.
With that in mind, I would like to ask a favor. This week, would you join me in praying for Beata’s son Michal? May he know God’s redemptive love and peace. And would you also pray with me for love and peace for David and Jason, the two men serving life in prison without parole for my brother’s death?
Let’s allow our lament to grow into faith in God’s loving presence. Through our collective prayers, may “the generation to come… proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought” (Psalm 22:32).
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, I encourage you to seek help. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a great resource: www.nami.org or 800-950-6264.
Letter from Australia
Dear Sister Theresians,
Greetings from Down Under! It is my turn to write to you from Sunraysia Theresians in Australia!
Our Sunraysia Theresians met up for our monthly meeting last week at the home of Theresian Frances. We are very blessed that Frances leads our group, and we love sharing her home with her and her very quirky cat. He’s not that keen that we take up his mum’s time and is often very vocal about it. He sometimes even plonks himself in the middle of the table to ensure he is noticed.
Val led us in prayer as we focused on “Community,” one of the Theresians Five Dimensions. We reflected on the qualities that we admire, respect, and cherish in our own community.
As our planned speaker was unavailable, it was fitting with our theme of Community to hear from Frances about her migration to Australia as a child from her homeland – Scotland, and of her faith journey along the way. Frances came to Australia by boat at a time when the Australia government was encouraging Europeans to migrate to our beautiful country and help increase our workforce. The travel cost of ten pounds under the assisted passage program saw many take up the offer and migrant hostels were set up to house our “new Australians” until they moved into the community.
In Scotland, Frances had attended the Church of Scotland and enjoyed the social side of attending services. In Australia, she attended several different denominational churches before she met her soon to be husband, Karl, who was a Catholic. Frances’ family was concerned that she might become a Catholic – which was quite normal during those times when even Christian churches were not inclusive. (Thankfully those days are a thing of the past here in Australia).
There was no expectation that Frances convert to Catholicism but it was something she chose to do just before her marriage. She has had a very interesting journey from a young girl in chilly Scotland, to living in the city in Melbourne, to marrying Karl Sabo (whose family had come from Yugoslavia) and living and working on a dried fruit property in the Mallee, one of the hottest parts of Northwest Victoria. Frances’ husband passed away in 2015 and she continues to be a great support for her son Paul who has significant injuries as the result of a severe car accident which happened over 30 years ago.
It was lovely to listen to the life journeys of our sister Theresian and we are very grateful to be a small part of it!
Sending all our love from your Aussie Theresian sisters!