Category Archives: The Professed

Dec 3 – St Francis Xavier, SJ (1506-1552), Priest, Missionary, Co-founder Society of Jesus, “Simple Ain’t Easy”


-by Br Bartholomew Calvano, OP

“Sometimes God works in mysterious ways that we can’t understand. We may not be sure what exactly it is God wants us to do. At other times God’s will for us can be painfully simple. I say simple because what God wants us to do can often be quite obvious. I say painfully because that obvious task is not necessarily easy. Sometimes, we would rather have God’s will for us be mysterious rather than pay the cost that the obvious task demands of us.

Saint Francis Xavier, one of the first members of the Jesuits, provides an excellent example of someone who followed God’s will for him when it was simple and straightforward. He did this despite the pains he would have to undergo. At the direction of St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier left Europe to accompany the Portuguese explorers and preach throughout India and eventually even Japan. It was not a complicated task to do as he was told. Saint Francis Xavier simply had to go to those people who had never heard the Gospel and preach to them. St. Ignatius’s instructions were nothing more than a reissuing of the Great Commission which Jesus gave to the Apostles: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). The task could hardly be simpler: preach the Gospel to those who have not heard it.

Yet, this was not an easy task even if St. Francis Xavier knew what he had to do to accomplish it. He had to learn multiple languages in order to translate the Creed and other basic prayers, which he would use to catechize these foreign peoples. He traveled far and frequently. He was often on his own during these travels. The trials were even physically demanding. We can see this from one letter he sent back to the Jesuits in Rome:

“As to the numbers who become Christians, you may understand them from this, that it often happens to me to be hardly able to use my hands from the fatigue of baptizing: often in a single day I have baptized whole villages. Sometimes I have lost my voice and strength altogether with repeating again and again the Credo and the other forms.” (quoted in The Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier by Henry James Coleridge, S.J., 153)

Saint Francis Xavier, SJ, exemplifies the heroic virtue that allowed him to carry out day in and day out the simple, repetitive, sometimes even monotonous tasks to which God called him. Tasks that cost him a great deal of suffering. Sometimes, this is precisely the reminder that we need. God has called each and every one of us to do certain, simple tasks, most of which are not glamorous. These tasks are, nonetheless, the foundation of the Kingdom of God. The pain of these tasks for us may not be physical, it may be the pain of stepping out of our comfort zone or doing the job no one else wants to do. By being faithful in the obvious, repetitive, and sometimes distasteful tasks given to us, we can spread God’s love to the world one person at a time.

Eventually, St. Francis Xavier would die at the age of 46 from a fever while waiting for a boat to take him to China. This seems like a rather prosaic death for a saint who had served God so fervently. He did not die a martyr’s death. Instead, he bore witness to God by his arduous labor at a task he could never hope to complete in his lifetime. It was a task that wore him to the bone and ate away at his health, but he embraced it joyfully.

Most of those he preached to were eager to receive the Gospel and only needed someone to preach it to them. Likewise, there are many people in our lives who are ready to hear the Gospel if they only had someone to bring it to them. What will preaching the Gospel cost us?Are we, like St. Francis Xavier, willing to embrace the attendant hardships with joy? Can we be like Jesus who “for the sake of the joy that lay before him . . . endured the cross”(Heb 12:2)?


-Pilgrims pray by and view the body of St Francis Xavier during an exposition of the saint in December 2004.  Please click on the image for greater detail.


-missionary journeys of St Francis Xavier, SJ, (1541-1552).  Please click on the image for greater detail.

Love,
Matthew

Catholic priests invented the concordance & search engine


-by Br Ephrem Maria Reese, OP

“Dominicans invented the Bible concordance. It was Hugh of St. Cher, one of the great academics of the early friars preachers, who first accomplished the feat, and his students developed the concordance over subsequent generations. A concordance is an index of words found in the Bible, and indicates where they are located by chapter and verse. This tool has become an indispensable part of the study of Sacred Scripture, and Dominicans are happy to claim it.

But Dominicans didn’t invent the search engine. Father Roberto Busa, a Jesuit, deserves the credit for that innovation. And I admit that I use search engines much more than I use concordances in my studies.

Histories of the search engine may begin at a more advanced stage of computing, but it seems right to me, and downright charming, to begin with Fr. Busa. In 1946, the Italian Jesuit submitted his dissertation on Saint Thomas Aquinas’ use of the word “in” when describing the presence of God. To aid his work, he created a concordance of Aquinas (not the Bible), which consisted of handwritten note cards. But he needed more power, so he went to the Americans.

In a 1949 meeting with IBM in New York, the priest requisitioned an inspirational poster off the wall and cited its hyperbolic claim to innovation in order to convince the company’s founder, Thomas J. Watson, to help devise a machine-assisted concordance of Aquinas’s works. This concordance eventually became the Index Thomisticus. Today many scholars refer to an online resource, the Corpus Thomisticum, which provides a searchable version of Busa’s Index, among other tools.

This application of business technology to sacred study is almost a parable. The technical world is capturing the strongholds of the human spirit. Dorothy Day, among those suspicious of this infestation, said that “he who lives by the sword will fall by the sword and he who lives by the machine will fall by the machine.” Christians live instead by the light of Christ. But by a divine instinct, it is sometimes possible to seize the divine purpose of the machine. God’s design quietly supervenes in the devisings of man. Roberto Busa listened to the Spirit, crossed the world, and made it possible for Thomists to mine every “in” found within the sparkling caves of one of the Spirit’s most eloquent spokesmen.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Jul 26 – Bl Robert Nutter, OP, (1550-1600) – Priest & Martyr


-Bl Robert Nutter, St Dominic’s Church, Washington, DC


-by Br Titus Mary Sanchez, OP

His demeanor was uncharacteristic of a man to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. An eye-witness to Robert Nutter’s execution wrote that he went “to the gallows, with as much cheerfulness and joy as if he had been going to a feast, to the astonishment of the spectators” (Modern British Martyrology, 197).

Cheerfulness and joy? In the face of death? Did he not know that in a few moments he was to have his beating heart torn out of his chest? Surely he had gone mad! The execution of this subversive and treasonous Englishman was supposed to extinguish his hope, not cause it to burst forth in euphoric praise of God!

“Blessed are you when men hate you … Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold your reward is great in heaven.” (Lk 6:22-23)

Blessed Robert Nutter is counted among the Douai martyrs, a group of English Catholic priests martyred in 16th and 17th century England. Each of these men was trained at a single English seminary in Douai, a city in northern France. It briefly relocated to Rheims for about 15 years, at which time Nutter received his theological formation. Why France? In an effort to eradicate Catholicism from the country, the English crown had forcibly closed and repurposed all churches, schools, and seminaries. In effect, they attempted to abolish the Catholic Church in England—no small feat.

The Douai seminary was established for the purpose of training Englishmen to be diocesan priests so that they could return as missionaries to their homeland, where the Church was enduring severe persecution. Indeed, during this time, agents of the British crown systematically hunted down, arrested, tortured, and executed Catholic priests, charging them with high treason. Before being put to death, these priests could spend years in prison; interestingly enough, it was during this time that Nutter professed vows as a Dominican friar.

Of the 300 priests ordained at the Douai seminary during this period, 158 were put to death for bringing the sacraments back to their fellow countrymen. One could be so bold as to say that Robert Nutter and the Douai martyrs were not only ordained to be priests, but martyrs as well: they knew that their priesthood would likely culminate in the shedding of their blood. In perfect conformity to Jesus Christ—the Eternal High Priest—priests like Robert Nutter knew the stakes, but counted them as nothing compared to possessing the heart of Christ and bringing the sacraments to souls.

It is difficult to imagine the mindset of men like Nutter. In the depths of his heart, he desired to be a priest of Jesus Christ. He knew that he would be despised by his own government. He knew that while living out his priesthood, he would do so secretly, always aware that someone—anyone—could betray him. He realized that this could very well mean his own death, a death that would come only after gruesome periods of torture. If he survived, there would be no recognition or thanks from those he served.

Therein lies the aim of priesthood: to forget yourself, to become another Christ, and to mount the cross for the salvation of souls—so as to make present once again the saving mysteries of God. Nutter knew that the ultimate reason for his priesthood and martyrdom was the salvation of the Englishmen he served.

What can the priest of today learn from a man like Nutter?

Without hesitation, he ought to learn that as a priest, his life and his heart are no longer his own. Instead, his life and his heart belong to Christ alone. Conversely, in an abundantly generous grace, Christ offers his own Sacred Heart to his priest, so that he may live and love as another Christ. The priest who does not have the heart of Christ approaches “in sheep’s clothing, but underneath is a ravenous wolf” (Jn 7:15). Pray and fast often that our priests’ hearts would be conformed to the crucified heart of Christ!

Given the nature of being hanged, drawn, and quartered, it is quite plausible that Nutter would have actually seen the hands of his executors reaching into his chest to cut out his heart. Every priest, martyr or not, should cry out the words: “I give you everything Jesus! I give you my very own heart! You may have all!”

Bl. Robert Nutter, pray to the good Lord for us, and ask him to send holy priests who, by an interior martyrdom of the heart, are willing to make as their only desire the salvation of souls.”

Love,
Matthew

Female Priests

“Can women be ordained to the priesthood? This is a question that provokes much debate in our modern world, but it is one to which the Church has always answered “No.” The basis for the Church’s teaching on ordination is found in the New Testament as well as in the writings of the Church Fathers.

While women could publicly pray and prophesy in church (1 Cor. 11:1–16), they could not teach or have authority over a man (1 Tim. 2:11–14), since these were two essential functions of the clergy. Nor could women publicly question or challenge the teaching of the clergy (1 Cor. 14:34–38).

The following quotations from the Church Fathers indicate that women do play an active role in the Church and that in the age of the Fathers there were orders of virgins, widows, and deaconesses, but that these women were not ordained.

The Fathers rejected women’s ordination, not because it was incompatible with Christian culture, but because it was incompatible with Christian faith. Thus, together with biblical declarations, the teaching of the Fathers on this issue formed the tradition of the Church that taught that priestly ordination was reserved to men. This teaching has not changed.

Further, in 1994 Pope John Paul II formally declared that the Church does not have the power to ordain women. He stated, “Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force. Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Luke 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful” (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis 4).

And in 1995 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in conjunction with the pope, ruled that this teaching “requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium 25:2)” (Response of Oct. 25, 1995).

The following quotations from the Fathers constitute a part of the tradition on which this infallible teaching rests.

Irenaeus

“Pretending to consecrate cups mixed with wine, and protracting to great length the word of invocation, [Marcus the Gnostic heretic] contrives to give them a purple and reddish color. . . . [H]anding mixed cups to the women, he bids them consecrate these in his presence.

“When this has been done, he himself produces another cup of much larger size than that which the deluded woman has consecrated, and pouring from the smaller one consecrated by the woman into that which has been brought forward by himself, he at the same time pronounces these words: ‘May that Charis who is before all things and who transcends all knowledge and speech fill your inner man and multiply in you her own knowledge, by sowing the grain of mustard seed in you as in good soil.’

“Repeating certain other similar words, and thus goading on the wretched woman [to madness], he then appears a worker of wonders when the large cup is seen to have been filled out of the small one, so as even to overflow by what has been obtained from it. By accomplishing several other similar things, he has completely deceived many and drawn them away after him” (Against Heresies 1:13:2 [A.D. 189]).

Tertullian

“It is of no concern how diverse be their [the heretics’] views, so long as they conspire to erase the one truth. They are puffed up; all offer knowledge. Before they have finished as catechumens, how thoroughly learned they are! And the heretical women themselves, how shameless are they! They make bold to teach, to debate, to work exorcisms, to undertake cures . . . ” (Demurrer Against the Heretics 41:4–5 [A.D. 200]).

“It is not permitted for a woman to speak in the church [1 Cor 14:34–35], but neither [is it permitted her] . . . to offer, nor to claim to herself a lot in any manly function, not to say sacerdotal office” (The Veiling of Virgins 9 [A.D. 206]).

Hippolytus

“When a widow is to be appointed, she is not to be ordained, but is designated by being named [a widow]. . . . A widow is appointed by words alone, and is then associated with the other widows. Hands are not imposed on her, because she does not offer the oblation and she does not conduct the liturgy. Ordination is for the clergy because of the liturgy; but a widow is appointed for prayer, and prayer is the duty of all” (The Apostolic Tradition 11 [A.D. 215]).

The Didascalia

“For it is not to teach that you women . . . are appointed. . . . For he, God the Lord, Jesus Christ our Teacher, sent us, the twelve [apostles], out to teach the [chosen] people and the pagans. But there were female disciples among us: Mary of Magdala, Mary the daughter of Jacob, and the other Mary; he did not, however, send them out with us to teach the people. For, if it had been necessary that women should teach, then our Teacher would have directed them to instruct along with us” (Didascalia 3:6:1–2 [A.D. 225]).

Firmilian

“[T]here suddenly arose among us a certain woman, who in a state of ecstasy announced herself as a prophetess and acted as if filled with the Holy Ghost. . . . Through the deceptions and illusions of the demon, this woman had previously set about deluding believers in a variety of ways. Among the means by which she had deluded many was daring to pretend that, through proper invocation, she consecrated bread and performed the Eucharist” (collected in Cyprian’s Letters 74:10 [A.D. 253]).

Council of Nicaea I

“Similarly, in regard to the deaconesses, as with all who are enrolled in the register, the same procedure is to be observed. We have made mention of the deaconesses, who have been enrolled in this position, although, not having been in any way ordained, they are certainly to be numbered among the laity” (Canon 19 [A.D. 325]).

Council of Laodicea

“[T]he so-called ‘presbyteresses’ or ‘presidentesses’ are not to be ordained in the Church” (Canon 11 [A.D. 360]).

Epiphanius of Salamis

“Certain women there in Arabia [the Collyridians] . . . In an unlawful and basphemous ceremony . . . ordain women, through whom they offer up the sacrifice in the name of Mary. This means that the entire proceeding is godless and sacrilegious, a perversion of the message of the Holy Spirit; in fact, the whole thing is diabolical and a teaching of the impure spirit” (Against Heresies 78:13 [A.D. 377]).

“It is true that in the Church there is an order of deaconesses, but not for being a priestess, nor for any kind of work of administration, but for the sake of the dignity of the female sex, either at the time of baptism or of examining the sick or suffering, so that the naked body of a female may not be seen by men administering sacred rites, but by the deaconess” (ibid.).

“From this bishop [James the Just] and the just-named apostles, the succession of bishops and presbyters [priests] in the house of God have been established. Never was a woman called to these. . . . According to the evidence of Scripture, there were, to be sure, the four daughters of the evangelist Philip, who engaged in prophecy, but they were not priestesses” (ibid.).

“If women were to be charged by God with entering the priesthood or with assuming ecclesiastical office, then in the New Covenant it would have devolved upon no one more than Mary to fulfill a priestly function. She was invested with so great an honor as to be allowed to provide a dwelling in her womb for the heavenly God and King of all things, the Son of God. . . . But he did not find this [the conferring of priesthood on her] good” (ibid., 79:3).

John Chrysostom

“[W]hen one is required to preside over the Church and to be entrusted with the care of so many souls, the whole female sex must retire before the magnitude of the task, and the majority of men also, and we must bring forward those who to a large extent surpass all others and soar as much above them in excellence of spirit as Saul overtopped the whole Hebrew nation in bodily stature” (The Priesthood 2:2 [A.D. 387]).

The Apostolic Constitutions

“A virgin is not ordained, for we have no such command from the Lord, for this is a state of voluntary trial, not for the reproach of marriage, but on account of leisure for piety” (Apostolic Constitutions 8:24 [A.D. 400]).

“Appoint, [O Bishop], a deaconess, faithful and holy, for the ministering of women. For sometimes it is not possible to send a deacon into certain houses of women, because of unbelievers. Send a deaconess, because of the thoughts of the petty. A deaconess is of use to us also in many other situations. First of all, in the baptizing of women, a deacon will touch only their forehead with the holy oil, and afterwards the female deacon herself anoints them” (ibid., 3:16).

“[T]he ‘man is the head of the woman’ [1 Cor. 11:3], and he is originally ordained for the priesthood; it is not just to abrogate the order of the creation and leave the first to come to the last part of the body. For the woman is the body of the man, taken from his side and subject to him, from whom she was separated for the procreation of children. For he says, ‘He shall rule over you’ [Gen. 3:16]. . . . But if in the foregoing constitutions we have not permitted them [women] to teach, how will any one allow them, contrary to nature, to perform the office of the priest? For this is one of the ignorant practices of Gentile atheism, to ordain women priests to the female deities, not one of the constitutions of Christ” (ibid., 3:9).

“A deaconess does not bless, but neither does she perform anything else that is done by presbyters [priests] and deacons, but she guards the doors and greatly assists the presbyters, for the sake of decorum, when they are baptizing women” (ibid., 8:28).

Augustine

“[The Quintillians are heretics who] give women predominance so that these, too, can be honored with the priesthood among them. They say, namely, that Christ revealed himself . . . to Quintilla and Priscilla [two Montanist prophetesses] in the form of a woman” (Heresies 1:17 [A.D. 428]).

NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004

IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004″

Love,
Matthew

Matthew 13:45-46

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.   -Mt 13:45-46

https://www.espn.com/womens-college-basketball/story/_/id/27297631/happened-villanova-basketball-star-shelly-pennefather-made-deal-god

Whatever happened to Villanova basketball star Shelly Pennefather? ‘So I made this deal with God.’

Aug 2, 2019
Elizabeth Merrill
ESPN Senior Writer

“She left with the clothes on her back, a long blue dress and a pair of shoes she’d never wear again. It was June 8, 1991, a Saturday morning, and Shelly Pennefather was starting a new life. She posed for a group photo in front of her parents’ tidy brick home in northern Virginia, and her family scrunched in around her and smiled.

All six of her brothers and sisters were there — Little Therese, in braided pigtails; older brother Dick, tall and athletic with Kennedyesque looks. When Shelly came to her decision, she insisted on telling each of them separately.

Dick had the loosest lips in the family, so she’d told him last. Therese, 12 years old and the baby of the family, took the news particularly hard. She put on a brave face in front of Shelly, then cried all night.

They crammed a lot of memories into those last days of spring, dancing and laughing, knowing they would never do it together again. Shelly went horseback riding with Therese and took the family to fancy restaurants with cloth napkins, picking up all the tabs.

Twenty-five years old and not far removed from her All-America days at Villanova, Pennefather was in her prime. She had legions of friends and a contract offer for $200,000 to play basketball in Japan that would have made her one of the richest players in women’s basketball.

And children — she was so good with children. She had talked about having lots of them with John Heisler, a friend she’d known most of her life. Heisler nearly proposed to her twice, but something inside stopped him, and he never bought a ring.

“When she walked into the room,” Heisler said, “the whole room came alive.

“She had a cheerfulness and a confidence that everything was going to be OK. That there was nothing to fear.”

That Saturday morning in 1991, Pennefather drove her Mazda 323 to the Monastery of the Poor Clares in Alexandria, Virginia. She loved to drive. Fifteen cloistered nuns waited for her in two lines, their smiles radiant.

She turned to her family.

“I love you all,” she said.

The door closed, and Shelly Pennefather was gone.


The Pennefather family in 1991, on the day Shelly entered the monastery. Shelly Pennefather is pictured in the middle. She did not pack any bags because she took a vow of poverty. Courtesy Mary Jane Pennefather

“The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.” — J.M. Barrie, “The Little White Bird.”

It’s been 28 years since Pennefather left home to become Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels, and I’m standing outside the family’s house in Manassas, Virginia, on a warm June day, searching for answers.

I spent eight years in Catholic schools, with lessons in history from Sister Agnes Marie and kindness from Sister Rosetta. We knew that on Sundays, if you’re breathing, you’d better be at Mass.

But I cannot grasp what Pennefather — now Sister Rose Marie — has chosen to do. The Poor Clares are one of the strictest religious orders in the world. They sleep on straw mattresses, in full habit, and wake up every night at 12:30 a.m. to pray, never resting more than four hours at a time. They are barefoot 23 hours of the day, except for the one hour in which they walk around the courtyard in sandals.

They are cut off from society. Sister Rose Marie will never leave the monastery, unless there’s a medical emergency. She’ll never call or email or text anyone, either. The rules seem so arbitrarily harsh. She gets two family visits per year, but converses through a see-through screen. She can write letters to her friends, but only if they write to her first. And once every 25 years, she can hug her family.

That’s why we are here in early June 2019, to witness the 25-year anniversary of her solemn profession and the renewal of her vows.

The Poor Clare nuns enter this radical way of life because they believe that their prayers for humanity will help the suffering, and that their sacrifice will lead to the salvation of the world.

But why would someone with so much to offer the world lock herself away and hide her talents? Who, staring at a professional contract that would be worth the equivalent of about $400,000 today, would subject herself to such strict isolation and sacrifice? Imagine Kansas legend Danny Manning quitting basketball to become a monk.

Perhaps the best person to answer this is the woman who stood next to Shelly in that goodbye photo in front of the house, who wrapped her arm around her daughter and smiled while her heart must have wanted to stop.

Mary Jane Pennefather is the matriarch of the family, a 78-year-old who mows her own lawn and rises every morning to walk to church. When Shelly entered the monastery all those years ago, she left behind a note. Mary Jane is the strongest person Therese knows, but when she read the letter, she broke down and cried.

Mary Jane was a cheerleader once, but is steeped in a generation of Catholics who did not believe in drawing attention to themselves. She opens the door to her home and leads me to a room full of religious statues and images, which the family calls the Blessed Mother room. Her husband, Mike, died in this room. He had skin cancer, which had spread too far when doctors found it, but he went quickly, which Mary Jane considers a blessing. Sister Rose Marie couldn’t go to her father’s funeral back in 1998. She was in the monastery. But she wrote a letter that they read out loud, and her brother Dick says it was probably the most touching part of the service.

Surely, Mike Pennefather had hoped to hold his daughter again on her silver jubilee. But Mary Jane would be there. The week leading up to the Mass was stressful. How do you prepare to hug your daughter for the last time?

Mary Jane Pennefather insisted on making all the food for a reception celebrating her daughter’s jubilee. In this photo, she is standing with her famous orange slush. Mary F. Calvert for ESPN

NUNS ARE BY no means an anomaly in today’s society. The 2018 Official Catholic Directory lists 45,100 sisters in the United States. But cloistered nuns, with all of their combined orders, account for only a fraction of that number. The Poor Clare Colettines, according to the directory, have about 160 sisters in this country.

There were hints, all along, that Pennefather was different.

In sixth grade, a teacher asked the class an ordinary question: What do you want to be when you grow up?

The teacher wasn’t prepared for Shelly’s answer.

“I’m going to be a saint,” she said.

The whole class laughed, assuming she was joking. Pennefather liked to regale her friends with jokes and magic tricks.

Her childhood might have inadvertently prepared her for life as a cloistered nun. Mike Pennefather was an Air Force colonel, taking the family to Germany and Hawaii and New York, so she’d already seen a lot of the world by her 20s.

Her mom was — and is — about as anti-technology as a person can be in 2019. Mary Jane doesn’t own a cell phone, she could go on for hours about how cell phones are destroying the human experience, and a few decades ago, she was saying pretty much the same thing about television.

Children of the ’70s often have stories of their forays into alcohol or drugs; the Pennefathers’ illicit pursuits centered mostly on the forbidden television. They’d wait until Mary Jane was gone, pull it out of the closet, rig up a coat hanger for an antenna, and stand in just the right spot to get reception.

“I think my sister watched ‘Fantasy Island’ and got caught and got in trouble,” Therese said. “You had to invent your own entertainment, and we did all kinds of stupid stuff.

“I absolutely wouldn’t trade any of it.”

The Air Force gave the Pennefathers new playgrounds every few years, and assured that they would almost always be safe. Want to play kick the can at 11 o’clock at night? No problem. Leave the base lights on and go ahead and invite 20 other Air Force brats.

Mary Jane might have seemed strict, but Mike was actually more intimidating. He was a bear of a man with a loud voice and a physics degree. Mike Pennefather did not tolerate foolishness. He taught all seven of his children how to shoot a basketball, and when he had finished with that, he taught other people’s children how to do it, too.

The Pennefathers had six children in eight years, and Shelly was born between two brothers, two basketball playmates. The elbows and charges she took made her unstoppable when she finally played against girls.

At nighttime, Mary Jane would gather the whole family together to pray the rosary. It didn’t matter if it was midnight; she waited until everyone was home.

The rosary is considered one of the most powerful symbols in Catholicism. Each of the 59 beads represents a prayer. The Hail Mary is said 53 times during the rosary. The repetition is intended to bring spiritual contemplation and peace.

At the Pennefather house, after the last prayer was said, each child gave Mary Jane and Mike a kiss goodnight.


Every June, Villanova coach Harry Perretta travels three hours to bring supplies for the sisters. Then he visits with his former star player from behind a screen. Mary F. Calvert for ESPN

Coach Harry Perretta also prayed the rosary every day, a practice that came in handy in his pursuit to lure Pennefather to Villanova. If Pennefather played today, her recruitment might have been as big as that of Breanna Stewart or Elena Delle Donne.

Pennefather went 70-0 in her first three years of high school at Bishop Machebeuf in Denver and won three state championships. When her dad was transferred to upstate New York her senior season, nothing changed. Utica’s Notre Dame High went undefeated, too.

Pennefather had no interest in the recruiting process. She hated the attention that it brought, and didn’t like talking on the phone. So it was hard for any coach to get a read on her. Perretta talked to her about his devotion to the Blessed Mother Mary, and they connected. She committed to Villanova, the oldest Catholic university in Pennsylvania.

Their bond was tested early. Her freshman year, they clashed constantly. “She was a very lazy basketball player at first,” Perretta said. “She didn’t work hard on the court when she came here.”

He said it wasn’t necessarily her fault; she was so good in high school that she probably didn’t know what playing hard meant. But he had to get through to her. He yelled at her and kicked her out of the gym, and nothing seemed to work. In her sophomore season, Pennefather considered transferring.

She’d leave campus on weekends, seeking solace at teammate Lisa Gedaka’s house in New Jersey. Gedaka, a freshman, would go back a lot because she was homesick.

“I always remember hearing about how she was searching,” Gedaka said. “Was this the right place to go? What is the meaning? Why is she here? And I remember saying to her once, ‘Shelly, did you ever think that maybe this is God’s will that you should be with us here at Villanova? This is where you’re meant to be.'”

Somehow, some way, Pennefather and Perretta finally clicked. “God gave you this gift,” Perretta told her. “You’re not really using it to the fullest extent.”

From there, she didn’t hold anything back. There was one game, junior year, when she was so overcome with menstrual cramps that they were almost debilitating. As the team left for the gym, Perretta told her to just stay at the hotel.

A couple of minutes before tipoff, Pennefather emerged from the locker room, in agony, with her sneakers still untied. “I’m going to try to play,” she told him. She mustered enough strength to tie her shoes when the horn sounded. There was no time for any warm-up. She made all nine of her shots in the first half.

The Wildcats’ teams in the mid-to-late 1980s were lucky. They were a collection of people who knew, when they were freshmen, that they’d stay friends forever. They demanded the best of each other.

It was a different time, before NCAA-regulated practice schedules and transfer portals. “We could say stuff to each other,” said former Wildcats point guard Lynn Tighe. “If somebody was being a pain in the butt, I had no trouble telling them, and if I was a pain in the butt, I was told about it. We were open to each other, and nonsense didn’t fester.”

Pennefather was roommates with Tighe, and you can imagine her glee when she found out her point guard had a small television. Pennefather had one movie she would watch constantly on the VCR. “The Sound of Music.” She subjected everyone to it, belting out Julie Andrews songs on the team bus.

“I wouldn’t say she had a good voice,” Tighe said. “But it wasn’t bad. She knew every word to every one of them.”

But Pennefather did have the most beautiful shooting touch in all of women’s basketball. She scored 2,408 points, breaking Villanova’s all-time record for women and men. She did it without the benefit of the 3-point shot, and the record still stands today.

In 1987, she won the Wade Trophy, given to the best women’s college basketball player. She eventually threw away all of her trophies — “I don’t think she cared about them at all,” said her sister, Therese — but spared one, the Wade Trophy. She gave it to Perretta.

The WNBA did not exist when Pennefather graduated from Villanova, but women’s professional basketball overseas offered good money. She signed with the Nippon Express in Japan, the place where her whole life would change.

The pace in Japan was much slower — the Express played just 14 games in the span of four months — and it jolted Pennefather. Away from her college teammates and the daily chaos of her large family, she felt homesick and alone in a faraway city. Her team started 0-5. If they finished at the bottom of the division, she would need to stay in Japan for another two months to play a series of round-robin games.

She desperately wanted to go home, and vowed that if her team could finish in the top six, allowing her to go home rather than stay those two months, she would spend that time doing volunteer work.

The Express turned their season around and finished third. Pennefather returned to the U.S. and fulfilled her promise by working in a soup kitchen at the Missionary Sisters of Charity in Norristown, Pennsylvania. In a convent full of tiny nuns, the 6-foot-1 basketball player stood out.

She felt even more out of place that next season in Japan. She did everything she could to keep busy, reading books, learning Japanese, teaching English. But Pennefather still felt a deep emptiness.

“She was forced to go into solitude,” said John Heisler, her childhood friend. “There was nobody else, just her and God.”


Perretta doesn’t question Pennefather’s choice. “I want people to understand that they’re not weird or different or strange,” he said. “They’re normal people who decided to take on this calling and pray for humanity.” Mary F. Calvert for ESPN

Heisler was sort of a mystery man for many years. Pennefather’s teammates used to say that they thought she’d do one of two things in her life — marry this guy she spent summers with or become a nun. But not a cloistered nun, of course.

Sports Illustrated did a story on Pennefather’s rare sacrifice in the late 1990s, but Heisler’s name wasn’t mentioned. He was nowhere near being ready to talk about her back then.

But now Heisler is really helpful. He wants people to understand, even if he still doesn’t completely get it himself.

“It’s a mystery to me too about why they’d take somebody so talented, so giving, so energetic,” he said. “She could help so many other young ladies to be women … to be strong, too, in their identity. Why should she be so hidden now? I’ve been really thinking … about the mystery of the stars. They’re so distant, yet they’re so beautiful.”

They met in grade school on a base in Wiesbaden, Germany. He’d never met a girl like her — confident yet self-effacing; strong but kind enough to defend anyone who was being picked on.

Heisler came from a large Catholic family, too. At one point, the families prayed the rosary together. They eventually were shipped to different places, but they always seemed to find each other. Heisler had three passions growing up: sports, comic books and stories about saints. He was fascinated by St. Francis of Assisi, who eventually helped St. Clare start an order called the Poor Clares.

When he got older, Heisler developed another interest: Shelly Pennefather. Heisler went on to the Air Force Academy, and one morning he woke up content with his life and the fact that he flew F15s but also plagued by one question: What if God has another plan for me?

In a move that was both bold and not very well thought out, he withdrew from his classes at the academy, went back to his family’s home in Maine, then drove to Villanova to see Pennefather.

They’d spend their summers together white-water rafting and talking about anything.

Despite their affection for each other, they were never intimate. John Heisler, you see, was battling his own inner voice, the one that told him he should become a priest.

If a calling came from a booming voice above the clouds, like in the movies, it would be easy. Heisler’s was a gnawing pain. He went back to school to become an electrical engineer, and pursued Pennefather through different stops in their lives, but that pain just wouldn’t go away. It was like a kill switch that told them they’d never be together.

In early 1991, during her third season in Japan, she called Heisler and asked him to meet her in Virginia so they could talk. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“Well, I’m entering the Poor Clares,” she told him, “and this is our last time … to spend time together.”

Heisler’s heart dropped. But in a way, it was freeing. Father John Heisler had nothing holding him back. Eight years later, he was ordained.


Pennefather, wearing No. 15 and standing next to Anne Donovan, No. 7, made a good living playing professionally in Japan, but she felt isolated. Courtesy Mary Jane Pennefather

When Pennefather got back from Japan in 1991, she wanted to tell her closest friends about her decision in person. She traveled to New Jersey to tell Lisa Gedaka and to Pennsylvania to tell Lynn Tighe.

Tighe owned a deli back then, and she and Pennefather were peeling potatoes when her former teammate dropped the news. Pennefather never stopped peeling.

“Lynn, I would never choose this for myself,” Pennefather told her. “I would never leave my family and my friends. But this is what I’m called to do. I know it. God is calling me. And I’m going to do it.”

But Tighe, Karen Daly and Kathy Miller, all part of the same Villanova class that met each other as freshmen in 1983, wanted more answers. They insisted on going to the monastery and talking to the mother superior. They wanted to know everything they could about the life of a cloistered nun.

They wanted to make sure their teammate would be OK.

Pennefather gave her friends a couple of questions to ask, too, a true sign she had little idea what she was getting herself into.

Miller said that they struck a deal with the mother superior that day: That in 2019, the three of them would be able to hug Pennefather during her silver jubilee. Just like family.


Shelly Pennefather takes the name of Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. Courtesy Mary Jane Pennefather

Seasons passed for everyone but Sister Rose Marie. Tighe became an associate athletic director at Villanova; Lisa Gedaka got married, had children and became a high school basketball coach. Her oldest daughter plays basketball, too, and now Mary Gedaka is a forward at Villanova, playing under an older and somewhat mellower Harry Perretta.

Perretta also brokered a backdoor deal with the Poor Clares. He’d bring the sisters some much-needed supplies every summer in return for his own yearly visit with Sister Rose Marie.

So every June, he drives three hours down I-95 to the monastery, delivering necessities such as ginger ale and Reese’s peanut butter cups. Sometimes, he’ll bring along one or two of her old teammates to (wink, wink) help. They can see her through the screen and hold their hands up to hers.

One time, Perretta was visiting Sister Rose Marie when his phone rang.

“What’s that?” she asked.

She’d never seen a cell phone.

If Perretta or any of Sister Rose Marie’s teammates are struggling, they can call the monastery and ask the mother superior to pass along prayer requests. They pray for humanity and the things they can’t see.

They prayed for the victims of 9/11 even though they never saw any pictures of the towers falling or knew the names of the people who died.

“I didn’t understand it at first,” Perretta said. “But if you believe in the power of prayers, then they’re doing more for humanity than anybody.”


Sister Rose Marie visits with former Villanova teammates from behind a screen after the celebration of her vows at her silver jubilee at the Poor Clare Monastery in Alexandria, Virginia. Mary F. Calvert for ESPN

It rained ON June 9, the day of Sister Rose Marie’s jubilee Mass. The bishop of Arlington, Virginia, came, and people in Sunday suits and dresses scurried to find seats in the monastery’s tiny chapel. Perretta’s two sons, strapping young men, stood in the back and craned their necks to see the altar. They weren’t even born when Pennefather left.

Shortly after the homily, two wooden doors opened and the whole chapel let out a silent gasp. There she was, 53 years old, standing before them, with no screen. Without even scanning the crowd, she immediately fixed her eyes on the pew where her mother sat. Her face lit up.

Sister Rose Marie renewed her vows. Then a procession line formed in front of her. Mary Jane was first. Sister Rose Marie held her hands out as her mother drew closer. The Pennefathers have never been a touchy-feely family, but when mother and daughter embraced, it seemed to last an eternity. Neither one wanted to let go.

“I’ll be here at 103 if you can hang in there,” Mary Jane told her daughter.

“I’ll try,” Sister Rose Marie said.

She hugged nieces and nephews she had never touched before. She embraced siblings whose hair had turned from dark to gray.

Perretta got his hug. Tighe, Daly and Martin weren’t sure whether anyone would remember that deal they made with the mother superior so many years ago. But they slipped into the back and hugged her, too.

And in that receiving line stood Father John Heisler. He saw the woman he had known and loved for most of his life, and they gave each other a knowing smile and an embrace.

“We made the right decision,” she told him.

“No regrets,” he said.


Helen Perretta greets Sister Rose Marie after delivering an SUV full of food and other provisions to the nuns. Mary F. Calvert for ESPN

Most of her teammates knew, going in, that they weren’t going to get a hug because it was supposed to be for family only. But they didn’t want to miss this moment. They traveled from Washington State and points up and down the Eastern seaboard.

One ex-Syracuse player who met Shelly at a camp more than three decades ago drove three hours to see her, too. She means that much to people, Marita Finley said.

A few hours after the Mass, Sister Rose Marie’s teammates were allowed a visit. It was the first time they’d been together in decades. They didn’t know what to expect.

When she appeared behind a screen, the whole room erupted in cheers.

“I just want to say one thing,” Pennefather told them. “I’ve heard every comment you said about me at alumni gatherings in the past. These will have eternal repercussions.”

Everyone laughed.

A woman who spends 23 hours a day in silence seamlessly launched right into conversation. There were no awkward gaps. It was as if they picked back up after seeing each other at the last team reunion.

“I mean, it doesn’t really surprise me that some of us should have ended up incarcerated,” she deadpanned. “The surprise was that it was me.”

The years had been kind to Sister Rose Marie. She lifts weights three times a week and stretches on the other days, except, of course, on Sundays. No, she does not play basketball, but every so often, the sisters will engage in a game of stickball.

With her old teammates around her, clinging to each other’s words, they caught up on families and careers, then, without being asked, Sister Rose Marie shared a story. Her story.

She was in Japan that first year and wanted to go home. “So I made this deal with God,” she said. She told them that the missionary work moved her so much that she went back every summer after that. One year, she was invited to a retreat, where she was asked to read a Bible verse, John 6:56: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”

And that, she said, is when it hit her. She felt that God was right there, 20 feet in front of her. She kept reading, and when she closed the Bible, she said a silent prayer. She was stunned. She walked into church the next day, genuflected at the tabernacle like she always did, and realized that she was no longer alone.

“You can look back now and you see how providentially our Lord just kind of took me and put me there in that place where I could just develop, you know?” she told them. “And then I just kind of felt that he was asking me to serve this sort of radical kind of call, which is the hardest thing I ever did. But I’m grateful I did, and here I am. Incarcerated.”

But she never really left them. Her letters got them through marriage problems and deaths and child-raising crises. Some of the women brought their children to the monastery, just to see her.

“I love this life,” she told them. “I wish you all could just live it for a little while just to see. It’s so peaceful. I just feel like I’m not underliving life. I’m living it to the full.”


Bishop Michael Burbidge greets Mary Jane Pennefather following the silver jubilee Mass celebrating her daughter’s vows. Mary F. Calvert for ESPN

The Pennefathers threw a jubilee reception at a Knights of Columbus hall. They could have catered it, but Mary Jane wouldn’t have it. She spent weeks making everything, the lasagna and chocolate cake and orange slush. Maybe if she kept moving, she wouldn’t have to think about the finality of the hug.

If anyone is going to make it to 103, her children say, it’s Mary Jane. She’s lost a husband and two grandchildren, but she is constant, like the spring cherry blossoms up the highway.

Sister Rose Marie’s sacrifice was Mary Jane’s sacrifice. She no doubt was filled with pride and sorrow when Shelly made her decision. She keeps a box at the house that contains her daughter’s hair. It was cut after she went into the monastery.

Mary Jane isn’t sentimental about it; she doesn’t open the box to feel closer to her daughter. But she’s kept it, and Shelly’s letter, after all these years.

Mary Jane does not want to share the letter. It’s too personal. But she will recite one line, from memory.

“I realize that I won’t hear the laughter of my brothers and sisters anymore.”

Shelly’s younger sister, Jean, also became a nun. She’s not cloistered and can hug her family, use a cell phone and drive.

Mary Jane does not want people to think that someone who chooses either of these lives is an oddball. But she knows that no matter what she says, people will not understand.

She got out of her seat in what they call the Blessed Mother room and searched through some drawers and pulled out a photo album. She stopped at an old picture of a young girl wearing a veil.

“That’s me,” Mary Jane whispered. “I entered, too.”

She was 14 years old in the picture. The convent was vast, and 2 ½ hours away from her home in Louisiana. Nine months in, it dawned on her. I shouldn’t be here. She went home, finished high school, went to college, met Mike and never looked back.

She, too, has no regrets.

“Well,” she said, “look at the fruits of my life.”


Sister Rose Marie hugs her mother, Mary Jane Pennefather, for the first time in 25 years. Mary F. Calvert for ESPN

—————————————————————————-


-Br Jordan Zajac, OP

“Last month, ESPN held up the fine pearl for all to see. The Worldwide Leader in Sports ran a feature story on a 1980s basketball phenom named Shelly Pennefather who left her professional career, and everything else, to become a cloistered nun. Incredibly, millions of readers received an introduction to the reality of consecrated life.

Pennefather’s path to the cloister is certainly an extraordinary one, worthy of the attention. In the video accompanying the story, legendary UConn coach Geno Auriemma refers to her as the “Larry Bird of women’s basketball.” She didn’t lose a single game in high school (96-0) and was an All-American for Villanova, where she is still the all-time leading scorer in program history (for both men and women). After graduating she played professionally for several years in Japan, giving her the opportunity to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The ESPN story goes to great lengths to try to comprehend what Pennefather chose to do next, entering the Poor Clares in Alexandria, Virginia, where she took the name Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. Her family, friends, teammates, and coaches are all interviewed, offering their reflections about her response to the Lord’s call. The more the ESPN story tries to describe her life in the cloister, though, the less sense it seems to make. With the video especially, what makes a deep impression is the pain that her family members and friends have endured, missing her presence in their lives. In the story you find a lament about all the good she could have done in the world. Among the comments left by readers of the article on Twitter, you find plenty of dismissive jabs about this being “a cult,” and her choice being “a tragedy.”

In the eyes of the world, the pearl of great price looks a lot like a pile of garbage.

The problem, of course, is that these people talk like Pennefather herself is the fine pearl. They mistake merchant for merchandise. And even though ESPN seems to give a quite thorough account of her journey, there is still one paragraph missing. St. Gregory the Great has already written it:

[H]e who attains a… knowledge of the heavenly life as far as this is possible, is supremely happy to relinquish all he loved before. In comparison with that sweetness nothing is of value, and the soul abandons all it had gained, scatters all it had amassed. Aflame with love for the things of heaven, it cares for nothing upon earth and considers as deformed all that once seemed so beautiful, for in the soul shines only the splendor of that priceless pearl. Of this love Solomon says: ‘Love is strong as death’ (Sg 8:6), because, as death strips the body of life, so love of life eternal kills the love of temporal things. (Homilies on the Gospels, §11)

When someone like Pennefather encounters Love itself—divine love, a love as strong as death—it inspires what seems like a total waste of a life. But really it becomes “a superabundance of life,” as Pope St. John Paul puts it. Cloistered nuns give the whole world a “joyful proclamation and prophetic anticipation of the possibility offered to every person and to the whole of humanity to live solely for God in Christ Jesus” (Vita Consecrata, no. 59).

This ESPN profile provides an extraordinary witness—a kind of introductory tutorial on how to begin to look at life like a real merchant, how to identify the good stuff when you see it. This education takes time. Sometimes, a very long time. But hopefully for many, through the witness of Sr. Rose Marie, it has begun. May the witness of her vocation move many others, by their very act of wrestling with the seeming irrationality of her choice, to find what is latent within us all: the desire for God.”

Love,
Matthew

July 31 – Examen


-by Br Cornelius Avaritt, OP

“Today, people live busy lives. We are surrounded by noise and distractions as we hustle off to work or school…and then back to home…only to rush off in the evening for another meeting or another social event. We like to be busy. We continue this rhythm of life because being busy often makes us feel important. If we are successful in this busyness, the world tells us to keep going and to do more things. The feeling of accomplishment is rewarding, but it can also distract us from seeing how God is acting in our lives. If all our actions are directed toward self-gratification, aren’t we somehow missing the mark?

At the end of the day, are you able to look to the Lord and say I did it all for you, or were your actions today directed toward your own interests? If you are endlessly busy with the latter, you will eventually fatigue and find yourself looking for God. A good habit to develop is finding a way to withdraw from the busyness of everyday life and focus on God through prayer. Thankfully, we have many saints who can help us combat the endless busyness of life.

Today the Church celebrates the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and a man of perseverance in the spiritual life. St. Ignatius was a soldier who converted to the Faith, and thus became a soldier for Christ. As a soldier charges into battle to fight for the good of society, St. Ignatius charged into the battle of the spiritual life. In that same vein, the spiritual battle cry of the Jesuit Order is Ad majorem Dei gloriam, which means “for the greater glory of God.” Many of St. Ignatius’s writings aimed to give all glory to God. As a result, they have been used by many to direct their lives in the knowledge and love of God. The Spiritual Exercises, his most notable work, is one such work that has helped people advance in the spiritual life.

In the opening line of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius writes that “Human beings are created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by means of this to save their souls.” This line from St. Ignatius expresses the importance of turning toward Christ in all our actions. One particular prayer that comes from the Spiritual Exercises and helps one to pull away from the busyness of life is the daily examination of conscience, otherwise known as the Daily Examen.

The Daily Examen is a recollective prayer where one recalls the events that happened throughout his or her day. It is easy to develop a habit of praying the Daily Examen by practicing it through a few short steps. The first step is to acknowledge the presence of God and to give thanks to him. The second step is to acknowledge where one fell short in giving God glory through our actions or inactions. The last step is to resolve to do better with the help of God’s grace the next day. The prayer is simple in its application and yet effective in keeping one grounded in the spiritual life. Developing the habit of praying the Daily Examen can help one stay accountable to God in the spiritual life. This accountability bears fruit in the form of a friendship with God.

The Examen and other meditative prayers (when done well and consistently) allow us to pull away from all the busy distractions of life, and turn our attention to God and His loving providence. Fidelity to daily prayer leads to a deeper friendship with God and the closer we are with God, the better we can offer our daily lives to Him as a spiritual soldier (like St. Ignatius) and friend.”

Love, AMDG
Matthew

July 21, 1773-Aug 7, 1814: Suppression of the Society of Jesus


-statue of St Ignatius of Loyola, SJ, Church of the Gesù, Rome, please click on the image for greater detail


-by Steve Weidenkopf

“Stunned by the rapid advance of the Protestant Revolution, the Church began its much-needed reform with the ecumenical council at Trent (1545-1563). The council that would lay the foundation for the Catholic Reformation followed another important development, when in 1540 Pope Paul III approved the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits, as they would be called, began their work several years prior in Paris, when Ignatius Loyola and several companions (including Francis Xavier) pledged to live the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity, obedience) and to go to Rome and place themselves at the service of the pope.

Ignatius envisioned his new order would participate in the reform of the Church by focusing on education (catechesis) and encouraging the laity to participate frequently in the sacraments, especially confession and the Eucharist. This focus led to a multitude of Jesuit teachers and missionaries serving in heavily Protestant territories and in far-flung places of the world that had never heard the Gospel, all to win souls for Christ.

Although the Jesuit formation process was long and life in the Society was difficult, men joined by the thousands. The Society established universities throughout Christendom in order to form both members of the order and Catholic laity to participate fully in the Catholic Reformation. The small group began by St. Ignatius and his companions became a powerful and influential element within the Church and Christendom within a century of the founder’s death in 1556. By the eighteenth century, there were over 20,000 Jesuits running nearly seven hundred universities, colleges, and seminaries. The Society contributed to the prestige of secular rulers and the papacy but its influence was not universally appreciated. Anti-religious intellectuals and absolutist-minded monarchs became wary, envious, and ultimately opposed to the Jesuits.

René Decartes’s (1596-1650) philosophical writings, likely without his intent, sparked a movement opposed to the Church and its understanding of philosophy. By the eighteenth century, the “age of reason” and “enlightenment” produced a crop of thinkers, writers, and politicians radically opposed to the Church and its influence in the world. François-Marie Arouet (1694 – 1778), known by his pen name Voltaire, was one such individual. Although educated by Jesuits, Voltaire embraced anti-Catholic beliefs and worked tirelessly to destroy the “infamous thing,” his moniker for the Church. Voltaire recognized the only way to limit the Church’s influence and bring about a secular society was to take control of the institutions of higher learning in Europe, which required the destruction of the Jesuits. He boasted that with the Jesuits defeated, “there will be nothing left of the Church.” In order to further their agenda, Enlightenment thinkers began a concerted campaign against the Society of Jesus.

Many secular rulers were wary of the Jesuits due to their outsized influence and their independence. Jesuits were fiercely loyal to the pope, whom many kings saw as a foreign prince intent on meddling in their internal affairs. As these monarchs focused on creating a centralized state, they increasingly saw the Jesuits as an obstacle to their plans. Frustrated and irritated by the Jesuits, several secular rulers in the eighteenth century placed intense political pressure on the Roman pontiffs to do something about the meddlesome Society. However, these rulers did not wait for papal activity, as many began their own campaigns of suppression and expulsion.

King Joseph I (r. 1750 – 1777) desired to reform Portugal so that it could be a leading power in Western Europe. He placed great power and authority in the hands of Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, known as the Marquis de Pombal, in order to accomplish this task. Believing the Jesuits to be a threat, Pombal began a concerted propaganda campaign directed at creating a negative image of the Jesuits in the minds of the king and the Portuguese people. In 1759, Pombal convinced the king to sign a decree denouncing the Society and ordering their expulsion from Portugal and its overseas territories.

The next attack on the Society came from France, the “Eldest Daughter of the Church.” The Paris Parlement, the most important of thirteen provincial appellate courts charged with registering and approving royal decrees, initially restricted French subjects from entering the Society and banned Jesuits from teaching theology, then prohibited citizens from attending Jesuit schools. The Parlement’s anti-Jesuit declarations culminated in 1764, when King Louis XV (r. 1715-1774) signed a decree expelling the Jesuits from France and its dominions.

Recognizing the serious threat to the Society and the Church as a whole posed by such attacks, Pope Clement XIII (r. 1758-769) defended the Society its role and mission in the Church in the bull Apostolicum pascendi in 1765. Despite the papal defense, the attack on the Society from European secular rulers continued. In Spain, Ignatius’s nation of origin, the Jesuits came under fire from Bernardo Tanucci, a chief minister and advisor in Naples to King Charles III (r. 1759-1788). Tanucci despised the Jesuits and the Church and continually sought to limit the power and influence of both. He convinced the king to order the expulsion of all Jesuits from Spain and its colonies in 1767.

In only twelve years, the Society was ruthlessly persecuted in three countries where it had been highly effective and influential. The Jesuits, once the champions of the Catholic Reformation and a powerful and prominent group within the Church and Europe, were dazed and weakened, but their greatest defeat was yet to come.

Giovanni Vincenzo Antonio Ganganelli was educated by the Jesuits as a young man and discerned a religious vocation. He entered the Conventual Franciscans in 1723, taking the religious name Lorenzo. He was ordained to the priesthood and pursued advanced academic studies, earning a doctorate, and teaching at a university. Pope Clement XIII, who had befriended Fr. Ganganelli, made him a cardinal at a time when the Jesuit controversy dominated the pontificate. The conclave to elect Clement’s successor met in the face of a formal request from the rulers of Portugal, France, Spain, and Naples to suppress the order.


-St Ignatius of Loyola, SJ, by Peter Paul Reubens, please click on the image for greater detail

Several cardinals believed suppression was the only viable alternative to bring peace between the Church and those kingdoms. There was much debate within the conclave but eventually the cardinals elected Ganganelli, who took the name Clement XIV (r. 1769-774). Clement XIV hoped to resolve the Jesuit question peacefully but was under intense political pressure throughout his pontificate. After a failed attempt to placate the anti-Jesuit secular powers through harsh measures against the Society, he issued the brief Dominus ac Redemptor on July 21, 1773, which formally suppressed the Society of Jesus.

It was, as historian Eamon Duffy wrote, “the papacy’s most shameful hour.” Clement partially blamed his action on the Society itself for sowing seeds of dissension and discord among secular rulers and other religious orders. Sadly, the pope ordered the arrest and imprisonment of the Superior General of the Society, Lorenzo Ricci, in Castel Sant’Angelo, where he later died. Clement XIV’s action against the Society left such a significant blot on the history of the papacy that no pope since has taken the name Clement.

Although the suppression was universal, there were areas where the Jesuits continued to operate unimpeded (especially in areas with non-Catholic monarchs). The monarchical world was turned upside down by the creation of the United States and the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century. Desperate to revive Catholic higher education and reigning during a time when the Church no longer faced opposition from the same secular authorities that clamored for the Society’s suppression, Pope Pius VII (r. 1800-1823) re-established the Jesuits on August 7, 1814. Once more, the sons of Ignatius were allowed to operate universities, colleges, and undertake missionary adventures.

The forty-one years of suppression were a dark time in the history of the Society, but the vision of St. Ignatius and his companions could not be forever dimmed.”

Love, and AMDG,
Matthew

Sep 5 – Bl Alcide-Vital Lastaste, OP, (1832-1869), Apostle of Prisons, Founder of the Dominican Sisters of Bethany for female ex-cons & abused women

“Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning He was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and He sat down and taught them.  As He was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap Him into saying something they could use against Him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with His finger.  They kept demanding an answer, so He stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”  Then He stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.  Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.””
-Jn 8:1-11

Alcide-Vital Lastaste was born in Gironde, France, on September 5, 1832. As a teenager, Alcide felt a call to the priesthood, but as is the way of adolescence, sometimes there can be distractions. Alcide began courting a young lady named Cecilia de Saint-Germain while attending secondary school.

Cecilia and Alcide soon declared their love for each other and planned to get married as soon as possible. However, Alcide’s father, Vital, thought the couple was too young to be getting so serious. He voiced his great displeasure at their deep involvement, and the couple agreed to not see each other for a year. Incredibly, during that year, Cecilia suddenly passed away. The young man was heartbroken.

Alcide turned to his young faith for comfort. He joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and the visits to the downtrodden and homeless opened his eyes to the plight of the poor. At the same time, the call to the priesthood once more erupted within him. In 1857 he entered the Dominican Order. Alcide was ordained a priest on February 8, 1863, and took the name Jean-Joseph. His unexpected spiritual journey was about to take flight and reach heights no one could have ever imagined.

In 1279, Charles of Anjou discovered the allegedly true relics of Saint Mary Magdalene in the small town of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, and along with her grave were also found the grave of Saint Maximinus , the first Bishop of Aix. Karl of Anjou built the Gothic cathedral there to have a worthy repository for these relics. He also built an adjacent monastery, where he installed the Dominicans as guardians of the tomb. The monastery was named “The Royal Monastery” (Le Couvent Royal) . During the revolution, the Dominicans were expelled from the monastery, which is now converted into a hotel. It was there that Brother Jean-Joseph Lataste would deepen his spiritual life and become acquainted with Mary Magdalene, who became the inspiration for his role as founder.

On May 20, 1860, a large party was held on the occasion of the translation of Mary Magdalene’s relics. Lacordaire, who had reintroduced the Dominicans to France after the revolution, was unfortunately absent due to illness, and Brother Jean-Joseph was honored to kiss the saint’s skull, which for him would become a deep and significant spiritual experience. That thought was nailed to his mind, that so great love for the saint could be too great a sin, and he adopted Mary Magdalene as a special patron saint for his future work among sinners.

On September 15, 1864, after being a priest all of 18 months, Father Jean-Joseph Lataste was sent by the prior of the monastery in Bordeaux to conduct a four-day retreat for the inmates of a woman’s prison in the town of Cadillac. This experience would change his life forever.

Suddenly he found himself amid 400 women prisoners, most of them abused and abandoned with nowhere to go. In most cases, these women were poor, uneducated, and without family. Living on the streets forces one to live in survival mode. That means stealing and soliciting and doing whatever one must do to breathe another day. They had been discarded and treated like criminals. This was 1864, and they fit the cliché “out of sight, out of mind.”

The atmosphere of hopelessness and despair at the prison was overwhelming. He wondered what he could do for these women who were often called “the lost women.” Would they even sit and listen to him? He was frightened of the possibilities, but he was also filled with faith.

Father Jean-Joseph stood before the women, stretched out his arms, and began, “My dear sisters –” That was shocking in itself because no one ever truly spoke to these people. Dogs and cats were treated better. His gentle, brotherly greeting got their attention. He spent the next few days guiding them to a special place. It was a place where Hope existed. They had forgotten what that even meant, if they’d ever known at all.

He introduced them to God’s infinite mercy by telling them about the woman caught in adultery and how Jesus forgave her. He spoke about Hell and conversion and embracing freedom. He shared with them the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, and lastly, he spoke to them of Heaven. He could not believe how many women embraced the offer of forgiveness and began going to Confession. The chapel was filled each evening for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. His own heart became filled with a new purpose. He wanted to begin a ministry to serve these women.

The women asked that he come back, and one year later he did just that. This time there was only one sermon a day because the demand for Confession was so high. The last night of the retreat, most of the women attended Adoration. Some stayed the entire night, remaining until dawn. Using the words of St. Catherine of Siena, Father Lataste wrote in his closing notes about the retreat: “I have seen the secrets of God; I have seen the wonders.”

From that point on, he was determined to find a way to help these women. In 1866, he wrote a pamphlet called Rehabilitated. He sent copies to as many journalists and government officials as he could. He knew that the reason so many of those being released failed was because no one trusted them or gave them the slightest chance. He was determined to reshape public opinion.

He announced his intentions of starting an order where women leaving prison could begin a religious life in a contemplative setting. This order was approved and is known as the Dominican Sisters of Bethany. Bethany was the village in Judea where Jesus’ three friends lived—Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, the sinner who became a contemplative soul. Father Lataste, following the Latin tradition exemplified by Saint Augustine and Saint Gregory the Great, identified Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany. Jesus loved to come and stay with them. The Order still flourishes and serves many women in different countries around the world.

However, for French society in the nineteenth century, the nature of the new foundation was surprising, even scandalous. Hostile reactions came particularly from the Dominican Third Order Regular communities, onto which Father Lataste intended to graft Bethany. These religious, usually dedicated to the education of girls, were afraid of public opinion confusing them with repentant sinners. The provincial chapter of the Order informed Father Lataste that the very principle of his foundation raised objections. The founder was not discouraged. This opposition seemed to him to be the sign of divine blessing, given through the cross. In the end, the difficulties faded away, and the foundation continued its course.

The Dominican Sisters of Bethany, contemplative women religious who welcome among them women from various paths, have four houses today—two in France, one in Switzerland, and another near Turin. They visit nearby prisons. The heart of their community life is contemplation of the Divine Mercy, centered on the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, in keeping with Father Lataste’s wishes.

Tuberculosis took the life of Alcide-Vital Lastaste (aka Father Jean-Joseph) on March 10, 1868. He was only 36 years old. As he died, he could be heard softly singing the Hail, Holy Queen, “Salve Regina.”

Dominicans sing the Salve Regina at the end of Compline as the last hymn before holy silence for evening (and emptying dishwashers, yes, plural, novice joke) until morning, when “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise.” is intoned to begin Matins.

Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiæ,
vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
Ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevæ,
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos
misericordes oculos ad nos converte;
Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Hail our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry,
Poor banished children of Eve;
To thee do we send up our sighs,
Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
Thine eyes of mercy toward us;
And after this our exile,
Show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving,
O sweet Virgin Mary.


-please click on the image for greater detail

Love,
Matthew

Jun 26 – Sts Marie-Madeleine Fontaine, DC, Marie-Francoise Lanel, DC, Therese Fantou, DC, Jeanne Gerard, DC, from the House of Charity in Arras, (d. 1794), Religious & Martyrs

The House of Charity in Arras was a beehive of activity. Seven Sisters cared for the sick, visited poor families and educated young children. The service was very well appreciated by the population.

Like everywhere, the Revolution questioned each one’s fidelity to Jesus Christ and to the Church. Quickly, Sister Coutacheaux decided to return to her family. The superior was worried about the two youngest Sisters. What fate did the revolutionaries have for them? She invited them to find refuge in Belgium. Sister Rose Michau and Sister Jeanne Fabre did not want to leave, but once the Terror came to Arras they followed the advice and went into exile. They rejoined the Company of the Daughters of Charity when it was reestablished. At the end of 1793 there were four Sisters, then, who remained working in the House of Charity.

Sister Marie Madeleine Fontaine, originally from Etrapigny (Eure), entered the Company in 1748 at the age of 25. As Superior of the community, her wisdom and competence were greatly appreciated. Sister Marie Françoise Lanel was born in 1745 in Eu (Seine Maritime). She entered the Daughters of Charity at the age of 19. Sister Thérèse Fantou was born in Miniac Morvan (Ille et Vilaine) in 1747. She became a Daughter of Charity at the age of 24. Sister Jeanne Gérardest was born in Cumières (Meuse) in 1752 and entered the Company of the Daughters of Charity in 1776.

The arrival in Arras of a new District leader, Joseph Lebon, brought a climate of violence and fear to the city. The House of Charity became the “House of Humanity” for which a new director was installed who surveyed the activities of the Sisters. The humiliations intensified and the false testimonies multiplied. On February 14 1794 the Sisters were arrested and taken to Saint-Vaast Abbey. The Sisters brought compassion to the prisoners who were distraught about their future. The Sisters underwent their first interrogation on the 4th of April. They again refused to take the oath, intended to subjugate the Catholic Church in France to the new French Government instead of the Pope, since it was against their conscience.

Then, suddenly, on the night of June 25, the order was given to quickly transfer these four Sisters of Charity to Cambrai. The cart left at one in the morning and arrived in Cambrai at eight thirty. The Sisters were locked in the chapel of the old Seminary. In this place of prayer they meditated.

Then came a new court appearance and immediate condemnation to death. Waiting for the cart to take them to the guillotine the Sisters prayed their chapelet. The guards took their “good luck charms,” and, not knowing what to do, put them on their heads like a crown. Thus it was that they went through the city, singing the Ave Maris Stella. (What do Catholic martyrs do? THEY SING!!!) At the foot of the scaffold Sister Marie-Madeleine Fontaine repeated the prediction already made to those condemned, “We are the last victims.” That extraordinary prediction came true. The fall of Robespierre on July 27 1794 marked the end of the Revolution of Terror.


-the four martyr saints holding the palms of victory in Heaven, Rev 7:9-17

Since the North Star guides sailors home to safe port, Mary is the Star of the Sea. She guides us safe home to Jesus.

Ave Maris Stella, 8th century AD

Ave, Maris Stella,
Dei Mater alma,
Atque semper virgo,
Felix coeli porta.

Sumens illud Ave
Gabrielis ore,
Funda nos in pace,
Mutans Evae nomen.

Solve vincia reis
Profer lumen caecis,
Mala nostra pelle,
Bona cuncta posce.

Monstra te esse Matrem,
Sumat per te preces
Qui pro nobis natus,
Tulit esse tuus.

Virgo singularis,
Inter omnes mitis,
Nos culpis solutos
Mites fac et castos.

Vitam praesta puram,
Iter para tutum;
Ut videntes Jesum
Semper collaetemur.

Sit laus Deo Patri,
Summo Christo decus,
Spiritui Sancto,
Tribus honor unus. Amen.

Hail Star of the Sea

Hail, thou Star of ocean,
Portal of the sky !
Ever Virgin Mother
Of the Lord most high !

Oh ! by Gabriel’s Ave,
Uttered long ago,
Eva’s name reversing,
Stablish peace below.

Break the captive’s fetters ;
Light on blindness pour ;
All our ills expelling,
Every bliss implore.

Show thyself a Mother ;
Offer Him our sighs,
Who for us Incarnate
Did not thee despise.

Virgin of all virgins !
To thy shelter take us :
Gentlest of the gentle !
Chaste and gentle make us.

Still, as on we journey,
Help our weak endeavor ;
Till with thee and Jesus
We rejoice forever.

Through the highest heaven,
To the Almighty Three,
Father, Son, and Spirit,
One same glory be. Amen.

The parish just over where I grew up near the seashore was named Maris Stella.

Love,
Matthew

May 24 – Relics, elevatio corporis, & fragrance of Resurrection


Arca di San Domenico, please click on the image for greater detail.

Dominican breviary: “In accordance with his wishes, St Dominic was buried ‘beneath the feet of his brethren’ in the church of St Nicholas of the Vineyards, Bologna. (Keeping with this, Dominicans have been traditionally been buried under main, ground floor hallways of Dominican priories, and those living lined the hallways of their priories after Evening Prayer to sing the DeProfundis.). Many of the sick avowed that they had been healed of their infirmities at his tomb; the brethren however were loath to recognise these miracles and accept votive offerings.”

On May 24, the Dominican Order celebrates the translation of the relics of St. Dominic. That is, we remember the day in 1233 when, during a General Chapter of the Order in Bologna, the interred body of St. Dominic was moved in order to allow the faithful to honor him more easily. More than 300 friars were present to celebrate this important day. In one of his letters, Bl. Jordan of Saxony, describes the event:

“But then the wonderful day came for the translation of the relics of one who was an illustrious doctor in his lifetime. Present were the venerable Archbishop of Ravenna, surrounded by bishops and a large number of prelates, as well as by a vast multitude of people of different languages who gave remarkable witness to their devotion. Present also was the Bolognese militia, which would not let this holy body, that they considered to be in their safekeeping, be snatched from them. As for the brethren, they were anxious: although they had nothing to fear, they were seized with misgivings lest the body of Saint Dominic, which had lain in a mean tomb exposed to water and heat for such a long period of time, should be found eaten with worms and giving off a foul odor in the same way that might be expected with other corpses, thus destroying the devotion of the people for so great a man. Nonetheless the bishops approached devoutly. The stone that was firmly cemented to the sepulcher was removed with instruments of iron. Within the tomb was a wooden coffin, just as it had been placed there by the venerable Pope Gregory when he was bishop of Ostia. The body had been buried there, and a small hole remained in the top of the coffin.

The upper part of the coffin was moved a little bit. As soon as the stone was taken away, the body gave forth a wonderful odor through the opening; its sweetness astonished those present, and they were filled with wonder at this strange occurrence. Everyone shed tears of joy, and fear and hope rose in all hearts. We ourselves also smelled the sweetness of this perfume, and we bear witness to what we have seen and smelt. Eager with love, we remained devotedly near the body of Dominic for a long time, and we were unable to sate ourselves with this great sweetness. If one touched the body with a hand or a belt or some other object, the odor immediately attached itself to it for a long period of time.

The body was carried to the marble sepulcher where it would rest—it and the perfume that it poured forth. This marvelous aroma which the holy body emitted was evidence to all how much the saint had truly been the good odor of Christ”.


-by Br Ireneus Dunleavy, OP

Why relics?

It’s a natural instinct to keep meaningful tokens. Anyone who has lost loved ones knows the impact of an old photo, a handwritten letter, or a crackling recorded message. In a way, the ones we have lost become present. Emotion rises along with memories and love’s affection. An old book, jewelry, an article of clothing … we keep these things as mementos. With the saints, however, we not only keep things of the person, but we also keep the body of the person.

The 25th session of Trent’s second decree teaches us why the bodies of saints are different. Relics of bone, hair, and even blood once belonged to bodies possessing a two-fold dignity: (1) being living members of the Body of Christ and (2) being temples of the Holy Spirit. The council states that, through venerating these relics, God bestows gifts on men. Additionally, those who oppose this teaching, “the Church has already long since condemned.”

This condemnation is not found among Dominicans. Today the Order of Preachers celebrates the Translation of Holy Father Dominic. ‘Translation’ is an unfortunate translation. The Latin, elevatio corporis, brings forth the transcendent quality of this feast. We don’t celebrate a horizontal change of word for word moving from tongue to tongue. Rather, we celebrate the vertical change of the profane to the holy. On this day in 1233, St. Dominic’s remains were elevated, celebrated, and laid to rest in the Arca di San Domenico—the exquisite sarcophagus complete in 1267.

Though the brethren lifted St. Dominic from the tomb, it was God who elevated the body of St. Dominic. Our Father in heaven honored our Holy Father Dominic by a miracle (ST III.6). The moment the stone slab covering the coffin was split, the broken seal emitted an indescribable, sweet fragrance. So potent was the smell that those who touched its source, St. Dominic’s bones, themselves began to emit the aroma. Martha feared the stench of Lazarus’ four days in the tomb (Jn 11:38–44), but the friars rejoiced in the sweet-smelling oblation of St. Dominic’s 11 years in the tomb.

The relics of St. Dominic, like all other relics, remind us of not only the saint but the One the saint served. By this miracle, through his lowly servant St. Dominic, God makes real the words of St. Paul:

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. (2 Cor 2:15–16)

Smells, like a mother’s perfume, conjure the deepest memories we have of a person. The smell of St. Dominic works in an analogous way, but with an important difference. The brothers would not have been reminded of the old smell of the perspiring friar. They would have been reminded of the Resurrection. Christ by dying and rising has transformed the decay of death into the fragrance of eternal life. Relics do not just remind us of a life lived, but a life living.“

“Thou didst breath fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and now do I sigh for Thee.” -St Augustine

Love, life, & LIFE to come!!
Matthew