This blog is closed.

I think I am transitioning Franciscan Passages from being primarily about my traveling from place to place to give talks and lead retreats to being about making movies that tell the stories of women religious and other people who Francis himself would have loved.

Since 2010, I’ve been putting the word out there that I was available to travel for speaking engagements far and wide. Its been challenging yet satisfying.  Recently, I was introducing myself to a small group for a series of classes and was surprised by a very angry man whom I’d never met before who demanded to know my credentials for teaching this topic several times over. Just for fun, I decided to include here what I had explained to him as it gives an overview of my life with Franciscan Passages.

I wrote a friendly email and included this:

You asked a few questions about how I came to be an expert on this topic so I was hoping tonight to give you a bigger picture of the story: I am not a priest or a nun. at its high point, the graduate program I attended and later worked for and later taught for, had 90 priests and nuns there, plus myself and one or two other lay people. Most people were there for enrichment while about 3-5 people were actually graduating with the M.A. each year (in my graduating class, four of the women were nuns from India and the one male joined the friars after graduating). Believe me, it is strange to be one of two or three lay people in that world but we adapted and found great friendships among our classmates. I’ve been teaching Franciscan writings for eight years. I had no template for this. In fact, when I went to the dean of the grad school to ask him what I might “do” with this degree, he sat back and chuckled. That was his answer. For the decades since the graduate school was founded, the people who studied there were all priests and nuns who would then go back to their own religious communities to teach what they’d learned. In the case of us few lay people, there were not religious communities to return to and thus, we found ways to share what we had learned there with others. In my case, my husband’s job had us move every one or two years so I adapted my way of teaching so that I would offer short class series, workshops and retreats rather than seeking a position teaching at a university (I’d already taught another topic 22 semesters at a college at that point anyhow and wasn’t particularly interested in that route anyhow) or something more long-term. Its been interested teaching at big and small venues since 2010. This class is the smallest I’ve taught (especially if only one person comes tonight) but I’m ok with that. I am proud that I found a way to teach about this arcane topic to thousands of people in a hundred different formats and venues over the years. I look forward to continuing to spark people’s interest in the writings of Francis (and Clare) long into the future. Unfortunately, the graduate school program in Franciscan Studies, which did not think outside the box soon enough to find new ways to be relevant in a changing world, died a slow death, never to be revived again. From what I’ve been told, though, the future of Franciscan scholarship and thought is happening in Zambia in Africa, where the schools of Franciscan studies are bursting at the seams, so that makes my heart sing to know there are still scholars of Franciscan history being formed despite the demise of the school here in the U.S. (and the one in England in recent years).

Anyhow, that was a long history, but I wanted to answer your questions completely. I hope to see you next Monday. I’ll be giving away the book I created which is an exegesis (but in layman’s language) of Francis’ deathbed writing.

Over the years, I’ve gotten resistance and sometimes, believe it or not, open hostility from those who you would think would be most thirsty to learn more about the writings of Francis. Early on, I remember a person coming up to a booth I had in Charlotte at the Eucharistic Congress and telling me I should be ashamed of myself for daring to teach people about Francis when I am not, like her, a Secular Franciscan. Wow. I just responded with my understanding that it is a calling, isn’t it? Wow, that lady was so mad at me. I’ll never forget. I don’t know who she was or what ever became of her but I sure hope she got some of that Franciscan peace down in her heart over time.

At the same time, I have been warmly received by many wonderful people in fancy and simple places. In Honduras, I got to spend a day with Honduran Franciscan sisters on a retreat day in a former hot springs/spa area not far from the orphanage where they worked. Wow. I prayed during that whole trip because my Spanish is not United Nations Translator-ready and I wanted to serve them as best I could. I have been warmly received by a tiny school in New Mexico where the teachers come from all over the country to give a year in this remote area. I cherish my conversations with those volunteers and recall fondly a trip through the freakin’ Rockies in my rented car when I volunteered to drive one into Colorado so she could purchase the raw milk she loved.

I haven’t posted on here much during 2017 and 2018. These  years have been a time of transition. It would probably be helpful to share some of the struggles and uncertainties I’ve faced but in this modern time of 24-7 access to info, I think sometimes we share way to much with strangers. For example, perhaps I could have shared my tbrokenheartedness at the news of the extent of the scandals and abuse in the report that came out of Pennsylvania in August or the ongoing shenanigans of those who forgot our church is about Jesus and are scrambling for power, trying to bring others down in the process. So many of the reactions I saw to this scandal were just more of the same…people with a particular agenda (whatever that may be) thrusting it forth with the scandal as proof that their agenda (whatever it may be) is the one to pay attention to. In Pennsylvania, a thousand people were abused at the hands of church men. In many cases, those who were abused go on to abuse others so the real figures of the harmed are exponentially larger than the original 1000 people. What do we do with that?

I have not been actively pursuing getting-the-word-out that I am available to give talks and the result has been not receiving many invitations to give talks in 2017 and 2018. I don’t know what the next steps are, but I am sure I will be making more movies about women religious. Additionally, I want to make movies about others who are cool but ignorant people make ignorant assumptions about. That’s what I can tell you for now. I may open up the blog again if my travels to make these movies is interesting to folks.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. You can still find my posts on our facebook page on occasion:

And you can find my movies here:


Where I’ve been and where I’m going.

2017 I spent a lot of time during 2017 trying to look at Franciscan Passages from every angle, wondering what the future would hold. I read lots of books, articles, blogposts, listened to more books and podcasts and had great, directed conversations with many wise people as I thought about the way I bring the writings of St. Francis of Assisi to life in the world. It is a journey that perhaps I should have documented but it was not an easy one. Since 2010, I’ve been creating in-person retreats, talks and classes for big and small audiences.

300 Years of Good Julie picDuring this time of reflection, I had to wrestle with questions of ego, for example. As I looked around, I wondered if I would ever “catch a big break” after years of working solo. I had to wrestle with questions of demand. I offer(ed) such a niche thing that I’ve always known few people actually wanted to go deep with the writings of St. Francis. It was hard to find them but since 2010, find them I did in retreat centers (in NC and FL), in school gyms (Jicarilla Apache reservation), at an orphanage (in Central America) and rarely, at whatever parish we attended in whatever town we happened to be living in at the time.I would love to find a way for another person to do the legwork of lining up speaking engagements for me so I can simply do the speaking engagements. I have no idea how to go about doing this. I halfheartedly sent out a few unanswered emails to middlemen that broker deals between events and speakers. What I found in searching around is that, in the world of Catholic professional speakers, the vast majority of women speak on topics of marriage, sexuality and family life. The few people out there who are speaking far and wide about Francis in any way are male, vowed Franciscans.

I had to struggle with rejection in a big way when, already struggling with the question of whether I should continue to offer in-person talks, workshops, seminars and classes, I was told by a Secular Franciscan community at the last minute that they did not want me as part of their annual St. Francis feast day celebration. The reason, they explained, was that the members would be too busy putting up decorations that day to take time to hear about St. Francis’ writings. I was crestfallen. This rejection took more of a toll on me than it should have considering what it was.

Shortly after that, I had an absolutely out-of-the-ballpark opportunity to speak to undergraduates at an optional weeknight event for 90 minutes at a Franciscan university in the midwest. The setup was just right for a crowd of undergrads to spend the evening online and zoning out but, lo and behold, I found my groove and we sailed through 90 minutes and an overview of everything Francis wrote. It started off on the right foot when I had some students come up to do some short readings and somehow it came out that one of them could do handstands. What did I do? Well, naturally, I asked the crowd to join me in cheering him on to do a handstand for us! He won us all over and Francis, as always, won us over again with his poetry, letters and prayers. That was my last big speaking event of 2017. A nice way to erase rejection of a few weeks before from my head. I love speaking to large groups about the writings of Francis and Clare. I am humble and self-aware enough to be able to say here in writing that I am very, very good at this. I know my subject and I know how to appeal to a crowd so that quickly, we have built a rapport and are on a journey together, mulling over the words and images used by Francis. This love for the writings was given to me by some of the greatest Franciscan scholars alive today. That is not an exaggeration. I have been taught, at the Franciscan Institute where I studied for the M.A. in Franciscan Studies, by the best in the world and I am able to convey that same passion for these texts to all who will listen to me. 2017 is over and the 200 page notebook I began last January is filled. I’d hoped that by the end of the notebook/year, I would be well on my path to whatever was next for me.

2018 is here. I don’t know what invitations will come for me to speak as a professional speaker on the topic of the writings of Francis. As always, I will likely say yes to any invitation. It is the advertising, promotions, nudging, reminding part that I’m taking a break from for now.

tr Julie scarfIn the meantime, I continue to work on movies. 2 years ago, I googled “how to make a documentary” minutes after receiving the exciting news that I was awarded a $1000 grant to make a movie about nuns. Skip ahead to today and I’ve completed 4 such movies and they’ve been featured in six film festivals around the world. I still have lots to learn. I mean lots.

I received a grant to pull together experts on filmmaking with people like me who want to improve our filmmaking skills. I’ve been recruiting my classmates and the purpose of the grant is for each of us to make a short movie about a person, cause or non-profit which addresses some aspect of social justice. This melds a lot of my Franciscan values: creating something beautiful, amplifying the voice of the voiceless and the camaraderie that will form among us learners. This is a new way to do Franciscan Passages as it is not about giving talks that are pointedly about him and his writings. Instead, it is about putting his values into actions and inviting others along with me. I’m excited for this work we will be doing together, making movies.

So, that is where I have been and it is where I am going. I hope you will take a look at some of my movies: and if you live near Cincinnati, come see “Life of Prayer: Glimpses of Cincinnati’s Monastery” on the big screen with me on March 8th!



For St. Francis, Perfect Joy is a Stance, not a Reaction

Introduction to Perfect Joy by Julie

This is the story of “Perfect Joy” as St. Francis of Assisi sees it. To him, perfect joy is not about things outside of us being all hunky dory. To him, perfect joy  a stance we take.

Think about a baseball player. Imagine someone who is in the position of short stop. What is his position when he is waiting for the player at bat? Imagine a softball player who is the catcher. What is her stance after she signals to the pitcher and readies herself to catch the ball? Imagine the player who is on 3rd base, pacing around the base as she waits for the action to start. You’ve just imagined three different baseball or softball players in three different stances. Perfect joy is a stance so just like in baseball, if you have the right stance as you wait for what is coming at you, you are more likely to do react in a certain way, the right way when the ball comes to you. What if that player on tr catch3rd base drags a chair from the dugout and sits down, staring off into space when the batter is up? How prepared will she be when bat snaps, contacts the ball and sends it flying into the outfield? If we approach life from this correct stance, that is, from the stance St. Francis describes below, we will be ready to take on the fly balls, fowl balls or grounders that come our way. Perfect joy is not dependent on the outside circumstances around us but is dependent on us maintaining the correct stance.

Here is the story of Perfect Joy. Because of where and how many times it shows up in the 800 year old documents, it is considered to be an authentic story that was told about Francis in the time of Francis.

The Story of Perfect Joy

This famous story is told of St. Francis of Assisi, that he was traveling with his assistant, Br. Leo. It was winter and they both shivered from the cold. Francis called to Leo: “Brother, if it were to please God that the friars should give, in all lands, a great example of holiness and edification, write down, and note carefully, that this would not be perfect joy.”

A little further on, Francis added: “Brother Leo, if the friars were to make the lame to walk, if they should make straight the crooked, chase away demons, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, and, what is even a far greater work, if they should raise the dead after four days, write that this would not be perfect joy.”

As they walked, Francis kept adding to this litany, describing places where perfect joy would not be found. Finally after several miles it is said that Br. Leo “wondered much within himself,” and then blurted out: “I pray thee, teach me wherein is perfect joy.”

Francis, thinking perhaps “Thought you’d never ask!” answered Leo, “If, when we shall arrive at our destination, all drenched with rain and trembling with cold, all covered with mud and exhausted from hunger; if, when we knock at the convent gate, the porter should come angrily and ask us who we are; if, after we have told him, ‘We are two of the brethren,’ he should answer angrily, ‘What you say is a lie. You are two impostors going about deceiving the world, and taking alms from the poor; begone I say.’

“If then he refuse to open to us, and leave us outside, exposed to the snow and rain, suffering from cold and hunger until nightfall, then, if we accept such injustice, such cruelty and contempt with patience, without being ruffled and without murmuring, believing with humility and charity that the porter really knows us, and that it is God who makes him to speak thus against us, write down, Brother Leo: This is perfect joy.”

Francis wouldn’t leave it alone, adding further: “And if we knock again, and the porter comes out in anger to drive us away with oaths and blows, as if we were vile impostors, saying, ‘Begone, miserable robbers, for here you shall neither eat nor sleep!’ If we accept all this with patience, with joy, and with charity, O Brother Leo, write that this indeed is perfect joy.”


As you can see, perfect joy is not reliant on the outside circumstances. It is a stance one takes. Here are some questions to consider in regards to this story:

Questions for Reflection

1.It is a story about rejection. Francis expects his own followers, those who claim to be following Christ and wanting to do it in the same way Francis did, to accept him and offer him kindness and hospitality. They don’t accept him. They don’t believe he is Francis and clearly, they haven’t taken to heart any of his teachings about hospitality if they are so ready to reject him. With his teachings, even if they thought he was a homeless person wandering around, they should feel obligated to receive him as a guest since the poor are Jesus in disguise.

Question for you: When have you felt rejected by those who were supposed to claim you and care for you? This could be a small incident or a big incident. What was your response? Even if you still feel hurt by it today, how can you adjust your response and adjust your stance so that when the memory comes back to you, you have a new stance, one of perfect joy?

  1. It is a story in which we can easily imagine ourselves as the ones who are not opening the door to another.

Question for you: Describe an incident where you kept a “door closed” when you could have easily opened it. Why do we as humans like to close the door on others? How do we open the doors wider to Sardis Baptist Church? Who is out there who needs to know that we are here, that the door is open and that we would welcome them?

A Spirituality of Video Editing

This post will be a work in progress, written over the next few days as I am creating a watchable movie out of about 7(?) hours of footage.

I am currently working on my 4th movie. All four of the movies I have made have been about the work of women religious aka nuns. This current project comes from my time in February spent with the women of the Poor Clare Monastery in Traveler’s Rest, South Carolina. Filmmaking is an art and a craft, which requires a challenging mix of creativity, technical know-how, interpersonal skills and patience . I have some of these in greater abundance than others. Anyhow, as I work to put together a watchable movie (I call it that because, as brilliant as each piece is, the raw 7 hours is just not watchable and needs to be crafted), I am thinking a lot about the spirituality of this process.

What I’m learning is that editing is the real step where the film’s making happens. Imagine I give you a stack of 100 magazines and ask you to make a collage. You’d select words and images to fit your page. Well, imagine I gave dozens of people the identical stack of 100 magazines. They’d come up with dozens of unique collages, wouldn’t they? So, the end product is the collage and each one looks different. Sure, the original images, fonts and colors were chosen by whoever put together the magazines in the first place but for this new creation, the collage, it is one of a kind. That’s the same with editing. In fact, I am going to start paying more attention to who is editing movies since it is their vision which is reflected in the final product. Director Martin Scorsese has worked with the same editor for 40 years-since she was 40. And, yes, I did say she. That’s pretty cool, huh? So, hats off to the editors out there. I see you and I know what you’re doing (often alone, often indoors, often without recognition). Keep at it.

Below is a quote by Frederick Wiseman who has made something like 40 different documentaries. Mamma mia! What productivity! What discipline! He has explained that his reason is to fight off the depression that comes when he finishes working on a movie. He delves right in to the next one. He edits his own movies. Here’s what he has to say that got be thinking about this art in terms of spirituality:

tr wiseman

The first part of this quote I like because it resonates with my own style. I do not go into a documentary with it all planned out. I don’t have some heavy duty agenda that drives every question I ask and every quote I choose to use. I sit and I talk and, boy oh boy am I fortunate to have sat in the presence of so many wonderful wise women at this point. I think I’ve interviewed about 50(?). They tell me stories from decades ago when they joined their communities or a few years ago at age 80, when they felt God calling them to go to Haiti. These stories are amazing and they come out because I listen and because they feel free to talk about whatever comes to mind.

The second part of his quote I like because he hits the nail on the head. The filming part is social, it is around people. It involves moving around, eating lunch with people, charging batteries, driving places and being a good guest in the space of others. The editing part is contemplative. I listen to the same hourlong interview 3 or 4 times, taking notes and really truly trying to listen to what they are saying. I’m the interviewer/director and the editor so speaking from that experience, I will still say that the editor is where the real movie-shaping comes in.

Yesterday, I sat down at my computer to squeeze in an hour of editing and look who I discovered outside the window, watching me edit my movie about FRANCISCAN nuns:tr screen

Next day:

I have just watched and listened very carefully to an hourlong interview with one of the sisters. I took some advice from a new friend and I listened to it, I mean really listened to it, rather than watching it as I determined which parts to keep.  It is not 100% finished yet, but for now, I am putting it away to open up another interview and begin the process again. I am working in segments or sequences. I work on one person’s interview at a time, doing all of the steps and really focusing on that one person until it is in the basic shape it will be in the final product. It is a good feeling to  put this one away for now and I like the ebb and flow of it. It is only about 2.5 minutes but in it, the speaker covers

-Description of someone who visits the monastery to talk about his prayer life

-The jobs she does within the community.

-A description of the retreat center they offer to visitors.

-Something which sums up her role there. I will use this in the closing montage where I have a line or two from each of the people interviewed.

Now, I am going to take a few minutes to pray about which interview to delve into next. I think lots of things can come into play-my mood, the time of day, etc. which will influence how I edit it so I need to make sure it is the right one.




Please stay tuned as I update this post as I reflect more on the Spirituality of Editing






Some Thoughts About My Documentaries

The beginning: I’ve been making movies since early 2016. That was a year and a half ago. I’ve completed three 30 minute movies and am working on two more this summer. I’ve been able to do this because of many people who have stepped up to help me along the way. I was awarded a $1000 grant to make what turned out to be my first two movies (I didn’t realize it would be two separate movies until I began the editing process). Several friends responded to my request to find women religious (aka nuns) who would be willing to let me interview them about their work among people who are economically poor. I traveled to Tampa, Philadelphia and Honolulu over the course of a few weeks, hauling my meager equipment & heavy tripod & relying on my conversation skills to get the interviews going.

The kindness of strangers: What I found is that the women were very accommodating in trusting me, a stranger, with their stories. Most of the women I interviewed were in their 70s, 80s and 90s. Two of the women who appear in Energy of Nuns have passed away since we met a year and a half ago. I am glad I had the chance to hear their stories and to share some of their stories with others by way of this movie. After a year and a half of doing this work, I have interviewed more than 40 people. This year, I have traveled to Charleston, Kingstree (SC), Rock Hill (SC) Travelers Rest (SC), Belmont (NC) and Cary (NC) to interview women from five different religious communities. As I sit there talking with them and listening to their stories, I can’t believe I have the opportunity to sit with them one-on-one to learn about their journeys which have taken them far from home.

It is a conversation: When I interview a person, I do not go there with a preset list of questions or a clipboard for taking notes. I go there to talk with them. I see what one story leads to and I am genuinely interested so I ask the next reasonable question that tells me more about her time in Haiti, living in a tent post-eartquake at age 80 or in Peru where one chose to stay even when the Shining Path was killing people left and right. The camera is on, just off my shoulder, but it is really a conversation between two people. I guess this sort of thing can be learned but I find it is the same skillset as being a good conversationalist.

Their best stories: When I the person I am with is relaxed, it becomes a real conversation and not just a sniffled give-and-take transaction of words.  As I rewatch the videos, I have about 1 hour or 1.5 hours with each person, I look for the stories which excite them the most. In Hawai’i, I thought I was going to capture and share stories from a sister who has been visiting the leper colony on Molokai since the 1960s. That was a rare story to capture, for sure, but it turns out she really lit up when she told me about arriving in the grubby 1970s NYC to serve homeless kids as a nurse. Its not that she doesn’t love her time on Molokai, but she’s given many interviews on that topic already and had told all of those stories a few times.  I like finding these little unexpected jewels amongst an hour or so of words.  Their passion for life really shines through as they tell these little stories that few people may know or remember or otherwise hear. It is cool to be in the position of capturing and sharing these stories.

Where I am going from here: I am actively working to improve my technical skills. I don’t want my technical shortcomings to get in the way of these stories being told. I’ve learned a lot from people who take the time to cobble together videos and post them to youtube. Really, in 2017, there is so much you can learn by YouTube videos. Almost everything I have learned about editing, I have learned from YouTube. I took a semester-long class at the community college to learn more about lighting, which is so important to set the tone of a scene. This summer, I am helping someone put together a series of workshops on various aspects of filmmaking (sound, lighting, acting, storytelling) and will definitely be in the front seat, scribbling notes and absorbing what I can. This fall, I will take some online courses through a reputable documentary filmmaking program and put together additional workshops, inviting the experts I know to come and share what they know with people like me who have access to incredible stories and want to help them be heard.

A Catholic Woman in Ministry

For many years, I have listened patiently, while others have stood in front of me with righteous indignation, stating that the Catholic church doesn’t allow women in ministry positions. Sometimes, they’d run out of breath (I’m a patient listener) and I’d get to walk away, to resume my work as a woman in ministry in the Catholic church.  The irony is that they’d stand there, red-faced & cussing about this all the while dissing me. This post is a reflection and a response to all those tiresome, one-sided conversations I’ve endured.

I graduated from NCSU in 1996. From there, I moved to Boston to coordinate volunteers and programs at the American Youth Hostel. I think it was kind of an extension of growing up on a campground. I loved hospitality and travelers. I saved lots of money during that year (I made about $7.50/hour and managed to save $5,000 that year). I left that job as soon as I could after spending 13 months at that job. It was  pretty dysfunctional work environment so I made myself stick it out so that my resume could indicate that I spent a year at my first job but I didn’t stay there a day longer than I had to.

trash 1I spent the next year traveling around the world. That’s how I sum it up, anyhow. I slept on a friend’s couch in Boston for 3 months, went to Europe for 3 months (I won plane tix from a radio station & earned the Eurail pass by passing out magazines for a travel company). From there, I returned to mom and dad’s house for 2 months. I got a job at brugger’s bagles. My little brother would come in to buy breakfast with his high school friends and there I was, a college gradate at 23 making their sandwiches! It was an interesting situation. I knew it was temporary, though. I managed to save some more money then took off for California. Another good friend let me sleep on her couch for 3 months. During that time, I visited Oregon, had east coast friends come out on vacation so I hung out with them in Las Vegas, the Bay Area etc. I also stayed with my older brother in Hawaii for a few days. He was the youngest captain of a coast guard ship at the time (at age 25). I spent the summer in Boston working at another bruggers and hanging out with friends before heading to Hartford for a year.

During that year of travel, I knew I wanted to have a year of giving back to the world. A solid year with a place to live, people to live with and something useful to do would give me a solid footing from which to decide what was next. I felt the world was my oyster, having traveled so much that year, I saw myriad possibilities of a life one can build for themselves and I wanted to make a good decision about what was next, with time to think about it.  I had spent hours pouring over “Response” the booklet published by Catholic Vol. Network every year. In fact, I’d had a copy of that each year since I was an undergrad, imagining living in all those different places doing all those different ministries. I chose one in particular because  I met a couple of older 20somethings in Boston who had volunteered with that reputable program and seemed to turn out okay. The program is JVC. Since that time, I’ve been very involved with year-of-service programs and I have gotten to know many wonderful ones which I would recommend before I recommend JVC. It is not the best program, but it is the biggest and the easiest one to find alumni who can vouch for it.

JVC placed me in Hartford, Connecticut where I was a youth counselor at an emergency homeless shelter for teen girls. I saw some tough stuff that year. I wasn’t a social worker, so I did not have to go too deep into their files. Mainly, my colleagues and I were there to help create a safe, fun environment for teen girls who’d been taken from their families by the state and had nowhere else to go. Some had been in foster care and could no longer live with families because they abused fellow foster kids. Some were let out of “juvie” and their own families were so messed up they didn’t want to take them in again.  There are terrible stories. All had been abused, mostly by their own family members. They were all ages 13-17. At 18, they aged out of the foster care system and were set up to live on their own. I lived with four other people that year who were also Jesuit Volunteers. Two of them left in the middle of the year. One of them was an alcoholic who returned to Hartford after visiting her boyfriend and often came back with black eyes. She said they were from falling down drunk. I have no idea. I was pretty clueless then so I didn’t even realize she was an alcoholic until we discovered dozens of bottles in her room after she left. Another volunteer who lived with us practically moved in with a bartender she’d met during our first week. She left mid-year as well, making her announcement while three of us were in the living room watching TV. “I’m leaving,” she stated. Oh, okay, where are you going, we asked. “I’m going back home. I’m quitting this program.” There was no conversation about it-she just left. Fortunately, I did not grow up in a dysfunctional family so these types of experiences were brand new to me as a 24 year old. That person also left us to pay her share of the phone bill which was a lot of money to us then since we were making $75/month for food and about $75/month for “other” expenses as full time volunteers.

During that year, I knew that whatever was next for me would have something to do with hospitality and young people. I liked the transient nature of our shelter, another reminder of our campground where I grew up and the hostel where I’d worked for a year, adapting to new people every few days. In the case of the shelter, it was getting to know new kids every few days, treating them without any baggage and just trying to make them feel safe and cared for in the short time they’d be with us at the shelter. My mom set up a phone call with a friend of hers who was a campus minister back home in the Diocese of Charlotte. I recalled attending Mass sometimes at the Western Carolina campus ministry center when I was a kid.  I liked the comfortable feel of that building and the easy going students we’d meet at pot lucks, etc. I learned that the diocese where I grew up, Charlotte, had an internship in campus ministry. At 23, I’d already been an apprentice (to a storyteller in Maine) and an intern (parks and recreation department)  but this program seemed to be a good  fit. Making $500/month seemed like a fortune compared to what I had been making as a Jesuit Volunteer. In addition,  I learned there were scholarships would allow me to study for a master’s degree in ministry. This is something I never would have dreamt possible. As I learned more about what studying ministry entailed, the more I realized that was something I wanted to do. Campus ministry  combined hospitality and young people and an ever-changing population of people (just like the campground and the hostel) since students were typically in college for 4 dynamic years, full of change and challenges and then they’d move on to the next step in their lives. I took the train from Hartford to NC for the campus ministry interview. My little brother, who was a freshman at a nearby college, was kind enough to drive me to my interview with the Diocesean head of campus ministry and the campus minister who was assigned to Wake Forest University. I had him hide out as I walked around campus with my interviewers because it seemed unprofessional to have had my kid brother drive me to an interview like that.  I had a hard time being on that campus since it was move-out week and I saw piles of furniture, electronics, clothing and food at the dumpsters. The overabundance of stuff I saw was contrasted with the ghetto where we lived and the homeless shelter where I worked. That contrast bothered me a lot and was the main obstacle to my envisioning spending the three year internship assigned there. However, a few conversations with the Franciscan priest who was the campus minister and the diocesan head of campus ministry helped me understand the role of the campus minister and helped me understand that I had something to contribute. It took them a couple of months to sort out some arrangements before they called me to make an offer and get my answer. I decided to go for it. Helpful conversations with lots of mentors helped to steer me in the direction of saying yes. I moved into the spare room of an apartment owned by the parish. My roomate was a nun. Coincidentally, my college pal had joined another group of Franciscans that same month so he gave me his rickety but running Oldsmobile Calais, which got me through that first year.

Now, what I’ve described here is from my perspective these 18 years later. It was a gradual process of realization, discernment, prayer, mentors and good conversations that brought me to the point of saying yes to a 3 year internship in campus ministry. I don’t tend to describe things in a flowery or poetic way, I’m just kind of laying out the facts for you here.

I was accepted to Fordham University as a graduate student and went there for 4 summers to earn the M.S. in Religion and Religious Education. A scholarship from the Catholic Extension Society paid for my education since I was serving in a mission diocese. My 3 year internship ended as another 8 years of serving there began. Some more money was scraped together, year after year, through fundraising which paid me more than the internship. Eventually, I lived on campus, with the university very generously extending a sort of “staff” status to us campus ministers. I enjoyed my 4 years living in the faculty/staff apartments where I could bike and walk to everything we did on campus. I was single so my vocation was to serve the church by serving others, something I did wholeheartedly for those many years. We had meetings at 10pm, made 2 service trips a year with students, had a Mass schedule of 3 Masses on weekends, served dinner for 60 once a week and so much more. It was a dynamic ministry and I’m very proud of our accomplishments during those 11 years with a tiny operating budget and enthusiastic students to pull it all off. Since I love travel, I remember fondly the service trips we took to Philly, Syracuse, Western N.C.,NYC, Costa Rica and India.

At the end of my 11th year there, it was time for the Franciscans to rearrange where their friars were serving, I learned that the one assigned to be a campus minister at Wake was to be assigned elsewhere. This helped me begin my own process of discernment which led me to leave that ministry for something else which, at the time, I only knew the name for: Franciscan Passages. I have never looked back, never wishing I had stayed for year #12 and #13.I loved my years in campus minstry and would not trade them for the world. I am grateful for everything I got to do and learn during that time and also grateful that I left at the right time as well. One  of my proudest accomplishments is helping to create a spirit on campus where people avidly looked for year-of-service opportunities for after graduating and saw that as a viable option. I co-created a year-of-service job fair on campus and had many conversations with students who decided to go and serve. I think 10 of our students served with one particular program: FrancisCorps, which is a ministry of the friars I worked with. Another few dozen went all over the U.S. and abroad to serve others and to discern their own next steps in life.

I am now finishing up my 7th year with Franciscan Passages, through which I have given presentations, classes, workshops and retreats to thousands of people. My focus is always on the writings of St. Francis and St. Clare. I’ve done this in two languages in two countries and 15(?) states.

My own path to ministry has been something I never could have planned out as an undergraduate. I majored in Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management with a minor in Spanish and one in International Studies. I studied abroad in Costa Rica for 6 months as a junior, which solidified my Spanish. I lived in an international hall with international roommates and friends which deepened my love for all things international. I’ve said “yes” along the way when I didn’t know what the heck I was getting into. Counting back from the time I entered Jesuit Volunteer Corps, it has been 19 years that I have been serving in ministry. So often, well-meaning people come at me to complain about the Catholic church not putting women in leadership roles. This happened a lot when I was in an academic environment. They’d stand there, in front of me, spewing vitriol at my Church because of this. Meanwhile, they’re standing there talking to me. While dissing me. I’ve often chuckled at that. Their seemingly righteous anger that women leaders in ministry are not recognized while they stand before someone who was a relatively young woman serving in ministry, in fact, in an official capacity for 11 years as an appointee of the bishop.  Bless their hearts as we like to say in the south.

I am grateful for the scholarships I have received to study.  The Conventual Franciscan friars gave me a scholarship to study for the M.A. in Franciscan Studies at the Franciscan Institute of  St. Bonaventure University, a place I went for 5 summers. Since then, I’ve worked there for 4 summers, helping coordinate the summer program. I even got to teach there last summer, my 10th summer there.

So, if you are reading this and you think you may be interested in ministry, I encourage you to keep looking into it. There are lots of ways to serve in ministry. Yes, in our Catholic Church. Yes, if you are a woman. Talk to lots of people, find some good mentors and don’t let the conversation die. Find ways to volunteer and to be involved. Maybe you should do a year of service like I did. I recommend certain programs over others, if that’s the case. (Namely, Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati, Christian Appalachian Project.)

I just want to share my own story in case it helps one other person live out their own story.

In Boston, there’s a statue I loved to visit. It depicts a dude in a ball cap with a waterproof jacket. I discovered it on a walk at age 22 and have tried to live it out his advice since then. Engraved are his words, “Dream dreams, then write them down. Aye, but live them first.”

My 3rd Movie: 300 Years of Good

I’ve just spent the past month working on 300 Years of Good, a compilation of stories by women religious (a.k.a. nuns) from around North Carolina & South Carolina. I interviewed 15 sisters, 9 of whom are in this movie. There are 64 sisters in the Raleigh Diocese, 100 in the South Carolina Diocese and I’m not sure how many in my own Diocese but I’d guess around 100. I’d like to share some details of what this journey entailed and about what happened along the way.

In December, I was informed that I would receive a $1000 grant from National Catholic Sisters Week to show a documentary during this week in March. Not only is the money covering popcorn (for 80 people), soda (for 60 people) and a rented cooler ($20), but it also covered the cost of the making of the documentary. I did not receive any payment for my work. I have spent a few hundred hours planning, interviewing, traveling and editing but my time has been my own contribution to the project, a labor of love. Although this has been a very solitary experience, especially these past few weeks spent in our guest room/home office editing until well after midnight most nights, I have not been completely alone  and all sorts of people came out to help me along the way. I met Rachel at a filmmaker’s meetup in Charlotte in January. She sat down with me to help me figure out which days I could travel during February and in the past couple of weeks of editing, checked in on me. Friends like Courtney, Caitlin, Cathy & Sr. Eileen put on their thinking caps when I asked about sisters they knew in NC and SC. If not for those four people, none of these interviews would have taken place. Wow. I realize just now how important they were to the making of this. In the credits, I give thanks to two men: my own husband who supported this project wholeheartedly and Jim, who helped me learn a lot about South Carolina and bought me lunch while in Charleston.

In the Company of Women

I traveled to Cary, NC, staying at my friend Betsy’s house for the night with her cute animals and lively conversation.  I stayed in a hotel in Sumter, SC on my way to the very remote Kingstree, SC which did not seem to have any chain hotels nearby when I booked in Sumter (almost an hour away). I enjoyed 2 nights with the Poor Clare sisters in Traveler’s Rest, SC, enjoying the foods they stocked in the small guest apartment where I stayed. I enjoyed a delicious pot roast in Kingstree and lunch with the gentle and lovely fellowship of the Felician sisters there.  In Belmont, I got to meet several sisters who were archivist and a woman in her 30s who is a professional archivist as well. Their explanations of their work helped me find words for my own as I am also seeking to capture, preserve and share stories of women religious. I enjoyed breakfast and lunch in the main kitchen at the Belmont Mercy’s place, running into some sisters I’ve known from my 42 years, most of which have been spent in the Diocese of Charlotte.  In Cary, Sister Anne took me out for delicious burritos at a place with dozens of hot sauces (which I love) and treated me to interesting conversation and warm hospitality.

Three Movies

With delight, when I sat down after interviews to sort through the footage, I realized I actually have three movies sitting in front of me! This became clearer to me as I went along. Over the next few months, I will be putting together a separate movie for the Poor Clares and for the Felicians. Since I got to spend so much time with them and to film so much outside of our sit down interviews, I know these will be very colorful portraits, or rather, snapshots of what I saw when with them. Both happen to be Franciscan communities, so I might have to work a little harder and really think about how to incorporate some of Francis & Clare’s writings (my specialty) into the films.

What I’ve learned

Precepts I try to follow when making a movie include a.)don’t be preachy and b.)don’t try to teach someone a lesson through it. So, I will share what I learned and I believe that the stories are different enough that they will touch people in various ways. What I learned is that these women have drawn from a well within themselves that others do not have or have not found. I believe that well is kept filled by God by way of their community life, ministry, liturgical and sacramental life and especially by their own personal prayer lives.  They had so many stories that I had to leave out ones like how one person helped get a man off death row or how another one worked in AIDS care back when people with AIDS were treated as lepers. So many stories.  I know that not everyone is going to like this movie. That’s fine. I will be glad to teach anyone who wants a different movie what I have taught myself in the past 16 months so that they can go out and make the movies they want to watch.  My questions were focused on what these women have done and who they have met along the way. Those are the stories which appear in the movie.  I do not preach or teach in this movie but I do hope people are motivated to think about what they can personally do to reach out to others as these sisters have done.

Celebrating National Catholic Sisters Week

I got to show the film on Wednesday night to the campus ministry students of Winthrop University. My parents came up for it, Rachel and her mom came and several students and others .It was great to sit in the back row and gauge their reactions. After that showing, I put in another 20+ hours to bend and mold it and tweak it and cut off some excess so that it is the best movie my current abilities allow me to make. I am happy with it. In the coming weeks, I would like to find composer to create an original score. I need to continue to consider doing a voiceover narration, something I have eschewed so far since I feel it would be invasive and my whole point is to let people tell their own stories, as Francis would say, “without gloss” (summary and commentary).  I believe that 2017 will be a time for me to travel with the film to some convents, schools, campus ministries, parishes and film festivals. My respect for these women and what they have done is evident. I had zero agenda except to showcase some stories of women religious and am proud of the decisions I’ve made while traveling, interviewing and editing which have kept that priority at the forefront. I hope you’ll get to see it sometime. Invite me to your town to show it and we can watch it together!






This Grief is an Arroyo

tr-aroDo you know what an arroyo is? I’m from the American Southeast, so this is something I’ve learned about only recently, over the past few years since I have gotten to travel around New Mexico and Texas. It is a streambed which doesn’t have water in it 100% of the time. So, it is an occasional river. I guess local people know the ebb and flow of these things. I would not know how to predict a flash flood.

I’ve heard a story about east coast tourists who were thrilled to find a comfy, flat spot for their tents when camping out west. In the middle of the night, they heard shouts and people freaking out and managed to get out of their tents to safety right before a huge wall of water would have pushed them down the creek bed, in a knot of pillows, tent & sleeping bags that could have drown them.

A dear friend of mine died last year. I’ve been thinking about her a lot over the past few days. As I search for a metaphor to describe the grief that has reappeared in front of me, I think of an arroyo. It is not a stream or river or an ocean, but it is as an arroyo. I think about her often. I’ve cried a lot. The thoughts in the beginning tended to be the mundane ones about stopping by to see her during the normal errands I did in the area where she worked. Now, I have to follow up those thoughts with a reminder that I cannot see her. The grief is not there 100% of the time. I saw her in person very regularly yet not very often. Often, my thoughts turn to her and I smile and move on. Sometimes, though, the same line of thinking or memories surprises me with a flashflood of tears.

Her family gave me a scarf of hers which I did not wear until this past weekend, where it saved me from an unusually cold February in Los Angeles. When I got home from that trip last night, I went through all my bags and realized I left that scarf somewhere between a 40,000-person conference, a shuttle to the airport and LAX-an impossible task to track it down. I can only comfort myself by remembering that so many things passed through her hands-donations, clothes, furniture, plants, flowers, food, and passed through her station wagons-always on their way to someone else, so I hope that scarf ends up with someone who wants and needs it, too. That’s what I’m telling myself to keep the arroyo dry, otherwise, I’m going to be out of commission for an hour today, crying over the loss of the scarf but really crying over so much loss.


I sent this blog post to my friend, Rev. Amy Vaughan, a North Carolina poet. Within the hour, she wrote this beautiful poem. Please share all of this with anyone you know who may be grieving.  You can read another of her poems here:

Amy Vaughan       February 27, 2017
*With thanks to Julie for the inspiration
That occasional river
Flash floods when 
I least expect it,
But mostly in the mundane tasks
Of daily life,
Like in the ice cream aisle 
At the grocery store,
Looking for the two-fer sale,
Like you would have,
Or when a can of purple plums
Falls hard on my foot from the pantry shelf
As if you’d pushed your favorite down
Just to make me smile.
In Texas and New Mexico, my friend tells me they call
These places of 
Occasional rivers
A dangerous place to be in the middle of the night
In a tent,
When you thought the flat ground 
To be an ideal camping spot,
Until that rushing water 
Appeared and you escaped
But just barely,
From being drowned in a froth of 
Tent poles and sleeping bags.
I think my grief, too,
Is like the arroyo,
The occasional river,
Creeping up on me
Just when I think I am safe,
Like when I am trying to comfort someone else
On their loss, not mine,
And it is me who ends up
Weeping uncontrollably.
These arroyos,
I have learned,
Can also serve to bring
Water to desert animals,
And so I wonder if my
Grief slakes the thirst of a small
Chuckwalla lizard or a 
Clever javelina
Like compassion or
And, too, these
Occasional rivers are sometimes
Used as pathways,
Routes to make the going easier
When the way is dry and smooth.
Can my grief
Take me where I need to go,
If I am careful not to let it 
Drown me when 
The water rushes in?
Occasional river,
Deep arroyo of 
School me, that I can
Drink in all that I can learn
Without drowning 
In the flood.
Amy Vaughan       February 27, 2017
*With thanks to Julie for the inspiration


What does this have to do with St. Francis of Assisi?

St. Francis died in his early 40s. He left behind 5,000 people who looked to him as their leader. His closest companions had been with him since before his conversion. They must have grieved him for the remainder of their lives.

9/11 Scared the Heck out of Us

I teach English as a Second Language.

Well, that’s not actually true.

Yeah, that’s not entirely true. It is not just me. There are several of us who go every week: Raul who is 84 and might just be the Dos Equis “World’s Most Interesting Man” who has been part of English Conversation Hour for 17 years. There’s also my friend Mijin who volunteers alongside us. She’s a professional English teacher in her own country and she recently aced an English competency exam. There’s also Lisa, a housewife from Louisiana who is there most weeks.

I don’t teach it-it is a conversation hour so we sit in a circle and talk about different stuff from week to week. Sometimes one person dominates, sometimes we break up into small groups, sometimes we pair up and sometimes everybody takes a turn to talk.

It is not a second language. Most of the participants grew up speaking one language at home, another language in school and maybe even some additional ones before taking on English. My own grandma grew up speaking only German at home. She didn’t learn English until she went to kindergarten. Eventually, everybody hated Germans so she squished the language far down & to this day does not remember a word of it. What about your grandparents? Or theirs? Who hated them when they first got to the U.S. If your ancestors are Catholic, that’s an easy one-I can give you a whole list of everyone who hated ’em.

This past week at English Conversation Hour, I looked around the room and there were people who once lived in Iran, Dominican Republic, Columbia, California and Saudi Arabia. Now, we all find ourselves in Charlotte, NC either by choice or circumstance. I did not choose to live here but my husband’s job has brought us here. I share that in common with several people in the room.  We talked about our upcoming weekends, our families and methods we’ve found useful for taking on new languages (my personal fave is to use the free app DuoLingo. I learned Italian in 8 months last year, inspired by the progress I’ve seen in English learners).

Like a lot of my fellow Americans, certain images come to mind when I hear the word “Iran” or when I see a woman with a hijab (headscarf). Similar images come to mind when I heard the word “Beirut” or hear Arabic spoken. 9/11 scared the heck out of us. I’m going to say that plain and simple. I was a campus minster at the time and so grateful we had daily Mass that day on campus. It was packed. The priest read from the liturgy meant to be read “In times of national crisis.” He cried during it and the floodgates opened with lots of scared people crying our eyes out. I spent the night next door to my house, sleeping in the chapel of the Franciscan and SSJ sisters who lived next to me. I literally showed up with my sleeping bag and pillow, not wanting to sleep alone in my apartment that night.  We’d never thought much about Islam at that point. But, since 9/11 scared all of us, it has been hard to separate 9/11 from Islam and Islam from 9/11-like the red and white components of a candy cane, they seem twinned in our minds.

Also twinned in our minds are images of Muslims and terrorists. The point of terrorism is to terrorize people and their hope is to have ramifications beyond the individual actions that they do. When the fear/terror of terrorism begins to be invoked by our own leaders to terrorize us, the bad guys have won. Their point has been made. Their branding has taken hold and now they sit back and relax while others continually scare us. I’ve read that more people are accidentally killed by toddlers than terrorists in the U.S. in a given year, yet we’re all paranoid now, aren’t we?

Just sitting around a room together in Charlotte, talking about simple things like family and travel and days off, we realize we have more in common than we have differences. We worry about the same categories of stuff, we like good food, music has a place in our lives, we want what is best for our loved ones. If you wonder where immigrants come from, sometimes it is as easy as looking at some recent history of the U.S. being involved in something in their home country. Do you know anyone who emigrated from Vietnam in the 70s, 80s or 90s? Or from Iraq in the 90s or 2000s?  If so, guess what, they were most likely “on our side” during whatever was going on over there at the time. That’s why they have the preferential status of refugee.

I’m taking a basic filmmaking class at the local community college this semester. Our instructor was teaching us about lenses and filters, f stop settings, glare and reflections tr-1when he told us that the widest range of skin tone from the lightest to the darkest skin is really just a few shades apart in the grand scheme of the color wheel and its zillions of colors. I’ve seen photos on facebook of Franciscan friends holding a quote from Jesus, “I was a stranger…” I know that not everyone is as fortunate as I am to sit in a room of adults who all have a common goal of working on a new language together. I’ve also been able to experience being a stranger in many countries over the course of my travels (to 23 countries) where I was one of few Christians or few Catholics (heck, that’s the place I grew up in the NC mountains), few white people, few Americans, few English speakers, etc. I just ask you to remember that once upon a time, your grandparents or great grandparents were reviled. Businesses had signs up to warn Irish or Italians not to bother coming in. I’m going to continue going back to spend an hour a week with English conversation hour and I hope people continue to come, from all over the world to sit in a circle and talk about simple things. Sometimes we have little pot lucks and get to sample chocolate from Italy or a casserole from Columbia. Although I may have been inundated with negativity associated with the word “Iran” or with negativity about a woman who wears a headscarf, when I actually sit next to someone from Iran or someone with that head covering, we talk and listen, remembering that just like, in the grand scheme of the colorwheel, where our skin tones are not that different, neither are the things we hold dear: our husbands, our families, their well-being, our friendships and even stuff like whether the app called Mango really is better than the one called DuoLingo when it comes to learning another language. (I recommend DuoLing0.)

God bless America.