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!






Come with me to Assisi, Italy

How you can be a part of this trip:

When I walked the pilgrimage route in Spain in 2002,  I carried index cards with crowdassisi4the intentions of my friends and family written on them. I will be carrying intentions on this trip as well. If you have a special prayer request, please send it to me and I will travel with it into the holiest Franciscan sites in Assisi, remembering you and your family in prayer while I am there.

Perhaps you’d like to purchase the book I worked on. Buy one through PayPal (cheaper than using Amazon) and I can put that money toward some of these expenses.

Stay tuned to the Franciscan Passages facebook page where I will be sharing pictures from Assisi. You can participate long distance that way.

Think about 2017. Do you want to go to Assisi with me in 2017? Let’s make it happen if so.

Some logistics of traveling to Assisi, Italy

In September, I will take an 8 hour flight to Rome. From there, I will board a train to Assisi, walk a few blocks, take an outdoor escalator up a hillside, then walk a few more blocks uphill toward the guesthouse. Within about 15 hours of closing my St. Francis Booth at the Charlotte, NC Eucharistic Congress, I will be in my room at an Assisi guesthouse.

Why I’m going there

If you ask me why I am going to Assisi for 2 weeks, I will tell you that I am going thertrash 1e for language school and to get to know Assisi so well that I can draw a map of it from memory, able to  describe to you what you will find on every street within the city. However, I know that there are things that will happen that I cannot even imagine right now: wonderful things. Since I reserved my rooms, it has been announced that the Pope is going to Assisi while I’m there, accompanied by the world leaders of world religions. It will be an especially interesting time to be there.

Language Study in Assisi, Italy

I have been studying the Italian language since January. I first enrolled in a weekly small group class in my town for 12 weeks. This was a good introduction to the language and the instructor was skillful. Next, I met an Italian woman with whom I did an English-Italian exchange a few times. Since then, I’ve been using a free App on my phone for 20 minutes-1 hour per day for the past 3 months. According to the App, I’ve been working with about 1200 Italian words at this point.  I believe that vocabulary is the most important component of learning a language. [Pro Tip: A good way to avoid having to conjugate verbs a million ways is to learn how to structure sentences so you only have to use the infinitive of the verb]. Before I decided to study Italian in Assisi,  I spent a few weeks figuring out how I could cobble together an immersive Italian language experience in the U.S. During my search, I found a school in Vermont (summers-only) and plenty of language schools (which meet once per week in various cities) but could not find exactly what I was looking for. I teach ESL and I know that full immersion is an efficient way to learn a language so I decided to go to a place where I could be immersed in it. to attend a language school in Italy. I’ve enrolled in a reputable language school in Assisi where I will be taking small group classes every morning for two weeks, followed by one-on-one lessons every afternoon. I’m using the internet to find some women in Assisi who are interested in an English-Italian exchange with me. I want to avoid speaking English while I’m there, with the exception of daily calls home. I also want to post daily photos to Youtube so people can follow along virtually.

Why I’m learning Italian now

I teach ESL. One year ago, we befriended a family I met through ESL. The husband spoke little English at the time but now, he could be a translator for the United Nations! Okay, that might not be a good idea yet, but I am inspired by how much he has learned in a year. trHe’s also in his 40s so I thought that maybe I had it in me to learn their language, too. I am not someone who picks up hobbies here and there. I’m not really someone who gets really into one thing for a while then drops it, so this interest I have in Italian is unique to me. I am very enthusiastic about studying it every day. I know that I am supposed to learn Italian right now. I can honestly say that I feel compelled to learn it. I’ve dedicated a lot of time to studying it this year and it has paid off. I think that I will be able to use my Italian skills to help people experience St. Francis and St. Clare in a meaningful way. I don’t know what this means yet, but I know it will reveal itself in due time. Also, Italian is a useful, modern language with immediate applications but it will also help me feel my way around the Latin in the early writings pertaining to Saints Francis and Clare. No, I don’t  know medieval Latin (yet) but at this time, I think there is more use for Italian (supplemented by my current Spanish skills). The bottom line is that I believe I am meant to learn Italian right now so that I can put it to the service of others, teaching them about Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi.

Finding Accommodation while in Assisi for Language School

I’m using a website which serves as the middle man between the customer and monasteries/religious houses which rent out rooms. It takes a few days to get each booking confirmed. I indicate my top several choices since my first choice might not be available. Despite these delays, it is a great service and enables me to find housing where I could not have arranged it on my own. For one week, I will be staying at a guesthouse recommended to me by many people I know. I chose this one because I knew it would be comfortable and I wanted to be able to jump right in to my studies that first week rather than worrying about any problems with accommodation. For my second week, I will be staying at a monastery of French Franciscan nuns. I hope that I am forced to use Italian (or my 50 words of French) to get by there.  I chose to find my own accommodations rather than set them up through the language school since that is the cheaper option. Plus, I have lived with my fair share of roommates over the course of my life and am no longer interested in adapting to the idiosyncrasies of strangers. I look forward to waking up in these guest houses, with their stone floors and views of the countryside, typical Italian breakfasts and strong coffee. It will be a good experience

My previous times in Italy

I have been to Italy 2 times before. One time, I went as a participant in Youth toward Assisi, an international gathering sponsored by the Conventual Franciscan Friars. The

Windswept, this photo of Alison More and me appeared on a South African’s blog after we met her in Assisi.

men I served with as a campus minister for 11 years are Conventual Franciscans. At Youth toward Assisi (which occurs every few years), there were about 500 of us there from all over the world. For 5-6 days, We listened to speakers, got to go behind the scenes at a lot of holy sites and camped in a beautiful, cheap huge campground just up the hill from Assisi.  Youth toward Assisi is geared toward youth (18-25) . I was there to accompany our students and was 31 at the time. When I myself was a youth (18-25), I had many wonderful experiences hanging out with other young people from all over the world.  My first job out of college was to work at an International hostel, then I visited Taize (which is a gathering place for youth in France) at age 25, I knew that those days were behind me. I could tell that something had shifted in me as I was no longer needing to stay up at all hours of the night getting to know the other 499 people there. We were only in Assisi for a few days and I wanted to make the most of my time there. So, on the morning of my 32nd birthday, I discerned that my day would be better spent exploring Assisi rather than joining the bumbling crowd on 30 slow buses on a field trip that day. I got up after my tent mates left, literally just started walking and ended up, much to my delight, at the Carceri atop Mount Subasio. This is a friary/church built on the side of the mountain where the caves are. St. Francis of Assisi went to these caves to be in solitude, to pray and discern his next steps along the way. As I walked up the road, I joined up with an elderly French lady who was walking it as well. Neither of us spoke the other language, but we managed it [Pro Tip: most words that end in -ation in English are the same in Romance languages] so we had a conversation for the entire trip up the hill to the Carceri. I loved having time to be in those woods, chat with other people and to enjoy my birthday lunch of salami and bread while in the woods St. Francis loved so much. In 2012, I went to Italy again, at Easterto meet up with Dr. Alison More, my master’s thesis advisor and my roommates from graduate school. Alison was living in the Netherlands at the time. Her own PhD advisor joined us from Germany and the Felician sisters from New Mexico who were my roommates at St. Bonaventure University were there with their novices. Together, we were 4 generations of women, all within a few years’ of each other. What I mean by four generations is that one had taught the other who had taught the 3 of us who taught others so that makes for four generations of women teaching women.  It was cool to be with such smart women in Assisi. Highlights include being in a small crowd of about 40 people, just feet away from the lighting of the Easter candle outside St. Mary of the Angels, where it was freezing cold outside but strangers pressing together helped preserve enough warmth. Another highlight of that trip was processing through the darkened streets of Assisi with candles in a tradition older than St.  Francis himself. Another day, Alison and I took an unexpected walk (in too-cute boots) through an unexpected rain for several miles from San Damiano to St. Mary of the Angels. It was that night, uncomfortable and wet, that I discovered truffles for the first time. They are native to the area and affordable in pasta dishes. They are like mushrooms, pungent and earthy, times 1000.  Yum. I had never eaten anything so good in my life. They are prohibitively expensive here so the best I can do once in a while is get truffle oil which is basic olive oil infused with truffle oil. Still yummy and pungent but not as good as the real deal. If you are reading this and find yourself getting jealous, assuming this trip cost thousands of dollars and thinking this is way beyond your reach, you should call me right now. The trip cost hundreds, not thousands of dollars (the flight was the biggest expense) and it is a heck of a lot cheaper than what you paid for cable TV last year.

Previous times in Rome

I’ve been to Rome on four separate overnights, to and from Assisi. Coincidentally, my various hosts took me to the same church each time so I’ve seen one church multiple times. On one trip, we stayed at an AirB&B apartment which was safe, clean and cheap. Of course, I have visited the Vatican as well. St. Peter’s is a sight to behold. The variety of languages and ethnicities of people in the square is awesome.  francis tattoot. I hope Rome reveals some delights on this trip. One of my favorite parts about visiting the Vatican was the worldwide swath of humanity represented among the other people poking around the square, touching St. Peter’s foot (statue), marveling at the sights, praying, looking and whispering. I have been given this experience in many parts of the world, where I get to look around and see that all of these people, with their varying skin tones, linguistic tones, moods, hats, shoes, education levels, attitudes, disabilities and families, were also Catholic Christians. It is truly the most universal gathering on earth.

Interview with Julie McElmurry

Hi. I got to talk about my commitment to promoting year of service/gap year programs in a recent interview with Catholic Volunteer Network.

A conversation with Julie McElmurry

Living & Serving in the Way of St. Francis, is a new collection of stories and reflections from volunteers who have served with Franciscan Volunteer Network programs. Julie McElmurry, Director of Franciscan Passages (and former volunteer) served as the editor for this book. We had a conversation with her about the project. 
Photo courtesy Anna Golladay
CVN: How did you come up with the idea for this book?
Julie: The Franciscan Service Network came up with the idea to collect reflections from volunteers of their member programs.
CVN: What is the format for the book?
Julie: The “outline” for the book is the writing of St. Francis called his Testament. Franciscan scholar Jean-Francois Godet-Calogeras, PhD generously lent his support to the book by allowing use of his never before published translation of the Testament. Forty themes were found in the Testament (by me, for this project) and assigned to forty volunteers and alumni of FSN programs, selected by FSN Directors…

Resentment is like a Kidney Stone

I had been having a hard time with _______ for a while. Toward the end of my hour long prayer shift at the chapel this morning, I finally relented and decided to “deal with it.”
I sat there and thought about the hard time I’d had with _______. I wondetra1red why the slightest interaction with _______ bothered me and why I took umbrage at ______ remarks. This really had been a mystery to me for quite some time. As I sat there, finally willing to bring this mystery to God in prayer, it occurred to me that it is because of resentment.

I’ve talked about resentment a-plenty in retreat settings. Heck, I could give a pretty good talk on it right this instant if you called me (5 minute, 10 minute and 20 minute options). I can even recommend to you a great song that addresses it and helps you see that forgiving another does not require that they act first (apologize) but that it is its own thing that frees you, who have unknowingly been its prisoner. I’m just showing off now. Back to my story…

The first line of St. Francis’ “Prayer before the Crucifix” pleads that God will “Enlighten the darkness of my heart.” As I sat there, newly aware of this resentment, I prayed/thought about that line.
The metaphor for resentment that came to me this morning involves [last chance to turn back and go to another blog post] kidney stones. tra1Resentment is like a kidney stone. What was I really asking when I asked God to “Enlighten the darkness of my heart”? I began to picture this resentment toward _____ as something like a kidney stone. I saw it as a calcified, mummified, gray stone. It doesn’t make its home in my kidney, but in my heart. It occurred to me that resentment is not the same as brand new, fresh hurt and anger, which is a living, breathing thing. Resentment is this unprocessed, un-dealt-with mass of old hurt and anger.
By asking God to “Enlighten the darkness of my heart”, I let all the spot lights, motion detector lights, laser beams and compact tra1fluorescents bathe the inside of my heart with light, even to bathe this stony thing with light. There it sat. I could see it as plain as day. It had been there for a long time. I thought it was my little secret which I could keep hidden. Well, these things don’t remain completely hidden since we don’t actually control them. It is obvious to others there’s something there that has not been dealt with. Now that it was exposed, for me to see and acknowledge and recognize, I felt something like relief. The mystery had been revealed!
tra1Next, I thought about the promise to have a heart made of flesh, not of stone. (The googler just told me that is from Ezekiel 36:26.) My entire heart is not made of stone but this one resentment is a stony thing that occupied space in my heart, for sure.
This morning, before the rooster crowed and somebody’s dogs scratched at the door, I made the decision to take that stone and hand it over to the Lord. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of reacting. I’m tired of dreading my inevitable interactions with ________. I do feel a little different now, five hours later.  There are more steps to take from here, though. That place in my heart where that ugly mass of old hurt and anger resided needs healing. If it is not healed, the thing might reappear in the same spot. That healing will happen through prayer. I know this can happen. Many years ago, I shared an apartment with someone who was hard to livtra1e with. A wise friar advised me to pray for her. I was able to get over myself and over my resentment when I prayed for her. I began to see her differently and even felt compassion for her. That’s what I must do now.

Serve a Year with an Alternative to Teach for America

New Mexico is a beautiful state. I got to go there in February 2015 to lead a daylong retreat for the teachers. St. Francis school was founded by Franciscans over 100 years ago in the tiny town of Lumberton, New Mexico. There were beautiful blue skies and a layer of snow on the ground when I visited. Most of the teachers are volunteers who give one or two years to the school, receiving in turn housing and a small living stipend. Take a few minutes to learn about Mike’s experience as a volunteer teacher and about Lilly’s too. You just may find yourself googling them so you can find out how you can go there!

I made these two videos for FREE. I love to ask people to consider giving a year of service and this is just one more way I help promote year of service programs.