The Sisters of St. Joseph are spreading a message of hope and faith as they — and the rest of the community — enter the holiday season, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
A group of four Sisters — S. Suzanne Franck, Ph.D., professor of religious studies; S. Marie Mackey, campus ministry director at SJC Brooklyn, S. Helen Kearney, professor of child study at SJC Brooklyn; and S. Mary Ann Cashin, assistant professor of child study at SJC Long Island — spoke about their pandemic-related experiences with hope during a virtual “Evening of Hope” event Dec. 15.
Rory Shaffer-Walsh, vice president of the Department of Institutional Advancement, hosted the event.
The four Sisters of St. Joseph shared their perspectives, and lessons learned in 2020, with the SJC community during the Evening of Hope.
Here are some of the many ways they turned to hope and faith this year:
What was your biggest challenge in 2020, and what have you learned?
S. Marie, who considers herself an “extreme extrovert,” said she struggled with isolation, the transition to working remotely, and the hardship that comes from no social gatherings and holiday celebrations.
The initial feeling of hopelessness reminded her of George Bailey, from the 1946 American Christmas fantasy drama “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George is upset because life isn’t going the way he wanted. But his guardian angel, Clarence, comes to life to show him all the ways his life has meaning.
Many people are going through the same dilemma as George Bailey, between canceled graduations and travel plans, not being able to celebrate life milestones in person, and other life plans being put temporarily on hold.
“I think a lot of us had this sense of despair as the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months,” S. Marie said. “And I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we each had our own Clarence in those moments of despair to say, Take a deep breath. Right now you feel out of control. You wonder what life is all about. But look at your past — whether it’s 15 years, 30 years, 80 years. Look at what you’ve done through this crisis.
She continued: “To see that people have really stepped up to the plate and given themselves. Yes, it was the front-line workers. But I never thought of the people who brought our food from sea to shining sea. Or the people who stacked our shelves in the supermarket. I never really looked at them as heroes and yet they were the ones who made sure the rest of us had what it is that we needed.”
What do you do to find peace?
S. Mary Ann said she finds peace during difficult times by staying present and paying attention to her surroundings.
“In our tradition as Sisters of St. Joseph, we are described poetically as having our eyes open, ears attentive, and spirit alert. These words come to mind when I think about what I do to find peace and find peaceful places,” S. Mary Ann said. “When I’m in nature, I keep my eyes open in wonder, my ears attentive to what may be invisible to my eyes, and my spirit alert to all the blessings and signs of kinship surrounding me.
She continued: “When I cannot be outdoors, there are other ways I am drawn into stillness — focusing on a beautiful painting or a cherished photograph, listening to calming music, breathing rhythmically, savoring a poem or reflection, or just writing a letter. In other words, I try to be quietly present in whatever time that I have in the midst of a busy evening or day.”
What are you drawing on to give you hope and faith in 2021?
S. Helen said the “inherent goodness in so many people” we saw this year gives her hope.
“We see people working to meet the needs of others and there is a real sense of community,” S. Helen said. “It’s sad to say we experience this most often after tragic events: Superstorm Sandy, 9/11, and here we are again. I think we are at the point of really recognizing some of the things that really tore us apart.
“The sense of individualism, entitlement, the self-sufficiency that has grown so strong in our culture,” she said. “I believe if we really pay attention to keeping up on building that sense of community when this is over, we could be different.”
S. Helen added that she hopes to see society continue to work at overcoming the issues that divide us — like the wage gap, race, gender and religion — and continue growing.
“I think because we were different during all of this, the hope is the sense that we could be different,” S. Helen explained. “We are taught at St. Joseph’s College to be a leader, and I think we all have a role in this. And the College is taking those initiatives to reach out and provide for those in need. Those are not simple acts. Those are huge acts that give me hope that we can change.”
What should we never forget about this year?
S. Suzanne said we should remember the strength we had this year and our ability to recover from and overcome difficulties together.
“The resilience that we have, but sometimes we don’t realize we have, and allowing others to walk the journey with us,” S. Suzanne said. “I think, especially as Americans, we think we have to do it alone, or that we should do it alone, and that’s what makes us look stronger or like better leaders or more secure.
“But in reality, it’s the strength of walking together, always with the vision of God’s journey for us, that I think makes all the difference,” she continued. “And I think that’s what empowered most of us to be able to move forward into an unknown future.”