Profile: Sr. Mary Elizabeth

Sister and her beloved Ziggy.

In 1995, a local newspaper did a profile of Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, founder of the Joseph House and the Little Sisters.

What was her greatest disappointment? What would she like to tell the youth of today? What trait did she admire the most in others? Read below to find out.


Joseph House Founder Opens Door to Homeless
Her greatest aim: Help others build values

Name: Sister Mary Elizabeth Gintling

Family members (and ages): Two dogs: Fresca, 6, and Ziggy, 13. Four sisters in the convent in Salisbury and two in Baltimore as part of the order of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary. Two brothers living in Baltimore.

Occupation: Founder and head of the order of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary, CEO and founder of Joseph House and Joseph House Village on the Eastern Shore.

What I like most about my job: The fact that we have no red tape. We are free to do for the poor what the poor need.

Previous occupations: I worked as a lay person with Joseph House in Baltimore before coming to the Shore in 1972 to find a new mission.

I had been religious for 21 years and was working with a group in Baltimore that only dealt with institutionalizing of people.

We (Patricia Ann Guidera, who came with Sister Mary Elizabeth to found Joseph House), wanted to come out into the countryside since there were so many agencies in Baltimore.

The first mission, Joseph House by the Sea, gift and religious book shop in Ocean City opened shortly after Sister Mary Elizabeth’s arrival on the Shore. The shop is still open today and all the proceeds from the shop are given to the poor.

From that first mission the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary decided to open Joseph House Center in Salisbury, which still provides support to the poor through food donations, and helping with medical, rent and utility payments.

Since 1989, Joseph House Village has provided “transitional living” for single mothers in helping them to find jobs and be able to support their families.

The Joseph House mission also includes helping to prevent homelessness by taking over a person’s finances when they are unable to handle it themselves for reasons of mental or social problems.

Sister Mary Elizabeth said Joseph House currently has 28 people that they are helping to live on their own.

If I had to pick a different occupation it would be: I’ve been doing this all my life. Even as a child I was attracted to trying to help people with their problems. I was about four-years old when I decided to become a nun. Otherwise I think my occupation would be fishing. I’m 80 years old and there’s no point in changing things now.

My interests and hobbies: My interests are naturally in religion and prayer and spending time with the Lord. My hobby is reading.

Not taking yourself too seriously is also important.

Community involvements and memberships: CEO of Joseph House and Joseph House Village.

Why I moved to this area: To found Joseph House and help the poor.

Length of time here: Almost 23 years.

Where I lived previously: I was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Baltimore.

What I like most about living here: I like it here very much, I really feel at home here.

Changes I’d like to see in the community and why: For the people who have made it in life to try to understand the people who haven’t; not to do something for them, but do something with them. As far as Salisbury is concerned I couldn’t ask for better support than I have here. What they want to do is keep the community in good shape. I think they’re a very kind community.

My proudest accomplishment: I guess, I think the most difficult thing anyone has to do is to come up with their own decision that is life-directing.

My biggest ambition was to give up material ambitions and think of doing things for others.

My greatest disappointment: Not being able to give my values to some people.

My major goals: My major goal is to help people to establish good values.

My pet peeves: Talking on the telephone. I never make phone calls if I don’t have to. Shopping — can’t stand it.

My worst habit: Jumping to conclusions.

The trait I most admire in others: Honesty.

My heroes: Christ is my hero. But I most admire Dorothy Day. She’s the founder of the Catholic Worker and their hospitality houses. I’ve seen her walking around with holes in her stockings. She really lived what she preached.

My guiding philosophy: Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.

My advice to today’s youth: Don’t let TV and Madison Avenue values rob you of the wonderful person you could be.


SOURCE: Salisbury News & Advertiser, Salisbury Maryland 21801 – August 16, 1995
Photos from the Archives of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary

The Lord’s Prayer

Sooner or later, most of us will be in a situation where we don’t know what to say. We might be caught off-guard, or there’s something about the circumstances we’re in, or the person we’re speaking with, that ties up our tongue. It happens to just about everyone.

Sometimes words fail us when we are trying to talk with someone very important to us, even someone we love very much. Our feelings are no guarantee of fluency. If people kept track of whenever this occurred, there’s probably one name that would be on every list: God.

Being able to communicate with our Creator is one of the gifts of being human. But even though He made us, and loves us, and is always with us, we don’t always know what to say to Him. Scripture records that even the disciples of Jesus had this difficulty. “Teach us to pray,” they asked Him. Jesus replied with the prayer we call the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.”

We know the words by heart; they are truly a God-send. The prayer begins with a declaration of faith (Our Father who art in heaven). The petitions that follow summarize the Gospel, instructing us in what we need to desire from God: sanctification through the Lord (hallowed be Thy Name), hope (Thy Kingdom come), humble obedience (Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven), trust in providence (give us this day our daily bread), contrition (and forgive us our trespasses), charity (as we forgive those who trespass against us), conversion (lead us not into temptation), and submission to His saving power (but deliver us from evil). It is the perfect prayer, given for our sake.

Perhaps the most important word in the Lord’s Prayer is the first: our. This prayer tells us who God is, and also who we are. If God is our Father, then everyone else is our brother and sister. His Fatherhood eclipses the boundaries of nationality, economic status, and religion that we tend to impose on the world. Too often we forget that Jesus said, “Give us this day our daily bread,” not “Give me my daily bread.” We belong to each other.

We cannot ask God for what we need without praying for those who go without.

Lessons of Nazareth

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Nazareth is the village where Jesus grew up and lived with Mary and Joseph. For the Little Sisters, Nazareth represents an ideal for their spiritual lives.

In the Gospel of John, Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:45-46)

Yes, there is much good to be found in Nazareth. The ordinary life of the Holy Family can teach us things of great value.

Pope Paul VI visited Nazareth in 1964, and he beautifully described the lessons of Nazareth. Here is an excerpt:

“Nazareth is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus: the school of the Gospel. Here we learn to look, to listen, to meditate and penetrate the meaning, so deep and mysterious, this very simple, very humble and lovely manifestation of the Son of God. And gradually we may even learn to imitate Him… having obtained some brief lessons on Nazareth.

The lesson of silence: may there return to us an appreciation of this admirable and indispensable state of mind, deafened as we are by so much tumult, so much noise, so many voices of our chaotic and frenzied modern life.

“O silence of Nazareth, teach us recollection, reflection, and eagerness to heed the good inspirations and words of true teachers; teach us the need and value of preparation, of study, of meditation, of interior life, of silent prayer known by God alone.

The lesson of domestic life: may Nazareth teach us the meaning of family life, a communion of love, composed of simplicity and genuine beauty, its character sacred and unassailable; may it teach us how sweet and irreplaceable is its guidance, how fundamental and incomparable its role in society.

The lesson of work: O Nazareth, home of ‘the carpenter’s son,’ we want here to understand and to praise the austere and redeeming value of human labor, here to restore the consciousness of the dignity of labor, here to recall that work cannot be an end in itself, and that it is free and ennobling in proportion to the values – beyond the economic ones – which motivate it.”

Religious Habit

A magnet in the Little Sisters' convent.

A magnet in the Little Sisters’ convent.

Among other things, the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary are noted for wearing their habit, a distinctive blue dress with a matching veil. Article 11 of their Constitutions states:

An exterior sign of our consecration is the religious habit of our congregation. It must be worn at all times. Exceptions to this rule must come from the superior general or be stated in the directives. (1)

The decision to wear a habit was crystal clear to the founder of the Little Sisters, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling. She once told the story of how she came upon the design:

We wanted to pattern our lives after Br. Charles de Foucauld, and I said ‘We will have a habit.’ It’s a calling card. It’s a witness. And during the ’60s, it was a counter-culture thing for us to do. We wanted something that would be simple, non-threatening to the poor. (2)

Inspiration struck in a department store when she spied a mannequin dressed in a bright orange satin evening gown:

‘There it is,’ I told Sr. Patricia and she just looked at me like I was crazy. But I told her, ‘Just look at it. It’s perfect. It has no zippers, no buttons, just a hole to put your head through.’ We found the Vogue pattern and bought different sizes and then bought some blue denim material. (2)

Sister elaborated on her choice of the design:

I was determined, knowing how few people sew these days and how hard it would be if we didn’t have somebody in the community who could make our own habits. So I was determined that it was going to be something with no buttons, button holes, zippers [laughter] and nothing difficult about it. (3)

Blue denim-like material seems to be the established “look” for communities of women who follow the spirituality of Br. Charles. Is the color a nod to the beautiful virtues of the Virgin Mary? Is the material a sign of unity with the working people of the world? Yes and yes.

The habit designed by Sr. Mary Elizabeth is an adaptation of the one worn by the Little Sisters of Jesus, the first women’s community inspired by Charles de Foucauld (they were founded by Madeleine Hutin in 1939). Srs. Mary Elizabeth and Patricia Guidera spent time with the Little Sisters of Jesus in Washington, D.C. in June of 1974.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth recalled that encounter:

I guess that was when I asked them if they would help us. Also, I told them about the fact that I felt called to follow Brother Charles and wanted to know if that would be any kind of a threat to them. And that we wanted to wear a habit and wanted to be recognized as belonging to the de Foucauld family. Told them that our habit would look somewhat like theirs but would not be made the same. Wanted to know if that would be OK by them.

And they were extremely good to us. The provincial said that they never saw Brother Charles anymore than I have. [laughter] And that there was no monopoly on whether or not someone looked like them, and that we should just follow whatever we thought God wanted us to do. I felt very at ease with them. (3)

The following July 7, Abbot Edward McCorkell, O.C.S.O. blessed the habits of the new community at the Abbey of the Holy Cross in Berryville, Virginia. The Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary consider this their Foundation Day.

Foundation Day and the first incarnation of the habit.

Foundation Day and the first incarnation of the habit.

Bea Piekarski, a friend and volunteer from Baltimore, made the first habits. Later modifications included using a simpler, lighter belt, re-doing the front placket to make the wearing of a dickey around the collar unnecessary, and removing the cap inside the veil.

A small wooden cross necklace completes the habit. When a Little Sister makes final vows, an image of the Crucified Christ is engraved on the cross.

In years past, the Little Sisters also wore a leather “heart and cross” insignia on the chest. Attached by velcro, it invariably peeled off whenever a Little Sister was carrying a load of boxes. Sr. Mary Elizabeth finally said “Enough!” and the insignia was removed from the habit permanently.

This photo shows the heart and cross insignia. Also, the Little Sisters used to wear a metal cross before switching to a wooden one. Photo taken in the Holy Land.

This photo shows the heart and cross insignia. Also, the Little Sisters used to wear a metal cross necklace before switching to a wooden one. Photo taken in the Holy Land.

Wearing a habit was crucial to Sr. Mary Elizabeth’s understanding of religious life. She always defended her decision to make it a requirement for the Little Sisters:

I felt that people who wanted to wear habits should feel free to wear the habit. And I can tell you right now it took us more courage to put on that habit than it did to make vows because everybody criticized us for wearing a habit. Here you are, in the middle of an effort for all the nuns to get some freedom and dress like the people today and you’re putting on a habit. And I said it’s because I believe in habits. And I intend to keep the freedom to wear one.

So it was very important to us, it indeed was. I still see the importance of it. I have never lost that because it’s what tells people who you are, which is very important. (3)

Of course, Sr. Mary Elizabeth understood that clothes do not make the man, or nun. She wrote in the Joseph House Newsletter:

She [the Little Sister] will always be a visible sign to those with whom she works, not only by her habit, but also by her actions. (4)

And in her directives concerning the Rule:

The habit makes us mindful of who we are, but does not make us who we are. (3)

The habit is a way to be in the world, but not of it. For the Little Sisters, the habit encapsulates their mission and lifestyle. As Sr. Mary Elizabeth explained:

That’s our vocation, to cry out the Gospel with our lives. We wanted to be poor, but we also wanted to identify our poverty with our vocation. So we designed a simple blue habit that makes it clear that what we do, we do for love of Jesus.

We don’t hide behind our habits. The poor recognize us and know that we are just as poor as they. The habits also keep us from getting caught up in materialistic pursuits. (5)

The habit is a witness of total dedication to Christ and a counter-cultural protest against the materialism of today:

It spares us having to keep up with current styles and having to be immodest to be in style. It says who we are and what we stand for. (3)

Women in formation to become Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary wear a variation of the habit. They start out with a simple uniform of a blue jumper, white blouse, and light blue veil. After completing the novitiate and professing first vows, they receive the habit.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth wearing the habit. This nice photo was taken in the Salisbury City Park.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth wearing the habit. This nice photo was taken in the Salisbury City Park.

Regarding the habit, Sr. Mary Elizabeth used to say whether a Little Sister is going to meet the Pope or mop the floor, she is ready.

Nevertheless, the Little Sisters tend to wear an everyday habit that is soft and a little faded, keeping another habit looking fresh for special occasions.

By the way, bleach was banned in the convent laundry room a long time ago. Accidentally tie-dyed habits are certainly not regulation.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth loved her habit, and she wanted her community of Little Sisters to share that love. She described it as a “peasant look.” Simple, sturdy, no fuss — it is the appropriate attire for a handmaiden of the Lord.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth was buried in her habit. It is her chosen garment for the Resurrection.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth and Fr. Edward McCorkell, former abbot of the Trappist Monastery where Sister first received her habit. Photo taken in 2002.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth and Fr. Edward McCorkell, former abbot of the Trappist Monastery where Sister first received her habit. Photo taken in 2002.

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SOURCES:

(1) Constitutions and Rule of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary.
(2) Zuniga, Marielena. (1985, August 2). Order’s foundress helps ‘poorest of the poor.’ The Dialog, pp. 1,5.
(3) Archives of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary.
(4) Joseph House Newsletter, April, 1975.
(5) Brankin, Rev. Patrick. (1987, August/September). A new community grows. Extension, pp. 12-15.

The Poor One

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René Voillaume, who helped to start the Little Brothers of Jesus, once gave a series of conferences about religious life. These were compiled in a book, and our founder, Sr. Mary Elizabeth, had the following passage underlined:

“We must again consider what is implied by the notion of the ‘poor one.’ The poor person is one who has nothing but his human dignity. He has nothing which can hide this essential dignity, nothing that can create an illusion, nothing that others can love in him except himself. Seldom, if ever, do we have occasion to love in others that which they would be in reality, if stripped of all they have acquired.”

Voillaume went on to say:

“Here we grasp the mystery of the human person and understand that really and truly we do not love men; we love what they give, what they appear. How often we say that someone is grand, wonderful, delightful and cultured! But do we say we love the poor person who has no charm, nothing to say because he is too much taken up with his work and the countless worries that beset him in daily life?”

God gave Sr. Mary Elizabeth the grace to love the poor, and she nurtured this grace throughout her life. She never hesitated to love people in their naked humanity. Sister wrote about one experience she had, when she went to visit a young man serving time in prison.

“He turned his face from me in the penitentiary visiting room. He was very young, tall and filled with hate, especially towards white ‘honkies.’ His face was hard and defensive in every aspect. I looked at him and loved him because he needed love so badly. ‘You need not talk to me if you choose not to. I just want to tell you I have seen the Warden and have gotten your friend out of solitary, I hope all goes well. If anything else bothers you or goes wrong just let me know. Goodbye.’

“As I rose to go and he realized I wanted nothing from him — not even recognition — that I had helped to bring about something he wanted very much, he reached across and shook my hand. Our eyes met. ‘Lady, this is the first time in my life I ever touched white skin without getting the creeps.’ I smiled — gave him the black brotherhood handshake — and departed.

“As I turned in leaving he stood with the first smile I had ever seen on his face. At that moment I shared with him the great degradation he had suffered from whites, and I flew to the car in tears.”

Sr. Mary Elizabeth and members of the Prison Program at the House of Corrections in Jessup, Maryland.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth and members of the Prison Program at the House of Corrections in Jessup, Maryland.

Sources:

Voillaume, René. Vita Evangelica 4: Religious Life in Today’s World. Translated by Catherine Ann MacDonald, C.N.D. Ottawa: Canadian Religious Conference, 1970.

Archives of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary.

2009 McCulloh Street

2009 McCulloh Street, Baltimore. Photo taken in 1999.

2009 McCulloh Street, Baltimore. Photo taken in 1999.

May 1, 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the first building known as “Joseph House.” It was a three-story row house with green-and-white-striped awnings at 2009 McCulloh Street in Baltimore.

The house was a God-send. At the time, the nascent Joseph House ministry was operating out of the rectory basement of Immaculate Conception Church. That space was proving to be too small for the number of people coming for assistance.

Years later, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, our foundress, recalled how she obtained the house on McCulloh Street in the early months of 1966:

“I went down Pennsylvania Avenue and found a man named Herman Katkow. I wanted him, I knew I had to form a board to be tax-exempt. So I asked Mr. Katkow if he would be on my board. And he said his only acquaintance with me had been that he had a shop, a clothing shop, and I had sent people down to get clothing that we couldn’t give them, and he said he would give it at cost, and we could have an account with him, so that was his acquaintance with me.

“So I went down. (He had told me of a store that had a piece of linoleum that had a misprinted pattern on it that I could have for nothing to put on the floor so I wouldn’t be sitting on the cement floor. So I got that from him.) I asked him to be a member of the board and he said no, he really didn’t want to be a member of the board. He had all these activities, he was Jewish and had all these activities that he needed for his own congregation. But he would help me. He’s the one who got me the house.

“He invited me to the Pennsylvania Avenue Lafayette Market Association’s annual banquet. And at that dinner he announced that he had hoped that they would sponsor one of the women who was a guest there. He gave me the opportunity to get up and talk about what I was trying to do and that I needed a place to do it out of. Mr. Kurland was there.

“They had all been feasting and having little drinks. They were not drunk by any means, but they were convivial. So Mr. Kurland said that he was landlord of a house that was empty on McCulloh Street, and he would let me have it for a dollar a year and that I could use it for my work.

“Well, I was a little apprehensive. I thought what kind of house was this going to be, but when I saw it it was lovely, it was very nice. So I had it. Then I went up there and looked it over and as I said it was a very nice house. It needed just a little bit of painting and stuff. So that’s where we started.”

With help from seminarians from St. Mary’s Seminary and novice Franciscan sisters, the house was ready for its official dedication on May 1, 1966.

Here is a newspaper article about the aforementioned banquet of the Pennsylvania Avenue Lafayette Market Association. Mr. Katkow is on the far right in the photo, and Sr. Mary Elizabeth is seated next to him (she was a layperson at the time).

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As seen by this notice from a local paper, the dedication ceremony for the new Joseph House building had an inclusive, ecumenical tone:

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2009 McCulloh Street became a home for the entire neighborhood. Volunteers tutored children and teenagers and organized recreational activities. A Job Placement Program gave special attention to people with police records and those with limited education and skills. Families received fiscal help through the Budgeting Program. Lessons in cooking, sewing, and care for the sick and infirm were part of the Home Management Program.

A Block Program sent volunteers out into the community, to meet the residents and learn firsthand what their needs were. A few of the volunteers stayed around and lived on the upper floor of 2009 McCulloh Street, along with Sr. Mary Elizabeth.

In October of 1968, Arnold Kurland sold the house on McCulloh Street to the Joseph House for $5,000. A benefactor helped with the purchase price. Mr. Kurland died in 2002.

Mr. Arnold Kurland (Ancestry).

Mr. Arnold Kurland (Ancestry).

Mr. Katkow died in 2013. His obituary from the Baltimore Sun highlighted his progressive and generous actions:

“In a talk he gave in 2010 at a Morgan State University forum, he reminisced about selling clothing in an African-American neighborhood. He said he was color-blind to race and enjoyed his experience. He said he hired his salespeople and managers from the neighborhood and when he and his wife traveled overseas, he left the store in their hands. He acted as a confidant to his customers and helped them get better jobs and schooling.

“As the founding president of the Pennsylvania Avenue Lafayette Market Association, he promoted events such as a popular Easter Parade along the street and voter registration drives. He lobbied city registration officials to keep Saturday hours to accommodate working people.”

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/obituaries/bs-md-ob-herman-katkow-2-20130827-story.html

Mr. Herman Katkow (Baltimore Sun).

Mr. Herman Katkow (Baltimore Sun).

Both Mr. Kurland and Mr. Katkow show what can happen when business people care for more than just the bottom line. Fifty years ago, these two men helped to get the Joseph House established. Could they have dreamed that what they did is still bearing fruit today?

Sr. Mary Elizabeth on the steps of 2009 McCulloh Street during a visit to the old neighborhood. Photo taken in 1999.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth on the steps of 2009 McCulloh Street during a visit to the old neighborhood. Photo taken in 1999.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth on “Mother Angelica Live”

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Mother Angelica, founder of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), died on March 27, 2016, Easter Sunday. Born in 1923, she was a pioneer in religious media programming.

EWTN was the first Catholic satellite television station in the United States. It began broadcasting on August 15, 1981. Today the network has 230 million viewers in 140 countries.

A mainstay of EWTN was Mother’s talk show, “Mother Angelica Live.” Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, our foundress, was a guest on the show in 1987. Here is a partial transcript:

Mother Angelic: How and when did you start?

Sr. Mary Elizabeth: I started in 1974, I don’t know how. I had already begun what we call Joseph House, which is our apostolate, and I was doing that as a layperson with other lay people, but knowing that I was waiting for the first vocation to come. So I think it was nine years after I started Joseph House that a young lady came to be a helper, and I recognized that she had a vocation, so the two of us decided that we would start. And so we went to a bishop and we said to him would he mind if we tried it? And if it didn’t work, well it was a sign from God. He said, well, it was a free country, and if we wanted to try it just try it. And I thought, well, evidently he doesn’t know anymore about it than I do! So from all that ignorance we got started.

Mother Angelic: You made a deal with the Lord. What was it?

Sr. Mary Elizabeth: I told the Lord that I would be willing to do the work if He would do the worrying. I would not worry. So He has done magnificently with His end of the job, I hope I’ve done well with mine.

Mother Angelic: What do you do?

Sr. Mary Elizabeth: We do anything that the poor need. We are free, that’s the beauty of our work. We are absolutely free to do anything that the poor person needs. So we do many things, from job placement to instruction to counseling to paying rents, paying mortgages, turning on gas, turning on electric, feeding people, minding children, cleaning houses. Whatever a person needs at the moment is what we try to do for them.

We work very well with the established agencies and mostly we’re happy to take care of people who fall between the cracks with other agencies. People that they can’t take care of, people who for example either live in the wrong vicinity to get help from an agency or have maybe $10 too much to get Food Stamps — it’s just pathetic — or who are not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid and so they can’t even go out and get medicine when they need it. They simply cannot supply the necessary things to get what they need, and so we’re very happy to be able to step in there.

We live totally on Divine Providence. Sometimes we spend today what we might get tomorrow, which is very daring, but we often do that. I started this in the sixties and we have lived that way ever since. It’s just wonderful. What comes, goes. And it goes for whatever is needed, whatever God sends, whatever people He sends and the problems He sends.

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Mother Angelic: What can people do to help the poor?

Sr. Mary Elizabeth: One of the things I think they can do is just become very friendly with some poor families, help them to understand what help there is for them, many of them do not know how to use the organizations that are set up to help them. And the other thing is to just be a good listener for them, a person who is empathetic, somebody who will mind their baby for them while they go to the store or somebody who will tell them what to do about a problem with someone.

Most of the poor need friends, they need friends more than they need money, they just need someone who makes them feel like they are somebody and who will be there when they have trouble and listen to them. That is very hard for social workers to do because they are just not able to do that. We don’t consider ourselves social workers, we consider ourselves as carrying out the Gospel. That’s really what we want to do.

Caller: How can I get a strong faith?

Sr. Mary Elizabeth: I don’t know how you get it, I just know I have it. But I’m sure that God will give it to you if you desire it. God gives us everything that we really need — everything — and we don’t have to feel that we have the faith, that’s what we have to remember. We do not have to feel that we have the faith. We simply have to believe that God will take care of us. He does, that’s all I can say. It’s in the will.

A Prayer for Holy Week

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The following was written by Rene Voillaume on Good Friday, 1948. It is part of his meditations on the “Way of the Cross.”

With the Cross, Christ Jesus, You have taken into Your charge the whole of mankind, with all the weight of its weaknesses and woes and sins and death. Such is Your love for us; such is Your obedience to Your Father.

To have accepted this suffering and this death was alone a mysterious and terrible agony, so great was the contradiction of it with the wholeness and purity of Your nature.

For us, it should be different. But, in the name of Your courage and in the name of Your love, we can only beg for the light by which to discern and face our cross, the cross prepared for us by You, the cross You have fitted to each one’s very being, woven into the fabric and movement of each of our lives.

Teach us to see it as an instrument of redemption, and show us how to take hold of it.


Rene Voillaume (1905-2003) was one of the first disciples of Charles de Foucauld. In 1933, with four companions he founded the Little Brothers of Jesus.

The picture shows Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, the traditional path that Jesus walked on the way to His crucifixion. Sister and members of her community made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1985.

To Serve Others I Need Gentleness

Sr. Joan (as a novice) washing the clothes of homeless men and women in the Hospitality Room of the Joseph House Crisis Center.

Sr. Joan (as a novice) washing the clothes of homeless men and women in the Hospitality Room of the Joseph House Crisis Center.

During a retreat he made in 1902, Charles de Foucauld wrote down his resolutions for more closely imitating Jesus. He understood that we are what we do. The desires of the heart can become just fantasy if they are not grounded in the reality of our behavior.

Charles was driven to imitate the humility of Jesus with great zeal. His example inspires our ministry at the Joseph House, but it is just as important for our day-to-day living. Each day, each one of us will find opportunities to love others as Jesus loves them. Through gentle acts of service our love becomes manifest.

The “Fraternity” that Charles refers to in the excerpt below was his name for his hermitage in Beni Abbes, a village in the desert region of western Algeria. He welcomed everyone to his abode as a “universal brother.”

In the “Fraternity” I must always be humble, gentle and ready to serve as were Jesus, Mary and Joseph at the holy house at Nazareth. To serve others, I need gentleness, humility, abjection and charity.

I must wash the linen of the poor (especially on Maundy Thursday) and regularly clean their rooms, doing as much as possible myself. As far as possible, I myself and no one else must do the lowest work of the house, keeping the parts occupied by the native population clean, taking every service on myself, to be like Jesus who lived among his apostles as “one who serves.”

We must be very gentle towards the poor and everyone else, for this too is humility. When I can do so, I must cook for the poor, and carry food and drink to them, not leaving that service to others.

In every sick person I should see, not a human being, but Jesus, and so should show him respect, love, compassion, joy and gratitude at being able to serve him – zeal and gentleness. I should serve the sick as I do the poor, making myself do the lowliest services for them all, as Jesus washed the apostles’ feet.

Here You Have Watches, There We Have Time

The landscape of northern Mali.

The landscape of northern Mali.

During his years spent in the Sahara Desert, Charles de Foucuald (1858-1916) was a solitary European and Christian presence among the indigenous Tuaregs of the region. Wanting to know them better, Charles learned their stories and poetry and worked on a French-Tuareg dictionary. He drew detailed pictures of everyday Tuareg life, from musical instruments to hair braids. He wanted to know the soul of the people. He wanted to be their brother.

Rene Voillaume, founder of the Little Brothers of Jesus, said that Charles joined “his total dedication to the welfare of the Tuaregs [with] an attentive, realistic charity and a very strong sense of justice.” Loving the Tuaregs was Charles’ school for loving God.

Charles and Ouksem Ag Chikkat, a Tuareg friend.

Charles and Ouksem Ag Chikkat, a Tuareg friend.

The Tuaregs, these nomadic tribes with their distinctive blue robes, remain a mystery to many people today. Below is an interview with a modern day Tuareg living in France. Moussa Ag Assarid was born in northern Mali around 1975. The desire for additional education led him to France in 1999. He has worked as a journalist, actor, tour guide, and writer. Moussa wrote an autobiographical account of his journeys in a book, There are No Traffic Jams in the Desert: Chronicles of a Tuareg in France.

Moussa was interviewed in 2011 by Victor M. Amelain for ARIEL Magazine (the link to the original article is below). This candid conversation gives insight into the world-view of a people who were important in the life of Charles, the spiritual father of the Joseph House and the Little Sisters.

An interview with Moussa Ag Assarid:

I don’t know my age. I was born in the Sahara desert, with no papers! I was born in a nomadic camp of Tuaregs, between Timbuktu and Gao, in the north of Mali. I have been a shepherd of camels, goats, sheep and cows for my father. Today I study Management in the University of Montpellier. I am a bachelor. I serve as an advocate for the Tuareg shepherds.

What a beautiful headdress!
It is a fine cotton fabric: it allows me to cover my face in the desert when the wind blows sand, and allows me to continue to see and to breathe through it.

It is a beautiful blue color.
We Tuaregs have long been called “the blue men” because of this color. Interestingly the fabric loses the color and transfers some of the blue ink onto our skin.

How do you get this intense blue?
From a plant called indigo, mixed with other natural pigments. The blue, for the Tuaregs, is the color of the world.

Why?
It’s the dominant color, of the sky, the roof of our home

The cover of Moussa's book, There are No Traffic Jams in the Desert.

The cover of Moussa’s book, There are No Traffic Jams in the Desert.

Who are the Tuareg?
Tuareg means ‘abandoned’, because we are an old nomadic tribe of the desert. We are lonely and proud: masters of the desert, they call us. Our ethnic group is Amazigh (or Berber), and our alphabet is the Tifinagh.

How many are there of you?
Approximately three million, the majority still are nomadic. But the population is decreasing. A wise man said it is necessary for a tribe to disappear to realize they existed. I am working to preserve this tribe.

What do they do for a living?
We shepherd camels, goats, sheep, cows and donkeys in an infinite kingdom of silence.

Is the desert really so silent?
If you are on your own in that silence you hear your heart beat. There is no better place to meet yourself.

What memories do you have of your childhood in the desert?
I wake up with the sun. The goats of my father are there. They give us milk and meat, and we take them were there is water and grass. My great-grandfather did it, and my grandfather, and my father, and me. There was nothing else in the world than that, and I was very happy!

Really? It doesn’t sound very exciting.
It is. At the age of seven you can go alone away from the compound, and for this you are taught the important things—to smell the air, to listen, to see, to orient with the sun and the stars…and to be guided by the camel if you get lost. He will take you where there is water.

This sounds like valuable knowledge, no doubt.
Everything is simple and profound there. There are very few things, and each one has enormous value.

So that world and this one are very different.
There, every little thing gives happiness. Every touch is valuable. We feel great joy just by touching each other, being together. There, nobody dreams of becoming, because everybody already is.

What shocked you most on your first trip to Europe?
I saw people running in the airport. In the desert you only run if a sandstorm is approaching! It scared me, of course.

They were going after their baggage.
Yes, that was it. I also saw signs with naked women. Why this lack of respect for the woman? I wondered. Then at the hotel I saw the first faucet of my life: I saw the water run and wanted to cry.

Because of the waste, the abundance?
Every day of my life had been involved in seeking water. When I see the ornamental fountains here and there, I still feel an intense pain.

Why?
In the early 90s there was a big drought, animals died, and we became sick. I was about twelve years old and my mother died. She was everything to me! She used to tell me stories and taught me to tell stories. She taught me to be myself.

What happened to your family?
I persuaded my father to let me go to school. Every day I walked fifteen kilometers, until one teacher gave me a bed to sleep in and a woman gave me food when I walked by her house. I then understood what was happening; my mother was helping me.

Where did you get interested in school?
A few years before the Paris-Dakar motor rally came through the compound and a journalist dropped a book from her backpack. I picked it up and gave it to her. She gave it to me and talked to me about that book: “The Little Prince.” I promised myself that I would be able to read it one day.

And you did.
Yes, and because of that I won a scholarship to study in France.

A Tuareg going to college!
Ah, what I most miss here is the camel milk. And the wood fires. And walking barefoot on the warm sand. And the stars. We watched them every night, every star is different, just as every goat is different. Here, in the evenings, you watch TV.

That is true. What do you dislike the most here?
You have everything, and it is still not enough for you. You complain. In France people complain all the time! You chain yourself to a bank; everyone is anxious to have things, to have possessions. Everyone is in a rush. In the desert there are no traffic jams, and do you know why? Because there nobody is interested in getting ahead of other people.

Two Tuareg men in Mali.

Two Tuareg men in Mali.

Tell me about a moment of deep happiness for you in the desert.
It happens every day, two hours before sunset. The heat decreases, there is still no cold air, and men and animals slowly return to the compound, and their profiles are painted against a sky that is pink, blue, red, yellow, green.

That sounds fascinating.
It’s a magical moment. We all get into the tents and we boil tea. Sitting in silence we listen to the sound of the boiling water. We are immersed in calmness, with our the heart beating to the rhythm of the boiling water, potta potta potta……

How peaceful.
Yes…here you have watches; there, we have time.


Original Interview:
http://www.revista-ariel.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1017%3Aan-interview-with-moussa-ag-assarid&catid=58%3Ahuman-development&Itemid=83

Photo Credits:
LANDSCAPE
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHand_der_Fatima.jpg
By Timm Guenther (Timm Busshaus) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

BR. CHARLES AND OUKSEM AG CHIKKAT
Archives of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary

BOOK
http://www.amazon.com/Y-pas-dembouteillage-dans-desert/dp/2298007004/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1452268957&sr=1-1&keywords=2298007004

TUAREG MEN
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMali1974-151_hg.jpg
By H. Grobe (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons