Character Traits of Givers

In light of the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, people are rising to the challenge of helping their neighbors. They are giving what they can: food, water, money, boats, shelter. It is not the time to hold back.

Opportunities to give happen every day, not just during natural disasters. What are the characteristics of people who give? Here is a list for reflection and for taking a personal inventory. It comes from the book, 5001 Simple Things to Do For Others (and Yourself), from Liguori Publications, 2010. Would you add or change anything?

Character Traits of Givers

  • Promote adaptability
  • Support an appreciation for people
  • Stay attentive
  • Are available
  • Reinforce their commitment daily
  • Keep their compassion
  • Place their concern where it will do the most good
  • Show confidence
  • Are always considerate
  • Understand that consistency wins the game
  • Find contentment in what they can accomplish
  • Promote cooperation
  • Fortify their courage
  • Keep creativity flowing
  • Stay decisive
  • Encourage deference
  • Are known for their dependability
  • Stay determined
  • Show they are always diligent
  • Exercise discernment and discretion
  • Know that efficiency allows you to accomplish more
  • Understand that equality keeps the balance
  • Are always fair
  • Are faithful
  • Practice fearlessness
  • Remain flexible
  • Understand forgiveness
  • Know that winners are friendly
  • Realize that generosity with time and resources will make them rich
  • Are known for their gentleness
  • Express their gratitude
  • Remain honest
  • Are humble before God
  • Know the worth of their integrity
  • Celebrate joyfulness
  • Practice kindness
  • Indulge in love
  • Are loyal to their values
  • Understand we are all meek on the inside
  • Believe God is merciful—we just try to follow His example
  • Observe what is truth
  • Keep their optimism
  • Are patient
  • Practice prudence
  • Are known for their punctuality
  • Promote their purpose
  • Are always resourceful
  • Respect those around them and those who seek their help
  • Know we are all responsible for humankind
  • Practice self-control
  • Don’t let their sincerity overrule logic
  • Are submissive before God
  • Remain tactful
  • Are thorough
  • Believe thriftiness will pay off
  • Know the world is in need of tolerance
  • Are trustworthy
  • Always promote the truth
  • Understand that we can’t live on virtue alone, but we can’t live without it

Newsletter: August 2017

Dear Friends of Joseph House:

Every organization and institution, whether it is civic, business, religious, or charitable, has its own style of operation. It’s not just what they do, but how they do it that sets them apart. This is true of the Joseph House, and our founder Sr. Mary Elizabeth looked to a particular person for inspiration: Charles de Foucauld, who also went by Br. Charles of Jesus.

Given that he was a hermit in the Sahara Desert more than 100 years ago, it’s not surprising that Charles is a mystery to many people. René Bazin, his first biographer, didn’t think Charles was important enough to warrant a book. He had to be convinced otherwise, and fortunately he was. Bazin’s Charles de Foucauld: Hermit and Explorer, published in 1923 in English, kept alive the memory of this fascinating and saintly figure. This passage from the book shows why the life of Charles found a home in the heart and mind of Sr. Mary Elizabeth:

“Charles was one who gave a fraternal welcome to the poorest and most unknown and undeserving of neighbors, who never let it be suspected that he was put out, and was willing to waste his time for talking with God upon unreliable nomads, corrupt slaves, beggars and bores.

“Every minute somebody would come and open the door, and Brother Charles appeared with his beautiful eyes full of serenity, his head bent forward a little, and his hand already held out. . . .

“He wrote : ‘I wish to accustom all the inhabitants, Christians, Muslims, Jews and idolaters, to look upon me as their brother, the universal brother. . . . They begin to call the house the Fraternity (the Khaua, in Arabic), and I am delighted.’

“This beautiful word suits our missionary and might describe him: he was truly the universal brother, not in words, but in deeds; he did not scatter political formulae, or promises which only add to the weight of wretchedness, but he forgot himself for the sake of his nearest neighbors, he spent beyond his means to feed them and to ransom them if ransomed they could be. His way was the silent way.”

Being available to the poor is at the heart of our ministry. Many people have good intentions for helping the poor, but far fewer have the inclination to “waste time” with them.

Charles did everything he could to address the material needs of the poor, but he gave them something else too: the fruit of his time spent in prayer and recollection. People have deep hungers that go beyond an empty stomach. Charles offered them the peace of Christ. The poor could see it in his face, they could know it by his actions and his unhurried sense of time, and in the way he made his home a home for everyone. He preached by example, letting charity be God’s ambassador.

Br. Charles distributing bread. Illustration by René Follet.

If the Joseph House is to have a corporate culture, we hope it resembles this. We want people in need to receive your generosity with love and respect. Along with our many volunteers, we do our best to make sure our ministry welcomes everyone. Hearts need to be open as much as the front door.

On a typical day, Charles might have received 70 poor people, plus 15 sick, 50 children, and 20 frail and elderly. We can sympathize. One will never be lonely working with the less fortunate.

Valencia, 63, was not in a good mood when she came to the Joseph House Crisis Center. We could understand why. Pain radiated from her hip that was healing from a fracture. Anyone of us in a similar situation would have wanted to be home resting, but an eviction notice from her landlord required Val to get up and look for help. She was angry and distraught and it took a little time to find out what was going on. Val regained her composure and explained that she lives alone and her monthly income of $756 doesn’t always cover her basic expenses. We agreed to send $200 to her landlord, alleviating one of the burdens Val is carrying.

Dominic, in his fifties, recently had two serious surgeries as part of his treatment for liver cancer. His doctor has ordered him not to work for several months. In the meantime, Dominic is trying to get by on a temporary disability payment of $640 monthly. It is not enough for his rent and utilities. A firm job offer for the fall and the promise of better health give him hope. We sent $225 to Dominic’s landlord. The Joseph House depends on Divine Providence, but the poor know what that really means.

Amber, 44, is another cancer patient. She’s been hospitalized and has received several rounds of chemotherapy. She believes the worst is behind her. Amber missed a lot of work during her illness and also a rent payment. This is a new experience for her since she has been a stable renter at her place for well over a decade. Her wages make it nearly impossible for her to catch up. Amber asked us for help; she especially didn’t want her son to undergo the trial of being homeless. We sent $225 to her landlord.

Ingrid and her three children were homeless. A shelter had beds for them and Ingrid found a job in a chicken factory. Unfortunately, they had to leave the shelter before Ingrid received a paycheck. To break the cycle of homelessness, we paid $170 toward the security deposit for an apartment for Ingrid and her family.

Jerrod, 32, works for a landscaper. He and his wife must both work to support their family of four, soon to be five. Jerrod came to the Joseph House shortly before his wife was due to give birth. She had stopped working temporarily, but this interruption for a natural and beautiful part of family life was wreaking havoc on their budget. Jerrod had an eviction notice with him and no means of paying the back rent by himself. Wanting Jerrod and his wife to welcome their new baby in an atmosphere of peaceful security, we mailed a check for $225 to their landlord.

Thank you for supporting the Joseph House. You’re the answer to someone’s prayer! Working together, the little that each of us can do adds up to something great. You can make a donation here.

May God smile upon you and guard you as the apple of His eye.

Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary


August 15, the feast of the Assumption of Mary, is also a time to honor the Blessed Mother under her title, Our Lady of the Fields.

From The Rural Life Prayerbook:
“When this great feast of the Mother of God is celebrated, nature is still arrayed in her summer glories, although the harvest has already begun. At this time, the Church blesses the finest grain, fruits, herbs, vegetables, and flowers.”

Psalm 65
Lord, you care for the earth, give it water,
you fill it with riches.
Your river in heaven brims over
to provide its grain.

And thus you provide for the earth;
you drench its furrows,
you level it, soften it with showers,
you bless its growth.

You crown the year with your goodness.
Abundance flows in your steps,
in the pastures of the wilderness it flows.

The hills are girded with joy,
the meadows covered with flocks,
the valleys are decked with wheat.
They shout for joy, yes, they sing.

Helping Face to Face

In an online world, there is still a place for personal contact.

Our help at the Joseph House is given person to person, in the flesh. This way we get a grasp of the details that cannot be conveyed in an e-mail, details that help to express the uniqueness of each person and the many sides to his or her circumstances.

Person to person, we see the missing teeth and the shoes held together with duct tape. We see the mismatched clothes that came from the donation bin. We see arthritic hands and swollen ankles and feeble legs that need the assistance of a cane. We see calloused skin rough as sandpaper from years of hard work in the sun. We hear words slurred in a haze of alcohol. We hear broken English and uncouth grammar and slang. We hear wisdom and sobbing, whispering and yelling.

Person to person, we see faces, and the windows of the soul, the eyes: blood-shot eyes, eyes filled with tears, eyes flaring in anger, nervous eyes that flit about, eyes clear and bright, and eyes that refuse to make contact with our own. Up close, we also detect the tang of unwashed skin that comes from living outside in beastly hot weather, the sharp mustiness that clothes pick up from decaying houses, and the acrid odor that comes from looking in garbage cans for food.

Most importantly, person to person, we experience the person, and not just the eviction notice or the overdue electric bill or the other bits of fallout from poverty. We can reach out and touch someone, and not just figuratively. Simple human contact shoulders many a burden.

The greatest poverty is to feel alone, unloved, and unwanted. Face to face, person to person, we give and receive the gift of each other’s presence. We can meet Christ waiting for us to love Him in the poor, waiting for us to wake up from our indifference, waiting for us to overcome our fear and prejudice, waiting for us to open our heart to the person in front of us.

Newsletter: July 2017

Dear Friends of Joseph House:

The middle of summer, when everything is lush and full, brings to mind the Book of Genesis and the story of Creation.

At this time of year, the earth, the trees, and even the air seem heavy with life. Every little corner and niche is occupied. Our backyard becomes a miniature Eden, with all manner of vegetation and seed-bearing plants, crawling living creatures and winged birds. A close inspection of a square foot reveals a universe under our feet. Author Annie Dillard writes,

“This, then, is the extravagant landscape of the world, given, given with pizzazz, given in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over” (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek).

One thing is clear: God doesn’t hold back. His creative power is super-abundant and endless.

A statue of St. Francis amidst the foliage of the convent yard.

What does a deeper reading of Genesis reveal? In the beginning, God created order out of chaos. “The earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters” (Gen 1:2). The mighty wind was the Spirit of God, and God commanded into being a world of harmony and coherence. This is the bedrock of existence.

God created a world that lets life flourish, a world that has so much to offer each person. It’s a gift for everyone. God gave humanity dominion over creation, but that means we have a responsibility to be good stewards — and good neighbors. Everyone has a chance to share in the fruits of the earth when there is concern for the common good and for what each person is due, that is, when there is concern for justice.

Without justice, everything falls back into chaos.

Some people look at the world and ask, “Where’s my share?” But our rights and responsibilities go hand-in-hand in a well-ordered society.

“Justice focuses on how we treat people, how we share benefits and responsibilities, and how we ensure everyone sits at the table. Justice, then, is about community life. Individuals and the community are complementary” (Alison Benders, Just Prayer).

Creating just communities is a mission for all of us. Many people today lack food, housing, medicine, and other necessary goods. The Joseph House works to fill these needs and address the underlying reasons they exist. Thank you for joining us in this mission through your prayers and generous giving. We can’t do it without you.

Sam, 52, is in poor health. Due to kidney failure, he is on a home dialysis machine seven days a week. His wife is also disabled. Their combined monthly income is $1,120. Of that, $750 goes toward the rent. Sam has medication that he needs to take but doesn’t because he can’t afford it. Like a growing number of people, he started a GoFundMe page on the Internet to help with his health care costs; it hasn’t been successful so far.

Sam came to the Joseph House Crisis Center with his many needs. We were able to assist him with $175 for his electric bill, a few days before the cut-off date.

Terri, 29, is a single mother of two. She works full-time as a housekeeper but brings home only $250 weekly. Terri is also going to school and studying to become a corrections officer. She is working very hard to get ahead through education. Terri fell behind in her rent because her tight budget leaves no room for even the smallest unplanned expense. The Joseph House sent $180 to her landlord.

Claudette is 81. She lives alone, enjoys good health, and volunteers at a local school (spending time with children is a secret for staying young). Her monthly Social Security check is $954 and $850 goes toward her housing, a tiny bungalow. Sometimes a family member helps Claudette with her basic expenses. A leftover heating bill was too much, so Claudette turned to the Joseph House. We sent $168 to the gas company.


We depend solely on private donations to help people in need. Click here to make a donation online.


Kenny, 64, is a disabled Army veteran. A few months ago, he was living in another state and suffered two heart attacks. After he recovered, he decided to return to Maryland to be closer to his brother. Kenny was in an accident on the way home, and the trailer he was towing, filled with his belongings, was demolished. He lost everything.

When Kenny finally arrived in Maryland, he was turned away by his brother. There seems to be a history of religious and political differences between them. With nowhere to go, Kenny started living in his car. He found his way to the Joseph House, and thankfully we had the funds ($225) to get him moved into an apartment.

Athena, 70, and her husband are on a fixed income. Athena’s life is controlled by COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It’s had a debilitating effect on her. She has reached the point where she needs an electric wheelchair in addition to bottled oxygen.

Athena also has massive ulcers in her mouth. She must take medication to treat these, but her monthly medical bills are already high.

Athena came to the Joseph House in desperate need of help. We contacted the pharmacy and agreed to purchase the $152 in prescriptions waiting for Athena. We also paid the $93 she needed to acquire an electric wheelchair. Looking over Athena’s budget, there was little room for economizing. She and her husband receive Food Stamps, but only $16 per month.

The lack of affordable housing and health care in our country is troubling. How much longer can this go on? The poor suffer first and suffer the most.

On the first full day of summer, the air conditioner at the Crisis Center quit working. Maybe it was protesting the coming workload. Fortunately, the repairman got it going again, but this expense underscores the fact that our ministry needs your support year-round, even during vacation season. Your generosity is greatly appreciated.

The mighty wind of God still sweeps across the earth. The Spirit comes to our aid in our weakness to help us become the people we were created to be. May we surrender to His power and be renewed in His strength. May each of us be a real presence of brotherly and sisterly love in the world.

With our promise to pray for you every day,

Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary

Called to Love, Called to Serve

The life of a Catholic nun or religious sister is a mystery to many people. Stereotypes abound, but as usual the reality is quite different. Even though some things change over time, the essentials do not: all that is good, true, and beautiful continues to exist.

If you are considering a religious vocation, or you would just like to know more about Catholic nuns today, check out some of these resources:

Light of Love gives viewers a look into the lives, suffering, and joys of religious life captured in a way like never before.”
www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIwJacw_Z3Y

Imagine Sisters is an organization that exists to expose the beauty of the religious life to a world desperately in need. We are so glad that you’re here, and we can’t wait to share stories of discernment, transformation, and faith.”
imaginesisters.org

Vision Vocation Network presents information on religious communities for both men and women. The site helps people considering a religious vocation to get in touch with the communities that best match their personal interests.
vocationnetwork.org/en/main

Catholics on Call supports Catholic young adults (ages 18-35) as they strive to discover God’s call in their lives, and explore the possibility of a life of service in the Church. A national vocation discovery program of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union, Catholics on Call is dedicated to helping young adults from diverse backgrounds explore a call to ministry in the Church and to learn about leadership roles as lay ecclesial ministers, men or women religious, or ministry as ordained deacons or priests.”
www.catholicsoncall.org

A Nun’s Life provides information about figuring out God’s call in your life. You’ll find articles, videos, and other resources on popular topics.
anunslife.org

Catholic Nuns Today: “What is your image of a Catholic Nun? We invite you to learn more about our active, faith-filled lives by reading our stories and frequently asked questions.”
catholicnunstoday.org

Giving Voice is a peer led organization that creates spaces for younger women religious to give voice to their hopes, dreams and challenges in religious life.”
giving-voice.org

Beloved is a film about the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. “This joyful, holy community radiates their love for Christ and neighbor, revealing in this compelling film what it means to live the consecrated life as both a contemplative and a teacher. They manifest to the world that religious life is all about love and joy, but a love that is different and unique. It is a love that is eternal.”
www.ignatius.com/Products/BND-M/beloved.aspx

The Value of Work

A good book opens with a good introduction, and the Bible has one of the best.

The stately verses of Chapter 1 of Genesis reveal a truth to remember: God made the universe with coherence and meaning. We can easily imagine the inspired author of the text looking up at the nighttime sky with awe. Existence begins with God saying, “Let there be…,” and is capped with the words, “It is good.” We are hemmed in by His presence. The word of God is beneath everything that is, and everything that is has received His blessing. Nothing is beyond the realm of His care.

Although the Bible says God rested on the seventh day, His creative power never ends. He endowed human beings with the capacity to reflect His divine initiative in creation. That is, God gave us the ability to work. What we can do with both our hands and minds puts us in a unique, and privileged, position in the world. And as always, privilege begets responsibility.

Since we are more than animals — we are imago Dei, the image of God — we can move beyond the domain of instinct. Through our conscious, deliberate activity we can shape the world around us. We can transform the raw material of the earth and create the things we need, even things for the sake of beauty alone.

Ordinarily, work is intentional, it is a choice, and thus it is a moral act. It can be for good or for evil.

We can never think of the value of work and its spiritual and ethical dimensions without calling to mind our beloved Saint Joseph. He is honored with a feast day on May 1 under the title “St. Joseph the Worker” because work is more than just labor, more than just a way to make money. Work helps to make the world more “human.” It provides food and shelter and also creates culture. It unites people, makes us interdependent, and is one of the foundations of family life. Through work, the blessing that God extended over creation can reach everyone.

Work is a way to holiness. It involves the giving of ourselves in some form. There is a reason why God chose the carpenter of Nazareth to be a parent to His Son.

The first of May has always been important to us. Sr. Mary Elizabeth held the dedication ceremony of the first Joseph House in Baltimore on this day in 1966. We continue to celebrate St. Joseph the Worker with a measure of solemnity, but never by taking the day off. According to Sister, it was the perfect occasion to do the chores that never got done, such as cleaning the dust from the ceiling fans!

The ultimate value of a particular type of work is found not in the work itself, but in the people doing it. The Joseph House and the Little Sisters have always called upon their members to exercise a variety of work. Although the work may be humble, it is never without dignity.

The Son of God became man and worked with human hands. Work then has a dignity of its own in God’s plan for creation. — St. John Paul II

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

blog_nazareth_nov_2016

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.

———————————————————————————–

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.

« Older posts

© 2017 The Joseph House

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑