Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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Missionaries of Charity coming to Spokane next month
by Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register
(From the Jan. 12, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
A vacant convent in Spokane’s Hillyard neighborhood will see new life when four of Blessed Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity begin ministering from St. Patrick Parish in Spokane.
The four Sisters – Alinda, Shanti Prabha, Bernadette Ann, and Joshua Marie – will be the first presence of the Missionaries of Charity in this part of the United States. The nearest their Religious community has come to the area is Vancouver, B.C.
Their official welcoming will take place Thursday, Feb. 23, with 6 p.m. Mass at St. Patrick with Bishop Skylstad. A procession after Mass will bring the Blessed Sacrament to the convent. The house will be blessed, and the parish will host a reception afterward.
The Sisters’ arrival is the culmination of several years’ of requests for their presence in St. Patrick Parish.
Father Dan Barnett, pastor of St. Patrick as well as St. Francis Xavier parishes since 2002, began working with St. Patrick parishioners to discern ministry direction in the parish.
One part of parish life was facing a radical change: the last Holy Names Sisters were leaving the parish convent, after nearly 80 years of ministry at St. Patrick School, as well as within the parish in general.
“Their leaving left a gigantic hole in the heart of the parish,” said Father Barnett.
Besides the absence of the Sisters, there was also the vacant convent. Parishioners began discerning what should be done – could be done – to fill both the ministerial and spatial vacancies.
Father Barnett’s experience with the Missionaries of Charity dated back to his days in the seminary. He worked with members of that community as a seminarian in Europe, teaching religious education during the summer in Sicily, and helping them in their apostolate in Rome during the school year. He gave a retreat for one of the Sisters’ communities during his deacon year.
“That’s really what converted me, if you will – working with the Sisters,” as they lived out their apostolate among the poor, said Father Barnett. “They showed me. It became clear, that this is really Jesus in the Eucharist, and in this person. And the two are not opposed; the two are one. One is rooted in the other.”
He knew it might be difficult, “though not impossible,” to bring a group of the Sisters to Spokane. A committee from the parish discerned that they should try.
Bishop Skylstad wrote to Sister Nirmala, Mother Teresa’s successor, asking for the Sisters’ presence in the Spokane Diocese. The request was repeated annually for three years, according to Sister Francis Terese, superior of the Sisters’ house near San Francisco.
“It was a matter of having the Sisters available,” she said.
The history of the Hillyard area of Spokane is filled with “families, hard-working families,” said Father Barnett. “They are not the wealthiest people in the world,” and in fact, the neighborhood is one of the poorest areas of the state, he said.
“There is significant need,” he said. The need is not just material; there is significant need in terms of spirituality as well, “because that’s what’s going to bring us happiness. Money is not.” The parish’s demographics are well-suited to the over-all mission of the Missionaries of Charity.
“Our work is with the poorest of the poor,” said Sister Francis Terese, “the people who might fall into the cracks, who don’t qualify for one system or another system – people other people don’t want. Not just poor; the poorest.
“There are different ways of being the poorest,” she said.
Exactly what form the Sisters’ ministry might take has yet to be decided, she said. First, they will discern what the needs might be. They tend not to duplicate other efforts, she said. To begin, the Sisters will be visiting families in the parish, perhaps helping with catechetics.
The Missionaries of Charity’s “primary apostolate is visiting the people, serving the poorest of the poor.” The Sisters paid a visit last October. “They wanted to know, Can we live out our apostolate here?” he said. “So we showed them” the area’s needs, “as best we could.” The parish has “a great number of homebound, of elderly – people who are just lonely, locked up in their houses or their little world, or locked up in the cycle of violence or drugs.” Meeting those people, and in them, meeting Christ, is what the Sisters will do. “Those people are Christ,” said Father Barnett, “and so they go and visit him.
“It’s really quite simple, on that level,” he said. “That’s the Gospel: ‘Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
As a seminarian, he met Mother Teresa “a couple of times,” but that was not what impressed him about her Religious order.
When he observed the Sisters at prayer, “they’re not just reciting words, they’re speaking to a person, and the same thing is true when they’re helping change a man’s diaper, or helping a drunk. It’s the same look. That’s what really caught me. Astounding, really. I met Mother Teresa a couple of times. I was obviously impressed by this woman. But I can say this: I didn’t have that overwhelming, drop-dead-in-your-tracks” impression of her. “I had it with her Sisters, the everyday, day-to-day work they do. That’s what was really amazing to me. Just simple, Gospel life, lived in simplicity, poverty, love, and joy. And that will bring people to Christ, bring the Church together.”
Father Barnett emphasized that the arrival of a new Religious community in the area was not a replacement. Rather, the Sisters will build on the work accomplished over the decades by other Religious orders, such as the Holy Names and Providence Sisters.
We have reason “for great joy in that, thanksgiving for what has been built up,” he said. “We can have great hope for what is coming, because God is still at work in the world. For our Church at this time, struggling” as it is, “we need some signs of hope, and healing. The Church is not simply getting beaten down. The Church is missionary. And we still are.
“It remains to be seen where God will lead,” he said, “but I’m completely amazed, pleased, overjoyed. And I know the people will be, too.”
Bishop Skylstad also expressed his thanks and joy for the Sisters’ presence in Eastern Washington.
“I’m profoundly grateful to Sister Nirmala and the Missionaries of Charity for their decision to have a presence here in Spokane,” he said. The Spokane community of Sisters will be the congregation’s first in the Northwestern United States.
“The Missionaries of Charity have always given an outstanding witness of serving the poorest of the poor, and give a radical witness of the love of Jesus for all,” he said. “We welcome them into the diocese, and ask God’s blessing upon them and their ministry here.”
Although the presence of particular Sisters might change over time, the Missionaries of Charity will be here for “as long as the diocese wants us,” said Sister Francis Terese.
As they minister among the poorest of the poor, they rely completely on Divine Providence for their own needs, she said. They have no regular source of income, depending instead on unsolicited donations, “the sacrifices people have made, have been moved to donate to us. We don’t allow anyone to fund-raise in our name, or use Mother Teresa’s name in any way to raise money,” she said, “even for a good purpose.
“We live a very poor life ourselves,” said Sister Francis Terese. “We’re poor ourselves. We depend on Divine Providence ourselves, for the bills, for food.
“All of our houses live this way,” she said. “No matter where we are, this is what we do. It’s a real joy, because you really see God working. He really does care for his poor people. You see his tender love for his poor people.”