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Sisters of St. Joseph: Grateful for our ministry

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A few weeks ago while I was waiting to meet a friend for dinner, a customer recognized me as a Sister of St. Joseph. He immediately began recalling his education and the positive impact of our sisters in his life; in fact he went on to become a lawyer thanks to the support and encouragement of one of our sisters. This simple experience was not only humbling, it also engendered my reflection on the broad based influence of the Sisters of St. Joseph within the Archdiocese of Boston. As we celebrate the 140th anniversary of our arrival in Boston, I realize my experience with this former student is not unique. The story repeats itself with our sisters day-in and day-out, be it attending liturgy, pushing a cart through the grocery store, taking a walk at Castle Island, visiting a local hospital, discovering Facebook friends who want to reconnect, and in countless other ordinary moments.

There are many reasons to mark an anniversary such as this and perhaps the most important reason is the millions of students, families, parishioners, clergy and co-workers to whom we are deeply grateful. In our Constitution, we state, "We acknowledge humbly and gratefully that from those to whom we minister we receive more than we give, indeed, in full measure and flowing over." It is this relationship we celebrate during this 140th year -- a relationship that is at the heart of all we are and do.

It is because of this relationship that we trust our God to be present with us as we look to the future. It is this relationship that enables us to ponder the signs of new life and the reality of diminishment in our own lives, in the lives of those with whom we minister, and in the life of the world.

We arrived in Boston on Oct. 2, 1873, at the invitation of Father Thomas Magennis, Pastor of St. Thomas' Parish, Jamaica Plain, who was seeking sisters to serve a poor and marginalized immigrant population. At the time, Irish Catholic immigrants -- girls in particular -- were not welcome in the public schools of Boston. The four sisters who traveled from Brooklyn, NY, responded to this need by opening a school for over 200 girls just four days after their arrival. Imagine the creativity and courage of these women who dared to dream in the midst of a difficult situation as they responded to an unmet need among the people of Boston!

Clearly, religious life is a significant part of the history of the Church of Boston and continues to be an enriching way to serve the People of God. While surface appearances have changed, today we continue to live the dream, we continue to hold firm to the mission of Jesus Christ and the belief that relationship is at the heart of our service to the dear neighbor without distinction.

Like those four sisters who arrived in Boston, an immigrant population still turns to us for education, advocacy, and inclusion into American society. Reaching back even further to our roots in 17th century France, the first six women who became recognized as Sisters of St. Joseph in October 1650, saw the need of young girls who were left alone on the streets of Le Puy, France. They provided shelter, education, and spiritual advice. Does this not echo our commitment to parish life, education, advocacy, and safe shelter for today's women who are caught in the web of human trafficking?

I believe, with Pat Farrell, OSF, that "God is calling to us from the future" (Presidential Address, 2012 LCWR Assembly). As individuals and groups of sisters, associates, and partners in ministry engage in conversations around everything from Vatican II, the future of religious life, immigration reform, and human trafficking, to climate change, expanding consciousness, and strategic planning for our ministries, the seeds of transformation -- our own and others -- are at work.

In this new moment, we are connected locally, nationally, and globally. Did you know that in this archdiocese, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston manage six corporately sponsored ministries and four congregation ministries which collectively touch the lives of thousands each day? Nationwide we are part of a network of sixteen congregations of Sisters of St. Joseph with over 4000 sisters and 2800 associates. Each of these congregations also sponsors ministries that further our mission of unity and reconciliation. World-wide there are approximately 12,000 Sisters of St. Joseph in fifty-two countries who share a common heritage dating back to 1650 in France. "Together we are discerning new attractions, the Spirit of God is seeking to create anew in our lives, calling us to new relatedness and new wholeness and these new movements which will require letting go of what we have known and creating the future. The letting go does not mean forgetting the past. The past has brought us into the present moment and it is good" (Ilia Delio, OSF, Seeing Christianity as a Religion of Evolution and the Implications for Religious Life, LCWR Occasional Papers, Summer 2012).

As we celebrate 140 years we celebrate all these relationships that inspire us to dare to continue to dream not just for ourselves but for the Church of Boston and our many neighbors in God's sacred universe.

Learn more about the mission, ministry, and global reach of Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston at: www.csjboston.org/.

Sister Rosemary Brennan, CSJ is the President of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston.

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