More Spiritual Reflections

Spiritual Reflections


IHM Founder's Day and Commissioning of IHM Associates

Sr. Jean Louise Bachetti, IHM
November 11, 2007

Founders Day: A Sacred Memory that Continues to Challenge

A vine you transplanted, O God. We, as the vine are here today because we choose to make sacred the act of remembering. We do this in prayer by celebrating and claiming the legacy of the founding of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1845. Through this special remembrance of memories that continue to challenge, we marvel at how relationships endure, how life is precious and how dreams become a reality. Today, we remember and celebrate the dream of two idealistic people, Theresa Maxis Duchemin and Louis Florent Gillet who broke ground, planted, watered and stirred up the powers that be. In spite of separation after two short years of working together, their relationship endured over 44 years in mystery and faith, not knowing if the other was still alive, but always trusting in Divine Providence. With so many odds against them, they had no idea that their redemptive suffering was truly bearing fruit on the IHM vine that "took root and filled the land." Watered by their tears and pain this legacy of mystery and faith grounds us today as we journey into a future that is not yet clear.

God works in and through mystery and slowly some of the unresolved pieces of our founding are still coming to light. In a recent paper he presented at the Conference of the Redemptorist Institute of Historical Studies in North America Father Gilbert Enderle, explained the extensive research he is doing on Father Gillet. In search of truth, he has discovered revealing information about Gillet that parallels Theresa's as they both became outcasts of the very community they founded. Both were tragic victims of harsh judgment from superiors and bishops; both suffered because of their zeal for the mission of Jesus, both eventually moved into other congregations, Theresa to the Grey Nuns in Canada and Louis to a Cistercian Monastery in France. Drawing from his research, Fr. Enderle quotes, Father Carl Hoegerl regarding the bad treatment that Gillet received, "A vindication should come from us Redemptorists because it was Redemptorists who treated him with embarrassing shabbiness. We do not think it too extreme or harsh to say that Father Gillet was more or less railroaded out of the [Redemptorist] Congregation because he was too apostolically minded." And Theresa too, at the hands of church hierarchy was maligned because she was a woman of color, a strong and determined woman ahead of her time. Perhaps Bishop Hafey in the introduction to our S. Immaculata's book on Theresa made an attempt on behalf of bishops to vindicate Theresa when he placed her among God's heroes and heroines. It's a stretch. When we look back at our roots, as Founders' Day gives us the opportunity to do, we see that the wandering in the desert experience of both Theresa and Louis was truly a dark night of the soul. Ineffective as they thought they were, weak as they perceived themselves to be, they were in fact what Paul describes as God using the weak of this world to confound the strong. Theirs is not a legacy that is easy to claim.

Living today in mystery and faith as prophets of vision and pilgrims of the dream (using the brilliant lyrics of our community song) finds expression in our mission statement to be a clear and understandable prophetic witness to the presence of God in the world, and in our direction statement that stretches us IHM Sisters and Associates beyond the status quo when we channel our energies to foster respect for diversity! I dare say, if we authentically live as prophetic witnesses and channel our energies to foster respect diversity, we will most likely find ourselves like our founders alienated and criticized for our solidarity with the immigrant, those who are perceived different and because of our stance against racism.

In her poem, "Christ in the Margins," Edwina Gately, has effectively described present day founders

Brave, reckless souls,
these founders,
who dare birth dreams
and run with them
down our city streets,
driven by a passion
that leaves us gasping
in wonderment—
and disapproval.
Brave, reckless souls,
these founders,
who would change the world
with their visions of God
and have us
(pouting saints and reluctant angels)
do the same.

Brave, reckless souls,
these founders,
whose lights we flee,
refusing to dance
to an unknown tune
lest it whirl us,
dizzying, into God.
Brave, reckless souls,
these founders,
who in league with Wisdom
(God's wild free Spirit)
forever run amongst us,
singing aloud
their songs of love
and trailing
clouds of glory!

(From her book, Christ in the Margins)

Like these present day founders Edwina Gately describes, Theresa and Louis, I believe, are calling us to be in League with Wisdom, God's wild free Spirit, and claim our legacy as Prophets of Vision and Pilgrims of the Dream. The questions remain however,

Will we prefer to be "pouting saints and reluctant angels" in the process?

Do we look at this challenge with wonder or disapproval?

Are we afraid to sing the unknown tune lest it "whirl us, dizzying into God"?

Where and how can we break new ground today?

I believe Founders Day gives us the occasion to stand on the shoulders of Theresa and Louis, broad shoulders that will hold us in their presence so that we can continue to claim the vision, to practice perseverance, to feel the passion and the hope of two dreamers, Theresa our founder and Louis our co-founder. It is saying to us as IHM Sisters and Associates that it is our mission today to live the legacy they have left us through this turbulent and uncertain twenty-first century. In the words of Sr. Michele's prayer I pray, "Give increase to our holiness; give increase to our courage...break our ground again, plant and water, stir us up, and nourish our growth within and without."

And in one way we see how God has broken new ground and is nourishing our growth through IHM Associate Relationship

The image of the vine from Sister Michel's adaptation of Psam 9 illustrates so beautifully our deep rootedness in God as IHM Sisters and Associates. Powerfully, the IHM story as a vine grounded in the redeeming love of Jesus finds expression in a new way. IHM Associates permit the charism to achieve a new realization—new possibilities for this gift we call charism through Circles of Grace in Pennsylvania, Delaware, North Carolina, and Florida as they are grafted in the chrism and core values of the congregation. Today Mona Griffer will be commissioned as an IHM Associate. For over a year she has prepared with our sisters for this moment through participation in their Circle of Grace. Within that sacred circle they have rediscovered their own personal call to holiness through faith sharing and study of the history, mission and charism of the congregation.

Mona is now ready to commit to the IHM Core Values and to the Spirit of Theresa Maxis and Louis Gillet.