Chapel Centennial Reflections

Previous Reflections

March - St. Joseph: Protector and Patron | April - Brother Sun, Sister Moon |

The Good Shepherd, Beloved Image of God

By Sister Joneen Keuler

The Good ShepherdThe window of the Good Shepherd, located centrally on the east wall and main floor of St. Joseph Chapel, is the prominent image one sees when leaving the chapel. It beckons us to come close and walk with him.

As a child growing up on a dairy farm in eastern Wisconsin, I knew little of sheep and shepherds. Although familiar with Psalm 23 and the Good Shepherd discourse in the Gospel of John that’s read each year after Easter, I had no experience with the vulnerability of sheep and their utter dependence on their shepherd for protection. This stained glass window in our chapel continues to be a rich symbol of the constancy of God’s presence and guidance, just as it was when I began my life as a School Sisters of St. Francis.

With a sturdy staff in hand, Jesus stands with a young lamb on his shoulder, and is surrounded by other sheep. The sides of the window appear to form the gate through which he is leading his flock. It is the strength and yet gentleness of this Shepherd that draws us close today, just as it has through the years that School Sisters have stepped out and gone forward on new paths.

We said yes to the educating of Native American and black children in the United States when that didn’t seem like the safe thing to do. We built hospitals and staffed clinics in small rural communities when providing health care and solidarity with the people were greater values than large profits or salaries. In our present ministries world-wide, we’ve chosen collaboration with all who share our mission of “giving, healing and defending LIFE.”  (Response In Faith: Rule of Life, p. xiii)

Pope Francis asks all of us to go to the margins of God’s people, to not fear to be among those “with the smell of sheep” in order to serve. How fortunate we are to have a Shepherd who nourishes us for those journeys, and welcomes us back into the fold to rest and be refreshed. We continue what was begun, and are open to what is new. That is how transformation happens.

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Brother Sun, Sister Moon

By Sister Kathleen Kluthe

Chapel Reflection 02In the Reliquary Chapel of our International Motherhouse at St Joseph Convent, we find this stained glass window of our sun and moon with personal faces as a beautiful depiction of St. Francis’ “Canticle of the Creatures”:

“Most High, all-powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor and all blessing. To you alone, Most High, do they belong.  All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made, and first my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day, and light you give to us through him. How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness. All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars; in the heavens you have made them, bright and precious and fair. Praise and bless my Lord and give him thanks, and serve him with great humility.”

The sun, moon, and all of Creation are one with God. Everything and everyone is connected and interdependent. This cosmic connection in St. Francis’ Canticle, and pictured in this window, challenges us to expand our awareness and deepen our commitment to be one in mind and spirit in the midst of diversity. We recognize our personal connections to one another across cultures, races, religions and geographic boundaries.

It also brings to mind the School Sisters of St. Francis’ Congregational Direction for 2014-2018: “We commit ourselves to spiritual transformation to become more deeply united and more intercultural in our congregation and in our mission.” This is our theme for reflection across all five of our worldwide provinces. Intercultural living is a challenge that requires compromise, dialog and a common and clear vision.

In the spirit of St. Francis and our foundresses, Mothers Alexia, Alfons and Clara, we continue to embrace and welcome the stranger and the marginalized. For Francis, they were the lepers of his society. For our foundresses, they were the many immigrants and refugees. For us, the “outsiders” are the Dalits in India, the Christians in Arab countries, the racial minorities in the United States, the indigenous in Latin America, and the Muslims and many refugees in so many places throughout the world.

Principle One of our congregation’s Response in Faith rule of life is “We share Christ’s mission in the world.” The symbol for this principle is fire, which embodies light and energy from the sun and moon.  Our challenge is to cast fire—the fire of energy, compassion, warmth, purification and light—into our world.

Fire, light, and energy fuel action, change, and transformation. We have a “burning desire” to work for mutuality, personal growth, and the practice of justice and peace. Let us invite one another to walk into the future with the determination, faith, light, and energy of Saints Francis and Clare, our foundresses, and the many sisters who have led the way over these many years.

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St. Joseph: Protector and Patron

By Donna O'Loughlin

Holy Family Stained Glass Window - St. Joseph ChapelIn St. Joseph Chapel, we find stained glass representations of stories we’ve read in the Bible as well as much-beloved saints. In this window of the Holy Family, Joseph takes the supporting role, as he so often does in Scripture and art.

Joseph’s gaze and the gesture of shading Mary and baby Jesus from the elements are both practical and metaphorical. A humble carpenter with a young family to raise, he was their protector.  After God commanded him in a dream not to forsake Mary, Joseph obeyed and took up the ultimate evangelical torch:  He became the adoptive parent of God’s Son and thereby ensured the fulfillment of the Great Promise.

St. Joseph Chapel was named to honor Joseph, the protector of virgins and children. Even before our foundresses crossed the Atlantic, Mother Alexia’s devotion to St. Joseph was resolute. She called him her intercessor when she begged door to door in behalf of an orphanage in Germany. He was the saint who directed our foundresses’ sights to Wisconsin. Due to her confidence that
St. Joseph would make things right, Mother Alexia courageously signed a contract for the construction of a new women’s academy in New Cassel in 1874, though she herself had only seven cents in her pocket. In good humor, it has been reported that she named the convent after St. Joseph “to honor him, but also to remind him graciously that it was not yet completed nor completely paid for.” Finally, in 1914, Mother’s devotion to St. Joseph emboldened her to establish homes for the physical and spiritual care of university women in Germany without ready funds.

Both Mother Alexia and St. Joseph lived in uncertain times, albeit 1,800 years apart. With Mothers Alfons and Alexia’s reliance on St. Joseph,  St. Joseph Chapel was consecrated in 1917. It has since provided 100 years of formation, blessings, kinship, and more for our sisters. Here, thousands of young women have been received as they dedicated their lives in the service of God and neighbor.

These sisters took up the roles of teachers, nurses, social workers, pastoral care staff, administrators, lawyers, accountants, artists, and musicians. In God’s Holy Name, they continue to pray, advocate for social justice, and provide schools and housing for the marginalized. Their mission to spread the message of love that Joseph’s Holy Family shared with the world 2,000 years ago transcends national boundaries. St. Joseph Chapel is the congregation’s prayer home, inviting all to worship here, enjoy St. Joseph and our sisters’ openness to grace, and engage with the past, present, and future Church.

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