Chapel Centennial Reflections

Previous Reflections

March - St. Joseph: Protector and Patron | April - Brother Sun, Sister Moon | May - The Good Sheperd: Beloved Image of God | June - Julian of Norwich: Mysterious Optimist | July - Mary Magdalene: Apostle to the Apostles | August - A Woman Distinctive for Her Time, and Ours

A Loud Momentous “Yes”

By Sister Irene Zimmerman

Chapel Window Depicting the AnnunciationIn St. Joseph Chapel, halfway up the nave, is a large and glowing stained glass window depicting the Annunciation. Let’s walk there together.

The beauty of this window is indeed breath-taking, especially when bright noontime sunlight shines through it. Was its placement on the south side deliberate? We can only guess this to be so. But we do know that the real event of Annunciation didn’t look anything like this. Mary didn’t own such beautiful clothing. She lived in “the boonies” of Galilee. It’s likely that she was already adept at spinning wool from the local sheep and weaving it into her own clothes – a skill she demonstrated to perfection later by creating a seamless robe for her grown son, Jesus.

No, young Mary was not born into riches and did not dress like this. But for Mother Alfons, “Nothing is too beautiful for God,” and that would have included God’s mother. How our foundress must have loved to picture this courageous young woman, so transparent with grace, in beautiful stained glass created by the artists of Innsbruck. It was brought over safely through the dangerous, U-boat infested Atlantic waters of 1914.

Think about what is depicted here. Mary was alone with God’s messenger. This magnificent, frightening angelic being was greeting her as “full of grace” and asking her to give human life to God’s son. Luke tells us that she was afraid. Did she long to run to her mother to say, “Hide me, Mother. I’m only a child. I want to stay home with you and Abba a while longer. I’m afraid!”

The colors seem to shimmer and shake as we realize that she could have said “No.” God wasn’t forcing her. Even though it was now “the fullness of time when all was in readiness,” she could have refused; and then the Holy Spirit might have had to wait another thousand years or more to create another woman so full of grace. No one in the centuries to come would accuse Mary of delaying God’s great break-in into the universe. We would never even hear of Mary, Mother of God!

What unimaginable leap into maturity was being required of her in this moment! One small syllable of consent and God would begin to grow inside her. God would enter the universe and become a part of it forever!

But wait. Mary was no naïve little girl. Nor was she too scared to ask her necessary question before she gave her consent: “How is this to be done, since I am a virgin?”

O beautiful, strong, courageous woman! Thank you for your wholeness, your holiness, your loud, momentous “Yes” to God, your Creator and ours. Because of you, the universe is forever pregnant with divine life, growing in each of us. The whole universe is on its way to Bethlehem. Help us, like you, to discern and ask our valid questions, and then to say “Yes” to what God asks of us individually, as a congregation, and as Church as we move into the unknown future.

How Can This Be, Since I Am a Virgin?

(Luke 1:34)

Your world hung in the balance of her yes or no.
Yet, “She must feel absolutely free,” You said,
and chose with gentle sensitivity not to go
Yourself—to send a messenger instead.

I like to think You listened in at that interview
with smiling admiration and surprise
to that humble child who—
though she didn't amount to much in Jewish eyes,
being merely virgin, not yet come to bloom—

in the presence of that other-worldly Power
crowding down the walls and ceiling of her room,
did not faint or cry or cower
and could not be coerced to enflesh Your covenant,
but asked her valid question first
before she gave her full and free consent.

I like to think You stood
to long applaud such womanhood.

  • from Incarnation

     © Irene Zimmerman


St. ClareA Woman Distinctive for Her Time, and Ours

By Sister Deborah Fumagalli

“What you hold, may you always hold. What you do, may you always do and never abandon…the Spirit of God has called you.” (Blessing of St. Clare)

On the south wall of the Adoration Chapel, the stained glass window of Clare illuminates the space with the brilliance of multicolored light that emanates through the darkness. True to her name, “Chiara,” meaning light in Italian, enlightens both her world and ours with the witness of her life that transcends time.    

The 13th century in the region of Assisi was wrought with much social and political tension. There were great divides: the economic disparity between unimaginable wealth and extreme poverty, and the violence of the Crusades and other wars contrasted with the gallantry and courage of chivalry. 

Clare Offreduccio (1193-1253), came from a privileged family of nobility and was prepared for a life of generosity and service.  As a young woman she frequently heard the preaching of Francis Bernardone (1181–1226), and Clare was moved by his love for the Gospel message.  So inspired, she rejected her family’s status and plan for her life and founded her own community, the “Poor Ladies,” becoming the first woman to formulate a rule for religious women.  Clare generated a spirit of unity among her sisters through a common commitment to the Gospel.

Why was Clare so determined to live a life of poverty?

“Clare, like Francis, did not choose poverty for philosophical reasons, nor for practical ones, as a choice making her life more productive or efficient. And neither of them speak about this poverty as a response to the affluence of Church or society in their day, though it was undoubtedly seen by others in that way. The focus of their attention was God’s overwhelming generosity and love, expressed in the free choice of the Son to embrace poverty in becoming a creature. The two disciples from Assisi embraced poverty because it was embraced by their Beloved.” (William J. Short, OFM, Poverty and Joy: The Franciscan Tradition)

Today we acknowledge Clare as the co-founder of the Franciscan movement and Francis’ most faithful follower.  Her life embodies devotion to God, kindness, strength, and love for the women who were cloistered with her in the church of San Damiano. She offers us a clear example of how women could fashion their path to a Divine calling.  An exemplary servant leader, Clare took unprecedented steps for a woman of her time, maintaining her vision of poverty so that nothing distracted the “Poor Ladies” on their journey to glorify God. 

“Go forth in peace, for you have followed the good road. Go forth without fear, for He who created you has made you holy, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother. Blessed be you, my God, for having created me.” (St. Clare)


Mary Magdalene: Apostle to the Apostles

By Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP

Mary Magdalene anointing Jesus' feetWe are greeted in the entrance to the vestibule of St. Joseph Chapel by a large, tall stained glass window of Mary Magdalene at the foot of Jesus anointing him with spices and oil.

This window being placed in such an obvious space reminds us that Mary of Magdala has a prominent position in scripture. Mary Magdalene is mentioned 12 times in the gospels, and from these references of her we can see clearly that she is a woman leader. In eight different chapters she is depicted taking a center place among the women. In five other passages she is mentioned.  She is alone but always linked to the death and Resurrection of Christ (Mark 16:9; John 20:1, 11, 16, 18). She is the second most mentioned woman, after the Virgin Mary, in the New Testament.

Mary Magdalene has been called the “apostle to the apostles.” With this title she takes her rightful place in history as a beloved disciple of Jesus and a renowned early church leader. Mary is commissioned by Jesus to go and tell the disciples that He is Risen and that now they too share His relationship with the Father. This commissioning discloses to us how much trust Jesus had in Mary’s active fidelity.

Although a woman’s testimony at that time was considered invalid, all four gospel writers make women the primary witnesses to the most important event of Christianity. Mary Magdalene appears in every one of the four gospels. She, along with other women in three of the gospels, goes first, before anyone else, in the early morning to bring spices to reverence the body of Jesus at the time of His death. She is depicted in this window anointing the feet of Jesus with her spices, a most personal moment between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Her leadership (Mark 16:10; John 20:18), patience (Matt.27:61) and devotion (John 20:16-17)  make her a model to emulate.

We now know from scholars that women were leaders in the early Jesus movement. Not only do several biblical passages describe them, but apocryphal, non-canonical writings also reveal women as apostles, deacons, and co-workers, and provide important historical evidence about the church of the first centuries.

In this Jubilee year of St. Joseph Chapel we remember that as Mary of Magdala proclaimed  “Jesus is Risen,” so too, the School Sisters of St. Francis have been commissioned by their call to “Come Follow Jesus” and their profession, to preach God’s word through education, health care, pastoral ministry, social service, advocacy work, and the arts.

Let us continue to witness to the Risen Lord and preach the gospel in deed and word.


Julian of Norwich: Mysterious Optimist

By Sister Michele Doyle

Many “unknowns” surround the life of Julian of Norwich. The dates of her birth and death are uncertain (c. 1342-c. 1416), but she lived during turbulent years for the Church torn by schism. Plagues were rampant in the 14th century and she saw nearly half of Norwich die from the bubonic plague. It’s unknown whether Julian remained unmarried or was a widow, and unclear if she was a nun or a laywoman. Even her name is unknown:  She became known as Julian because she lived in a cell built onto St. Julian of Norwich Church in Norwich, England. She spent many years of her life secluded from society.

What we do know about her comes from her writing. When she was about 30 years old, she was struck with a devastating illness from which she nearly died. After the priest had shown her Jesus Crucified, not only did Julian rapidly recover her health, but she received 16 revelations. For the next 20 years she reflected on these visions, recording her insights in a book called Showings, or The Revelations of Divine Love. It’s believed to be the earliest English-language book written by a woman. It was published by a printer in the early 1500s, long after she had died. The manuscript was discovered about 100 years ago.

Because of Julian’s deep love of the Eucharist, her image was included among other saints whose images surround the Altar of Adoration in St. Joseph Convent’s Adoration Chapel.

In Section Three of the Showings, she writes, “The compassionate, merciful and tender image of God indicates the face of God that Julian desires for all of us to know and understand”—Jesus. The book contains a message of optimism based on the certainty of being loved and protected by God.

Julian was a mystic. Mysticism is often looked upon as a privileged experience for only the “super holy.”  But Ruth Burrows, a Carmelite nun, says that mysticism is not simply the province of the saints. “For what is the mystical life but God coming to do what we cannot do; God touching the depths of our being. . .” Julian, though she describes herself as unlettered, went from being a visionary to a theologian. She believes “all shall be well” because divine providence brings good, even from evil.

Our foundresses, in beginning our congregation in a new place, felt that God helped them to do what “they could not do alone” and “all would be well.”  We continue to ask God to be with us to do whatever it is we need to do that we “could not do alone.”


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.


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.


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.