Sorrows Lead to New Life

Much of the beginnings and continuity of the Sisters of Providence of Montreal can be attributed to Our Mother of Sorrows whose feast we celebrate this September 15th. When our foundress, Blessed Emilie Tavernier Gamelin, lost all three of her young sons, one after another, and her husband Jean Baptiste Gamelin, she found refuge and consolation in the mother of Jesus at the foot of the Cross. Widowed at the age of 27, Mother Gamelin’s last straw of happiness disappeared when her last surviving son died.  She found herself alone at the age of 28.

Mourning the loss of her loved ones, she received from Father Breguier St-Pierre, curate at Notre Dame Church, an image of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows (also known as Our Mother of Sorrows). From then on, Mother Gamelin began a deep devotion to Mary. Mother Gamelin understood the pain of Mary as a mother who lost her Son. They shared the same pain and in many ways Mother Gamelin drew strength from the strength of Mary as she stood courageously at the foot of the Cross. Our Mother of Sorrows wasn't just a spiritual figure represented in an image that Mother Gamelin received from her spiritual director. She was as real as Mother Gamelin’s companion and protectress. So much so that when the Congregation was established, Mother Gamelin asked that her daughters cultivate and observe devotion to Our Mother of Sorrows by invoking her help when they go to their ministries and especially in fostering their spiritual growth. During the time of typhus fever and cholera epidemic in Montreal around the 1840s, the Sisters sought the help and protection of our Blessed Mother fir the Sisters and for the people they ministered to.

During a retreat this past July with Fr. Ron Rolheiser, he beautifully made connection between how Mary “pondered” when the angel appeared to her and announced her conception of Jesus and when she was standing at the foot of the Cross. Two important accounts in the Bible on the life of Mother Mary. Fr. Rolheiser said that in Hebrew, pondering means “to hold, carry, and transform tension so as not to give it back in kind.” Mary’s pondering was absorbing what was happening at the time and transcending that experience within so that it is given back positively to others around her. Hence, it is important to note that Our Mother of Sorrows was “standing” at the foot of the Cross (Stabat Mater) despite her heart being pierced with a sword. Her Son was tortured and killed on the Cross but instead of her harboring hatred and negatively reacting to everyone and everything that was happening around her at the time, she understood that God was in charge and she stood resolutely there, taking it all in and calmly accepting that Jesus’ suffering is part of an overarching plan of salvation for all mankind. This experience of Mary resonated with Mother Gamelin. Upon contemplating Our Blessed Mother’s sorrows, she found the strength and faith she needed to transform her mourning into charitable acts and eventually into a Congregation that would perpetuate the mission and devotion of our Mother of Sorrows.  Today, may we learn to ponder as Mary did so that we can also experience its transforming power from sorrows to new life.

Written by Rezebeth Noceja, SP
With inspiration from Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Spirit Filled Beginnings

September always feels like a special time in schools.  As a junior high school teacher, I especially enjoy accompanying the Grade 7 students who are younger, smaller and almost baby-faced next to the older grades who are returning for another year.  They get lost in the hallways, struggle to negotiate the complexities of combination locks for their lockers, and are bewildered by all of the many classrooms they have to rush to throughout the day.  They forget teacher names and don’t bring the books they need.  In short, they view junior high school with new eyes, and I take real pleasure in seeing the building and routines that I’m returning to with their fresh perspective.

A palpable sense of excitement permeates the atmosphere for these first few weeks.  The possibilities about how the year will unfold seem endless.  Any goal seems reachable.  Everyone is on their best behaviour, absolutely buying into the hope inherent in these early stages.

I often feel a sense of connection with the Holy Spirit in these school year beginnings and in many of the other beginnings of my life.   Certainly our Scriptures celebrate the Spirit’s role in various important beginnings:  the conception of Jesus, the start of His ministry after His Baptism, and in the foundations of our Church at Pentecost.  It may seem to some like the many beginnings that happen around us in our daily lives don’t rise to the level of these auspicious events and so might not merit the presence of the Spirit, but our Catholic Catechism teaches us that the Spirit dwells among us and wants to be known by us.

Now, I don’t pretend that I have any more idea than the next person of what or who the Holy Spirit is.  When we talk about God, we know that we are always talking about Mystery.  Having said that, I like what Richard Rohr, OFM writes:  “Mystery is not something you can’t know. Mystery is endless knowability.”  To me, this speaks to the possibility that we can recognize and even experience the Holy Spirit at some level and in some instances, without ever fully and completely knowing Her.  In fact, having had conversations with other Religious about the role of the Spirit in their Vocation stories and ministries, many can point to moments where the Spirit played a pivotal role in their lives.  Those same Religious will often struggle, though, to put into words who exactly the Holy Spirit is for them.

I, too, may have difficulty finding the right words to say what exactly the Spirit means to me in my life, but I do believe that I can sense the gentle guidance of the Spirit walking with my Grade 7 students as they screw up their courage to enter unfamiliar classrooms and engage in conversation with the strangers that will become part of their everyday lives for the upcoming year.  I believe that She is whispering words of encouragement to them as they tackle higher level academic topics and join extracurricular teams and groups.  It is under Her care that new relationships are inspired, new knowledge is learned and new possibilities are dreamed.  As students and staff settle into a new school year, let us pray that they will feel richly blessed by the presence of the Holy Spirit in all of their beginnings.

Michelle Langlois, fcJ

Michelle has been a Faithful Companion of Jesus for three years in Temporary Profession.