Sister M. Veronique (Wiedower),CSC, Congregation president, gave the following reflection during a special Mass to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the founding of the women of Holy Cross on July 31 in the Church of Our Lady of Loretto at Saint Mary’s. Scripture passages referenced in this reflection are Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23; Psalms 90:3-4,5-6, 12-13, 14, 17; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21.
Today we celebrate and anticipate the 175th anniversary of the founding of the women of Holy Cross by Blessed Basil Anthony Moreau. On August 4, 1841, in the quiet and simplicity of the convent of the Good Shepherd sisters in Le Mans, France, four women received the habit of the Marianite Sisters of Holy Cross and were called by new, religious names: Sister Mary of Compassion, Sister Mary of Calvary, Sister Mary of the Cross, and Sister Mary of the Seven Dolors; four women whose very names placed them in solidarity with Mary their patroness at the foot of the cross. It was to Sister Mary of the Seven Dolors, the youngest, that Father Moreau would entrust the care and future of his fledgling community of women. Qoheleth might well have addressed them, “Vanity of vanities!”
Two short years later, Father Moreau would look at his “harvest,” the women who had joined those first four and now labored side-by-side with the community at Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix. Moreau,like the man in Jesus’ parable, would have to answer the question, “What shall I do with my harvest?” Moreau thought not of building a larger convent in Le Mans, but of sharing his “treasure” by sending it across the ocean to Notre Dame du Lac. In 1843, Sister Mary of Calvary, one of the first four sisters, now only 25 years old, set sail for America. She was joined on this missionary journey to the wilderness of Indiana by Sister Mary of Bethlehem — the gardener and keeper of the livestock — who was 45 years old, Sister Mary of the Heart of Jesus who was 19 years old, and Sister Mary of Nazareth who was 21 years old. None spoke English; and all had made their simple, private vows to Father Moreau the day before boarding the ship. “Vanity of vanities.”
What inspired these simple, hard-working women to brave the odds, to hope for a rebuilding of post-revolutionary French society, or to hope to establish a school for young girls in the wilds of Indiana which would educate generations of women to make a difference in their world? In the decades to follow, what would inspire the Sisters of the Holy Cross to spend their North American treasure in the lands of Asia, Africa and South America? To Qoheleth’s question about what profit comes from all the toil and anxiety of heart which one endures, they could confidently respond with a resounding, “Everything! We profit everything!”
Why? The answer is found in the words of St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians which we have heard today. These women of Holy Cross, like the Christians of Colossae and all of us gathered here this morning, chose to die with Christ in baptism; chose to put on a new self, one in the image of the Creator God. They and we have found meaning and purpose in life by living each day in union with Christ who “is all in all.”
Today, women and men of Holy Cross continue to respond to God’s invitation through Christ to come and follow, to live lives of service and compassion. We choose to see the myriad needs of today’s world, and to respond as we are able, not to store up treasures of strength in numbers or the prestige of power, but to simply meet unmet needs for the sake of Christ. We serve with faith in the Providence of God, with compassion, in a spirit of community strengthened by our prayer together. And for this we are thankful.
We gather around this Eucharistic table to offer thanks to God for having found us worthy to serve, to contribute to the building up of a world better than our own. We gather courage and hope from the remembered lives of Jesus, of Basil Moreau, Mother Mary of the Seven Dolors, and of the women and men who have lived the spirit of the Gospel in Holy Cross. We give thanks to the many associates, colleagues and friends, students and clients whose lives have touched ours, whether in sorrow and grief, or in joy and expectation. We thank God for each of you who join in praise and thanksgiving to God today, who support us in “the works of resurrection” on which we focus our energies in this place and time. You share with us the meaning and purpose of life found in this faith community and in communities like it around the world.
As we look to tomorrow, we look with eyes wide open to reality. We, as Qoheleth, waken each morning to a world filled with sorrow and grief, and know those who sleep each night in restlessness, fear and anxiety. Yet, we, unlike Qoheleth, hope. We who have died and risen with Christ find meaning and purposeful hope in God’s promises and so serve with strength and courage as we pray with the psalmist, “Fill us at daybreak with your kindness, O God, that we may shout with joy and gladness all our days. May your gracious care, O God, be ours; prosper the work of our hands. Prosper the work of our hands!” Keep our hearts’ restlessness focused on you and your people, O Provident God, that each day as the morning star rises in our hearts, you find us united with Christ your Son, participating in your mission with loving service, bearers of hope, and artisans of peace and justice.