I’ve heard it said that there are no such things as “coincidences”. And I do believe that unbeknownst to us, the Holy Spirit is always at work in our lives. It is in this context that so many small “things” seemed to fall into place this spring.
In mid-March, I returned from a trip to California just as the coronavirus was really changing how we would be living our lives going forward. I was trying to decide what to do about the next meeting of my Companions in Mission formation group. We are in the module learning about Marie Madeleine’s ‘hopes and dreams’ and her ability to discern. At our February meeting everyone took home a copy of Chapter V of Marie Madeleine’s Memoirs entitled: Madame d’Houët Establishes Her Society in Switzerland. I asked my group to read the chapter so we could discuss it at our March meeting. Each day the severity of the pandemic became more apparent, and almost hour by hour decisions were being made about how to “live our lives by social distancing” and limiting our contact with friends and family. Especially for older people. And so, needless to say, I cancelled our CiM meeting planned for March 23rd. All over the world federal governments, and here in the USA, governors of different states, were giving recommendations that soon became orders to “stay in place” and “self quarantine.” It has been unnerving to say the least.
On March 20th, a country music legend, Kenny Rogers died. I can’t say I was a big fan of country music, but as strains of his music filled the airwaves for the next few days, Marie Madeleine popped into my head. There had been times as a CiM leader that I had unwittingly used one of Kenny Roger’s most famous song lyrics to explain in a nutshell, a strength to me at least, of Marie Madeleine. She always knew when to hold them, and when to fold them (from The Gambler). It was then that Chapter V of the Memoirs came back to me.
Marie Madeleine’s decision-making skills were really evident in this chapter. Thinking things through, while trusting her instincts, helped her start a foundation in Switzerland. Knowing early on that she would have “crosses” to bear, she was able to trust that she was helping God, who in her words, was “doing everything” to bring souls to Him. Her example of discerning through researching her options, taking time in prayer, and then trusting in God, helped her start foundations, and when necessary, to move on. She knew when to hold them, and when to fold them. Because of her trust in God, she never looked back.
Her example of discerning through researching her options, taking time in prayer, and then trusting in God, helped her start foundations, and when necessary, to move on. She knew when to hold them, and when to fold them. Because of her trust in God, she never looked back.
Marie Madeleine was an example to her Faithful Companions, and in the years since her death in 1858, FCJs have discerned when and where many foundations should begin. Some lasted for over 100 years. Some were closed relatively quickly. But always with prayer, discernment, research and trust in God’s will.
This brings me to the decision the Sisters had to make recently about the future of St. Philomena School. For many reasons, the Faithful Companions of Jesus knew that their future involvement in St. Philomena School would have to come to an end. As sad as I was to learn this, I also knew this decision didn’t come easily, or without much thought and prayer. Through God’s providence, Sr. Bonnie Moser fcJ [leader of the FCJs in the Americas] met the provincial of the Religious Sisters of the Sacred Heart at a meeting. The RSCJs had established a network of Catholic Independent Schools that in many ways mirrored St. Philomena School. After about 18 months of work behind the scenes, the announcement was made in September of 2018 that St. Philomena School would become part of the network of the RSCJs. This insured the school’s future as a Catholic Independent School.
The generosity of the Sisters throughout this time of transition has been remarkable in many ways, but then again, it’s so “FCJ-ish”! Because I am a Companion in Mission, many faculty members asked my thoughts. I was able to tell them that this incredible act of kindness was what was best for St. Phil’s, and for them. I told the teachers that Marie Madeleine, and her Sisters, knew when to hold them, and when to fold them. It was also remarkable to me that after 200 years, two strong women, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, and Ven. Marie Madeleine’s lives would come full circle. Their shared dreams for education and care for the earth and the poor will be a foundation for St. Philomena students for years to come. For this we are grateful.