Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and our associates live, minister and travel in all corners of the world. To help us see just how far we reach, we’ve recruited an old friend of ours. Mother St. John Fontbonne helped the Sisters of St. Joseph survive persecution during the French Revolution, and she sent the first sisters to the Americas, where they settled in Carondelet, Missouri. She remains a guiding light for our sisters, so we think it’s fitting to take her on some of our travels.
Meet Flat Fontbonne! Inspired by the children’s book series about Flat Stanley, Flat Fontbonne will help us see just how far our congregation reaches.
The idea is simple:
When you see a picturesque opportunity, snap a selfie with her, then send it to us for our #FlatFontbonne photo collection. You can either email it to email@example.com or share it with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Be sure to use the hashtag #FlatFontbonne, so we see it!
A few years ago, while Sister Sally Harper, CSJ was working with a Peruvian inter-congregational committee on human trafficking, a Good Shepherd sister on the committee asked if she could help one of their guests. Hanna, an Ethiopian mother living in one of their residences, spoke some English but no Spanish, and the sister wondered if Sister Sally might find someone the woman could talk with in English. That led to a relationship between Sister Anne Davis, CSJ, Hanna, and Hanna’s daughter, Betty.
Little by little, Sister Anne learned that Hanna had been a refugee most of her life, fleeing Ethiopia for Kenya and eventually South Africa. Hanna married, and in 2015 was forced to flee xenophobic violence in South Africa, traveling with then 3-year-old Betty. Although she was promised passage to the U.S., the trafficker moved them by air to Brazil, by bus to Peru, and again by air to Guatemala. The trafficker abandoned mother and child at the Guatemalan airport, taking their documents with him. After some days in limbo, Hanna and Betty were remanded to Peru, their last place of embarkation. From there, they got help from the Good Shepherd Sisters.
Eventually, Hanna’s husband was reunited with them in Lima, and Hanna found work in a hotel and rented a one-room apartment. They were surviving—until COVID. Hanna’s husband left the country in search of work. When she couldn’t pay the rent, the hotel allowed her and Betty to take up residence in a storage space. Unbeknownst to Hanna, the hotel was keeping afloat by housing people with COVID. Hanna became infected and could no longer work. By now her daughter was 8, her husband was out of touch with them, and she had nowhere to go.
At first, Sister Anne was simply a companion, someone to talk to, someone Hanna could call “friend.” Knowing Hanna’s plight, Anne wondered if she could do more. She took the situation to her local community in Canto Chico (a neighborhood of Lima), which consists of Sisters Maria Elena, Mary Luz, and Yolanda. They decided they could do no less than take the family in.
Now Hanna and Betty are part of the sisters’ local community. Although they do not share the sisters’ morning prayer and conversation time, the whole group eats together and shares all that is entailed in community living. Betty helps set the table, takes responsibility for leading grace before meals, and is doing a good job of teaching her mother Spanish. The two of them are waiting for COVID restrictions to be lifted so that they can take the next step in their journey: traveling to Canada where Sisters of St. Joseph and the Diocese of Peterborough are ready to sponsor them as refugees.
As the sisters reflected on their experience, Sister Yolanda noted how God had been working for years to gather this special community (in fact, Yoli met Hanna even before Anne did while doing an internship in psychology!) Sister Mary Luz commented that all of this could come about because they had the graces of apertura y flexibilidad—openness and flexibility. She said that Hanna’s experience touched her deeply because she herself was a migrant who left rural, mountain life to live in the city. “I know what it’s like,” she said. Sister María Elena Cáceres then added, “We need the dear neighbor in order to grow. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. I thank God for having put people in our path who have done so much to help us grow as women religious.”
Refugees and trafficked people are forced to be open and flexible. That is but one of the gifts Hanna and Betty have brought the sisters. Sister Anne may have summed it all up when she said, “This is an experience of living the Gospel—in union with Jesus who said, ‘I call you friends.’”
The U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph congratulates the president-elect and recommits to building God’s “Beloved Community.” As members of the Federation, we join them in this public statement:
The U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph joins with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris and promise to work with them to build a society worthy of the values to which our imperfect union aspires.
We pray — as Sisters of St. Joseph and their partners — dedicated to the mission of healing and reconciliation, to repair the fractured relationships that have divided us during this difficult election season and reclaim our essential unity as a nation.
The people of this pluralistic nation form a diverse community characterized by different beliefs, experiences, and interests. We know that our differences can be our greatest strengths; our disagreements, opportunities to seek the truth. Our challenge is to embrace those differences and together seek the common good lest we rend the bonds that unite us.
Our Gospel mandate as Sisters of St. Joseph is to unite neighbor to neighbor and neighbor to God. Now is the time to make space in our hearts and our communities for the needs and concerns of all God’s people, the undocumented mother, the Midwest farmer, the unemployed steelworker, the suburban businesswoman, and the children and elders consigned to live in poverty. It is time to tear down the walls — real or imagined — which divide us by gender, race, class, geography, lifestyle, ideology, political party, and religious belief and to make room in our body politic for all who have been disaffected, disenfranchised, and discarded.
Now is the time to banish the fear that infects our souls and diminishes our hope. There is no room in this nation for fear of the other; no need to fear change; no reason to fear the future. This is a nation built on the dreams of our ancestors and the visions of our children. Our task is to make room at the table for every voice and every vision.
We thank those who turned out in record numbers to exercise their right to vote in a peaceful and respectful way. Their clear commitment to this democratic experiment of ours bodes well for the success of the difficult task that lies ahead.
We know that the work will be slow and arduous, and yet we join with Catholic sisters and their partners across this nation as we renew our commitment to exercise courage in the face of injustice, fear, and division. We will not shrink from the challenge before us to protect the sacredness of all human life, to dismantle white supremacy, welcome the stranger, care for creation, and to stand with those who have been exploited and marginalized by our throwaway culture.
We promise once again to be the healing presence of God. We pledge to hold the needs and concerns of all in the heart of a loving and ever-faithful God. We recommit ourselves to the sacred task of building the “Beloved Community” of which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke so eloquently, and we invite all people of goodwill to join us.
The U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph calls us all to dismantle racist systems and work to be antiracist individually. As members of the Federation, we join them in this public statement:
“The U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph strongly condemns the police-killing of another Black man on the streets of our nation. Our hearts are breaking as we mourn with the family and friends of George Floyd, as well as Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, David McAtee, and all the others who have lost loved ones to law enforcement violence.
“The continued killing of Black people; the constant harassment of people of color; and the denial of the rights and dignity of our Black American neighbors must end now.
“Racism is America’s original sin. It is a virus every bit as deadly as COVID-19 that has infected our nation since its inception and until we address it, people of color will continue to die, and our nation will never heal. Racism, whether the institutional racism which privileges some at the expense of others or the daily acts of microaggressions, hate, and discrimination, diminishes us all.
“The resilience and well-being of humanity depend upon us dismantling these systemic, structural, and cultural realities of white supremacy, endemic to the fabric of our country. We commit ourselves to the creation of the ‘One Sacred Community,’ where all people are treated as the sacred creation that they are. Racism denies that most profound truth, that all of us are created in God’s image and each of us is entitled to dignity and respect.
“As women religious and their partners in mission, we acknowledge our own complicity in institutional racism. We pray for our nation’s healing, yet we know that is not enough. We ask forgiveness from people of color – without expecting or requiring it – to move into action. It is time for bold, decisive action – it is long past time to dismantle white privilege and rededicate ourselves to building God’s beloved community.
“As a Federation, we vow to turn our words into precise actions addressing the institutional racism that lives within our institutions and within ourselves. We vow to support criminal justice reforms, including a call for independent bodies that conduct investigations of police misconduct and broad, sweeping reforms to policing, incarceration, and the judicial system. As part of the reconciliation for the death of George Floyd, we urge Hennepin County Attorney, Mike Freeman, to pledge a just and timely adjudication of this tragedy.
“We call on the people of the United States to work with greater urgency to eliminate the systemic racism that infects the very soul of our nation. For the U.S. Federation, that requires us looking at all of our institutions and introducing guidelines to ensure that we are working to a more just society. This includes an honest look at the hiring and promotion practices at all levels, including the Federation, congregations, our schools, hospitals, and ministries.
“As we continue to work to dismantle institutional racism, we are all asked to do the deep, ongoing inner work that antiracism requires of us. This includes listening to, learning from, supporting, and elevating the Black voices from within our sisters, partners in mission, and more broadly.
“We ask God’s blessing on the struggle that lies ahead. We, as a Federation and as individuals, must do better.”
The National Catholic Reporter‘s Global Sisters Report has featured the letter our Congregational Leadership Team sent to Cardinal Dolan on May 1 in their article about various leaders of women religious sending him similar feedback. Excepts from our letter are shared along with quotes from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and Sister Simone Campbell of Network Lobby.
“We find ourselves very discomfited by your praise of [President Trump’s] leadership,” the congregational leadership team of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet wrote in a letter dated May 1 addressed to Dolan.