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“The Portrait of Us”

 MaryAnn Dignazio Louison, CSJA

We are portraits to each other. Are we not?

William Shakespeare posed the question: “What’s in a name?” Lately, I wonder, what is in a portrait? 

Surely, we all have images of portraits met along the highways of hallways, churches, historical homes…including our own! We are familiar with portraits. Yet I believe that we also find them in each other. We are portraits to each other. Are we not? Whether we are Sisters of St. Joseph or associates of our various areas, we all are diverse portraits of the congregation of the great love of God. 

I think of the Amsterdam, New York area associates. Each one has given time and talent and the portrait of a CSJ Associate to St. Mary’s Healthcare, our parish communities, Amsterdam Reads out of our library, St. Luke’s (Schenectady, New York) prayer chain and parish food pantry, to name a few. Each associate gives of their prayers to each other, to the needs of the local community and the world. We advocate through phone calls, letters and petitions to bring our concerns and thoughts to legislators for justice and compassion. Each associate and sister (in all areas) lives the portrait of the maxims of Jean-Pierre Medaille and the unity and reconciliation of our charism. We are not only portraits to each other but also to the world of the positive power of community and being connected to that endeavor. 

We have changed with, as Vatican II told us, “…the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and interpreting them in the light of the Gospel…” Now, our “portraits” can be found in telephone conversations, emails, Facebook and Zoom, in addition to how we once communicated. 

The portraits, whether in a physical space or in our minds, have the ability to tell stories of our history (which seems also to be an “endangered species” these days), remind us of some of our own personal stories and the gifts given by those of each portrait. I think of the photographs that tell of the once and present administrators of St. Mary’s Healthcare in the hallway across from the hospital chapel: Sister Mary Frederick, who I met when I was a six-year-old, who promised me ice cream after my tonsillectomy, and yes, I got it! I think of Sister Mary Theresa, who always, with her smile, was such a welcoming presence. I imagine in my mind Sister Robert Joseph (Margaret Lawlor) and Sister Maria Christina (Christine Cali Young) who were my English teachers in high school, pushing all their students to think critically…not to always accept the status quo. I expand the idea of portraits to words as well as images. They can be powerful if we look beyond what the eye sees. 

I recall a song, “A Portrait of my Love.” A verse in it sings “…no one could ever paint a dream.” I now differ on that verse. We are all portraits. We are dreams of a world that can be because of living unity and reconciliation, dialogue and encounter. We are all portraits of sisters and associates. Lest we forget, we can remind each other of who we are. We have the ability to “reach out and touch” in so many ways, whether in person or at a distance. For we are the portraits of a Daughter of St. Joseph as Marius Nepper, S.J. penned it:

“Eyes open to the world. Eyes open and ears attentive to the sufferings of the world. Eyes open, ears attentive and spirit alert… never settled down, always in holy disquietude, searching… in order to understand, to divine what God and the dear neighbor await from her today, now for the body and for the soul; Eyes open, ears attentive, spirit alert…sleeves rolled up for ministry, without excluding the more humble, the less pleasing, the less noticeable; Finally in her face the reflection of a virtue, proper to our Congregation – the continual joy of spirit…”

Marius Nepper, S.J.

Yes, a portrait in words. Be it.

Category: Reflections

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The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet are a congregation of Catholic sisters. We, and those who share our charism and mission, are motivated in all things by our profound love of God and our dear neighbors. We seek to build communities and bridge divides between people. Since our first sisters gathered in 1650, our members have been called to “do all things of which women are capable.” The first sisters of our congregation arrived in St. Louis, Missouri in 1836, and we now have additional locations in St. Paul, Albany, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Japan and Peru. Today, we commit to respond boldly to injustice and dare to be prophetic.


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