Tuesday, December 25, 2007


My lifestyle makes no sense.

I woke up this morning because the cat was ready for breakfast. When it is below freezing, his little 14-year-old bones are kept warm in my bedroom, but even though we still have several inches of snow on the ground, it is above freezing today, so I kicked his furry little behind outside this morning to feed him. He'll be back in by suppertime.

So after booting Francisco out into the harsh winter of Christmas Morning In Connecticut, I sat and drank my first cup of coffee and looked out my bedroom window, watching the crows ambling around the playground equipment and reflecting on my crazy life.

What is crazy is that I love my life and I am very happy here, happy to be in this congregation and happy to be a part of this particular mission and to live in this particular missionary cenacle ... and, at the very same time, I am so homesick. I want to be drinking coffee right now with Mama, and I want to see my Aunt Mary, and I miss my sisters and my brother and my nieces.... you get the idea. And more. I miss Maria and Maia and Jeff and Nikki and Adam from Dayton, and I miss Denise in Chicago and Sarah in Massachusetts.... And more. I miss christmases in Pensacola and the Lower East Side and Temascalapa.... I think the full moon on the snow on this rural New England landscape put me into this sentimental mode last night as we drove to midnight mass. I usually miss my family at Christmastime, who doesn't? But perhaps it's a bit over the top today.

I am homesick, but for a missionary this is a way of life. I get home when I can, which is never often enough, but it is what I have said Yes to, when I made my vows. But what I think I did not understand when I first said Yes was that I would begin to feel homesick for so many other places besides home. The day will come when I will be looking out of another window drinking my Christmas morning coffee and I will be missing life at Trinita. It is hard to hold so many places loosely, hard to know I can't keep it all, to know I can't (well, I mean I won't) say "I am staying here."

It is hard, but it is also a richness I could never have imagined when I first professed my vows. I carry in my heart like precious treasure the experiences of love and friendship and home of so many other places. It is crazy. This lifestyle makes no sense. People have told me to my face they think it's a crazy way to live. It's hard to argue the point, since I ultimately must concur with that conclusion. And yet, here I am. Looking out my office window on the snow and the mission cross, missing my mama and many others, and I would do this all over again in a flash. I am glad to be alive. I am very homesick, but I am also home.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Family Day

Some people wonder what goes on here when it's not the summer. We just had our fifth Family day of 2007 this past weekend. Wouldn't you like to know what we did with 65 people of all ages crammed into this old house for an entire afternoon?

The theme was "The Holy Family." We started with a gathering in the Meeting Room, which can comfortably seat about 30 and uncomfortably seat about 50. We sang a few classic Trinita songs to warm the crowd up, including the ever-popular "I am a Pizza." Then Sr. Olivia gave a little presentation on various roles in society and in the family. To practice for her presentation earlier in the week, she handcuffed me to a lamp. But I was relieved that for the actual presentation, she only waved the handcuffs around and talked about policemen.

Then it was time for Peer Group. Sr. Joan took the babies and a few teen volunteers down into the Cenacle for babysitting. The Littles had storytime in one of the dorms upstairs, the middle kids got the dining room (there were about 20 or so of them) and the adults were divided by language. One group got the Meeting room, the other got the middle room. That left me with the smallest group of all (as usual), the teens. We sat on stools around the big steel table in the kitchen. Over the noise of the kids, and the freezer and refrigerator and oven exhaust fan, we practically had to read lips. It's ok, because the teens don't usually have that much to say. Instead, we do stuff. This time, we made muffins for our families. All during the Peer Group time, for over an hour, I am not sure what Sr. Olivia was doing. I think she was in her office drinking diet coke and listening to Linda Ronstadt. Or something.

Snacks. For the first time ever, we asked the families to bring snacks. We supplemented it with cheese and crackers and fresh fruit. That turned out to be more popular than most of what people brought to share. Usually snack time is about 30 minutes and the kids get to go out and blow off some steam on the playground. But it was cold and icy, so no going out. (We did have a few escapees make it to the slide but that did not last long.) Anyway, we were stuck inside this time. All 65 of us.

Games. I learned a valuable lesson. Six year olds do not see the humor of smearing vaseline on your face and sticking on cotton balls to make a santa beard. The other games went well enough. But man did the crowd get rowdy. I guess all that snack food and no running outside, and then the games, it was inevitable.

The family activity was making ornaments by stringing beads and Holy Family charms. We expected people to take their bags and go, since snow was impending, but no. They actually stayed and did the activity right there. We had families scattered all over the place, including offices and the dorms. They had a great time! It is always clear that the people have a great time, you can feel it at the goodbye time as they collect themselves and leave. We have a great time too. It is very very hard work. When they leave, we undertake the extensive clean-up. Then we have the traditional collapse on the couch, eat some easy meal (this time it was hummus, bean dip and taquitos) and watch a DVD. "Chronicles of Narnia."

That is Life at Trinita on a wintry Sunday in December.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


I have been here for a year, but I still feel like a new arrival. It snowed a few weeks ago, less than an inch but enough to make everything turn white, enough for me to get excited and continually look out the window. We got some more winter weather this weekend, and I still find it amazing. Ooh, looky, everything is white! Look, there are icicles on the rock faces on the sides of the Interstate! Look, look, there are flakes of snow blowing around in the air even though there are no clouds!

My friend from Massachusetts came for a visit this weekend, because we had a last-minute cancellation of a retreat group so I had unexpected free time. We went for lunch at the Speckled Hen Pub in Norfolk. I spotted this place in October as I was driving to Canaan. I'm not accustomed to popping in to new places, but it looked so cool and has such a cool name, I determined at a glance that I would take my friend there next time she came. That was a glorious fall day, with the best colors you can imagine and a beautiful blue sky. This time the sky was just as blue, but it was 20 degrees and there was snow on the ground.

As we sat by the window and ate our sandwiches I looked out at the shops and the snow (looky, there is ice on the branches!) and realized I am probably never going to get used to living in New England. Or anywhere outside of Louisiana, I suppose. I think part of why being a missionary sister works for me so well has nothing to do with my Catholic faith. Deep down, I have the heart of a tourist. I do enjoy the exotic locales I have been missioned to. People talk funny, and cook interesting foods, and have different ethnic roots, and adapt to their climates in interesting ways. The grass smells different when you mow the lawn up here in the north. If you have a lawn. I do not actually enjoy it all, but I do at least find it all interesting.

Well, I have to go now, I want to go make a snow angel on the front lawn before the Ladies Guild arrives.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Christ The King

My computer troubles have continued, but after its third trip to a facility in California, I think my Presario is back to normal. In the meantime, fall has come and winter is almost here. We've already had nights in the teens and a dusting of snow. Now when I look out of my office window, I see a nicely raked lawn, grass fading from green to brown, and a forest of bare branches.

The lectionary readings this week are kind of scary. The end times. But so much of my experiences in recent months have provided with me a lens to see signs of hope and new life rather than signs of dying. We had a gathering of Cenacle Family here this Sunday and I was surprised at not only how many, and who, showed up, but at the energy in the group. What a power for good! Someone actually said, "These are exciting times for the MCA!" I think we can't know and act on the signs of hope unless we gather like this and share what energy we have.

Our Christ the King celebration was a practice shot, prepared and executed without any committee meetings or extensive planning. Now that we've done it, it's clear that it is wanted and needed and must be continued. Imagine what it could look like if we did approach the event with a bit more organization and planning. I continue to be haunted by the words from Father Judge's conference which Margaret Flanagan presented to us this Sunday. The fire in us must be communicated, and it will be. "Because the Holy Spirit wants it communicated!" So no more lame excuses.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Stone Age

I have been catapulted through a time warp into a computerless existence, and only just tonight have I managed to crawl back up into normalcy. My hard drive intersected an interdimensional phase variance and the resulting anomaly sucked all data from the platters. In laymen's terms, my hard drive died. Dang.

This transpired mere days after the summer program ended. I have only just plugged my repaired machine back in and cranked it up. I will try to provide an update on what life at Trinita is like after the summer program is over, but for now, I am just saying hello. I am back from the Stone Age. And I have two pies in the oven, so I have to go.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Big Draw

We are in Week 6 now--the last week of the summer program. I've had a chance to read some evaluations from departing volunteers. There have been "issues" this summer, there always are. Personality issues, and space usage issues, and food issues, and so on. This is hard work. We get up for breakfast and eat in a big room full of relative strangers morning after morning, then on to peer group, arts and crafts, lunch set-up, lunch dishes, pool duty, blanket time, supper dishes, evening meeting, lodge duty........ ending by bed in a cabin you share with several others. No privacy, no luxuries, no maids or butlers. No air conditioning. This place is an old farm that has been variously upgraded (or not) over the years. I can't even stand up straight in the volunteer shower room, I hit my head on the fluorescent lights. That made scrubbing it out this Saturday a bit of a challenge.

So, why do so many who come here become so .... captured by this place?

We've had a large retinue of local teen volunteers all summer. On any given week I have had a squad of them for many jobs big and small. We had eleven babies last week, so it was all hands on deck for babysitting during peer group time. This week, the youngest child is four, so I am finding jobs for the teens that are related to closing down the program for this year. Things like scrubbing and storing our baby supplies, or testing all our school scissors to see if they can actually cut anything. (Turns out, a large percentage could not. I think they may be the original school scissors purchased by Mother Boniface in 1924.)

Why do they come? Why would someone leave their comfortable home to sweat all day here, washing dishes and so on, and in the case of the local teens, test a gross of school scissors? It does not make any kind of sense. And the families: granted, they do not have to work the way the full-time and local volunteers do, but they are essentially trapped here for a week, eating food not of their culture, sleeping in dorms with people they may not have met before arriving here, going along with our schedule and our program and our silly songs with motions. What is the big draw?

Even now, when I am tired and frankly ready to shut things down and move on, I am simultaneously sad to realize that next week they will all be gone and it will be very, very quiet here. There is something about this place, even at its most difficult, that pulls us in. We cannot explain it to our friends, we cannot show it in pictures or capture it in video. We come, we live life here, and some of us just keep coming back, ruined forever, captured. It is no real explanation to say this is holy ground, and yet it is the only explanation. All ground is holy, but here.... it is just easier to recognize.

Friday, August 3, 2007


What does the expression "easy as pie" really mean? In the text game I play on my brother's website, I have created a character noted for pie-baking, and since coming to Trinita I have begun to take up the art in real life. During Week 3, more as a stress-reliever than as an act of generosity, I baked lemon pies for our volunteers. The hardest part was finding lemons buried deep within the inner recesses of our industrial refrigerator.

But alas, some do not like lemon pie. So last week (Week 4), I was feeling generous and baked chocolate pies. That was somewhat more effort, as I had to stir it over a double boiler and it took a long time to set. But during Week 4 we received a donation of two boxes of almost bad apples. Sister Florence, the Queen of Arts and Crafts at the time, helped me peel and slice enough for six pies, and we froze it. I was eager to bake apples pies for Week 5.

Week 4 was like a dream it was so easy. Sr. Maria Lauren brought Mexican families from her parish in Philadelphia, and we had a great time with them. Lots of babies to hold, little ones to play with, and teens who all went along with everything and enjoyed themselves. In the lodge the teens and adults played a game called Apples to Apples. The title to the game was another sign to me that I must bake apple pies. Apples returned on Friday when our cook Diane was reaching for a gallon container of applesauce in the fridge and it slipped. It was like an explosion of applesauce which covered everything, including Diane. But it seemed only funny rather than distressing--perhaps because the week was so easy.

Easy as pie. Not. This week, Week 5, I baked two apple pies for our dear volunteers. Not to say they aren't worth it, but it was not so easy. Some unexpected things came up and I could not start baking until late. I could not find any lemons anywhere this time--not even a bottle of juice. I made the crust by hand. I did not get them into the oven until almost 11:30. And they took forever to bake! Why? I can't figure out why they took so long. I did not get to bed until 2:00 AM.

They came out good though. The lemon juice we had added to prevent browning was apparently enough. But I've done enough pie for now. I think next week the dear volunteers will get Mama's chocolate cake pudding instead.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Week Three

Not a very imaginative title for this post. But it can't pass unmentioned. This has been quite a challenging week. If I were going to be a big whiny baby, I would have a lot to say. But of course, I am not! I am a missionary, we can handle a few "issues," right?

On the bright side, the Missionary Cenacle Volunteers have been on deck and quite supportive, not to mention fun to be with. So, despite a lot of rain, the resignation of our groundskeeper, the destruction of some recreational supplies, and ... but I said I was not going to whine! Anyway, we are sustained by the grace of God, and life at Trinita continues full speed ahead. The most we had to handle was yesterday, and things are improving by now. We watched a Jackie Chan movie after we closed the pool due to heavy rain, and many of the kids fell asleep. And tonight, the lodge is closed yet it is fairly quiet out there. I think folks just are worn out at this point. I have had some great games of Candyland this week, and I even had time to hang out some with my friend who is serving here this week. Because she is my friend, I am giving her all the hard jobs.

But not Arts and Crafts. I would not do that to her. That would be just wrong.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

No Whining

I had an interesting birthday. I actually have had a number of birthdays here, but it's been a while, and this one was particularly full. As I mentioned before, Wednesdays are hard because Olivia (the boss at least of the summer program) is off on Wednesdays, and also Diane, the cook. So this Wednesday of Week Two, I rolled out of bed early and set to work cooking scrambled eggs and grits. A local volunteer and two MSBTs were on hand to help so I was not too stressed. The food delivery truck arrived at 7:30 and I had to leave Lucy stirring the eggs while I ran around showing him where to stack the food. And so on. As soon as breakfast was over, morning circle. Mama called while I was in circle so I missed the call.

I spent peer group time running up and down the hill as usual. Four babies this week, and three of them tend to cry, and only one of the babysitters has any real experience with babies, so the teen volunteer helpers need a little minding. The teen volunteers have proven to be very helpful but the new ones need a lot of direction and to complicate things many of them show up almost randomly. We simply never know when they are going to appear, and I can't always drop everything and find them work to do. As soon as peer group was over, I had to start preparing lunch. Grilled cheese. Again, I had plenty of help, but I also had plenty of interruptions. Without Olivia, people tend to come to me with their questions. Well, I do it to Olivia myself, I confess. Mama called me at lunchtime but I missed the call. As soon as lunch was over, the mothers began preparing food for supper. Lucky for me Lucy was there. I had to help them find things for awhile but eventually I moved on to other things. Like pool duty. I was also taking a lot of pictures. No one seems much interested in taking pictures so I have been doing it. We give a slide show on Fridays before supper.

The story lady was late. Patty came and spread her blanket under a tree, and by then I was so tired I went and laid on the blanket for a bit. OK, I admit it. I whined a little. I said I was tired because I had not had a minute of rest and had to cook breakfast and lunch.

After pool duty I came up to be present for afternoon snacks. At this stage I was not feeling very chatty--I just kind of sat there and drank water. Finally the crowd dispersed and I went up to clean the middle room and refresh the volunteer snack table. This week that room has really been hard to keep clean. Why would anyone throw their trash on the floor instead in the trash can? Why am I picking up trash off the floor two and three times a day? I am whining now (because this unexpected problem has persisted) but at the time I just cleaned it all up without much thinking about it. So I did not whine then.

And so things continued. Start to do one thing, get interrupted and end up doing three other things. That interlude on Patty's blanket was the only peace I got. I did the meeting, dragged around a big bag of rocks for everyone's entertainment, and ended up in the lodge playing Candyland. Finally, I got back up here to my office and I got Mama on the phone, who had also called at suppertime but I had missed the call. After we talked, I got to work editing and printing the blanket time pictures of all the families. So, at 11:30, my day was over and I spent the last half hour of my birthday relaxing.

Life is good. But I was really glad when the boss of Trinita was back on deck Thursday morning.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Wet Blanket

Week One is almost over. This means all of us are now veterans. My big hope is that I can reduce the number of times a day I have to ask Olivia how to do something, if I should do something, or where something is. She has the patience of a saint.

I managed to get attached to some of these kids. It happens. I played Candyland and Sorry in the lodge this week and was thoroughly defeated at both. Well, I have five more weeks to practice my skill at board games.

It has been a great week, but it's really strange how it seems like it's been a month since we started. Someone once made the observation that a day at Trinita is like three normal days, and I often quote that, because it is so true. I wish I could convey how much life happens in between breaking down cardboard boxes and carrying them to the recycling bin out front. You could have three conversations and two trips down the hill to the lodge before getting that cardboard into the bin. Nothing happens directly.

It rained a lot these past few days. We had such poor attendance at one of the nightly gatherings we just sang a bunch of songs instead. We had to have blanket time indoors yesterday, and again today because the ground was too wet to lay a blanket on. The pool was even closed. But we got through it all, and had fun anyway. It is our mission to have fun, and to help others have fun. Our theme this summer is "Be a power for good," but maybe we are also a power for fun. I remember years ago when we were told never to call this place a camp, and it has never comfortably fit into the category of retreat center, some of us began calling it Trinita Fun Center. We can handle wet blankets and parades that have been rained on. Mere rain cannot stop us. Jelitza told Olivia and me the other night, "You are the bosses of Trinita, and the bosses of Trinita never give up!" Wow. I guess after that, we better not cave in just because we ran out of whipped cream.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

We Need Bananas

We completed the week of training for new volunteers this morning. I have been impressed by the general "personality" of this year's group. No cliques. There is remarkable ethnic diversity and quite an age range as well. Yet our dear volunteers are quite inclusive and easy-going. They take things as they come, starting from Day One when our cook did not show up and suddenly we had to prepare supper ourselves. It turned out to be fun instead of stressful.

Another shining moment in adaptability: on Wednesday morning, a teen volunteer entered the meeting room just as Rosa was about to begin her session, which includes a series of interactive games and challenges. I took his paperwork from him and introduced him quickly, then left him with the rest and went on about my business. I learned later he had just wandered into the room looking for someone to give his papers to, and in fact had never had any kind of orientation or preparation for what goes on here. I watched him from my office window as Rosa had the group walk on four-by-fours and scream at balloons and other inexplicable activities. He just went along with it, even started smiling after awhile. Wow. I am pretty sure I would have slipped out at the first bathroom break if that had been my introduction to Trinita.

I have started keeping a little spiral notepad and pen in my pocket. I have to write everything down right when it comes up, because I absolutely cannot remember anything if it leaves my visual field. There is definitely too much coming in. Let's look at a few entries:
  • get string for messagebook
  • Claire Xavier died Nov 28 2005
  • lighter for chapel
  • clean pear juice
  • call Mama
  • poem, 3 stanzas
  • can we cover the bathroom floor vent in Cabin 4?
  • announce move garbage in dumpster to back
It goes on like that. I still have not called Mama, though I did try. And I have done most of those things, but I am stuck on coming up with a poem to announce Patty's arrival for story time.Four number 10 cans of pear juice exploded in the pantry, and I had to clean it off at like midnight because the health inspector was due in the next day.

I am keeping an eye on special snacks for the volunteers. It's kind of a fun job, looking for ways to keep people happy. Not too hard with this group either. I just realized, however, that we have not had bananas available in days. Angel loves bananas. This is a simple pleasure and he should not be denied. But I did not write it in my notebook. Maybe someone will spontaneously drop off bananas tomorrow. It's sort of how things seem to work here. You need something, and the next thing you know, someone just shows up with it. So, we need bananas. Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Night Before

Tomorrow the summer program begins. I have an airport run in the morning and will bring back the first Missionary Cenacle Volunteer to arrive for the summer program.

Is it any use trying to describe what Trinita is like while the summer program is in progress? You definitely have to be here and experience it to understand. It sort of engages you completely. Well, it's true not everyone who has served here has that experience. But many do.

What I did not know until now was how the time BEFORE the program begins is just as demanding in its own way. There have been uncountable numbers of local friends coming by to help us get ready. Yesterday I discovered Annette hard at work at our copy machine preparing the booklets used for family blanket time. Years ago, she showed up here as a young mother to join a Wednesday morning MOMs group. Now she, and many others like her, are practically members of the staff. They have become missionaries, and Trinita is their mission. I thought about this as I watched her explain what she had put on the pages of the booklet.

She could have come and gone. Some do. But many come and.... they pick up on something. Something about this place. It is on the surface just an old farmhouse with a few rustic outbuildings. But if that were all it was, just a retreat center, why would so many people come and stay, and become part of this place? These people are not simply benefactors or friends of ours, they actually help us run the mission. I wonder if Annette realizes she is a missionary while she stands there cranking out copies of blanket time booklets?

Monday, June 11, 2007


Maybe I should rename this blog. It seems like I have not been at Trinita much lately. Life at Trinita would be nice, insofar as I would be sleeping in my own bed at night. I like my bed.

I have been in this sort of interdimensional time/space vortex for weeks now. The drug I was taking for poison ivy disrupted my sleep and I am still not back in rhythm. The upside of this is that I have been really quite productive lately. The downside is that I have been living life in a kind of fugue state for weeks. It's not all from taking pills of course--I have been traveling and dealing with a number of diverse and demanding situations from Orlando to Louisiana to Philadelphia to Connecticut. Stupid with fatigue, I have been making dumb mistakes, forgetting things, and generally smiling and nodding my way through conversations. But having lost my edge, I find my tolerance for annoyances is higher. I am observing life from a detached, "big picture" point of view instead of being caught up in the details of the moment. This has led to some unexpected spiritual moments which stand out in the wash of weariness I have been living in lately.

I am on a committee with other lay and religious members of my spiritual family who have been charged to prepare us all for our upcoming centennial celebration in 2009 We have been working together for a year already, and this weekend we ran a training for recruits from five geographic areas who will be responsible to plan and execute area celebrations. I've been tech support for this, meaning wires and websites and photo-editing. This weekend was really a lot of listening and sharing and taking counsel on our hopes for the future, and it all went on bilingually. Whenever our faithful recruits took time at their tables for sharing and working, we committee members likewise would continue our work at our own table.

In my detached, bemused state of mind, I was perhaps less than helpful in these sessions, but I was nevertheless strongly engaged on another level. I could not focus well on what we were talking about half the time, but I remained acutely aware of who we are in this moment. Eight men and women, from three different countries, from many cultures, single, married, vowed religious--all of us strongly bound by our consecration to the Holy and Blessed Trinity through our membership in the Missionary Cenacle Family. At one moment I felt almost giddy with an awareness of how in this very moment, this Here and Now, we are fulfilling the charism entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit to be Church in a very incarnational, relational, Trinitarian way.

There was a moment when Gerardo was straining to express himself, and as he shifted back and forth from Spanish to English multiple times in every sentence, I lost his point but I grasped his meaning--I grasped the greater meaning of the moment. We together are straining, with groans too deep for words, to express the Incarnation. We absolutely, positively, cannot do it any other way apart from this grounding as family. No more than a pile of twigs and leaves can be a tree, can I fulfill my vocation as a Missionary Servant without being grounded deeply in the Missionary Cenacle Family.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Weird month.

I am in Louisiana. I am spending my vacation with my brother, helping my mother pack up her home and move into a small apartment for senior citizens. I was here only weeks ago, when my aunt died. This is a lot of transition in my family. We moved to this house when I was 4. But nevertheless, it's good to be home. Big sky.....

Last weekend, I had to coordinate the annual Work Day at Trinita on Saturday, and on Sunday I had to facilitate two different groups. It all went fine, but it's new territory for me and I was stressed about it. Monday, I took the day off, and I went and planted some pine trees near the Lodge, in what I now know must have been a patch of poison ivy.

So, even though I am home and involved in a rather big family project, I am thinking frequently about a lovely spring day last week in Trinita. Life at Trinita sort of follows me around! I have poison ivy all over, and it reached a peak of itchiness yesterday during the 12 hour road trip from my brother's home in Sanford to Lafayette. Lucky me.

What is home? That's a question I am pondering now, as I sit among stacks of cardboard boxes. As a Missionary Servant, I have lived in many places and thus have a lot of places where I really feel at home. Unfortunately, feeling at home is not quite the same as being at home. When you travel a lot, you need to know there is a place where you are going back to, where your stuff is. When I was a student, I felt kind of homeless for holidays. I was between cenacles. But it was good I had a number of places I could go where I felt at home.

Soon after I got to Trinita, a teenager at a confirmation retreat declared that Trinita was a place where he and his classmates felt at home. That is one of the very special gifts Trinita offers-- so many people can come and feel at home. Now it really is home. My stuff is there and I am going back. But this is home, too. I have been feeling kind of sorry for myself, I admit. But as I sit here and try to keep myself from scratching my skin off, I must admit, against all odds, that I am actually pretty lucky. I can feel at home, I can be at home, in a lot of places. Saying goodbye is hard, but I have a lot to fall back on. I gotta watch out for the poison ivy, however.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Time Warp

I recently had to do some work at our Archives at the Motherhouse in Philadelphia. While there, I took the opportunity to scan a stack of old pictures of Trinita, We acquired this property in 1923, and I found old photos dating back to 1925, before there was even the wing added to the main house. There is what looks to be a Model T parked in the front yard in one shot. (Someone who knows cars could probably correct me on the make of the car.)

I prepared a slideshow of the pictures after I had enhanced them as best I could, and I've showed them to everyone here. It's fascinating. Like seeing pictures of a friend you thought you knew, doing something unexpected like juggling or hydroponics. It seems Trinita has lived a full and interesting life.

I got so into this, that on my day off I went around with a printout of the contact sheet of photos and tried to get in the exact position to take the same shot. It was a gorgeous spring afternoon, and the leaves were only just beginning to come back (they are mostly out by now) so it was a lot of fun. I realized that Mother Boniface once stood right where the little garden fountain is. Trees have gone and new ones have grown up tall. The whole area must have been clear cut early on, since you can see the horizon in some photos where now you just see the tree line.

But a funny thing started to happen to my mind. I got so immersed, I actually would be startled by reality instead of by the pictures. In my defense, I stared at those pictures a very long and tedious time the night before, doing scratch removal and fade correction and so on, long into the night. At one point, I got in the right spot to reproduce a picture of the cabins, then when I turned to try for the shot of the lodge, I realized that the two shots had almost certainly been taken on the same day from essentially the same spot. I was not simply standing in the spot of the original photographer, I was actually retracing her footsteps. Once I got into the lodge, I realized that she was quite short, or else held the camera at waist level, because the only way I could get the correct angle was from my knees.

The oddest experience was shooting the back porch, which has changed the most over the years. This required repeated glances back and forth from photo to reality, until at one point I gave a start because I had expected to see Sr. Mary Peter when I looked up and she had vanished! Yeah, she teleported 60 years into the future and a few hundred miles south, since she's at the Motherhouse now.

I still have the lingering sense of our sisters from decades past, going about their business out on the grounds. The ministry here has changed over the years, and will no doubt continue to change, but there is a presence here that persists no matter where the trees are growing at any given moment.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Holy Ground

My Aunt Doris died two weeks ago, and I went home to south Louisiana for almost a week. When Mama called me with the news, it was snowing here. We had had a little intro to spring but the ground was white that morning. I stared at the steady snowfall for a long time after I got off the phone.

When I got off the plane in New Orleans, the warm air wrapped around me to welcome me home. The air smells the way air ought to smell. It feels like it should feel on my skin. The sounds of peoples' voices sound right. The food tastes right. The names of streets and towns are right. I love my life, but when I go home I realize all over again how hard it is to live so far away.

As I drove through my old neighborhood, it was destruction everywhere. And, in places, construction as well. But I don't want to dwell on the Katrina destruction now. We drove through Mama's old neighborhood as well. The home she and my aunts and uncles lived in on Congress Street is actually looking pretty good. Someone lives there and has it fixed up nice. St. Vincent de Paul Cemetary is not too far away. There, many generations of maternal relatives are buried, so to speak, in an above-ground crypt. (In fact, I was about 25 before I ever went to a regular cemetary with graves in the ground.) I read all the names of those buried in the Charbonnet vault. I pronounced the names... Almicar, Louis, Francois D'Assis, Dewett, Lucille, Eugene.... The remains of all these generations are mingled. It troubles me not all, though it troubled some of my family. It is not Aunt Doris going into a box, into a crypt, because she is gone. Our way of burying our dead in fact for me works as a reminder of the communion of saints. We are powerfully connected to all the faithful departed. The cemetary is holy ground.

I have returned to Trinita. While I was gone, the snow melted and the air warmed up--somewhat. There are buds on branches but still no leaves on trees. We had 50 people here this weekend for a Family Day. It was fun and very hard work and it took my mind off things. This is holy ground, too. I knew it the first time I ever set foot on this place, so long ago. So much life has been lived here, it has seeped into the soil. You can smell it. At least I can.

Friday, April 13, 2007


What does that mean, anyway? I have nothing to say tonight, but I thought I should at least mention that I am at this very moment dressed like a pirate. A very tired pirate.

Who would not want to be a pirate? Pirates are free, and they do bad things but they are not evil. And they have parrots. (Well, some do.) And the main thing is, they wear cool clothes. What is not to like?

We all decided to be pirates today. It is very fun. If you are ever bored, come hang out here for awhile, that will cure you. Six pirates, four of them are sisters and two of them are working moms. Arrrrr! Olivia hooked me with her hook. For that she shall pay. And Siena said something about the Yankees to Joan, so now Siena has a pegleg. Arrrrr. Pat's parrot is napping on the rolodex at the moment. Ellen sang a pirate song. I think I chipped a tooth when I clenched my cutlass in my teeth. Arrrr!

If you think I am now going to explain why the entire staff were pirates today, you would be wrong.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Enter if You Dare

We have these events every so often called Family Day. We can accommodate up to about ten families from nearby parishes for a Sunday afternoon of fun and sharing. There is some kind of activity for the kids, usually a craft of some kind, which relates to the theme of the day.

This past October, our theme was "SHINE" and all our crafts and activities involved pumpkins somehow. Ever heard of Oriental Trader? They sell these cheap but cool-looking kits for kids, lots of seasonal stuff. We found a craft kit that was a door hanger. You know how a kid might put a "Keep Out!" sign on his door--this was a Halloween doorknob hanger with skulls and so on, with the warning "Enter if you dare!" We took them, flipped them over and made something nicer on the reverse side that fit with the pumpkin motif and the "Shine God's love" message.

However, I kept the sample that Ellen made. It has the original scary warning on it. I hung it on the inside of my bedroom door. So before I go out in the morning I often pause and think.... do I dare? But I always do. After all, the coffee is out there.

We had another planning meeting for the summer program this afternoon. It has become apparent that Wednesdays are going to be a bad day for me: I'll have to cook a hot breakfast for 50+ people, help campers get supper ready, and do the evening meeting and the reconciliation service. In addition to my normal everyday tasks. I said I would do it but only if I could whine a lot about how much I have to do. I might need to think about taking down that little sign on my doorknob. Otherwise some Wednesday morning this summer, I might just decide that I do not dare.

Nah.... I think I will just add a sign on the outside of my door: "Caution: Whining Zone."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Virtual Pie

On my brother's website is a link to a text-based role-playing game. In "Legend of the Green Dragon" I created character and I've had a lot of fun slaying dragons and generally being a smart-aleck with other players of similar sense of humor. Text-based computer games have very limited appeal in this day and age, but all I can say is, folks who insist on graphics are missing out. In this virtual little kingdom, we have snowball fights, pie fights, chocolate fights, and end the day with a few rounds of ale at ye olde inn. And we slay dragons, too.

Last year I finally accumulated enough gold to build a castle. I named the castle Trinita. I gave out keys to those players I considered my allies, and it became a little enclave where we would hang out and plot, plan, scheme, and eat all the virtual food we wanted. Sort of like home. I became renowned for baking all manner of pies, using them as weapons when necessary. (Think Three Stooges.) When I was a student I had more time to check in, but since I have a real job now I have had to cut back on visits to the kingdom.

Art imitates life, they say. But sometimes, art imitates life, and then life goes and imitates art imitating life. I knew Trinita as a place many people from many places have been able to call home over the years, so it was natural for me to name my castle that. And then look what happened--I got missioned here! Last year I created a virtual, medieval Trinita. Now I am at the real one.

But about the pie. I actually have not baked that many pies in real life. But in the game, I am constantly baking pies. And often throwing them. As it happens, in real life I actually did throw a pie at someone once. And where was I when I threw this pie? Here at Trinita, on the stage in the Lodge one night at Fiesta. Poor Blanche never saw it coming. I think she forgave me though. Yesterday, I was preparing an apple pie because we had invited several guests for dinner. In real life, making a pie is not so easy. Making gumbo or red beans and rice is a lot less complicated. Peeling apples takes a lot of time, and I am really not skilled at getting the pie crust onto the pan neatly. It tastes ok, but it looks all cracked and assymetrical.

My virtual pies always come out perfectly. And I can bake as many of them as I want. But until I came to Trinita, I was pretty rusty at baking real pies. But occasions for making a nice dessert have come up several times since I have been here, and because of my great success with virtual pies I have been trying to hone my real-pie-baking skills. They do not come out perfectly. But I have to admit, they are very much more satisfying.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It only takes a spark...

There's an old song, "It only takes a spark, to get a fire going, and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing; that's how it is with God's love...." and so on.

I am just back from four days at our Motherhouse in Philadelphia, where I attended an assembly of every sister in my congregation. The total congregation does not gather like this very often, only once every few years. It's always a great occasion, and it was livelier than usual this time because the theme was "Be Fire!"

We had a big fire bowl set up which was lit at various times when we gathered for prayer. On one occasion, we began prayer by singing "It only takes a spark..." while one sister solemnly approached the bowl, struck a match dramatically, and lit up the fire... well, she tried to anyway. We kept singing while she struck another match, and another, and another.... finally someone ran up and handed her a bottle of rubbing alcohol which she applied liberally. We finally got a fire going but by then we were not very solemn. Of course afterwards, the big joke was, "It only takes a spark, five matches, and a bottle of alcohol to get a fire going...."

We have this idea that someone will come along with the right solution to our problems, whatever they may be. Just light a match, i.e. some brilliant vision or master plan, and within moments, we'll have a big blazing fire. Not. It actually does take more than a spark. It takes a bunch of matches and some fuel. And persistence. Oh yeah, and cooperation. That may not be how it is with God's love, but it's how it is with most everything else. How did Trinita become... Trinita? The format for the summer program as we know it did not leap fully formed from the brow of Sisters Margaret and Marion Agnes 30 years ago, like Athena leaping from the brow of Zeus with spear in hand. Lots of different folks have thrown logs on this fire over the years, that's for sure. And I would venture to say we are always in need of a few more logs on the bonfire, because there's always demand for s'more s'mores.

How did I become a Missionary Servant of the Most Blessed Trinity? Certainly not all at once. Lots of false starts and questioning and backtracking. But somehow, gradually, I went from thinking about it, to trying it, to resisting it, to hanging in there, and finally to dancing with my sisters at a post-assembly birthday party and thinking that nothing could be better than this. So, all those matches did not die in vain, I guess. Eventually, we do get a fire going.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Closet

Last year I was still in school. All I did was read and read and then write and rewrite. I watched a lot of TV too, or at least I had it on a lot. Here at Trinita, not so much.

I learned a new weather condition today. We've had snow on the ground for weeks now, and very cold weather. Now it's been getting above freezing, and last night it rained for a while. Though we had blue skies this morning, when I went out for 8 AM mass, I found a thin sheen of ice on the car, and puddles freezing over. The road looked only wet, as if with dew, but apparently it was ice. Lucky for me, there was a car ahead of me going very slowly, so I was forced to slow. I could feel the car slip a bit, but I have no doubt I would have slid right off the road had I been going at normal speed down that hill to mass. The sun was out and the road merely looked wet. Tricky, very tricky.

I disassembled the old office computer after I got back from the MCA meeting this afternoon, and attempted to store it in the little closet under the stairs in the cenacle. The sisters' cenacle is a remodelled basement under a remodelled farmhouse. Storage space is minimal, yet somehow we keep encountering artifacts from previous eras tucked away in odd places. That closet is even smaller than Harry Potter's original bedroom at the Dursley's. Yet inside were three computer units, a monitor, a box of computer accessories and cables, and.... a cardboard box labelled "Sister Mary Clare, for Camp T."

I do not know who Sr. Mary Clare was, and this place has not been called "Camp" in a really long time, so I sort of figured it would be old stuff in the box. It was. There were about eight large vinyl albums of cassette sets. For example, a 12-cassette series of presentations on religious life. An 8-set by George Maloney SJ for making a private retreat. The entire New Testament on tape, two different versions. One version actually looked well-preserved, so I saved it to donate to the local dump thrift shop. The rest were circa 1972 or thereabouts, and looked it.

I waded out to the dumpster and tossed the stuff in. Have I mentioned the snow is melting? Mud and flowing water everywhere. Then I put the computers back, except that I discovered the monitor from the former office computer was too big to fit through the closet door. Monitor=17.75 inches, door=17.5 inches. I am not kidding, I measured. Ultimately, I had to trudge like a troll into the nether regions of our dungeon until I found space to deposit the monitor. This was complicated by the fact that the monitor weighs a fair amount, the "flooring" is uneven to put it mildly, and I could not stand up straight. Clearance in the dungeon=5 feet 8 inches more or less, Me in bare feet=6 feet 2 inches. I am not kidding, I measured!

Then, Olivia made homemade pizza, and there was great rejoicing. And that, today, was life at Trinita.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Praying the Psalms

Yesterday, we received some unsettling news. The news itself is not relevant here, but the upshot was that all four of us sisters were surprised and upset. We went on about our business as usual yesterday, and were certainly subdued at evening prayer but carried on normally.

This morning at morning prayer, Joan was leading. She gave us the pages in our Christian Prayer books (the "Office") but before we began said, "Since I couldn't sleep last night, I got up and came here to the chapel and looked for a good reading to use this morning...." but as she said this we all looked at one another and soon we all confessed that we had not slept well and had been up doing various chores in the wee hours. And so we settled into the psalms of the day.

If you have a copy of Christian Prayer, look up Wednesday morning Week II. It starts with Psalm 77. Within two lines we all felt deeply connected to what we were reciting. By the third stanza, we actually had to stop because we had all started laughing at "You withheld sleep from my eyes...." It is good that we could laugh, and I doubt we could have done this except that we were in shared grief, shared distress. We did compose ourselves and carry on, but I knew that here was a clear example of the difference between saying the Psalms and praying the Psalms.

I used to wonder if I would keep up the practice of praying the Office if I ever lived alone, being someone to whom self-discipline is an eternal ideal to strive for. Turns out I did in fact stick to it. I lived alone in a small graduate apartment on the campus of the University of Dayton. In September of 2005 I watched in horror as my ancestral hometown of New Orleans was laid waste by Katrina. The levees had clearly giving way by Tuesday morning and the City was slowly filling up. But life in Dayton went on more or less the same until about Friday, when the national disaster finally breached the national consiousness. I felt so alone, and of course I could not even call my family, many of whom did in fact lose their homes.

On Friday morning of Week III, I found myself praying the Canticle of Jeremiah. I recommend it to your reading, and as you read it, imagine your own home town devastated overnight. But the thing is, I had imagined this before when I had reflected on this Psalm. But that day, I prayed the Canticle, and I wept my way through the lament the same way as did the one who wrote those words in the face of very real disaster, so long ago.

Saturday, March 3, 2007


Tonight as I was carrying a box of mass supplies up the hill to the main house I had sort of a flashback. The snow is crunchy, and the air is cold and heavy and humid, and the moon is full. (There actually was a lunar eclipse earlier tonight but we had clouds then.) I had closed up the lodge and was trudging up the hill in plain old gym shoes, not recommended for crunchy snow, ice, and mud.

And suddenly I had this flashback. Years ago, I served here as a Missionary Cenacle Volunteer. My second summer I was drafted to be the volunteer coordinator, and I soon developed a major sleep deficit. I stayed every night until the lodge closed, then I would go up the same path I was going up tonight, only without the snow. One night I was sort of loopy from lack of sleep, and my friends convinced me to actually go to bed before the lodge closed. What a concept. That particular night it was rather chilly, and a fog had come up. The spotlights shining across the grounds created this kind of eerie effect not unlike a horror movie. As my friends escorted me to the main house, from the fog emerged another volunteer, Jackie. Jackie was carrying a rake. She passed us by without a word. A minute later it sank in, and I said, "Did I just see Jackie with a rake? Is she going to rake leaves at eleven o'clock at night, in the fog?" It was, like, totally surreal, man. I started giggling and could not stop. Really, I think I was still laughing ten minutes later. I learned a valuable lesson. Sleep deprivation makes you silly, really silly.

In a few months the summer will be here, and now I will be the volunteer coordinator again. My big plan is to get more sleep. I expect it won't be too hard. We have more help these days than we did back then, plus I have learned to take better care of myself in the intervening years. That's not to say, of course, that I won't ever get silly....

Friday, March 2, 2007

There is snow and ice on the ground now. It's quite late, and the two busloads of teenagers who arrived for the weekend are beginning to settle down. I'm not sure what they are up to at the moment--something reflective in the Meeting Room, I figure. Another confirmation retreat off to a good start.

By now, two of the other sisters have picked up the Dunkin Donuts donated to us every Friday and have set up for breakfast. I had a migraine today, spent the afternoon in bed, so I wimped out going down the hill in the freezing weather to get the donuts. This is one of the great things about community life--we cover for each other in times like this!

I still don't feel very good, and I am going to go to bed soon. But I have been meaning to start a blog since the day I got here. Life at Trinita is an incredible adventure. I find myself laughing out loud sometimes when I try to imagine what I would say to someone who wants to know what I do for a living! I think every day has some moment that might tell a little part of the story of life here. Today, that moment would be when Father Tim dropped by to visit this morning. We all ended up sitting around one of the tables in the dining room talking about future possibilities, stuff we can do to encourage growth both of the parish down the hill and our mission here at Trinita. It was inspiring--when we get together and believe together, stuff happens. I mean good stuff. It's actually more fun than slaying dragons.