Thursday, December 31, 2009


2009 is just about over. We've been working on the virtue of charity for the past two months as a congregation. I have really worked on it too. And yet, it seems as if I have such a long way to go! Could it be that two months was just not enough time to see real progress? I am not ready to give up. I am not sure what the virtue is we'll be working on for January and February, but I do believe that I could benefit from further work on the first virtue. And we have six more virtues to go! I may never catch up.

It has been a wonderful year. I am looking forward to another one.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Presence of Bears

I used to work with large animals at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine. Day in, day out, good weather, horrible weather, weekends, holidays--animals need clean pens, food and water, and some of them need milking twice a day. I would often have the early shift, dragging myself in to tend to the cows before being fully awake, and I grew to appreciate their quiet presence. They have a clean smell. They stand there in the pen, patient and massive, radiating their body heat and stirring the air with their breath.

Years later, I was taking one of my long directionless walks while on retreat at Warnersville. Hiking through a pasture at dusk, I passed near a dozen cows, almost motionless in the warm night air. As it grew rapidly darker, I stood there, once again in the presence of cows. I closed my eyes and could smell them. I could hear the soft, rhythmic whoosh of their breathing. I could feel their massiveness, the way can you sense someone standing next to you even if they are completely silent. Those minutes of calm stillness, surrounded by warmth and life and earth smells, that is all I remember of that retreat.

Yesterday, Nancy called up from Arts and Crafts to tell us there were bears on the basketball court. Siena and I ran out the cenacle and began walking down the parking lot to get a look. But by then, the bears had come up the other side of the pavilion and rounded the corner. We were walking toward each other. I halted in amazement, and even took a few steps back as the bears continued toward me unaware. Then they saw us and halted, just as amazed. We were perhaps ten or fifteen paces apart.

And in that brief moment, I found myself in the presence of bears. A mother and two large cubs, with beautiful black glossy coats. The fur seemed so soft and shiny I wished I could touch it. It riffed in the breeze. They regarded me briefly, then turned and padded quietly away.

When they turned, the spell was broken, and while they crossed under Cabin 1 and into the grotto, I ran for my camera. I got them running across the baseball field and crossing Town Hill Road. Traffic, including a school bus, stopped to admire the sight. I wonder, I wonder, did the bear, in that brief moment, experience the presence of humans? What is the presence we bring to others?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunset Alert

It's the end of a nice, normal weekend at Trinita. We had a group of Catholic college students here from three different area colleges. They spread out and used the place as it was intended to be used: prayer, fellowship, and fun.

Part of the fun was the making of a few hundred jars of "artisan jam" which they plan to sell as a fundraiser. Our huge antique rice pot (aka Big Bertha) was full of strawberries, bubbling away all afternoon. Diane had to work around them to prepare supper, but she clearly enjoyed having them around. The money they raise is for their spring break trip to do construction work in New Orleans, my still-devastated homeland.

It rained virtually all day and all night yesterday, but I had to go slouching around in the dark looking for some switch to throw which would restore electricity to Cabins 3 and 4 and parts of the Lodge. No luck. So I had to call in the power company. A guy named Greg in a fancy huge truck with flashing lights pulled up by the Lodge and figured out one of our switch boxes is going bad and we should replace it soon. Dang. Anyway, it works for now.

So, today is a much nicer day. Sunny, mild, in the 70's, fresh air like spring. I cleaned out another flower bed while a half dozen scouts finished rebuilding our fire pit. Wait til you see it! Almost too fancy for us! While I was clearing out the bed in front of the meeting room, our poor pathetic cat began yowling by the front door. "Francisco, are you crazy??? It's a beautiful afternoon! How can you possibly want to go in?" But he did. He sounded pitiful, but I did not let him in. I did at least scratch his ears.

Now, I am at my desk, preparing to make invitations to our upcoming Centennial celebration. A fun job. I just looked out the window. OOOOoooooooo! We have the world's most beautiful sunsets here. When it looks like this, we get on the loudspeaker and say, "Sunset Alert!" So that is life at Trinita on an ordinary Fall weekend.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Attic

One of my first posts to this blog was about a trip into our dungeon--the nether regions under the main house that are accessible through our basement apartment. It is kind of scary back there. A dirt floor, with very large and uneven stones that may have been intended as paving at one time. The stacks of stones and rough-hewn wood that are the foundation of this house. And, of course, I can't stand erect back there, due to varied degrees of low clearance.

This weekend, I cleaned out the attic. This is in its own way just as interesting as the dungeon. I had a young volunteer, Ryan, who had fun with the vacuum and took out most of the several million dead bugs up there. I went through boxes, got rid of some stuff and re-packed everything else far more neatly. I got several bruises on my head from smacking my head so many times on the beams. I found pieces of newspaper dated January 1925. All in all, an unforgettable experience.

Now, suddenly, the Attic seems like a very cool place to be. I found an unopened box with a fake aquarium bubble light sort of thing, and I set it up in there. (Yes, there are working electrical outlets, who knew?) Fake fish now dance in colored lights and bubbles. Nancy hung a ceiling lamp with a multicolored shade. We tossed around a few rugs. It's still an attic, with boxes and trunks lining the ... well, not walls. Eaves? But the windows are now clear, and sunlight makes the space seem so much more livable.

Last October, when I was visiting the cenacle in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Sr. Silvia Arias asked me where I now lived. When I told her, she said, "Trinita! I lived there for five months as a postulant! I loved it there."

I was surprised to hear this. I guess that must have been in the 40s or 50s, and apart from the summer camps, I did not think our sisters spent time there. I asked her where in the house did she stay. "There were five us us who stayed on the third floor."

The third floor? We have no third floor.... "Sister, your bedroom was the attic?!" She serenely affirmed this. I was humbled. And I complain about not having enough space here! So I promised her that one day I would hang a sign in the attic that said, "Sr. Silvia slept here." I think it's about time for that sign.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I have taken on the finances here at Trinita since Joan has moved to the Motherhouse. Well, someone has to do it. I am slowly getting the hang of it. But it is a lot of numbers.
I mean a lot.

Everything is coded. Every receipt is saved. Everything is filed. Many forms to fill out.

This afternoon, I sat at my desk up here on the second floor, the best office at Trinita. Great view. I am all caught up on finances for now, so I pulled out a chore I had put off doing. Making up the family contact list for everyone here. Oh, wow, more numbers. Lots and lots of numbers. This is a situation that is sure to get me into trouble sooner or later. I am going to mess up somewhere, somehow. I just know it. Dang.

But here are a few more numbers before I leave to go to evening prayer. It is the Ides of October , that is, 10/15/09. And guess what? It's snowing outside. I kid you not. And it's sticking. Sticking to the fall leaves and the green grass. Welcome to Trinita.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Rocky Road

Seriously, it does not get any better than this.

I am eating rocky road ice cream with milk and granola, in a huge coffee mug. Kind of like a Dairy Queen Blizzard of my own invention. I was in bed trying to fall asleep. No good. My mind is full of many thoughts, and at some point I realized... Hey. I'm hungry.

So here I am, happy as can be, despite being tired and achy from being on my feet all afternoon. I made a double-batch of carrot coconut soup, then I made a baked potato bar for our weekend guests. I love cooking, and the soup is one of my favorite recipes, despite how weird it sounds. In fact, it tastes great.

While I was doing this, Siena and Marion were renovating our cenacle. Well, we had Vinnie to do the heavy lifting. Since Sharon moved in yesterday, we really needed to reconfigure to accommodate five people instead of four downstairs. We live underground, sort of. Pretty cramped down there in the basement. But they came up with a new layout, and man, it looks like a new cenacle down there now.

This ice cream is great! Rocky road, there's a metaphor for you. I have certainly traveled on one this past year. But this year is looking like smooth sailing. I wonder what kind of ice cream Smooth Sailing would be? Maybe I will invent it. Despite being a rocky road, it was a great year, as I look back. Granted, I worked too hard. But even so, it was good work, with good people. Many blessings.

I've almost finished my ice cream. I will try going back to bed, and hopefully fall asleep this time. I know it was a little crazy to get up and fix myself ice cream and post on my blog at 1 AM. But this sure beat laying in the dark wide awake. And as I lay there, I remembered Olivia told me to post on my blog tonight. "What, you haven't posted since the summer program???" See how obedient I am? So, good night world. Tomorrow morning, Nancy and I will make pancakes and sausage for our guests, and it will be another beautiful fall day here at Trinita. I plan to have fun.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Last Cookie.

Early in the summer program, someone who loves me made me some very special cookies and gave them to me in a decorated plastic container. It says "Merry Christmas!" I have just finished celebrating six Christmases, six Thanksgivings, six Easters.

At about noon today, I dropped off the last Missionary Cenacle Volunteer at the Bradley airport. She says she'll come back next summer. I hope so. I miss them. As badly as I need to rest, I still feel strange and a bit sad. We had a great summer, and now it is completely over.

I just finished cleaning my office. This entails more than dusting and vacuuming. I had to go through files and binders and program supplies. Many trips to the attic, and many to the trash can. Everything is more or less back in order now, and the sun is streaming through my window. I love the feel of the sun's heat on my bare arm. I am happy to sweat. We've had such a cool and wet summer.

I feel such gratitude. At the vigil mass on Saturday, we all sat in our bright red shirts in the front four pews. It was hot as it is now. The church filled with people we've seen all summer, moms who dropped off cookies, the librarian who lent us a box of children's books, Justin our DJ, the folks who made us pancakes or helped with dishes, the teens who did.... pretty much everything. Emmy was the cantor. She sang the psalm, and the response was, "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad!" That response was our refrain for the summer. We started all our prayer with it. As she sang, I realized that this very day, twenty years ago, I professed my first vows as a Missionary Servant.

This is the day. I am eating the last cookie in my carefully guarded supply of Christmas cookies. Our summer is over. We begin the fall stuff in a few weeks. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rice Pot

It's Wednesday of Week 6. We're in the home stretch for Summer 09. The moms cook supper on Wednesdays because it's Diane's day off. Everything gets used, and everything needs to be washed. All of us are on duty for clean-up. Siena and I usually stay in the kitchen and scrub pots, leaving the less horrific cleaning for the MCVs stationed at the dishwashing sinks.

I got the rice pot again. The volunteers have named it Big Bertha. It is huge, and it is heavy, and it is scary-looking when three or four pounds of rice have carbonized on the bottom. By the time I have scoured out the rice pot, I am usually wringing wet with sweat and my fingernails have been destroyed by brillo.

I think maybe this pot was here since Mother Boniface last visited. It probably cost a month's income, but what a wise investment. How many families have been fed from this pot? How many mothers from how many countries have prepared meals for us with it? How many volunteers have scrubbed it before me? How many of my sisters over the years have hefted it up onto the stove and lit a fire under it?

While we scrubbed, we sang songs, and I reflected on the treasure in my hands, the rice pot. I hope my life is a life of service as much as this rice pot is of service for us at this mission.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Tonight for the Family Gathering I sort of threw out my script and provided a mash-up of the introductory gathering and the Thanksgiving gathering. Olivia is here and it is a wonderful thing to work with her again. Maybe that's why I felt comfortable enough to get up there and just go with whatever seemed to work. Even Olivia seemed to be feeling it, she went off on a solo guitar rendition of Clap de Hands! Yeah, even did the vocals!

We played Trinita Concentration, and then we did the Hat of the Night, and I wore the Cornucopia Hat while pacing around telling the story of the Horn of Plenty. The assembled folks gasped as I barely missed getting my hat clipped by the ceiling fan. Low clearance, I keep forgetting. Then chaos reigned when I threw caution to the wind and had a couple of couches full of kids come up and tape fruits and veggies to the cornucopia. I am never doing it that way again, that's for sure.

But I just felt a certain freedom to try it. I guess I am tired. This is hard work. It's more than hard work, it is like being on another planet to live here during these seven weeks. I feel fine, and everything is going fine, but I can get silly when I am tired. More than usual, I mean. This afternoon, I did something even stranger than wear a cornucopia hat. I sat in my office with Angela for two hours, and while the kids were down watching Wall-E (no pool, rainy day again!), I taught her how to use FileMaker Pro. Yes, database class and ordo training, right smack in the middle of the summer program. It does not get much weirder than that.

I ended tonight's mash-up presentation by handing out jelly beans and lecturing people about taking time to be quiet and be present to the beauty of the moment. So, in reflection, I can say that the database class, albeit a very weird interlude, was just one more way we celebrated life at Trinita this summer. It's all good.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Week Three Redux

Two years ago, I posted briefly about Week 3. It remains one of those classic unrepeatable Trinita experiences, except not in a good way. So, it's only fair to post that we have been having a great week.

Most of the families this week are grandparents bringing their grandkids, infants included. I have been completely charmed by Ricky and his endless patience and nurturing of his baby granddaughter and toddler grandson, both in diapers. The adults are all very at home here and easy to hang with. The kids are "energetic" and we've had to confiscate a few bats, but it's nothing we haven't seen before. The air is not crackling with tension. It's just plain fun going on wherever I look.

Except maybe when I look at a few of our local teen volunteers this week. I give them credit for showing up promptly every day and doing whatever we ask them to do. But if ever I saw someone who did not want to be here (which does not happen often) it would be them. It is a bit jarring to realize not everyone gets the spirit of this place. It's not something we see very much here, because even when a teen is here to fulfill service hours for school, he or she has still chosen to serve at Trinita from a list of many options.

But once in awhile, we get obedient teens who have come for other reasons than the desire to serve. And they don't have fun. What a shame! But there is nothing I can do about it. I did try. But you can't make someone relax and enjoy the moment, I guess.

So, tomorrow our friends from Baltimore will board the bus and return home, and I am sure there will be tears shed at the big goodbye. Maybe even a few from me. This has been a fun week, and I have thoroughly enjoyed celebrating life with our Week Three families.

Friday, July 17, 2009


This is Week Two. We are doing a lot bilingually. We were finally able to open the pool on Wednesday. I was finally able to take a day off.

Peer group time, our first activity after breakfast, has required more of my attention than usual. We have only one baby for babysitting! But we have about 6 local teen volunteers. How to keep them engaged in the mission, that's been my challenge for that hour. We put four of them in the other peer groups as helpers, but I have had two very capable young volunteers each morning, asking how they can help. Yesterday, joking about it with a volunteer, I said, "They need to bring more babies next year!" Then we could just send all our teens to the lodge to help with babysitting, problem solved.

My day off was lovely, but I did keep noticing the time and wondering how things were going here. Once I got in the car for the two hour drive back to Trinita, my brain went full gear back into program mode. I realized that despite the fact that there are plenty of folks here who can handle whatever might come up, I still felt like... a mother who has left her child with a babysitter for the first time.

Really? Is this what that feels like? I think it is at least in that ballpark. I know Trinita is in good shape, in good health. I also know that the staff can carry on without me--they have before! Yet, I need to be there. I need to make sure all is well. Perhaps I am being overly-responsible. Or perhaps this is just the natural result of generativity. My very self is invested in this mission and especially in the summer program. It is my baby!

But like real babies, it takes more than one person to make one! We together are raising this child. A lot of people feel personally invested, or we wouldn't be able to pull this off. In 1984, as I scrubbed the men's showers in a spirit of utter contentment, I recognized this truth: you can't pay people to do what we are doing. If they were doing this for the money, it would change everything. You have to want to scrub the showers. You have to want to be a part of this mission and make it happen. Money can't buy a missionary spirit.

Like a mother raises her child for love and not because it pays well, we all need to find something that we feel that invested in, something we do out of love and not to pay bills. I know I am so very blessed to have that gift, the gift of generativity, as a Missionary Servant. And now, excuse me, peer group is over and I have to go scrub the showers. Or something.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

White Christmas

Week One. We started the week with: No Pool. No Cook. A crew of novice volunteers. Happy New Year!

We've been doing fine, actually. But not without some regular doses of drama. We had a camera crew from the Archdiocese here all yesterday morning. As they were filming the final closing remarks, a huge verbal altercation complete with naughty words erupted from Cabin Two. Uh-oh. I spent the next two hours in negotiations and private chats with various individuals. We seem to have got at least a successful cease-fire agreement in place.

As soon as I had sealed the last peace treaty, it was time for pool. No, wait. The pool is out of order. The pool company has come several times and still can't fix it. So I went from intense negotiations to a showing of Shrek in the Meeting Room.

Unfortunately, we showed Aladdin yesterday for the same reason. They were not so interested this time. So after about a third of the kids wandered out, I left too, scrounged around in Arts and Crafts, and opened up a Face Painting business on the pavilion. Soon enough, I had a gang of kids and volunteers surrounding me so I turned it over to them. The day wore on. Every once in awhile I would try to remember what day of the week it was. Only Monday. If it's Thanksgiving, it must be Monday.

Tuesday. Today must be Christmas. We sang Joy to the World at Morning Circle. Siah has reverted to his old ways and would not go to peer group, so he chose to sit alone on the back porch instead. I directed some very helpful teen volunteers to do some mopping and weeding. Wow, they really did well, I must say! I ate part of my lunch. I made arrangements for the afternoon. The Big Plan: open the lodge for games, facepainting, and a showing of Peter Pan on a 9 inch TV.

But just as lunch clean-up ended, the heavens opened. Rain sluiced down. I took off my shoes and socks so I could escort folks to their cabins using a golf umbrella. I was therefore unprepared for the hail.

The hail! Just bits at first, then painful chunks, then a carpet of white stones in the grass. My feet went numb with cold! Just as well, since it hurt like walking on rocks.

I made it back to the front porch and we all stood in amazement, watching the rain and hail sheet down. Pat said, "It's a white Christmas!" And so, that is what we sang.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Week Before

What has been going on here this past week as we have prepared for the beginning of Summer 2009?

Lisa came and painted Merry Christmas on our dining room windows. Debbie strung lights on the Snack Koop in the lodge. Michael had to do some service hours so he came and cleaned out our huge food service refrigerator. After weeding the flower bed and laying a coat of primer on a new door to the Menacle.

Speaking of the Menacle, Vinnie repaired the bathroom window. Then crawled under the lodge and fixed the floor boards at the front door. He also mowed. But he did not need to do any weed-whacking, because Lech stopped by on his way home from work this week and borrowed ours and took care of it for us.

Mary and Bernie came to punch holes in stacks of paper, then put together folders for all our volunteers. While they slogged through that tedious job, Annette came by with the New Year hats she made for us to wear when we greet the bus of families each Saturday. She threw in a bunch of funky sunglasses to complete the effect. When we weren't looking, Mary Kent dropped off a huge bag of toy cars for bingo prizes. Likewise, Beth left a stack of boxes of granola bars on the office desk. Robbin left some song sheets.

Speaking of music, our volunteer from Notre Dame has been here for this Week Before, and she's been learning how to play things like Clap De Hands and Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. She has rescued us from a guitar-less summer. She also made a bunch of song posters. And, proving she has truly captured the spirit of this place, she made me a Cornucopia hat, with bunches of grapes dangling over my ears like muffs.

You can't imagine what a day at Trinita looks like this time of year, unless you're here to see it. Folks just come from all directions, cleaning things and setting up things and decorating things and donating things.... Ellen and Pat have somehow orchestrated most of this-- they know who everyone is, and what they are going to do, and when they are going to do it. I spend long hours up here in my office planning prayers or family gatherings or whatever, and somehow, everything else... just gets done somehow.

I wish that the people who come here and admire the place and the program could really understand just how many hands have worked here, how many good souls have walked through our doors and done their own part to build what is here and now before us. There is no better time to experience that reality than The Week Before.

Monday, June 1, 2009


In 1984, after a four-day road trip from Baton Rouge, I pulled into the parking lot of Trinita and sat in the car mustering up the courage to get out and begin my adventure. I was just a reclusive lab tech at LSU back then. Finally, I did get out, and went up the sidewalk into the dining room, where I met Sr. Margaret Fay, MSBT. She immediately felt like family to me, like one of my aunts. Not demonstrative, kind of tough-talking but really very maternal. That was 25 years ago this month. That means, it was her jubilee year when I met her.

We all had great fun tormenting her with the usual camp pranks. Well, probably more creative than the usual ones. She obliged by pretending to be annoyed by us, but in fact was unruffled by anything. I was older than most of the volunteers that summer, so she tended to assign me more of the off-beat jobs, like one-on-one adult peer group with an Iranian mom who spoke almost no English.

She called me the following spring and asked me to be the volunteer coordinator that summer. I was nervous about it but understood they were in a bit of a fix, so I agreed. So for the next two summers, I was mentored by her into the ministry. She was always calm, no matter what was going on, and the phrase I heard the most often from her was, "Don't worry about it, it'll get done!" It was she who first suggested religious life. In fact, she said I would make a good MSBT. I was not interested at the time, but profoundly honored. I do not feel she could have paid me a higher compliment.

She visited me during my year of discernment in Pensacola and told me she had lived and worked in the very cenacle I was in. Once I made it to Formation at the Motherhouse, I participated in a raid with my friends and we decorated her office with spiders and cobwebs for Halloween. She was on the Council at the time, and now I marvel at how bold we were. After I went to the missions, she went to Mexico. My first mission was her former mission, Catholic Charities in Lower East Side Manhattan. Once I was on the Formation Team myself, I enjoyed her hospitality many times over the years. Whenever I was in Buenavista, she would give up her office whenever I needed to interview women who were in discernment with us. Her office was very Trinita-like. Very different from everyone else's. As it was from the day I met her, I always felt so at home with her.

This is her fiftieth jubilee year. I was at the Motherhouse yesterday following a trip to Baltimore to give a Family Overnight at Br. Joe's mission. I went to the infirmary after lunch and sat for a long time with her in the community room there. She did not recognize me, but engaged in a protracted and incomprehensible coversation with me. It felt good just to interact with her, even though her dementia makes true conversation impossible.

Then I went for a walk. It was a beautiful spring afternoon. It was the first day off I've had recently, so I had much on my mind. When I got back, just as I was limping past the Infirmary door, it opened and a nurse's aide was pushing Margaret out in her chair to get some fresh air. Margaret was very agitated and the aide was trying to soothe her to no avail. This is apparently a regular occurence, and they may have brought her out just to give others a break. She feels she is being prevented from doing her work--she remains concerned about ministry even now. She went off in Spanish at one point.

I walked with them. There was nothing to do but agree with her. We got back to the door. I knelt down by the chair and took her hands. I don't know what it is I thought I was going to do. But when I looked into her face, so angry and frustrated, but still Margaret's face, I burst into tears. There, kneeling on the concrete driveway, in the presence of two aides, I said, "Margaret, I love you" and I just sobbed. She said, "Come here," and she pulled me to her, and I wept like a baby on her shoulder. She held me for a minute. When I pulled away and looked at her, there were tears in her eyes. She was calm, not angry any more. I looked at the aides, and they took her back inside.

I went back to Formation. I joined my friends for grilled hamburgers and hot dogs in the breezeway. I did not have much to say. But more than anything in the world, I am glad to be a Missionary Servant of the Most Blessed Trinity.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Chocolate Cake Pudding

It's pronounced "pudn." I always feel a little funny spelling out pudding because it sure is not how I pronounce it.

Mama's chocolate cake pudding is the answer to everything. She would whip it up without warning at any time. We never really knew when we were going to have a bowl of it, still warm, with evaporated milk poured over it. You can't imagine how good it is.

I used to cook a lot for fun in my young adult years, but somehow I got away from it once I became vocation director and had to travel so much. When I went off to school at University of Dayton, I got back into cooking as recreation. Once I made loaves of pumpkin bread for every one of my twenty or so classmates.

But what became my favorite was Mama's chocolate cake pudding. The ultimate Cottingham comfort food. Even more so than red beans and rice, which of course is very nourishing and comforting but... it's not chocolate. I made it alot while I was in grad school. Shared it with friends, especially with Mom's Ladies, a faith sharing group I belonged to. Iserved it as birthday cake once, still warm from the oven, and the birthday candles sort of melted into it. Live and learn.

I have made it a few times since I got here to Trinita. Because Olivia does not like coffee, I even made it once without coffee, but I will never do that again. Even though the coffee is not a major player, it really is not right without it. Like Tang compared to fresh orange juice.

Tonight, we had our third Mission Planning Council meeting, as we continue preparing a capital campaign for Trinita. I am very aware that our Council members all have jobs and families and they do not need to be hanging out at Trinita on a week night until all hours, so I keep a sharp eye on the clock to make sure we end by 9:00. But tonight, I kept looking at the clock and thinking... at 9:00, we can eat the cake pudding! That was my real motivation for keeping the meeting moving at a brisk pace.

It is all gone now. Dang. Next time, I'm making a double batch.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Peace in the Pine

Today was the annual work day. Only my second experience of it. We had many teens show up that we were not expecting, so we had to scramble a bit to find suitable work for them.

I quickly realized that a group of four 7th graders who must have shown up just to get in their service hours were going to require special attention. I assigned them to the Dandelion Death Squad, and handed out their implements of destruction-- level four iron spikes. I told them if they killed enough dandelions to level up, they would get steel Spikes of Doom. I have to admit, I found them very entertaining, and I think they forgot I am a middle-aged nun after an hour of banter about World of Warcraft. One of them invited me to join his guild!

Alas, I was faking. I have never played WarCraft online, only Legend of the Green Dragon, which is a text game. I was once Torres, head of a pie-throwing guild. But they did not catch on to me. Alas, also, they did not work very hard, so never leveled up. I really had to babysit them until lunch, after which I invited them to go home. But they were fun despite the 10-second attention spans. One of them kept saying as he swung his rake over his head, "I am at peace with the world!" Hmm... a line from a movie perhaps? Who knows. But it stuck in my head.

We have another retreat center, very different from Trinita in most ways, but similar in its effect on visitors. Blessed Trinity Shrine Retreat is in Holy Trinity Alabama. I lived there for three years and have been there countless times over the years. People talk about how peaceful it is there, how they feel it as soon as they arrive. In fact, they have made that their logo, on t-shirts and coffee mugs: "Peace in the Pines."

Two years ago, I came back from an assembly of our congregation at our Motherhouse in Philadelphia with a bucket full of pine saplings. They were from Holy Trinity. They stayed in the bucket until May, when I finally got around to planting them in back of the Stable Chapel. I will never forget it, because a few days later, after I went home for vacation, I developed my first-ever case of poison ivy. To add insult to injury, the following spring, I was unable to locate a single living pine sapling. Many dead ones though. There really is no justice.

But this afternoon, as I was coming up the hill from the pool, I peered into the brush and behold! A living pine sapling! Bright green fresh growth among the brown pine needles. Wow, is there a message there for me? Bambelela!

Tonight, we are having a slumber party with the Trinita Girls Cenacle. The two youngest are sixth graders, and this is their first real exposure to Trinita apart from attending a meeting recently. After an arts and crafts project, followed by s'mores in the Lodge fireplace, followed by spontaneous fun playing with our huge supply of costumes on the stage, followed by night prayer, followed by snacking and dancing up in the dorm, they came down to hang with Anita, Olivia and me for a bit. We started telling them stories of the old days, and they listened politely. But before they went back up to the dorm, Madison said, "It feels so peaceful here."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday, Monday

This weekend, life at Trinita was typically full. We had our first real spring weather... record breaking summer weather, to be more accurate. It's been in the low nineties here three days in a row now! I love it. In the midst of this lovely weather, we had Vinnie and a volunteer "summerizing" the property all day by putting away the buckets of ice melt and putting out the picnic tables and so on. Hallelujah, you can sit on the front porch again, the wicker chairs are back out.

While that was going on, we had another set of volunteers, Mike and Rita, crawling around in obscure corners of the property to run a new phone line and to extend our wireless internet access.

And while all that was going on, Siena, Marion and I had about 40 of our fellow parishioners here for a First Communion retreat. It was fun! It was so fun, we did it all over again on Sunday afternoon with another 40 folks. I really enjoy that particular program--I wish more parishes would ask us to give it.

But too much fun can wear a person out. It's been over a month since I had a real day off, due to preparing for the Centennial and other things I could barely keep up with. So all week, knowing the weather was going to be great, I've been looking forward to taking today off. Monday, my day off!

I slept late of course. Then I packed a lunch and got in the car and drove west on Route 4. I have never gone past Torrington on 4. Goshen, Cornwall, Kent-- just names on the map to me. I could see there were some state parks along the way, so with no plan at all, I drove off into the beautiful spring day. I listened to music cranked up loud, I sang at the top of my lungs, and I rubbernecked my way through the gorgeous New England countryside.

I drove over two covered bridges! Wow, that was very cool, I never saw one before. I ate my lunch at Mohawk State Park, which I never even knew existed. There was an old-fashioned hand pump there, and I used it to rinse my face before I got back on the road. The water tasted like water out of a garden hose, which has always appealed to me. I saw many things. Even a waterfall.

This day would have been great no matter what, but it was even better because at the end of my journey, I pulled into the parking lot of Trinita, which is as beautful as anything I saw today. The buds are just coming out on the trees. I think we'll have leaves by the end of the week. I sat at the fire pit awhile and wrote a letter to a friend. As I was finishing up the letter, I looked up and saw, high up in the tree by Cabin 1, a hula hoop. Now that is something you could drive all over Connecticut and never see, but we have a hula hoop 30 feet up a tree right here at Trinita.

Maybe I will take next Monday off, too.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Green Shoots

No leaves yet. Waiting is hard. But there are wonderful things pushing up out of the ground at long last here at Trinita.

This has been a long haul for me. A very long winter. I have served on the Core Committee for the Missionary Cenacle Family Centennial for over three year. Four, by the time we have our final meeting in September. Wow. I was still working on my thesis back at University of Dayton.

We have been working on "The Plan" all this time: devising it, revising it, explaining it, pushing it forward, explaining it..... explaining it. Sigh. I guess it is hard to grasp because we have never done anything like this before.

Our last assembly of the Missionary Cenacle Family was a 4 day conference in 2000. We called it the Jubilee Jubileo. (Going bilingual has made redundancy a way of life for us.) After taking counsel for some time, we finally arrived at a statement with some goals for the MCF Council to work on. They did. They created some committees who produced some materials for us to use. Most folks probably did not even know that stuff was the result of the Jubileo.

But this time, it's different. We arrived at some goals, but the work is not going to the MCF Council. It's going to Area Councils. Which don't hardly even exist right now except as a concept. The work is going right back to us. If we don't do it, it won't get done. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is.

I returned to Trinita this week with my head full of experiences. It's odd, how I feel. I feel like it's the New Year, and I have made resolutions I will really keep. I feel like it's Easter, and the Virtue of Hope has sprung up inside me like a new spring flower. Green shoots everywhere. I have a lot of work to do, but I am right where I should be. I am ready to do it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

One Hundred

April 1909.

One hundred years later, it is Holy Thursday. It is my feast day. (My religious name is Sister Deborah of the Eucharist.) We took a morning of prayer and reflection, and soon we'll enjoy a supper of lamb and a sort of Seder meal, thanks to Sr. Marion Agnes. Today is a beautiful day, a day of transition between winter and spring, transition in who lives and works here, transition in how we work with the lay missionaries here. A transition between the first hundred years and the next hundred years.

Father Judge said something right to those five women he called to St. John Perboyre Chapel one hundred years ago. Words were seeds that fell on fertile ground and were nourished. Today, we sit in our little chapel, still able to see across the land to the distant hills because the white birch in front of the window has not yet got its leaves. Today, we light a stub of an old altar candle given us by our dear parish church down at the bottom of Town Hill. This is the light we get from our parish, the light we get from our Church, and the light we fan into flame.

Next week, that stub flies to Holy Trinity Alabama in my suitcase. We will all toss our candles together, and the mingled light will melt them and reform them. Soon, in this little chapel, we will not be able to see beyond the beautiful spring leaves of the white birch outside the window. And burning here will be a new candle, for the next one hundred years, made up of all the wax of all the candles of all the missions.

What a wonderful thing to be a missionary.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


This weekend we had 23 teens from St. Francis of Assisi for a confirmation retreat. We have given a few confirmation retreats since I've been here, but never an overnight. I spent most of the week inventing a retreat. I did some cut-and-paste from other retreats we've done here, but large sections of it were new. I based it on the RCIA process.

Wow, I learned a lot from the experience. Some parts of the program went well, and some just seemed to fall flat. My number one problem is that I failed to include much time for them to process the experience with each other. They won't talk much when we're all together, but they will talk to each other quite a bit otherwise, and I should have capitalized on that by giving them small group activities. Oh well.

But one experience I hope stays with them is one I had many years ago, when I was still a recent convert to Catholicism. I was on a young adult retreat with the same concept: recreate RCIA. The first night, with very little preparation, they took half of us out into a pasture and left us there, alone in the dark. We were supposed to just wait, not talk or do anything. Time passed. We looked at the stars, we enjoyed the night breezes, we waited.

Then, we started to hear singing in the distance. It grew louder, and we saw a procession of candles approaching. Soon, we could make out our friends coming to get us. Each of them took one of us and guided us back to the church. But before we could enter, the priest stood at the door. Before we could come in, each of us had to come up with some reason why we wanted to join the church.

So, this Friday, I stood among this group of teens outside our Lodge door. Sr. Siena stood at the door, looking quite impressive in her white alb. We clutched our candles and shivered in the frigid breeze while she asked, "What do you seek?"

"Faith!" We had coached them in the proper response as we walked to the Lodge. Faith! We seek faith! That's all. That's what all this is about. Not even understanding or wisdom or strength---just faith. If we get nothing else, faith will still get us through.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What lies beneath?

Bear with me on this one, I'll get there.

At Christmastime, I dropped off a gift basket of baked goodies at the LeDuc residence in Canton. Terri was home and I visited a few minutes. She was preparing supper, and was searing meatballs in a cast iron skillet. The smell was heavenly and she offered me one. As I munched on a meatball stuck on a fork like a popsicle, she asked me, "Are you sisters sure you just want donations toward new carpeting for Christmas this year? I understand it's a need, but I want to do something more than that for you." I wanted to reply, "oh, don't worry, Terri, you will!" but instead I said, "Dang, this is great, why don't you just invite us over for meatballs one day!"

Yesterday and today, we had new carpeting installed, both in the meeting room and in the larger upstairs office. This morning I was in the empty office, old rug gone but the old padding had not yet been ripped out. I pulled up a corner to look at the floor. Linoleum!

But not just any linoleum. It was THE linoleum, forgotten until now, buried in my memory but now flooding back. I was 25 years younger. In 1984, this was how the floor looked in this very room. My bedroom for seven weeks. There were three sets of narrow metal bunkbeds and two dressers in here, barely room to move, and I shared the space with four other volunteers. I stood on this floor. I could see the marks from the bunkbed I slept in gouged into the linoleum.

Back then, we had not been discovered by the Fire Marshall or the Health Department. We crammed as many folks into these buildings as we could, and there was no such thing as nice new carpeting. Not even normal sized beds. It was all army bunks. I remember the carpeting in the meeting room back in 1984. It was wretched.

How can this place have changed so much, and still be the same? And yet, it is. Tonight, we had our first ever Mission Council Meeting. We've been working toward this for well over a year. This was a big event. Terri LeDuc was one of our five recruits. (She had no idea we were planning this the day she gave me a hot meatball.) One of our other recruits, Jim shared his impressions of Trinita and why he wants to be a part of our planning. "There is something about this place. I don't know what it is. It's like, you step onto the ground, and there is something underneath that reaches up into you..."

Yes, yes. Holy ground. I wanted to laugh. Everyone says that! So it must be true. But I think it is also holy linoleum. What lies beneath. I told you I'd get there.

Monday, March 9, 2009


When I was a kid, I was dimly aware that we were pretty close to the edge financially. We always had enough of the basics, but looking back I can realize how very tightly my folks had to control things to make sure we had enough to eat, and clothes and shoes. Gardening, canning, sewing were not hobbies, they were how my parents kept the budget.

As a member of an apostolic religious community, I will always have plenty to eat, a place to live, and good health care. I even have a good education. I have the essential supplies I need to do my work. I get to make a week retreat every year. That makes me rich, not poor. So what does religious poverty mean?

There are reasons to reflect on poverty at this time. It's Lent, for one thing. The nation's economy is trashed. Also, tonight we're having a meeting to discuss possible improvements to the grounds and structures here at Trinita-our annual planning meeting to prepare the budget.

Now that gets me thinking. When I post here, since it's a public forum, I tend to emphasize the positive. and make the negatives sound like a grand adventure. This is totally sincere, lest I am accused of duplicity. It is a great adventure to live here, and this is a great mission. But to be honest, I do not feel that way like every minute of every day. In fact, there are some things I really whine about.

Claustrophobia probably heads the list. I have to duck to go up and down the stairs and to go in our front door--which was originally a window from what I can tell looking at old photos. (See "Early Trinita" to get a clue.) When I get out of bed every morning and stretch, my hands press against the ceiling.

Then there is mud, dirt, sand, salt, and snow. Inside the house, I mean. Our front parking lot isn't paved, it's dirt. You can never really clean it after a snow fall, so we have to keep it sanded and salted when ice is a danger. If you've been reading my posts you must know how much I love the snow, since I remark on it so frequently. But when the snow melts, as it is doing right now on this dreary rainy afternoon, you step out of our little front door into a mud pit. You step out of the car into it, as well. Then, you track it into the house. There is really no good solution to this problem.

I would like to have decent computer speakers so I could listen to good music while I work. I would like to have a digital projector so we could do powerpoints, slideshows, even movies in our meeting room or in the lodge. I would like to have a digital video camera to take mpeg4 movies of our work here to upload onto YouTube. I would like to have a good networkable color laser printer to replace the not very good one we have now. I would like to have one of them gadgets you can use to make your own spiral bound booklets with. Yeah. I'm on a roll now!

But whether I can have any or all of these things or not can't be what keeps me awake at night. Last week I gave a tour of the place to a youth minister planning to bring a new group here. We slogged through the mud to look at one of our quaint cabins (twelve beds, one toilet and shower!) and the lodge (no running water!) and our meeting room (broken-down mis-matched donated sofas) and he kept repeating over and over, "This is perfect!"

Yes, I can't always get what I want. But despite the poverty, we are wealthy. I was interupted in writing this by a phone call from an MCA member who was asking for prayer as she attempts to teach her youth ministry team the basics of taking counsel. And as I looked out the window and listened to her story, I saw a dozen turkeys milling around by Cabin Two. And the rain turned into snow. Yup. It is coming down really nice now. It's beautiful out there. This is perfect.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


It's Ash Wednesday. We took the afternoon off for prayerand reflection. I was amused by a reading from Father Judge we use for Ash Wednesday in which he reminds us that God desires to purify and cleanse us.

On the outside I am dripping with an especially generous smear of ashes on my forehead. But on the inside, I am really pretty thoroughly purified and cleansed. I am getting a colonoscopy tomorrow and have fasted all day and I consumed the nasty stuff they make you drink to clean you all out.

The other day, while the snow was drifting down in huge wet flakes, I went for a walk. First I tried making a snowman. Just on general principles. I got the three basic parts but lost interest and wandered off into the woods. The woods were lovely, dark, and deep. During the summer, I would never go off the trail like that because of getting lost or worse, getting poison ivy. But I just slogged on down past the pool and found remnants of the barbwire fence that was needed when Lydia the Pony of unhappy memory dwelt here long ago.

I also found something else quite remarkable. I found a beach ball. I am not sure I can convey what an odd sight it was, a brightly colored, fully inflated beach ball, nestled against a tree trunk, draped in snow. I picked it up and it was tight and light in my hands. I could almost smell the chlorine. I could feel the heat of the sun on my bare arms. I could imagine the kids playing water volleyball, watching in dismay as the ball sailed over the fence into the woods. Where it reposed, forgotten until now.

But still bright. Still light. Still ready for action. I eventually made my way back up the hill and gave the ball to the snowman.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

It's a Wonderful Life

In the movie, things were pretty grim for Jimmy Stewart. An economic crisis. In fact, all kinds of terrible and stupid and tragic things happen every day. I have a tendency to thank God when things are going well, and yell at God when they aren't.

I have had some hard things on my mind lately. My young cousin died a few weeks ago. Also, I am trying to wrap my mind around the fact of the terminal illness of someone I have loved and admired for many years. Somehow, these things seem completely unfair to me. I am on speaking terms with God, but I am less than civil, I have to admit.

I have watched commentary on the nightly n
ews about people's attitudes about mortgage help for those who do not deserve it. I am not sure if it's a cultural thing, or if humans are simply wired to think this way, but we seem convinced despite all evidence to the contrary, that life should be fair. Yes, inevitably, some folks who lived foolish and undeserving lives are going to get some bailout money. The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.

But having reflected on this often over the years, I am sure that I do not want justice. For one thing, let's start with the fact that justice is impossible. There is no justice in executing a murderer. Justice would be for the murderer to bring his victim back to life. We can never, ever get back what we are owed when we are sinned against. We have to settle for less. So let's take what we reasonably can, and move on.

I don't want justice. I want mercy. I want the rain to fall on all of us, the gentle rain of new life, of resurrection, of spring, of Easter.

There is no justice in Lisa's death. There is no justice in Annie's cancer. I have to take what lies before me and move on. Today's forecast was for rain. Outside my window I am gazing at the trees of Trinita, covered already in the thick, soft whiteness of falling snow. It is God's answer to me, I know. No words, no ex
planations or theological arguments. Just the snow, the beauty, the peace, the abundance of God's love and mercy, blanketing each and every one of us. No matter what.