Come & See Weekend 2012
By: Tamara S. Cornelison
At my niece's wedding, my sister, the mother of the bride, introduced me to a young woman she had taught at one time. The young woman had never met a nun in her life and wanted to be speak to me. I was surprised at first and then realized that there are probably a lot of people in this X Generation who have never seen (much less known) a nun. – Sr. Ann Laszok, OSBM
Once upon a time, there were thousands upon thousands of young children who learned reading, writing, and arithmetic in Catholic parish schools (along with geography and a whole lot of other things people don’t seem to teach these days). These schools were run and staffed by nuns; here and there the religious faculty was supplemented by a lay teacher or two. The Sisters were busy in other spheres as well—working at hospitals, serving as support staff in chanceries, and actively engaging in numerous spiritual labors that made them a very visible presence in the community at large.
Things have changed. Over the last couple of decades, for example, the phenomenon of Sisters teaching in parish schools has dwindled. One reason for this is that fewer young women are entering religious life; another reason is that parish schools are suffering from the general malaise of a sluggish economy—many are closing their doors for good or merging with other schools. Similar economic constraints are affecting parents who are now opting to send their children to public schools, mostly because their budgets can’t accommodate paying tuition for a Catholic school. Some Catholic schools continue to thrive in spite of these economic factors, but the ratio of lay teachers has dramatically increased whereas the number of teaching Sisters has plummeted. As a result, nuns have become rara avis . . . rarely seen, seldom heard, semi-mythical creatures that once roamed the Earth in great number.
Among the religious orders affected by these changes is the Order of St. Basil the Great, the order of the Sisters of the Jesus, Lover of Humanity Province, who have been serving the Ukrainian Catholic Church in America since 1911. The Sisters who first came to this country from Ukraine started with nothing but an iron will bolstered by unflinching courage and absolute faith that their Creator would help them overcome all obstacles and achieve all goals. They established and staffed a vast school system; they ran orphanages; they ministered to the Ukrainian Catholic clergy and laity in countless ways. Surviving and thriving through hard times, they built and expanded with an eye to the future instead of an eye on impediments, always adapting to changing times and changing needs.
Their successors, the Sisters who continue to carry on the work begun a hundred years ago, have inherited these same qualities—tackling challenges head on, often by thinking out of the box. One recent out-of-the-box initiative relates to the quotes that appear at the beginning of this story. For Sister Ann Laszok, OSBM, the strange encounter with the young woman at the wedding was something of an "Aha!" moment that boiled down to the realization that "They don't know anything about us! So let's fix this."
Soon after, Sister Ann approached Provincial Superior Dorothy Ann Busowski, OSBM, with a plan—to organize and host a "Come and See" weekend. And soon after that, an invitation was posted on the Sisters’ Website, in newspapers, church bulletins colleges and Facebook. Brief and to the point, it read:
Have you ever wondered what nuns are all about? The Sisters of St. Basil are planning a "Come and See" weekend on March 16 - 18, 2012, at the Basilian Motherhouse in Jenkintown, Pa. Come and visit. You are welcome to spend time with the Sisters in prayer, community, and ministry. Get to know who we are and what we do to build up the kingdom of God. All we ask is that you let us know if you are coming so we can prepare for your visit. Call or email Sr. Ann (412-260-1607 or firstname.lastname@example.org) or Sr. Joann (215-379-3998 or email@example.com). Looking forward to meeting or talking to you soon.
The "Come and See" weekend, designed for women who might be interested in religious life, began on Friday afternoon, March 16, with Sister Joann and Sister Ann welcoming guests Samantha, Christine, Stephanie, and Janelle with warm smiles. After mutual introductions and an exchange of pleasantries, everyone walked to the Holy Trinity Chapel for a Presanctified Liturgy celebrated by Fr. Daniel Troyan. This was followed by dinner and a movie - "Women of Spirit" a documentary about Jesus, Lover of Humanity Province. Filmed by Mykola and Oksana Yaremko and produced by Sister Ann Laszok, OSBM, the film was an integral part of the Sisters’ centennial celebrations, a testament to 100 years of faithful service in the work of the Lord.
Saturday began with Liturgy and Matins celebrated in English, followed by reflections by Sr. Joann. The four young women then shared lunch with the Sisters, after which Sister Dia and Sister Elizabeta, both from Ukraine, shared stories of how they had entered religious life. The guests were intrigued by both stories: Sister Dia had entered the monastery in secret, when the Ukrainian Catholic Church was forced to exist as an underground institution banned by communist authorities; Sister Elizabeta had entered the convent in 1992, a year after Ukraine declared independence and a time when the long-suppressed church was beginning to emerge from the shadows and openly rebuild itself.
After Vespers, there was a communal dinner and a tour of Philadelphia. On Sunday, the girls and their hosts prayed Matins, attended Liturgy, and shared a peaceful period of reflection. That afternoon, the young women bid farewell to the Sisters, all agreeing that it had been a wonderful weekend, that they would happily experience another, that they wanted more.
When asked what could have been changed in the schedule, all four young women responded that they would have enjoyed spending some time with the Sisters in their ministry . . . an opportunity to see and perhaps share in some aspect of the Sisters’ work with the faithful. When asked what blessing they had received, they responded by citing the hospitality of the Sisters, the inspiration of hearing the stories of the Sisters from Ukraine, and feeling the Sisters’ calm and joy. Samantha, Christine, Stephanie, and Janelle all noted that they would recommend the "Come and See" weekend to others, that they had thought of others who would have enjoyed the experience as much as they had.
And so, the second hundred years begins . . . stay tuned for new chapters to come.
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