By KATHY SCHMUGGE
CHAPIN — The gathering of men and women religious with Bishop Robert J. Baker on Feb. 1 was an occasion for joy in celebration of the World Day of Prayer for Religious as well as a time to honor the jubilarians in the diocese. It was also an occasion for Sister Susan Schorsten, liaison for religious, to put the talented group to work, sharing their successes and their setbacks with their bishop.
Congregation of Mission Father John Lawlor set the tone for the day in the morning reflections. “Although there are many religious communities with many different founders represented here today, we are all called to serve Jesus Christ,” he said. Then he correlated service to “being present to Jesus,” through acknowledging God’s existence, praying and “being present” to the people one serves.
In addition to prayer and fellowship, the religious men and women attended two “dialogue sessions.” In the first session, 11 groups of religious brainstormed to answer the question, “What are the needs of the church and the Diocese of Charleston?” With one spokesperson for each table, the groups relayed their top three concerns. Some of the issues that tended to resurface from table to table were meeting the needs of our multicultural communities, ministering to the poor, and concerns about religious education and evangelization for all ages, especially the youth. Just as the religious communities and their ministries differ so did the responses. By providing this opportunity to voice opinions, Bishop Baker was able to hear the concerns of the religious, empathize and suggest possible solutions short and long range.
“Since I just arrived to the diocese last May, this gathering has been a good opportunity to meet other religious who are serving the state,” said Xaverian Brother John Hickey from Orangeburg, who enjoyed exchanging ideas and finding out what is going on in the diocese.
Next, the small groups shared the results from the second session’s question, “What are the unique gifts we as religious bring to the diocese?” From the responses, some short and direct while others were more detailed, it was apparent that the religious felt they contributed a great deal to the diocese through their diverse ministries ranging from outreach to education. Most acknowledged that living in a religious community is an asset because they learn to collaborate with each other and have the comforts of a built-in support system. Some spoke of their educational backgrounds, their “gift of prophecy,” while others consider themselves leaders for peace and justice.
“It was encouraging to see that some of the concerns of last year had been addressed. The questions posed to the group were good ones and our discussion of them was open, honest, and spirited,” said Sister Helen Godfrey from the Monastery of St. Clare in Greenville. “My thanks to Bishop Baker and Sister Susan Schorsten, and the committee who worked with them, for setting up such a well-planned, positive-orientated and pleasant day for us to gather, listen, and be heard,” added Sister Godfrey, who is also president of the group Women Religious in South Carolina.
“God has blessed our diocese by providing the gifts you bring to ministry here without which our diocese and church would be sorely lacking in ministerial service to the people of God,” said Bishop Baker, describing the religious as a vital presence in the church.
“Ultimately our lives are not defined by what we do, but who we are in relationship to God. He looks at us in terms of our loving relationship with him as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our works flow from this relationship not the other way,” said the bishop, who shared an excerpt which brought out this truth from “Five Loaves and Fishes” by Cardinal-designate Francois X. Nguyen Van Thuan, head of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace.
In the book, the cardinal-designate writes about the nine years he spent in solitary confinement at a Communist concentration camp in Nhatrang.
This great man of action, a hero for justice found himself near despair, when a voice from within stirred his heart. “Everything you have done … are excellent works, God’s works but they are not God. … If God wants you to abandon all these works … have confidence in him …” From this reflection the cardinal-designate found his strength in accepting limitations.
Bishop Baker relayed the importance of “making the Lord center of our lives not our works,” and expressed joy to have religious in the diocese who live out this reality in their lives, such as the many jubilarians who were recognized during the Mass. “I am happy today to say thank-you to our jubilarians who have served the Lord and all of us. Each of you brings the particular witness of the charism of your community so faithfully through the individual talents and gifts that you share in ministry.”
Our Lady of Mercy Sister Helen Grobusky celebrated her 65th anniversary this year as a sister and describes her years of service as “a lot of hard work but no regrets.” When asked what were the most memorable events in the 65 years, she answered, “the privilege of caring for three lepers in the West Indies, attending Midnight Mass at the Sistine Chapel celebrated by Pope Paul VI, and being able to attend Mass in the monastery in Portugal where Sister Lucia was present in the adjoining room.”
Sister Grobusky, even though retired, continues to help where she can, reflecting like many others, on the words of encouragement spoken at Father Scott Buchanan’s first Mass, “Speak to us of the things of God. Teach us the way of prayer in union with God. We don’t expect you to be a saint. We need you to be faithful.”