Saints among us
THREE MINUTES WITH THE SAINTS by Paul Combs
When we hear the word “saint,” we typically think of great spiritual heroes of the past like St. Peter, St. Teresa of Avila, or St. Francis of Assisi; all of these saints are immortalized (some would say calcified) in marble statues and stained-glass images. They are inspiring, but not always approachable. What we tend to forget is that every one of them was a living, breathing person just like us. They had hopes and dreams, fears and failings, as they made their way through the world seeking to follow Jesus as best they could, just like we do.
Ultimately, we are all called to be saints. Thus, it makes total sense that there would be saints living among us today; let’s call them “everyday saints.” In today’s installment of “Three Minutes With the Saints,” I want to focus on just such a group of 21st century saints serving both God and man in New York City and beyond even as I type this. Let’s meet the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal.
The Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal is a religious community founded in 1988 as a parallel to the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. The following thumbnail sketch is taken from their mission statement:
“The aim of the Community is to live the Gospel in simplicity according to the ideals of Saint Francis, as handed on by the Capuchin tradition. The values uniting the sisters include a strong prayer life and an emphasis on a common life marked by a warm family spirit, joyful imitation of Saint Francis and Saint Clare, faithfulness to the Magisterium of the Church and loyalty to the Holy Father. The sisters’ two-fold apostolic mission is hands-on work with the poor and evangelization. The ministry includes a food and clothing pantry, soup kitchen, home visits, pro-life work, retreat work, and inner-city youth ministry.”
There are currently 35 sisters in the Community, and they work in impoverished neighborhoods in New York City, where they were founded, as well as in Atlantic City, New Jersey; Leeds, England; and Drogheda, Ireland. They follow a contemplative/active way of life, praying five hours a day while living and working among the most marginalized in our society: the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, the addicted. The sisters wear a simple gray tunic, a black veil, and sandals.
They live and work in some of the poorest, most crime-ridden areas of New York City and Atlantic City, and while sisters of some other Orders wear regular clothes in these settings, they believe wearing the habit has helped them to stay safe. Mother Lucille Cutrone, the Superior of the Community, said in an interview: “We never felt in danger. There’s no doubt that the habit has been an important sign and a protection of a kind.” Sister Clare, another Franciscan sister, adds: “Though many of the people we encounter have never been taught the Faith, the habit lets them know instinctively that we’re there to help them.”
Balancing active service and a vigorous prayer life makes for a full schedule, with prayer beginning at 6 am with the Liturgy of the Hours and personal prayer time, Mass at 7:45, then breakfast and work until noon when they have midday prayer and lunch. They then continue work until 5:00 pm when they have an hour of evening prayer and dinner, then free time and finally a communal recitation of the rosary and night prayer at 8:40. Once a month the sisters take a retreat day.
In addition to seeing people return to the Church as a result of their work, they have impacted their local communities in ways many would consider “small.” For example, people in their neighborhood began planting vegetable gardens after seeing the sisters do the same to help supply their needs. Even something as simple as seeing the sisters picking up trash sets a tone and an example others then follow.
If you look at the photo at the top of this page, you’ll see that these sisters are all smiling; that’s not a one-time-for-the-camera thing. Just Google “Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal images” and you’ll see this is their normal state; saints are joyful. While you’re doing that search, check out some of the many videos about their daily life like the one below. It shows something that should encourage each one of us: saints in action.
You can learn more about the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal at their website. While you’re there, consider donating to their cause; they exist solely through donations from others. If you watched the video above, you know that your giving is put to good use, something that unfortunately can’t be said of all charitable organizations out there today.
That’s “Three Minutes With the Saints” for this week. As you go through your busy schedule this week, just remember these words of wisdom from French novelist Leon Bloy:
“The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.”
Have a great week.