The Strength of Religious Women

What I learned from a group of religious sisters

Guest Post by Abby Blaes, CSJ Intern


Whenever someone asks me where I work, I smile a bit knowing that what I’m going to say they would never have suspected. “I work for an order of sisters in their communications department.” Young people are genuinely surprised by my response. Their confusion is understandable as the typical response would be “I work as a hostess” or “I work in retail.” I’ve gotten just about every response imaginable from them. “So, wait, are you a nun?” “Do they wear those big dress things?” (The answer to this one is no, most of them choose not to wear a habit). “What do you even do?” and “That’s an… (interesting, weird, cool,) job.”

On my first day working for the Sisters, I could hardly contain my nervousness. I was worried about saying or doing something wrong that would lead to some sort of discipline. What I found was an endless supply of excitement and enthusiasm about my presence.

I’ve worked for the Sisters every summer for the last four years. It started with my volunteering because I needed service hours in order to graduate from high school. However, the next summer, they hired me back as an official employee. I returned the next summer after that… and the next summer after that.

I hope next year to find an internship with another company, so this might very well be the last time I work with the Sisters. With that in mind, I felt I needed to thank this group of women for all they have done for me. I felt I needed to recognize the good that they do for the world and for me, personally.

This job has not only given me invaluable work experience and an absolutely incredible work environment; it has given me so much more.

I can say very confidently that I will never work with better, more authentic people. Every face I pass offers a smile and a hello. I’m confident that every person I meet has a genuine concern and care for my well-being.

I have never met more dedicated, inspiring women in my life. I have had the privilege of getting to know these women throughout my time here. I have heard their authentic, never ending concern for the marginalized in society: LGBT persons, immigrants, women’s and civil rights, just to name a few. I have learned their individual stories of mission work in Gulu, Uganda, educating in schools across the country and world, and generally being present and resistant to the injustices of the world.

They make declarations to serve everyone and anyone that they meet to the best of their ability. They give of themselves fully and wholly to the world around them and often do not think of themselves at all.

I have never met a group more dedicated to the people of the world and to the world itself, advocating for a healthier planet, sustainable energy and more of the like. These women inspire me daily. I am so incredibly fond of their company, their influence, and the stories they have shared with me.

In my job, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing women who were present at the Civil Rights march in Selma and met women who are still fervently, passionately working for equal rights for all. I have met women who have dedicated their lives to teaching and working with the children of the nation and the world, all the way to places like Japan, China, Uganda, and beyond. I have met women who have written books about history, music, and life in general. I have met women whose thirst for education was never quenched which is evident from their two, three degrees and continued interest in the surrounding world. I have read the newspaper, eaten lunch, laughed, worked and lived life to the fullest with this extraordinary group of individuals.

They would never claim any of these things as extravagant or of great accomplishment because humility is also a part of their vows. And they are genuine in that. They believe that the acts of charity and love are simply the things they should do as people and children of God.

I’m not a Sister, though, so I’ll do a little bragging on their behalf. As an outsider who has been welcomed into this community, I feel such a need to thank these women for everything they do for their community and for me. A little recognition can go a long way and you all have truly inspired me to give all of myself to the people I meet and to the world around me. Your unending kindness, love, and concern for the dear neighbor has directly and indirectly affected me. I will carry that with me always.

When someone first asked me the question, “where do you work?” I was embarrassed and unsure. Now when someone asks me that same question, I smile and know just how lucky I am to have had this opportunity and to have met this group of women. I know that I now have a province, a congregation, a world of people who will support me in all that I do. Knowing there are people like the Sisters in the world gives me hope that things are going to be alright.

These women move mountains, make a real difference in their community, and share their unconditional love and support to everyone they meet. Their strength and their power far exceeds others I know. I hope that their example continues to lead us in a direction towards betterment and towards true humanity. I know that they have already lead me toward a better outlook on life—a more genuine concern for the people I meet and the earth that I live on.

Originally published on Odyssey Beta

Deep Connections

CSSJ newer Member Pic

I just returned home from the Sisters of St. Joseph (United States) Federation event in Orlando, FL, which we have every 5 years or so. To say these events are amazing is an understatement! I have been to two of them now in my short time in formation and both have been life-giving and life changing.

The Federation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph is a dynamic union of all the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the United States who claim a common origin in the foundation at Le Puy, France in 1650. There are 16 Congregations throughout the United States with approximately 4,465 sisters, 2,919 associates and 26 agrégées. The Federation was created exactly 50 years ago and am I so happy that it was! I like to equate the way the Federation works to the United Nations (U.N.). Each of the 16 Congregations, have their own leaderships, Constitutions, policies, members, etc. or basically everything that makes them a canonical community, just like each of the 193 nations, according the U.N., around the world have their own leaderships, constitutions, laws, peoples, and policies that define them as a country. While the U. N. allows greater collaboration and support for leaders and countries around the world, the CSSJ Federation allows us to have greater collaboration and support around the nation as we live out our charism of unifying love. You can find out more about the Federation at
There are many reasons to have a Federation, but for right now it is suffice to say in this day and age no one person, or Congregation, or even Federation can do it alone. In fact, one of the main lessons from the event last week was that separation is an illusion. There are many take-aways or lessons from the event I and my fellow sisters who write for this blog will share over the coming weeks/months so stay tuned.

Today, I am moved to share how important it is for newer members in Religious Life to connect with one another and form deep friendships and/or connections. I consider it as vital and necessary! This reach for connections I am talking about even goes beyond our own Congregations and Federations, and goes into Inter-Community space. There is a national inter-communal group of newer/younger members I am a part of, called Giving Voice. Find out more about the group here: However, the starting place is your own Congregation, as you get steeped in your communal history and form deep connections. At the event I was able to spend time with newer members across the Federation and it is always powerful and life-giving when we spend time together. Our group picture is featured. When I get together with them, or with my inter-communal peers through Giving Voice, it gives me great hope and also gives me strength to keep moving forward.

It is no secret that within 10 years the demographics of Religious Life are going to drastically change which in one sense means that some of the structures as we now know them will change too. So why is it so important to form deep connections across your Congregation, Federation, and even across Inter-Community borders?

               A. We are co-creating our future together. I, nor anyone, would want to do that if I did not have strong  bonds and relationships with the people I am supposed to be creating a future with.
B. Strong bonds are formed when people are ‘in the same boat’ so to speak. My fellow newer members get it. We have a level of understanding where no translation is needed! This makes our bonding easier and strengthens it too. While I have friendships across the board, with married couples and single people, nothing is quite like my friendships with my sisters, which includes my Sister of St. Joseph family and Giving Voice.
C. On an individual level, having deep friendships helps us to reach our full potentials. The love shared in these relationships affect who we are as a person and in most cases has helped us become who we are.

The list could go on and on about why deep connections and friendships are important. I invite you to reflect and add to this list too. Please share them in the comments if you feel so moved. As I sign off today, I encourage you to keep growing and deepening your relationships. It is essential and critical for survival!

~Sister Clare, CSJ

Fling Open the Doors

A few weeks ago we flung open the doors and as we welcomed a woman interested in the Sisters of St. Joseph to a weekend of Community, Spirituality and Justice – with the acronym: CSJ. Four of us on the vocation team: Sarah, Clare, Mary and I organized the weekend, with lots of help from other sisters along the way.

We began the weekend by sharing the Friday evening meal with the vocation team and several sisters at the Carondelet. After dinner, we took a tour of the motherhouse which is really a great introduction to who we are and what we’re about. The tour ended in the chapel where we prayed and shared around the notion of call. Our fundamental call to loving relationship, our vocational call to a particular life-calling, and our daily calls to community, spirituality and justice.

On Saturday, we began with a short prayer then moved out to our volunteer sites. The first site was in Dogtown Ecovillage where I live and where we work for community and sustainability in an urban neighborhood. We harvested and braided organic Garlic and we did some maintenance at a native plant garden. Some of us had never harvested garlic before, so it was a new experience of receiving the earth’s abundance that will continue to bless the community for the coming year. After the harvest, we moved on to one of the public native plant installations in the ecovillage to do some maintenance work there, pulling bindweed and johnson grass. Native plants are a great way to build sustainability and restore our ecosystem.

Marian Middle School logoAt lunch time, we went to Marian Middle School where Sarah is principal. Kate brought in a wonderful lunch and shared it with us. Well nourished, we headed into the afternoon’s project. Sarah had us cleaning out and organizing one of the supply closets at the school. I had my doubts whether we could make order out of the chaos before the end of the day, but we managed to finish early. We enjoyed the camaraderie of working together and sharing stories of the mission at Marian, and the life of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and life in general.

The group headed back to the motherhouse for a reflection and prayer lead by Ida. Then we all reconvened for pizza and community with Linda, Jean, Nancy and Mary. They welcomed us to their home where we had an opportunity to respond to questions about religious life. Each of us shared from our own perspective and experience, which made for a very rich evening indeed.

Sunday morning we headed out to a parish for mass, followed by a wrap-up session with more conversation, questions, and sharing with the vocation team.

I enjoyed sharing the weekend with our visitor and with the sisters on the vocation team and with other sisters who came in to help out with various parts of the weekend. Over the course of the weekend, four of us on the team wove in and out of the program, depending on our other commitments. We had published the schedule to sisters on the expanded vocation teams to ask their prayers, support and participation. They came forward generously to make the weekend a success for us all.

At the end, the woman who joined us for the weekend said:

I really feel like you opened your home and your lives to me. This is really what I needed for my discernment process.

Let’s pray for all those who are discerning a call to religious life and for all of us who accompany them on the journey.

God is…

As part of my evening prayer and Examen this last month or so, I have been writing lists of metaphors for God.   For the times when the traditional metaphors don’t quite do it…

God is…

Deep breaths…Blue skies…New knowledge…A listening community…Space to vent…A healthy snack…Lunch break…Giggling girls…A hint of mischief…Air conditioning…An open heart…That favorite movie I play over and over to which I know all the lines…A brother’s teasing…Cool nights…Cicadas’ song…A remembering smile as I look back on my day…Raw emotion…Honest conversation…Garden-watering rain…Hope.

God is…

My everything…The reason I am…A stomach’s growl…Scented markers…Old photographs…Every little thing…Joy…Gentleness…Fun…Moonlight on my face as I Iay down to sleep…A purple-pink sunset…The momma and papa birds caring for their young in the nest outside my window…Puddle stomping…Flying like I’m flying as I run down a wooded trail…A phone call from a friend…A new perspective…Creative dreaming…A good book…A chocolate ice cream cone…Enough.

God is…

Knowing where I belong…Possibility…A foot rub…A game winning homerun…Peanuts in a shell…Cannonballs in the pool…Homemade slip ‘n’ slides…Sprite for an upset tummy…A curious kitten…Laughter…Clean sheets…A field of fireflies…A big glass of cold water…Floss…Being introduced to a new friend…The homeless man on the park bench…Cooperation…Relationship…The little mouse between the doors waiting to be let free…The view from the roof…Honest conversation…My daily yes.