Sisters Theresina Flannery, RSM, Laura M. Arvin, OP, Mary Jo Kearns, RSM, Eileen P. Smith, RSM
Reflections for the Funeral Eucharistic Liturgy of Sister Theresina Flannery, RSM
October 27, 2016 Immaculate Conception Chapel 11AM
Good morning, dear Reverend Fathers, Sisters, Family members of Sister Theresina, and Friends! I want to say that I feel very privileged to share these reflections on Sister Theresina whom I believe is one of the most revered Sisters of Mercy in our Institute. I feel so grateful that I could call her a friend for more than 45 years, living with her for almost 40 years. I want to share with you that our new Bishop James Checchio would have liked to have joined us for this celebration of Sister Theresina’s life and death. However, he is at this moment speaking at the Convocation of the priests of the Diocese of Metuchen. He assured us that he will remember her and us in prayer at this time.
Sister Theresina’s life always inspired me and I hope she has inspired you too. Sister Mary Jo and I chose the readings for this special Funeral Eucharistic Liturgy. We believe they address and reveal some aspects of Sister Theresina’s personality and spirituality. Let me share how they do so:
To begin, the reading of Isaiah speaks of God providing rich food for those who remain faithful even amidst difficult times. The literal enjoyment of rich food was not Theresina’s forte because she rarely expressed much interest in food and always felt that with her little frame she better not eat too much, and she didn’t. However, she always expressed that God was filling her with rich food through her experiences of love and friendship. Last Friday, while in the hospital, she kept on saying to Sisters Irene, Mary Jo and me that she was so grateful for her wonderful long life. She lived longer than any of her other eight brothers and sisters. She felt she had been so blessed with a loving family, wonderful caring friends, opportunities to learn and grow as a person and a religious, chances to travel to faraway places like Australia, Egypt, Israel, Italy, Ireland and throughout the US. Gratitude and joy in all of life were realities that Theresina expressed everyday of her life. So it was no surprise that as she was facing her death last Friday, she was so grateful to God for everything – the joys and delights as well as the challenges and sufferings she experienced. Theresina did have real challenges and sufferings. She especially found the losses of her family members difficult. For instance, she lost her sister Ellen when she was just six years old. (Ellen had just received her First Communion the day before she died of appendicitis.) Theresina then experienced deep loss again with the death of her mother at age twelve. When she was in high school during World War II, she lost her brother Billy who died while serving in the war. Then, when Theresina was in her twenties, Theresina’s sister Mary ended up with a serious chronic disease. Theresina tried to be there for her until her death at a young age. Then later in her life, Theresina felt the loss of her other brothers and sisters: John, Raymond, George, and then her beloved sister Martha. With all these losses and deaths, Theresina grew in her deep faith and belief that they would be reunited in heaven.
The second reading that we chose is the one from Paul’s letter to the Romans. The word “hope” is essential to that reading. Hope was such a part of Theresina. When we were designing the tabernacle for the House of Prayer, the last phrase of that reading, “We are saved by hope” was chosen to be placed on it. Theresina often used the phrase, “Outrageous Hope” when things looked impossible. She knew that God could do the impossible if she could trust in God’s loving providence. Daily she prayed the Suscipe of Venerable Catherine McAuley which spoke of trusting God in all things. She experienced the need for trust so many times in her life– especially at the beginning of the House of Prayer, when there was no money for the transformation of our dirt floor facility. She prayed with confidence, and God sent generous friends and benefactors who helped to transform our carriage house into the building that it was for nearly 40 years. Just recently, it has been renovated and updated and she got to see it before her death. We were so grateful that she was present just a month ago at our special 40th Anniversary of Mount Saint Mary House of Prayer when we were able to honor her as a Cornerstone of the house of prayer. We often said she was the “Force” behind everything in our ministry.
Theresina had so many experiences of trust in Divine Providence during her lifetime. When she became our President, we were a divided congregation about the question of whether to join the proposed new Mercy Institute. With deep trust in God, she gently, yet courageously and effectively led our Community through these challenging times. It even meant she had to go to Rome to intercede for us. Today, we are grateful to her for her strong and wise leadership of our Congregation, recognizing how essential it was to join the Institute.
In the Gospel, St. Matthew speaks of hiding things from the learned and revealing them to the childlike. This brings out her spirituality in a particular way. For those who knew her, although she was baptized “Dorothy”, a name she loved because it meant “Gift of God”, she decided to keep her religious name “Theresina” because of her devotion to the Little Flower, St. Therese of the Child Jesus. Theresina loved her patroness and did everything to forward her spirituality of the “Little Way”, of doing simple things in an extraordinary way. No matter in what role Theresina found herself – as elementary, secondary, or college teacher, as formation director of our young sisters, as President of our Congregation, as spiritual or retreat director, as a speaker on many different religious topic, and finally as an infirmed sister at McAuley Hall, she always gave all of herself, little as she was. In fact, she was planning to be in a play in McAuley Hall as one of the Three Pigs. Today was to be the day of the performance. One of the staff there is assuming her role. She entered passionately into everything she did. As a way of saying thank you to her service as a Sisters of Mercy, Sister Theresina was given in 2006 the Papal award, entitled “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice”, the highest award that a non-clergy person could receive. When she received it, she immediately remarked, “I received this award, not because of anything I’ve done, but because of all the Sisters of Mercy who have served the Church. She was so humble in all that she did.
When I think of Theresina and her little way to God, I believe it was all about love. She loved her family – brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews -she loved each and every one of them. I knew it because every day when we prayed Morning Prayer together she always remembered them and interceded for their needs. Certainly her way of love included love of the Sisters of Mercy and her joy at being a daughter of Catherine McAuley. Part of that love became concrete in her love of the House of Prayer which was so close to her heart. Lastly, when I think of Theresina, I am touched by her love and fidelity to her friends of which she had many. Sr. Patricia Welsh, her dearest friend for more than 60 years could not be with us today. She is in Assisi at this moment with a group. When Theresina saw Pat on Saturday, she gave strict orders to her that she was to go on that pilgrimage and not to stay here for the funeral. Why?- because she knew the pilgrimage meant so much to Pat. Theresina was always thinking of others and their happiness.
And, of course, Theresina loved her God. She was a woman of deep prayer. She rose early and was always faithful to her prayer, especially Centering Prayer, which was a method that I believe opened her to deep Contemplative Prayer. She was so grateful for her connection to Contemplative Outreach. Father Carl Arico and Gail Fitzpatrick Hopler who are here today can witness to that reality. In fact, as Sister Theresina lay dying in the hospital, she asked Mary Jo and me to pray a blessing prayer by Father Thomas Keating, who was a founding father of the Centering Prayer movement. The blessing prayer was a beautiful prayer that spoke of our being hidden in the Trinity.
In addition to being inspired by the witness of Sister Theresina’s life, I believe the readings that we have chosen from Isaiah, Sts. Paul and Matthew also have real messages for us who grieve her loss. Isaiah speaks of wiping away all tears from our faces. The second reading speaks of the hope we can be assured of, if we recognize ourselves as children of God and heirs of the promise. No matter what you and I are suffering now, we can trust like Theresina did of being united with God in glory forever. Lastly the Gospel speaks to us of bringing all our cares and sorrows and grief to the Lord Jesus, especially in these coming months when we experience the loss of Theresina. Christ will give us rest; Christ will show us the way to our merciful God just as he showed Theresina the way to the Father.
Let us now turn our thoughts to our loving, compassionate God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as we continue this Eucharistic Liturgy, recognizing that in God alone is our strength and consolation, our joy and gladness, our hope and our salvation.
Eileen P Smith, RSM
In 2011, we celebrated our 35th Anniversary. A special Eucharistic liturgy in August honored six very special friends of the House of Prayer with a Living Stone Award. The idea of "living stones' comes from Scripture: 1 Peter 2:4, "You are all living stones being built into an edifice of the Spirit." Father Terrence Moran was the priest celebrant and homilist for the Mass and his homily is included here.
Living Stone Honorees: Front Row: Ruth Payer, Sr. Marina O'Donnell, RSM, Patricia Flynn; Back Row: Victor Santimit, Brendan Flynn, Gerard McKenna
Co-directors, Sisters Theresina Flannery, Eileen Smith, Mary Jo Kearns with Honoree, Sister Marina O'Donnell
Fr. Terrence Moran, priest celebrant; Eileen Smith, RSM, Mary Jo Kearns, RSM and Diane Hathaway played the music. In front, Jerry McKenna and Victor Santimit, two of the honorees. In the second pew, Sr. Catherine Darcy, member of Sisters of Mercy Mid-Atlantic Leadership Team
Homily for the 35th Anniversary of Mount St. Mary House of Prayer - Fr. Terrence Moran - August 21, 2011
Our gospel today is a scripture passage that is one of the most familiar. The line “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…” is emblazoned in huge gold letters around the immense dome of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. My catechism book as a child has a most impressive illustration of St. Peter’s Basilica on a massive rock foundation surrounded by all the forces of evil attacking it. But their stones and arrows bounced off the façade like bullets off the mighty chest of Superman – to use another image from my childhood. As if so often the case, these popular images pretty much misunderstand completely the point Jesus is trying to make. Jesus does not say that the church is an impregnable fortress that the gates of hell will not overcome. Jesus says it is the gates of hell that will not stand against the onslaught of the Church. And so as Church we are not huddled behind the barricades protecting ourselves. As Church we are on the move, prying open every hellish door that imprisons the human person in any way.
And so as a Church we need to have the courage of Jesus and to ask the question, “Who do people say that we are?” How would the world answer if we were to ask, as former NYC Mayor Ed Koch always used to ask, “How’m I doin?” And we should not be satisfied until we are worthy of the answer – you are the people who break down the doors that imprison and oppress – you are bringers of joy, of peace, of healing, of liberation.
On the 35th anniversary of Mount St. Mary House of Prayer perhaps we should entertain that question for a moment, “Who do people say Mount St. Mary House of Prayer is?” For me that question was answered recently in a very telling way. A few weeks ago a distraught man, an immigrant, wandered into the House of Prayer. He had been in Panera’s across Rt. 22 and he asked someone there – do you know a place where you can go when you are really upset and need to feel close to God? And the people in Panera’s pointed across the street to Mount St. Mary House of Prayer. Who do people say Mount St. Mary House of Prayer is? It’s a place you can go when you are an immigrant and you are really upset and need to feel close to God. What a wonderful answer to our question and what a precious identity.
If you were to ask Sisters Theresina, Mary Jo and Eileen “Who do you say Mount St. Mary House of Prayer is?” I don’t have the slightest doubt that their answer would be “It’s a house of Mercy.” From its beginnings 35 years ago to the present, they and the others who have worked here, have seen this place as an expression of the tradition of Mercy begun by Catherine McAuley in 1827. As many of you know the early Mercys were given the nickname “the walking nuns” – precisely because of their faithfulness to the vision of today’s gospel – they did not barricade themselves behind cloister walls but rather actively scoured the dank allies of Dublin, opening vistas of infinite hope into lives that were constrained by poverty and despair. “Who do you say Mount St. Mary House of Prayer is? A house of mercy – a wonderful answer and a cherished heritage.
In 1969, a few years when the house of prayer was still just a dream in the hearts and minds of a few Sisters of Mercy, the American poet Marge Piercy wrote a poem called “The death of the small commune.” She reflects on the phenomenon of the 1960’s of groups of people getting together and forming communities with great enthusiasm for changing the world and falling apart in short order. Part of the poem says:
What we wanted to build
but we could not agree long enough
to build the second wall;
could not love long enough
to move the heavy stone on stone;
not listen with patience to make a good plan.
We could not agree.
Nothing remains but a shallow hole;
nothing remains but a whole in everything.
Who do people say Mount St. Mary House of Prayer is? It’s all of you. What we celebrate today is the remarkable fact that for 35 years –people did agree long enough to build the second wall – and some of you here did just that; people who loved long enough to move the heavy stone on stone; people who had the patience to sit through thousands of hours of meetings to make a good plan; people who have sold thousands of calendar raffle tickets.
When Catherine McAuley went to start a house of Mercy in Limerick in 1838 the pastor asked her what her title should be as the founder and superior of the Sisters of Mercy – something like “Very Reverend Mother,” perhaps? “Friend Catherine” was what she said she wanted to be called. Like Jesus, Catherine did not want a community of superiors and inferiors but rather a community of friends where the gifts of each are esteemed and celebrated. And this is what Mount St. Mary House of Prayer has been for 35 years a community of friends with Jesus, the friend, at its center. At the end of the liturgy we will honor a few of these living stones, a few outstanding members of this community of friends. And these six people would be the first to tell you that even as they have given in abundance to Mount St. Mary House of Prayer, in overwhelming abundance have they received. Who do you say Mount St. Mary House of Prayer is? A place of abundance given and abundance received.
In the words of Marge Piercy’s poem, Mount St. Mary House of Prayer is a way station for a journey to a new world. No one lives there – our homes are elsewhere – We leave here with renewed energy for the mission of building the new world, the reign of God. So as an anniversary gift to Mount St. Mary House of Prayer I challenge each of us for 35 days to do something to build the new world; one conscious act for 35 days. So today go home today and tell your spouse or your children or your parents how much you love them; and tomorrow call a friend you have been out of touch with; and the next day be the first to say words of forgiveness and healing in a strained relationship; and the day after learn to say hello in the language of a new immigrant who lives near you or works with you.
For 35 years Mount St. Mary House of Prayer has been shooting forth living stones on to Route 22. Who do people say Mount St. Mary House of Prayer is? It’s you – a living stone.
It’s your house become a place of prayer.
It’s our world become a home of tenderness and peace.