St. Mother Teresa, Eileen Egan and Holy Friendship

Egan and Teresa, ca. 1970s. Catholic Relief Services was instrumental in aiding and spreading Teresa’s mission and message across the world. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Egan and Teresa, ca. 1970s. Catholic Relief Services was instrumental in aiding and spreading Teresa’s mission and message across the world. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Saint Teresa of Kolkata (1910-1997) and Eileen Egan (1912-2000) represent two Catholic women who played a central role in the Church’s international work in the latter half of the twentieth century. Coming from different backgrounds, these two women nevertheless shared much in common, including a deep interest in alleviating the suffering of their fellow humans. While they did not meet until they were both in their mid-forties, they nevertheless managed to form a close personal and working relationship that would span the remainder of their lives.

The future Saint and Eileen Egan spent the first few decades of their lives in a similar fashion. Raised by Catholic families in regions with few other Catholics, the young Teresa and Egan nevertheless found a strong core of faith within their domestic settings. In their teens, both women left their home countries and settled in regions wherein they would remain the rest of their lives. In the 1940’s, they each experienced a calling to aid those ravaged by poverty, disease, and conflict. While Egan put her organizational and journalistic skills towards refugee relief, Teresa began the initial steps in founding a new religious order devoted towards tending the sick, poor, and dying.

On an October day in 1960, a small, sari-clad woman arrived in Las Vegas. It was her first visit to the United States and first time away from her adopted home in India in over 30 years. A former geography teacher and now head of her own order, the Missionaries of Charity, this unassuming nun known as Mother Teresa had arrived in a city she described as a perpetual light festival, or “Diwali.” While little known outside Kolkata (Calcutta) at the time, Teresa had been invited to address the National Council of Catholic Women annual conference. Sitting at a little booth during the conference, she addressed an endless series of questions about her sari, free service to the poor, and Albanian origins.

Months ahead of her trip, Teresa had written to her colleague, Eileen Egan: “Thank God I have plenty to do – otherwise I would be terrified of that big public. Being an Indian citizen, I will have to get an Indian passport.” These two sentences encapsulate much of the friendship between Egan and Teresa, revealing personal elements of Teresa’s life and work, as well as the more mundane background work it took to continue her mission.

Egan, a long-time peace activist and employee of Catholic Relief Services, had been a co-worker of this relatively unknown nun for five years at this point. In 1955, they met for the first time in the streets of Kolkata.

After her initial meeting with Teresa, Egan became a major supporter of the Missionaries of Charity and their lay counterpart, the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa. Often acting as both the coordinator and travel companion for Teresa’s many international travels, Egan also contributed to the Co-Workers’ newsletters and meetings. Simultaneously, known for her work on the behalf of peace, Egan was one of several American witnesses who addressed the Second Vatican Council on issues of war and peace. In 1972, she became one of the co-founders of Pax Christi-USA. She would continue to speak out about the need for pacifism throughout the remainder of her life.

St. Mother Teresa and Eileen Egan founded their friendship in the Tradition of the Catholic Church and their work for the common good. This guided their respective work for decades.

May we remember them each for their contributions to Communion of Saints and seek ways for deep and nourishing friendships in our own lives. Cherishing the gift of friendship is one way that we celebrate the feasts of All Saints Day.

To read more about St. Teresa, click here. To read more about Eileen Eagan, click here. This text was originally published at The Archivist’s Nook– a work of the Catholic University of America.

Going Deeper

On this All Saints day, learn more about one of the most recently canonized saints, Mother Teresa of Calcutta (Sept. 4, 2016).  Catholic Relief Services offers numerous resources on St. Teresa of Calcutta’s life and legacy, including an intergenerational session, a prayer, and video stories and reflections.

Humble Listening in The Year of Mercy

Sr. Kathleen McManus Credit: Clarice Keating/Catholic Sentinel

Sr. Kathleen McManus, OP
Credit: Clarice Keating/Catholic Sentinel

She is brilliant and beautiful, and she was my student in an Introductory Theology course. She is Muslim, and she spent the better part of her childhood growing up in Kurdistan.  At semester’s end, I learned of the atrocities she witnessed as a child, including the murder of her grandfather. And I learned that she keeps that part of her story hidden from others, because she wants to be normal; she wants to fit in. She is safe now, but the people she left behind are not.

Victims of poverty, violence, and political turmoil, all of those who are disenfranchised by society, all who dwell on the margins – these are the ones who reveal to us the Reign-of-God-not-yet-come. They reveal it by contrast, precisely through their cries for deliverance from all the ravages of the anti-Reign. How do we train our ears to hear the voice of God in these cries? Moreover, how do we attune ourselves to the silence of the countless voices rendered mute by systems of dominance? From what do we need to empty ourselves in order to encounter the Truth to Whom we claim to belong?

In every global context from which the cries of suffering arise, women bear a unique burden of voicelessness, even as they bear the burden of care for life in its most basic, embodied form. Witness streams of refugees seeking safe haven from violence and torture: Amidst this dire pilgrimage, it is women who struggle to sustain children and the infirm on their perilous journey in the hope of freedom. And, as terror spreads a global shadow, we who are accustomed to dwell secure are startled by the prospect of our own vulnerability.

The attacks on Paris drew an immediate response of solidarity from the Western world, especially the U.S. Why? With the constant violence inflicted upon people in the Middle East, why the dramatic response to this incident? We know why: They are us. And that became all the more evident in the tragic San Bernardino shootings. We are vulnerable, and we Americans don’t like to think of ourselves as vulnerable.

Answers are elusive. Perhaps our call is to a saving question: Might this glimmer of felt vulnerability be our means of solidarity with the truly helpless vulnerable masses? Might it open the ears of our hearts to the voices drawing us into communion with Truth? Might it mark out a path of encounter mediating the healing of relationships, systems, and perceptions that will enable the reign of God’s mercy to come on earth as in heaven?

Pope Francis has inaugurated a Year of Mercy. And now we approach Christmas, when we celebrate God’s Mercy born in human flesh. How might we bear God’s Mercy in our flesh? How might our persecuted and suffering sisters and brothers teach us the vulnerability that issues in mercy? The Year of Mercy is a time for humble listening.

Kathleen McManus, OP is Associate Professor of Theology (Systematics) and Director, Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry Program at the University of Portland

 


Sr. Kathleen McManus will present at the 2016 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering on The Global Suffering of Women as an Ethical Imperative for the Church. See registration information and schedule.

 

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: A Catholic Response

woman's face and neck in shadowsAn abused wife with a large family realized for the first time that Catholics cared when she saw a resource card about Domestic Violence in her church’s restroom. It was the first time she had an inkling that she was not the only Catholic woman to experience domestic abuse. The card explained that the Church teaches that no one is expected to stay in an abusive relationship and gave information about how to get help and find safety.

I have heard this story, and many others like it, too many times to count. Abuse can happen to anyone, at any age. Domestic violence is a reality that faces all of our communities—even communities of faith.

Faith leaders are often called upon to be first responders in domestic violence situations. When someone knows you are a praying person, they often turn to you for help. Teaching about compassion, nonviolence, self-control, respect and equality in its seminary education, lay ministry formation, marriage preparation, youth ministry and children’s catechetical programs are essential to preventing domestic violence.

Several Catholic organizations provide excellent resources to help. The National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers offered a workshop on responding to domestic violence at their recent national convention, and the Christian Family Movement produced small group study resources to promote action. Catholics for Family Peace, a clearinghouse for Catholic resources to respond to domestic violence that grew out of a USCCB Task Force, offers training for parish staffs and parishioners, as well as guidance for preachers and faith formation leaders and restroom signs and informational brochures from a Catholic perspective for free download, on their website.

Another resource for a Catholic response is a 100-page booklet, How Can We Help to End Violence in Catholic Families: A Guide for Clergy, Religious and Laity, which was distributed to all participants at this month’s Synod on the Family in Rome.  Written by Catholic psychologist Dr. Christauria Welland, it discusses ways all Catholics can respond to and prevent domestic violence, and how to educate Catholic youth and couples for peace. The booklet is available for free download in six languages from www.paxinfamilia.org.

Catholics for Family Peace President, Dr. Sharon O’Brien, outlines some positive steps that Catholics in ministry can take to make a difference in this serious problem affecting families:

  • In collaboration with community agencies, educate all Catholics and people of good will to prevent marital abuse, intimate partner abuse, and teen dating abuse.
  • Using Catholic teachings and evidence-based research, address the safety and healing of the victim survivor and any children, as well as the healing and recovery of the abuser.
  • Ensure that pastoral leadership of Catholic parishes and organizations, as well as family and friends, know the best steps to respond effectively to situations of domestic abuse.
  • Equip pastors and staffs to recognize and assist abuse victims by directing them to appropriate support agencies and how to connect abuse victims to safe, immediate assistance.
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides crisis intervention and referrals to local service providers. Call 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TTY). E-mail assistance is available at ndvh@ndvh.org.

Abuse can happen to anyone, at any age. All Catholics need to be prepared to recognize abuse, respond appropriately, and refer to professionals equipped to help.

Together, we can promote family peace and end violence in Catholic families.

headshot of LauriDr. Lauri Przybysz, D.Min., is a Co-founder of Catholics for Family Peace. She also serves president-elect of the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers and past-president Christian Family Movement-USA. She blogs about family ministry at www.familyministryresources.com.


For more information on the stance of the Catholic Bishops of the United States on domestic violence and resources to support victims of domestic violence, including their statement When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women visit the USCCB Domestic Violence webpage.

Anger and Reverence

Kerry Alys Robinson

Kerry Alys Robinson

On March 8, 2015, International Women’s Day, I was invited by the archbishop celebrant to reflect on the scriptural readings for the third Sunday in Lent in the beautiful Chiesa di Santa Maria Regina della Famiglia in the heart of the Vatican. It is believed to be the first time a woman has ever had this privilege during the Sunday liturgy at the Vatican. The Gospel passage is John 2:13-25. The Mass began the Voices of Faith celebration of women’s contributions to the Church and world. 

All of our lives we are invited into a deeper relationship with Jesus, the better to live lives as Christians. We are called to hear his words and observe his actions in order to emulate him in our own lives. And what do we know about Jesus? He is the radical peacemaker. He tells us to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to lay down our lives for others.

So in today’s Gospel it is shocking to see Jesus angry. Anger is such a deeply human emotion and yet because it is Jesus, we know that there is also a divine anger at hand here. It gives us permission to be angry.

Why is Jesus angry in this Gospel passage? He is angry because what is holy, what is a sacred place, is not being reverenced. He is angry because the people present lack all reverence for what is holy in their midst.

When we think of our lives today – March 8, 2015, International Women’s Day – when are we angry? Where is there a lack of reverence for what God deems as holy? Where do we lack reverence? And what could be more holy in God’s eyes than all of creation, the earth, humankind?

We are called in this Gospel today and every day to never be apathetic, to always be angry when we see that what is holy is compromised. We are called to be angry when the dignity of people is compromised. We are called to be angry when there is sexism in the world or in the Church. We are called to be angry when our sisters and brothers live in extreme poverty, the result of unjust structures that we can remedy. It should make us furious that women and children- the most vulnerable- are disproportionately affected by poverty, war, violence, disease. We should be angry when whole generations are being raised in refugee camps. We should be angry when children do not have access to education, or food, or water, or healthcare. We should be angry when sexual abuse and violence is still so prevalent in every part of the world, and kerrypreachingthat rape is a weapon of war. We should be angry when young girls are kidnapped and sold into slavery. We should be angry that in 2015 human trafficking is a very real, collective sin.

Our invitation today is to claim that anger, and in emulating Christ, to turn that anger into opportunities for action to reverence what God holds dear, what God sees as holy and sacred. And that is surely the very lives of people. Today in a preferential way let us uphold and promote the dignity and full participation of all women and girls in the world and in the Church.

Come to the table of the Eucharist and pray for the grace to never be apathetic when what is sacred is being desecrated. Pray for the grace to always have the strength and sustenance to reverence what God sees as holy and, as Christ did, to act on that with the whole of your life.

Kerry Alys Robinson is the executive director of the Leadership Roundtable and a former consultant to the USCCB Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.