Be Like a Piazza!

By Sister Norma Raupple

August 2019 was our third anniversary “Angela’s Villa” —  the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown’s gathering space for young adults involved in service with us. We’ve discovered it’s like “Angela’s Piazza.”  Sister Martha Buser, in her book “Also In Your Midst,” describes it this way:

“Piazzas are in front of every church in Brescia. They crop up at intersections for no apparent reason at all. But everywhere in Brescia, Italy, piazzas are the same. They are open. One can come and go. One can rest, can just be who one is.”

When St. Angela Merici founded the Ursuline order of vowed religious in 1535, she said to be like a piazza. In doing so, she left us a legacy of how to live. She told us to be open and gracious and hospitable, filled with joy. Being like a piazza is the secret of Angela’s spirituality and gives us a clue about why she seems so contemporary. In Angela’s hospitality there is no dichotomy, rather, there is unity and integrity.

The faith-filled young adults who serve others today are like Angela today. They are generous, vibrant, welcoming and they enjoy each other. They come and go. They rest, or study, or cook, or pray or have fun…. and much more. Gathering together in support of each other brings out the best in each one and Angela knew this. So again this August, we blessed each other — sending a few to new places and welcoming a few new women to our “piazza.”

Ministry in Action

Brigid Kennedy, president of our Ursuline Ministries, is the 2019 recipient of the Nonprofit Leader of the Year award bestowed by the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber.

Brigid, who has long been involved with the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown, received the award at the Chamber’s annual Salute to Business Breakfast Aug. 29. Many in the crowd were so touched by her remarks that we’ve received numerous requests to share them.

Thanks to our friends at Armstrong, you can view Brigid’s acceptance speech or the entire video of the event.

Below are her comments, for those who prefer to read them.

“I want to thank the Chamber for this award and all of you for coming out so bright and early to celebrate the honorees and our Valley. I accept this award, gratefully, on behalf of Ursuline Ministries…on behalf of our board members and management team members, some of whom are with me today…and on behalf of the Ursuline Sisters and our lay Associates, employees, and volunteers. Thank you.

I want to applaud the Chamber for including a Nonprofit award among your annual honors. Nonprofits must meet many of the same expectations that any business does—hire, train, and keep quality staff; manage investments and balance the budget; market ourselves to the community; and of course, provide services. And as a nonprofit, we have an added responsibility, to mission…to the mission for which we were created, and to the vision and values that guide us in that mission.

A moment ago, I said that I accept this award on behalf of those who make up Ursuline Ministries. We are social workers, counselors, nurses, bookkeepers and grant writers…we are teachers from preschool to grad school…we are the living Ursuline Sisters and all those who’ve gone before us…we serve in prisons, hospitals, parishes, at a labyrinth, a homeless shelter, and a swimming pool…we provide for hungry kids, scared immigrants, lonely seniors, and 1st generation college students…we care for children and adults living with HIV, families torn apart by divorce, and clients struggling with addiction…we minister where poverty, mental illness, trauma, grief, violence, and every kind of disadvantage or even outright brokenness would otherwise prevail…we answer phones and drive vans and cook meals and sweep floors…and we pray. We are Ursuline Ministries. On our best days—and there are so many of those—we provide real hospitality and inclusion, we serve with radical compassion, we respect and honor and see the face of God in the person in front of us, and we give hope. And we can’t do any of that without you…without the support we receive from the business community and from our nonprofit partners, without the little old ladies who faithfully send $2 each month and without the large foundation and government grants. You all join us in mission, and we are lifted up a little higher by this affirmation of the value of our work. Again, on behalf of Ursuline Ministries, thank you for that support.”

You Know Not What You Ask

Wordle: Mark 10:35-45The humorist Dave Berry learned a thing or two on his summer internship in Washington forty years ago. But like many internships, his expectations met with very different realities. Years later, and with typical wit and wisdom, Berry deconstructed the distorted values that characterized those corridors of power:

“[W]hen I got to Washington I discovered that even among young people, being a good guy was not the key thing: The key thing was your position on the great Washington totem pole of status. Way up at the top of this pole is the president; way down at the bottom, below mildew, is the public. In between is an extremely complex hierarchy of government officials, journalists, lobbyists, lawyers, and other power players, holding thousands of minutely graduated status rankings differentiated by extremely subtle nuances that only Washingtonians are capable of grasping.


For example, Washingtonians know whether a person whose title is “Principal Assistant Deputy Undersecretary” is more or less important than a person whose title is “Associate Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary,” or “Principal Deputy to Deputy Assistant Secretary,” or “Deputy to the Deputy Secretary,” or “Principal Assistant Deputy Undersecretary,” or “Chief of Staff to the Assistant Assistant Secretary.” (All of these are real federal job titles.)

Everybody in Washington always seems to know exactly how much status everybody else has. I don’t know how they do it. Maybe they all get together in some secret location and sniff one another’s rear ends. All I know is, back in my internship the summer of 1967, when I went to Washington parties, they were nothing like parties I’d become used to in college.

I was used to parties where it was not unusual to cap off the evening by drinking bourbon from a shoe, and not necessarily your own shoe. Whereas the Washington parties were serious. Everybody made an obvious effort to figure out where everybody else fit on the totem pole, and then spent the rest of the evening sucking up to whoever was higher up.

I hated it. Of course, one reason for this was that nobody ever sucked up to me, since interns rank almost as low as members of the public. ” (footnote: Dave Berry:

The Gospel reading this week suggests that James and John, and the ten disciples who exploded at them in anger, would have fit quite nicely into the Washingtonian world that stratifies people into a hierarchy based upon their perceived power, worth, or status, and then pursues a zero-sum game of unbridled self-interest. Of course, Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples warns us of our own tendency to do the same.

Answering the call of discipleship means that we are baptized into Jesus’ life and ministry. Our baptism plunges us into the dying and rising mystery of Christ.  The disciples kept misunderstanding this. Discipleship means emptying ourselves to be servant  over and over again and constantly learning the cost of our baptismal yes is. Serving means nothing more than giving our lives for the other. It means when our nerves are frazzled and the baby is crying, we manage to find the energy to comfort and caress. When we hear of a neighbor in need,we ring the doorbell, introduce ourselves and ask how we might help. Serving others means that we look for ways to make the lives of others  better.

Would that we be so bold about serving others as about seeking our own glory!

Beatitude House Twentieth Anniversary

Beatitude House began its  20th Anniversary Celebration with a Mass with the Ursuline Sisters and members of its Board of Directors – current and past – on Sunday January 23, 2011 at the Ursuline Motherhouse.  Fr. Richard Brobst presided at liturgy while Sister Patricia McNicholas recalled the origins of Beatitude House in her reflection.

The story of the beginning of Beatitude House is a lesson in communal discernment for ministry in the lives of Ursuline Sisters today.  Sister Margaret Scheetz – Peg, who died in January 2001, was pursuing an advanced degree in computer education at Kent State University in the late 1980s.  One day she watched a TV show about a homeless woman and her struggles to keep her family together.  That show sparked an idea – could the Ursulines do something for homeless women in Youngstown?

Sr. Margaret shared her idea with Sr. Nancy Dawson, General Superior and Sr. Mary O’Leary.  Both responded enthusiastically and Peg began immediately:  looking for a house and a neighborhood, seeking donations, and seeking workers who could help turn an old house into new apartments for homeless women and their dependent children. 

Throughout the of the process of bringing an idea into reality, Peg consulted with the community and counted on their prayers for success.  Lots of the sisters helped with things like cleaning or gathering donations from friends and family. 

What began as an idea of a single sister turned into 4 apartments for homeless families, and then 8.   Check out the video to get all the details of the numbers of women and children whose lives have been changed by their time at Beatitude House.

This is an example of how nuns get things done.  First, a sister has an idea to work for the people of God.  Second, she shares it with her friends and the leadership of the community.  With their approval and support the sister can work to bring that idea into reality.

A Consecrated Life

Seeds of the Ursuline Charism were planted in Matamoros Mexico in 1997 when five Ursuline Sisters arrived in Brownsville, Texas to serve at the Border. Sisters Maria Teresa DeLlano (Roman Union Central), Michelle Guerin (Roman Union East), Elizabeth Miller (Ursulines of Chatham), Gia Mudd (Maple Mount), and Norma Raupple (Youngstown) gathered in order to live among the people and offer service. Within the first year there were women who were attracted to the spirit and vision of St. Angeal Merici. They soon began a process to become Ursuline Associates. Silvia Alonso was one of these women. Silvia came with a friend to the house where the Sisters lived to participate in “Via Cruces” during Lent of 2000.

In 2006 Sister Norma and four Associates made a pilgrimage to Italy sponsored by two Ursulines from Brown County. The highlight of the trip was spending time with two members of the Company of Angela known as “The Secular Institute of St. Ursula”. Through research of Mary Cabrini Durkin, we were connected with Mirella Turri, the Director of the Company in Trent, who speaks Spanish. Mirella spent the afternoon with us giving us an orientation to the original model of Angela’s Company. This was the beginning of Silvia’s discernment to learn more about the Company. Eventually the Company in Trent, Italy, discerned that they would give birth to a new Company in Mexico.This would be the first in a Spanish-Speaking Country among the International Federation of Secular Institutes.

Silvia began the formation process three years ago. Silvia has become accustomed to living her new way of life which is similar to religious life. She has been in dialog with Mirella each month and has reflected with Sister Josefina Granada from Iguala, Mexico,regularly. She visits the Mexican Ursulines for community gatherings and retreats in Puebla. Sister Miriam Fidelis from the Cleveland Ursulnes and the Associates in Brownsville also support Silvia. Since she retired after 28 years of teaching, she has dedicated herself to evangelization, religious education and pastoral ministry. She serves in “Los Pinos”, a very poor area where the people are trying to build a small church in their colonia. Silvia’s mother , Santos, who is also an Ursuline Associate, lives with her.Their home is the gathering place for immediate and extended family where all find a place of welcome and love.

Silvia made her vows of poverty,chastity and obedience on November 25, 2010. This is the day that St. Angela officially started the first Company in Brescia, Italy in 1535. At this time the women did not live together in convents but gathered for prayer and support. This original model is the model of the members of the Federation which Silvia has become a part of. Mirella and two other members from Trent, Italy, the priest from the diocese of Matamoros, Silvia’s family and two Associates witnessed her profession of vows.

The Better Part

My sister always sits sideways in her chair during meals. Whether the table is surrounded by family members or invited guests, she is poised for action. She jumps up if she’s forgotten something in the kitchen, if someone wants steak sauce rather than the ketchup that is on the table, or if it is time to pass the serving dishes around again. My sister seldom relaxes enough to enjoy the food and conversation.

There is biblical precedent for that instinct and posture in the account of Jesus’ visit to the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha offers immediate hospitality, welcoming Jesus and then busying herself with meal preparation, while Mary sits down with Jesus. One can imagine how the clatter of dishes in the kitchen grows steadily louder until Martha’s exasperation at working alone is audible to Mary, who is engrossed in what Jesus is saying. Who is to say that passive-aggressive behavior didn’t exist in New Testament households?

Finally Martha can’t bear working alone any more and comes to where Jesus and her sister are talking. Pulled in all directions by a dozen tasks, she can no longer contain her frustration. She confronts the guest himself, challenging his care for her and asking him to send Mary into the kitchen. In an astounding breach of etiquette, Martha embarrasses her sister, and her Lord and no doubt herself as well.

Jesus doesn’t mince words in his response. Calling her by name not just once but twice, in a manner that sounds more like a parent than a friend, he describes the situation. Jesus says: “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it — it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”

Perhaps the words “main course” for “better part”  can help this well-worn story be heard in fresh ways. A woman in the parish where I serve commented that she never likes hearing this text preached because she always comes away with the sense that it’s never possible to get things right. If, like Martha, she works hard, she will be labeled “overfunctioning.” If, like Mary, she sits and listens too long, nothing gets done. Giuseppe Belli’s 19th-century sonnet “Martha and Magdalene” ends with Martha snapping back at Jesus when he tells her that Mary’s choice is more important: “So says you, but I know better. Listen, if I sat around on my salvation the way she does, who’d keep this house together?” (Divine inspiration: The Life of Jesus in World Poetry).

Thinking of God’s word as the “main course” in the feast of life, however, doesn’t give that immediate sense that listening is better than doing. Rather, it places these activities in balance. Whereas the world reminds us to keep the “main thing the main thing,” Christians are urged to remember that the main course is just that, the main course. Jesus is the host, not Martha or Mary or anyone of us, and he spreads the word like a banquet to nourish and strengthen us. The word has within it commands both to sit and listen, and to go and do. We “sit on our salvation,” as the sonnet has it, but then scatter into the world and work of daily life.

Living this side of Easter, we know what Mary and Martha could not know: that hearing and doing are finally in the realm not of law, but of gospel — because the host of the banquet has himself become the main course.

The good news is that Jesus the host grants permission for all distracted, frantic people to sit down and eat their fill of word and promise. When we join them and nourish ourselves at the table, we’ll be ready to put hands and feet, hearts and minds to work.

Welcome to our Newest Associates

The chapel at the Ursuline Motherhouse was full on January 27th, the feast of St. Angela Merici, our Founder.    I was thrilled to hear and see our Nuns and Associates warmly greeting each other.  This is the day each year that we welcome our new Associates and this year we welcomed four women and two men.  This year also marks 475 years since St. Angela met with a group of women in Brescia, Italy and formed the first  “Company of St. Ursula”.

Fr Mike Garvey, Dan Eicher, Maureen Russo, Joan Subler - front: Peggy Eicher, Jean DiVincenzo

Laura Kotheimer  and Michelina Biasella, two Associates, were the musicians who opened the liturgy with “We Are Many Parts”.   Father Michael Garvey was the presider.  Mike also became an Associate this year.  Sister Patricia McNicholas proclaimed the Scripture:   “… put your gifts at the service on one another… (1Peter 4:8)  Sister Nancy Dawson reflected on the Gospel of Mark.  In Mark 9 the disciples had been arguing about who was the most important.  Jesus  puts his arms around a child and continues talking to them about welcoming children.   Sister Nancy challenged us to be child-like in our service.   As we left the chapel on our way to enjoying a meal together we sang “Companions on the Journey” we grateful and joyful hearts.