In early June, I had the opportunity to return to the Sisters of Loretto’s Motherhouse in Nerinx, Kentucky. The purpose of the trip was to bring three small groups of high school students from each of the Loretto schools to the Motherhouse to engage with service and Loretto values, while making tangible connections between their sister schools and many of the Loretto co-members and sisters.
There was built-in time to explore and take in the beauty of the Motherhouse – whether for the first time or as a returning visitor. The rest of our schedule revolved around outdoor activities in the mornings (gardening, mulching, cleaning fences, cleaning up walking paths near the green burial site, etc.) and indoor activities in the afternoons (infirmary visits, tech help for residents, assisting at a daycare in town, etc.).
One of the first mornings, a group of students and I found ourselves assigned to do some gardening with Sr. Sue Kenny and Sr. Ceciliana. The sun hadn’t warmed our spot on the earth just yet and we worked in the shade pulling out invasive plants, trimming back a bush, and cleaning the fence surrounding the garden gates.
During this time, we worked alongside and chatted with our two guides. As I snipped and clipped, I had some one-on-one time with Sister Ceciliana in the garden.
She shared bits and pieces of her life with me. She told me about how she’d grown up in a rural area – how she was used to country life and farms and such. After becoming a sister, she lived in a couple of urban places that Loretto assigned her to. But, she shared that she was very happy to be back at the Motherhouse, in a setting where nature cannot be ignored.
In marveling at the trees and plants around us, Sister shared how once she sat with her father when she was a child. They were outside, just spending time together. Her father was staring off for some time when she asked what he was looking at. He said something along the lines of, “All of this beauty.” She looked at where he was looking all around them and said, “What beauty?” (She laughed when she told me this part).
This story came after Sr. Ceciliana mentioned that she prefers environmental prayers, and more specifically, a prayer book that she reads from routinely with a couple of other Loretto community members. After her endearing look back on her child-self, I asked her what she meant by environmental prayers. She said she meant the earth, other planets, and the universe.
I’d learned prior to this visit at the Motherhouse that many in the Loretto community are particularly mindful of what words they use when referring to the higher being or energy integral to their spirituality. I’d heard that some will not use words or names that could invoke feelings or ideas of authoritarianism such as “Lord” or “Kingdom,” for example. Not gendering a higher being/or not gendering a higher being in the “traditional” way is another example of this.
I realized several years ago that one can name this higher spirit or entity for oneself. And though not revolutionary in itself or at all new across human history, this was an exciting realization for me. I was especially intrigued by this idea post my religious upbringing, within my home parish and high school, which I felt didn’t make space for a lot of ideas outside of their traditional practices and sense of moral correctness. This aspect of spirituality within Loretto is something that has piqued my interest, especially as I’ve begun to name energies, Earth and the Universe, and the Goddess as the key entities in my spirituality over the past couple of years in my life.
So, after our first morning spent together, I was thrilled to be assigned to the gardens once more at the end of the week.
In between the digging and the water breaks, I peppered Sr. Ceciliana with questions and heard more and more about her – specifically about her upbringing and her spirituality. She shared with me how she never much liked the housework that she was encouraged to stick to as a girl and preferred to be outside on the farm with her brothers. She enjoyed helping where she could and she often worked to prove that she deserved to be outside too.
At one point, she went inside to grab one of the prayer books she mentioned. She asked if I’d like to hear one they’d read recently – explaining that there are daily ones, and that the prayers are specific to the seasons of the year. Of course, I said yes.
She read a couple to me. In one, the energy of the intentional reader was put toward “Parent.”
Another spoke of the stars, the interconnectedness of life and nature, and justice, all strung together brilliantly.
She smiled back at me when she looked up. “Do you like that?” She laughed.
As she closed the book, I nodded. “I really do.”
I’m sure I must have looked too smitten with her words read from a decades-old devotional. But this common ground in spirituality between myself—a Catholic turned Agnostic turned Spiritually-something else young person—and her—a Sister of Loretto and teacher and strong woman with so much life experience—felt rare to me. I felt like we were sharing a secret together – and I was giddy to feel like I was in cahoots with Sister Ceciliana.
Be sure to follow CVN’s Blog on Thursdays to hear final reflections from Amelie and her fellow Serving with Sisters Contributors as their service years come to completion.
Amelie Rode is a volunteer with the Loretto Volunteer Program and a CVN Serving with Sisters Contributor. This blog series is sponsored by our VOCARE Initiative, thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.