First and foremost – Happy Anniversary, Hope

And so let us put ourselves in the hands of God and pray our remembering. Yes our prayer is an act of remembering, but not for the sake of nostalgia, but for the sake of encountering the grace of God given and received over these years. We will discover grace in the oddest places. Let me call this remembering: the dance of light and shadow. I do so as a photographer because light and shadow give a photograph depth, clarity and beauty. So it is with our lives.

“On July 20, 1995 at precisely 3:00PM, the Dominican Sisters of Hope, a new apostolic congregation of religious women was founded….”so begins the narrative section of my dissertation. The story told on those pages was of the movement to our founding. At that 3:00PM moment Kathleen Hebbeler, Rosemarie Harkins and Annette Roach declared the first Chapter of Hope open. The founding moment! Oh, but remember the name at the assembly before the first chapter.  Getting there were moments of shadow and then light. Remember the sheets of newsprint with names on the walls. But it wasn’t the number of names that confronted us; rather it was the strength of our diversity. “I am for this one, the other sounds like a support group. No this one is biblical…. “ and on it went. So no name rose up that day. The leadership met with Mary Ann and Rose that evening. It looked as if a process after this assembly would be needed. Then the next morning one person went to the mike and asked if we could try again. Then one group said , “Hope; that is H for health care and E for education with OP in the middle”. Another said, “Hope is what the world needs”.. and then we watched and felt the Spirit move across the room. We felt the undeniable presence of grace. We were named Hope. Remember the rejoicing, the sheer joy of it all. Truth and Mercy had surely met and birthed Hope. Light came out of shadow. Our naming was a dance of light and shadow.  We had enough shadow to have depth of field and enough light to see the grace clearly.

And how many moments since have we experienced the tension of our diversity and the redemptive grace of clarity. Think about it: (and I am just naming categories not all the situations) Sale of Fall River property, Associates, Community Chapters, use of resources – Ministry Trust, Ministry Fund; closing of Newburgh infirmary and then the sale of the building, new places for healthcare, Mariandale; Land Trust, election of leaders, Congregation Management changes for the future etc. etc. 

Some of our diverse thinking brought dialogue and evolving structures while some called us to the need for reconciliation. Think of the graces and deep-rooted memories shared at the sale of the properties. Remember the blessings of our pilgrim sisters who ventured to new healthcare centers. Think of the contributions of Associates to Community Chapters, committees and our lives. Let’s be thankful for the graces of Community Chapters and the ever-evolving Extended Leadership. With the Ministry Trust, Ministry Fund, investments in Community Projects remember we have supported projects for the poor with more than 21 million dollars. This is a rough estimate and does not include the new Global Climate Fund we joined in spearheading. Thirty-four acres of our Ossining property are now in a Land Trust. The Ministry Trust is perpetuated in the Westchester Community Foundation. Pause and remember.

Mariandale has been renovated and during this pandemic has provided contemplative and enriching programs for hundreds throughout the country and sometimes connecting with those in other countries. We are being assisted by the new Executive Team. You see we kept at it. We faced the shadow and light. Rumi would say,” Light and shadow are the dance of Love ” I would say they are the dance of Hope.

Why? Because as Max de Pree says, and I paraphrase  “ We… give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves to exercise diversity. We …give each other space so that we both give and receive such beautiful ideas as openness, dignity, joy, healing and inclusion. “ That for me is the transforming power of Hope.

We have learned as Tolstoy said,” All the diversity, all the charm, all the beauty of life are made up of light and shade.”   We have learned by staying in dialogue and I mean passionate dialogue. We have learned by forcing ourselves from the either or mentality to a both and view. We have been faithful to that struggle, not always succeeding, but always trying.

As Rachel Syme said of Mary Oliver, “ she gave voice to the process of confronting one’s dark places (shadow if you will) peering underneath toadstools and into stagnant pools. And when she looked there she found forgiveness. She found grace.” I would say the same of us.  We moved with our diversity. We struggled to find what connects us and at times reveling in our diversity. This process brings community. We learned relationships matter. We learned that dialogue, especially contemplative dialogue means to listen deeply and to respond with integrity.

So what does Hope look like. What kind of photograph? I found my answer is an article in the Arts section of the New York Times on Sunday June 28. It was entitled Radical Quilting .The piece introduced me to Effie Mae Martin known as a quilter as Rosie Lee Tompkins who was an African-American improvisational quilt-maker. Her hundreds of quilts are vibrant, inventive, canon busting and implicitly subversive to the medium. And I quote, “Their unbridled colors, irregular shapes and nearly reckless range of textiles telegraphed a tremendous energy and the implacable ambition, and confidence…” So the dance of light and shadow might be a quilt with irregular pieces and fabrics, colors and textures but stitched together into a whole.

And so my friends let us continue the dance of light and shadow. Let us make new pictures, new quilt pieces. Let us remember for the sake of going forward.

And I close with a prayer of John Philip Newell from Praying With the Earth.

It is when we are still

that we know.

It is when we listen

that we hear.

It is when we remember

that we see your light, O God.

From your Stillness

we come.

With your Sound

all life quivers with being.

From You

the light of this moment shines.

Grant us to remember you at the heart of each moment.

Grant us to remember.

And I would add grant us the continued graces of diversity and be with us in the Dance of light and shadow.

Happy Anniversary Hope.

At 3 pm on July 20, 1995 the Dominican Sisters of Hope were founded. On July 20, 2019, we began our 25th year since our founding. We declare a YEAR OF HOPE! In celebration, we will share a reflection on the 20th of every month. This is the twelfth reflection in this series. Read all reflections here.

This reflection was written by

Dominican Sister of Hope Catherine Walsh, OP

Sister Catherine Walsh, O.P. has been an educator for 40 years. She was a Professor Emerita of Communications at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, NY. In 1995, she served as the first prioress of the Dominican Sisters of Hope. Sister Catherine is now retired after  serving three tenures of congregational leadership.