Our Sacred Heart Roots

“I don’t really have any roots…,” a young woman recently shared with me while visiting the school. Listening quietly, I suspected that rather than having “no roots,” she was on an archetypal journey to find them. Does it surprise you that she has found her way to New Orleans? For us who live under the canopies of Live Oaks, whose tap roots extend both deep and wide, we value our roots as a source of identity and insight, character and culture.

Oak treeLooking deeply into our roots as a Sacred Heart school community, we discover that on this day, February 7th in 1818, St. Philippine Duchesne received her commission to North America from foundress St. Madeleine Sophie Barat. Historian, Louise Callen, RSCJ tells us that on the next day, the five Religious of the Sacred Heart set out from Paris on their arduous missionary journey to bring “the love of the heart of Jesus” to the new frontiers of the Louisiana territory. Five weeks later, on Holy Saturday, March 21th, they would navigate the last channel of the Garonne River to set sail on the Rebecca for the port of New Orleans.

If one probes this story critically, we realize that Philippine and her companions are embarking on the first part of their journey at the very beginning of Lent.

To me, this is an interesting revelation which inspires a reflection on the journey of Lentchair near oak tree for each one of us. We could ask, “Towards what do we set sail this Lent?”  “What journey are we making in Lent?” “To what is God commissioning us?” To whom or what are we willing to give our lives?”  “What shores do we need to leave to live an authentic Christian life?” “What are our new frontiers?”

As Headmistress, I can ask of our school similar questions, knowing that to thrive, prosper and grow as a school community, we must make an inward journey toward the deep roots of our identity and mission; while, concurrently, we must “cast off” from known shores in an outward journey toward the horizon ahead.

When leaving France, St. Madeleine Sophie reminded Philippine to stay close to her roots in France and to hold on to the mission as a inviolable bond. Through all she endured and sacrificed, Philippine found nourishment and solace in her deep roots of faith in God, the love of her family, and the accompaniment of friendship.

oak tree with green sproutOn Easter Sunday, this little group of sisters “awakened to the open sea of the Atlantic Ocean,” the new frontier ahead.  I pray that each one of us “set sail” from shore this Lent in the spirit of our frontier Saint, and, on Easter Sunday, awaken to find the peace and joy of the Resurrected One.

Note to readers: This is a letter written to our ASH school community at the Rosary in New Orleans, LA.

Crossing a threshold…


The graduation ceremonies this year were very special. Our Senior Class and their parents filled the front courtyard of the Rosary campus with a special feeling of love and solemnity that only matched the beauty of the evening. As the sun slowly set, the commencement exercises began: a magical, heart-felt spirit-filled evening for all. I will not forget it…

Welcome to the Board of Trustees, parents, friends and family and, especially to the Senior class of 2017.

This afternoon, you walked through the arched gates of the Sacre Coeur as a member of the Class of 2017, and as a senior member of the student body at the Rosary. Later this evening, after a very traditional and formal ceremony, you will leave through these same gates as a graduate of the Rosary.Graduation(127)-X2

These gates are a powerful metaphor, and as you walk through them, you cross over a threshold—the one that lies between the entrance to this school and your exit from it this evening. “Crossing a threshold” is a sacred and a powerful moment in the journey of life, and each of you are crossing an important one this evening.

When you entered these gates as a student, you crossed a threshold, and within these gates, your journey has been carefully accompanied by your parents, teachers, and friends. Like the black iron fence these people have formed a circle around you as you have learned and grown to become the women you are today. Your parents have given you the gift of a Sacred Heart education, and they, with all of us here, have supported you in your pursuits of arts, academics and athletics.

But, later tonight, as you leave through the gates with your back to the school, you are at a point of departure, and you cross a boundary. You are on the verge of something new and your step is the first one of a new beginning. I hope that you make this step mindfully—and make it, as St. Madeleine Sophie said with “courage and confidence” for what lies ahead.Graduation(213)-X3

As I prepared for these commencement exercises, I thought about the themes that so many celebrities talk about at graduation ceremonies. These people tend to about the value of striving towards goals, TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR ACTIONS, USING MISTAKES TO BUILD A BRIGHT FUTURE, NEVER GIVING UP ON A DREAM, AND SETTING HIGH EXPECTATIONS.

Themes like these are all good thoughts which no doubt help to inspire new beginnings. But, as a Religious of the Sacred Heart, I believe that I would be remiss if I did not remind you to look upward—to literally look upward this evening to the statue of Jesus which stands as a reminder of your true destiny.

Keeping Jesus as the center of your life is your choice now and it will be entirely your initiative. Keeping Jesus at the center of your life will protect you, will give your strength when times get rough, and knowing of the love of His open heart will nourish you at times when you really need it.
As St. Paul said, “….let nothing separate you from the love of God through Jesus Christ.” (Romans 8: 38)Graduation(270)-X3

As I look at you this evening, I see a senior class of young women who are kind, smart, generous, service oriented and true leaders. You are confident women and strong women who have made all of us so proud. Looking at you this evening, I believe that you are specially prepared for lives of courage and for lives of leadership.

Thank you, seniors, for being such a wonderful group of human beings!
I hope that you leave Sacred Heart filled with a sense of grace for all that has been given, grace for having received it, grace for sharing it with others, and grace to make a beautiful difference in the world. May God bless you on this next stage of your journey in life.Graduation(16)-X3

“Yes, do be a saint…and, why not?”

What do you think it means to be a saint? Why is a person considered holy? Is it the miracles that they do, or the way that they live each day? What do you think about being a saint?
Our own Saint, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, had some thoughts about becoming a saint. She understood it as how one lives her life; and that is how a person interacts with people and situations each day. Not about miracles, she thought, being a saint is about the things we do each day.

Once when she listening to a person who was overcome with worry. She said, “I long to help you bear your burden, and it would make me so happy if I could in any way make it sweeter [easier].”

Looking closely at her words, one can observed her desire and her values. She “longed” to help others. Her happiness was in making things easier for others.

Although, it may not always seem to be so, I think that many of our parents and teachers at Sacred Heart feel that way toward their daughters and students. They truly want to help their daughters and students, and their happiness in making their life easiesaintsr. When ones “longings” are aligned with the happiness of another, I suspect a person is probably moving in the direction of holiness.

Even St. Madeleine Sophie knew that it was not always easy to help others with their burdens or to make them lighter. She was human after all, and she knew it was about intention and our hearts. She once shared that, “Great hearts, generous hearts, are required in the family of God’s Heart.” Let’s all pray for the grace to have big generous open hearts even when tasks are difficult and to love as Jesus loved each day in all that we do.

Note: Title quote attributed to St. Madeleine Sophie Barat

My Vocation Story (as I reflect on it today)…

My vocation story was shared in this way with a small group of Seniors at the Rosary, our Sacred Heart school in New Orleans, LA and my Alma Mater. These are my reflections as shared with them this morning.

I grew up in a large Catholic family of 10 children. We lived in New Orleans, not far from Audubon Park and in the middle of the university section. My parents were not necessarily pious in a devotional sense, but they were definitely fervent. Our family went to Mass every weekday morning at 7:30 AM before school at Holy Name of Jesus Parish, a Jesuit Church. We prayed the Rosary on Monday evenings after family dinner. We prayed in the car before we went on car trips, and while on car trips, we prayed the Rosary. My Father made the sign of the cross on our foreheads before bed and Grace before Meals was a certainty. My Mother prayed the litanies to the Saints, especially St. Lucy and St. Jude. In all things, we were a Catholic family, even to regularly entertaining a steady stream of Catholic priests, bishops and nuns at home. Being Catholic was culture to me, a way of breathing and of living in New Orleans.

As a student at the Academy of the Sacred Heart for 14 years (Pre-K through 12th grade), I had the opportunity to get to know the community of the Religious of the Sacred Heart (RSCJ) in a wide variety of settings—as teachers, administrators, and as friends of my family. Over the tumultuous years of my youth, the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the habits and various lifestyle expressions of the religious sisters changed in concert with the changes in the larger Catholic Church community—the sisters moving, for example, out of the cloistered community in the school convent and into local neighborhood houses.

Along with these outward changes, individual members of the community came to Sacred Heart and others left the school as a result of reassignment, according to the vows of obedience they had accepted. I grew in my understanding of the lifestyle as I experienced the presence of these sisters, engaged with them through life as a student, and observed their practice of daily spirituality in clear evidence to all. Throughout all of these years, the witness of the sisters to me was to a life of simplicity in lifestyle, dedication to the mission of education, of grounded joy, and of love for God.

In high school, a priest asked me to teach a CCD class at a local parish on the outskirts of a low income housing area in downtown New Orleans. Each Saturday, I went down to the parish church to teach this class of 1st graders. With students scurrying under the pews and definitely not paying attention, I quickly learned that I did not know how to teach religion! I asked one of the RSCJ at school for some immediate help. Each week, she mentored me in how to teach for the coming session. That experience of teaching at a young and formative age anchored in me the joy of teaching, and of accompanying young children on the path of religious growth and educational development. It also spoke to me about the presence, accessibility and availability of that sister to her students in so many different ways.

I was in my senior year in high school when I began to think more seriously about religious life. From the sisters, I saw it as a viable and positive way of life. It seemed like a good way of life to me—a peaceful, prayerful and happy life in simple service to God, a public witness. During my years at school, and, perhaps related to fine RSCJ teachers and a regular routine of daily Mass, I had started to pray and had felt a personal relationship with God from a young age. In some precognitive way, I knew that I wanted to continue to grow in this way. Nonetheless, I pushed the thought of religious life out of my mind in favor of more pressing desires of going to college in New York, pursuing a career, travelling with friends and dating my boyfriend.

Throughout college, I stayed in touch with several Religious of the Sacred Heart, although not frequently. These friendships become an important vehicle for my coming to a more adult appreciation of these women and their commitment. I grew to see them as deeply passionate and committed people—committed to community, to radical vows, to a counter-cultural lifestyle and to a personal relationship with God.

After completing a Master’s degree in Educational Administration and Supervision at Loyola University in New Orleans and beginning a Doctoral Program in Curriculum and Instruction, my heart told me to stop and to listen to what God was inviting me to in my life. I had arrived at a critical turning point—a threshold of decision, the edge of uncertainty. Even though I had been offered a marvelous position as a Dean of Students at a local university, I knew that there was something more in life that I was being called to and searching for than a successful career. Somewhere in my heart, I knew that I needed to follow this call in spite of not being completely clear about what it meant for me or where it would lead.
Throughout my adolescence and early adulthood, I had marvelous boyfriends and, at this point in my life, I was involved with a special person. My life was in every way pointed towards a successful career, a likely marriage and fabulous life in New Orleans with many friends. Deep down, though, I knew that these things would never going to truly fill my heart and deeply satisfy. I just had that deep sense of truth and certainty that that path was not going to be my life; and I was certain of this intuition in spite of not knowing the exact path to which I was called. This was a moment of faith, of letting go into an abyss with trust and in a posture of surrender.

There were some indications of my call in my early years: I told my parents that I did not wish to make my debut even though it was something that others in my class and my other sisters chose to do when it was offered to them. I didn’t have a judgment about it for others. I just did not feel that it was something for me. On the other hand, I felt strongly drawn in a mysterious way in volunteer service people with special needs, the elderly, homeless, and others who struggle. I felt incredibly (and consistently) happy teaching religion to small children on Saturdays and at summer camp.

Not long after this insight about stopping my doctoral program came to me, I was teaching Religion at a parochial school—7 sections of 7th and 8th grade religion. On my way to a conference, I ran into a RSCJ head of school who asked me “Why aren’t you teaching at a Sacred Heat school?” That somewhat stopped me, and was faced with an important realization–perhaps for the first time seeing the utter congruence between my affectivity and my choices in both career and personal life choices. It was at that time, I really began to let down my defenses about religious life and began to open myself to God and to the invitation of the lifestyle.

At about this time, an unusual event prompted an even closer connection between me and the RSCJ community. A friend of mine became pregnant though she was not married. The RSCJ community opened their house community to her during the last months caring for her and providing her with assistance. Over the course of that period through my visits, I became aware of the close community lived by the sisters and the compassionate response given to my friend. Their living jarred my sensibilities to a new place, and broke open any residual stereotypes about the lifestyle that were still holding me back from a commitment.

After about a year of initial exploration and spending more formal time with the community, I discerned to enter the community of the Religious of the Sacred Heart and to explore the lifestyle more deeply as a novice. God is faithful and abundant in blessing: I have been in the community for over 30 years now—never turning back!