Dubuque – Sheltering in Place: Unexpected Blessings

Sheltering in Place: Unexpected Blessings

By Beth Driscoll, PBVM & Rita Cameron, PBVM

During this pandemic, Presentation Sisters have continued their work while sheltering in place, both inside and outside the motherhouse. Despite many challenges, they have discovered creative ways to reach those they serve, receiving many blessings along the way. Sisters Beth Driscoll and Rita Cameron share their experiences of ministry during these times.

Ministering Outside the Motherhouse

While sheltering in place for 13 weeks, I received a letter from a friend who imagined this pandemic time as an extended personal retreat. She expressed the blessing it is to have an inner life, to accept and be comfortable with self, to be happy and content while solitary. COVID-19 continues to cause tremendous suffering across the globe. Yet, I, too, experience its potential to wake me up to possibility. We dwell in possibility if only we can turn our attention to its many and varied invitations.

After working from home for three months, I returned to ministry at the College of Saint Mary (CSM) in mid-June 2020. Upon return, I witnessed an abundance of hospitality as staff members eagerly stopped at one another’s doors to offer heartfelt welcomes and to express concern for one another’s well-being. Colleagues shared newly-appreciated blessings – eating dinner together as a family, going on walks, settling into a more reflective space to notice redbirds and beautiful sunsets.

Theology professor Jennifer Reed-Bouley’s Christian Life and Service course, pre-COVID, took students to a variety of service sites off campus. Re-imagining the possibility of personal interviews taking the place of service sites, Jennifer invited me to participate and asked if other Presentation Sisters might also be interested in being interviewed.

Throughout September and October, CSM students interviewed 11 sisters. Stimulating conversations focused on everyday Christian life and service in light of scripture, human experience and contemporary expression of service in the church and world. I was delighted to receive emails from sisters describing the conversations they had with students. Students, in turn, told me about the sisters they had met via the Zoom interview. Particularly meaningful to students was that the sisters recognized each student’s dedication to earning a college degree while trying to balance full-time and part-time jobs and family responsibilities.

Fortunate to worship with Omaha’s Jesuit parish, St. John’s, I received yet another invitation to possibility. Anticipating restrictions on the usual parish activities to extend well into 2021, parishioners who serve on the Leadership Commissions were invited to engage in a year of dreaming and discerning. We will reflect on Bill Huebsch’s recently published book, Promise and Hope: Pastoral Theology in the Age of Mercy. I look forward to remotely gathering with commission members each month so that, together, we might re-imagine possibilities for the parish we hope to be – church as people of God.

St. John’s also initiated conversations among North Omaha congregations for the purpose of getting to know one another as neighbors, sharing experiences of work and worship and acknowledging injustices illumined by the pandemic. In our effort to live the Gospel mission, our perspective broadens. We identify and name areas of commonality and challenge. It is a blessing to be involved with this richly diverse group of neighbors.

Possibility abounds! “Grace comes when we welcome God’s work and it’s always worth the wait.” (Becoming Light)

After working from home for several months, Sister Beth Driscoll is back in her office at the College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Nebraska.

Ministering Inside the Motherhouse

“Be still and know that I am God.” These words resonate very deeply with me as I reflect on what has taken place since we have been in quarantine these last few months. I have learned a new appreciation for a more relaxed lifestyle and less busy schedule. Instead of rising early and heading for school, I find myself rising early and spending extra time in prayer, silence and visiting with sisters in the motherhouse. I have read more books in the last six months than I have read in many years.

I now have time – time to enjoy the beauty of nature at Mount Loretto; time to sit in silence and enjoy hearing nothing; time to write birthday notes to friends and family; time to help serve food, water and coffee to sisters at mealtime; time to answer the call for help when a sister is having trouble with her computer; time to help plan entertainment events for sisters in Presentation Center and on the house channel; and a lot of time on Zoom with various committees. My appreciation for being present has increased tremendously. I believe I don’t have to fix, change or solve problems for others as long as I am truly present as a listener and friend.

As a facilitator for a grief support group sponsored by Catholic Charities and Mercy Hospital, I have found that I need to be creative and reach inside myself so I can find ways to help the support group do just that – support each member. During our weekly meetings, which are possible because of video conferencing, we have found there is a connection that has a different meaning than face-to-face meetings allow. There is a need to be silent and listen carefully as members share what the grief process has brought to them during the time since our last visit. Since one of the members joins us by phone, we are not able to see facial images and we must rely on what we hear. As a result, I believe the group members have developed a form of listening from the heart. It is truly amazing to participate in these weekly gatherings.

As I have experienced being quarantined, I have changed my definition of “radical hospitality.” I have always known radical hospitality needs to exist on many levels, but now I see the importance of being radically hospitable to those people with whom I interact on a daily basis. As I have had opportunities for closer interaction with sisters at the motherhouse, I have a heightened awareness of the need to practice hospitality not only on a daily basis, but minute by minute.

As I practice radical hospitality here at Mount Loretto, my hope is I will be more hospitable to those I meet beyond these walls. I definitely do have the time and my motivation is to be still and know that God is present in each moment and in each person I encounter.

Sister Rita Cameron enjoys helping Sister Anne McCormick with computer questions and lessons.