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Edition No. 187—September 28, 2021 
Ritual of Thanks and Blessing
Saint Mary by-the-Sea Retreat House
September 18, 2021
In February 2021, the Sisters of Saint Joseph announced the permanent closure of Saint Mary by-the-Sea, their retreat house in Cape May, NJ. 

The sisters have owned and operated the beautiful retreat house since 1909, providing retreats for sisters and laity for more than 100 years. Thousands have been part of this holy history, and Saint Mary’s has been blessed by the generosity and love of staff, volunteers and retreatants. The Sisters of Saint Joseph, our Associates in Mission, sisters of other congregations, clergy and our lay brothers and sisters have encountered God in this sacred place and have also been a prayerful presence to the Cape May Point community.

The closing ritual for St. Mary by-the-Sea took place in the courtyard of the retreat house on Saturday, September 18, 2021. Due to the need to limit attendance for safety and security reasons, about 200 guests were invited to attend in person. The event was also livestreamed for all to view.

Congregational President Sister Maureen G. Erdlen SSJ joined those gathered in the courtyard and on the porches and began the ritual with a warm welcome: “Good afternoon and welcome to all who have gathered to celebrate this day and all that it symbolizes. We certainly gather with mixed emotions acknowledging all the milestones—both the personal ones and congregational ones—that St. Mary’s has been the “holder of” in our lives. So many of us have experienced treasured moments here: some of loss and struggle, many of joy and celebration. As we come together, we hold the treasures of the ocean, the sky, the sunrises and sunsets, the birds and the butterflies, that Saint Mary’s has witnessed with us. We come in reverence and awe for so many gifts of our gracious God. But once again, we are being called to the “letting go” of what we love. As I thought about this day, I recalled the prayer we often hear at the death of a loved one: We give her back to you, O God, who first gave her to us—yet as you did not lose her in the giving, so we do not lose her by her return to you. For what is yours, is ours also if we belong to you. Our hope is that, whatever form it takes, Saint Mary’s will help everyone who comes to this sacred place reverence and love deeply the gifts of God‘s creation. As we have met God here ourselves, let us pray that many more will continue to encounter our loving God on this sacred ground.”
Five participants were invited to give a personal reflection about their experience of Saint Mary’s over the years: Retreatant Ellie Stratton; Spiritual Director Sister Trudy Ahern SSJ; Volunteer Kathy Mattson; Staff member Sister Roseann Tribuiani SSJ and Villa resident Sister Anna Louise Schuck SSJ. Excerpts from their reflections are listed below.

I first came to St Mary by the Sea in June 1996, when Sister Pat Hickey SSJ, my spiritual director, suggested that I make a silent retreat. So, when my sons left for overnight camp in Michigan, I packed my suitcase and a tote bag full of books and on arrival settled into room 307 in the west attic.

From the beginning I felt “at home.” My spirit soaked up the silence; my heart healed in the ocean of grace and the tides of transformation; my mind rested in the rhythms of the porch rocking chairs; and my body loved walking on the beach and jumping in the waves.

Over the years my book bag grew much smaller as I learned that retreat is about being open to God’s love and letting that Love into my heart and soul. The liturgies of word and sacrament fed my hunger for God. Whether the retreat was directed or guided, the days unfolded in a regular pattern that made it possible to meet God in new ways.
Lying in bed at night, the door propped open with a sandbag to catch the cool air, I thought of the other women over the one hundred years and more who had inhabited my room. They too had come with similar longings as mine: to draw closer to God; to find peace; to pray for family and friends; to discern their vocation; to rest and to renew so they could return to service

This Holy Ground has shaped and nurtured so many of us. It has welcomed, embraced, and comforted both women and men. On this holy ground we have experienced God’s infinite love and grace. For all of these tender mercies, thank you St. Mary by-the-Sea, thank you Sisters of St Joseph, and thank you, thank you, God.”

                                                                          —Ellie Stratton
What a privilege and honor it is for me to share my experience today as a Director here at St. Mary’s for many years. When I was reflecting on my beginning years ministering here at St. Mary’s, the one word that repeatedly came to me was JOY. A joy that came from the people I met, and the rich, meaningful relationships and  experiences I’ve had over the years that to this day fill my heart with great joy and gratitude! 

How blessed we’ve been to experience the history of retreats. We give thanks to our sisters—some who are PRESENT here with us, some through livestream , and others who are with us in eternity: Win Grelis, Marie William, Kitty Donohue Joan Riethmiller, Dottie Newell, Liz O’Hara and more. All these wonderful women and directors were committed to this blessed spiritual ministry here at St. Mary’s. What a legacy!

It’s been said, “There is no place on earth as beautiful as Cape May Point and St. Mary’s by-the-Sea.” It is Holy Ground. I cannot think of St. Mary’s without remembering how I met God here in very powerful ways, not only in the lives and sacred stories of my retreatants, but in my life as well. 

It’s been a gift and blessing companioning retreatants in their joys, sorrows, and glorious moments of their lives and to witness the power of God’s transforming presence in their hearts. 

Over the years, St. Mary’s grew as we grew. The retreat ministry expanded as the desires and needs of people evolved. As the Spirit led us, we offered a variety of retreat opportunities hoping to satisfy the longings in the hearts of so many who desired to be nourished and fed here.

We pray to you, Mary, as we go forth from this Holy Ground to be attentive listeners to God’s Spirit as you were. May we carry within our hearts the vibrancy and energy of God’s grace from the Holy Ground of St. Mary’s by-the-Sea, as we continue to live God’s mission of love in our world today.  

                                                             —Sister Trudy Ahern SSJ
I am honored to be here and loved being a volunteer at St. Mary’s for over 30 years. 

As I reflect on how St. Mary’s has been holy ground to me, I find it hard to put into words. I am grateful that I can return again and I can put behind me all my work and home responsibilities. And then, to meet the staff and the volunteers I have not seen since the year before is so welcoming.

It is in the ordinary activities of a kitchen, that I find the extraordinary. There are no personal agendas at St. Mary’s. As a volunteer, you are here to do whatever is needed to make the retreatants’ day comfortable. We come together with the unselfish giving of ourselves as a part of the whole, which enables the retreatants and even those volunteers the opportunity to experience a moment with God, a time to refresh and redirect their lives.

When my volunteer week or weekend has ended, and it is time to go home, I remain connected to St. Mary’s. I take home with me all that I have been given: the goodness of those I have spent my time with, the renewal of friendships and my own renewed relationship with God, and the love shared.

I would love to make one more pot of cereal, watch the sunrise, sit in my clothesline cove to read, lay in bed after a long day, feel the breeze through the window, hear the crashing waves on the beach or just sit around the kitchen table after the day is done and relax and sit together with everyone.

I continue to miss the anticipation of each summer to volunteer and the many women and men I have been blessed to share my time with here at St. Mary’s. Thank you
                                                                           —Kathy Mattson
I have had the privilege of being on retreat many times at this beloved retreat house, volunteered for many summers, and in these past several years served as a member of the core staff.

As a member of the core staff, I have ministered with talented, generous, supportive, and even at times challenging (in a good way) coworkers. As I always told the volunteer staff at our meeting together: ’“Alone we can do little, but together we can do so much.” And we did! In you, Pat, Kathy, Sharon, Rita, MaryAnn and Joan, God was present. THANK YOU!

I have also been blessed and enriched to work alongside hundreds of volunteers and associates—precious moments of enjoying one another and building relationships among us. In you, God was present, my friends. THANK YOU!

Retreatants have gifted me by their example of entering into the silence of their sacred time, and by their reverence and respect for the Holy One among us. In you dear retreatants, God was present. THANK YOU!
Over the years I have been fortunate and blessed to be among men and women directors, from various congregations, walks of life, different parts of the country and even outside the country, right here at St. Mary’s. In you, companions in ministry, God was present. THANK YOU!

Gifts beyond measure have been given and received. Today these gifts are uniting us to one another and to God—both in our grief and in our gratitude.

I pray we go forth from today always holding our beloved St. Mary’s in our minds and hearts with love and gratitude. For this is Holy Ground. This is where God is!

                                                      —Sister Roseann Tribuiani SSJ
How wonderful to be here among you! And how wonderful to be among all the spirits here and to also be with all those who are watching us.

I’d like to tell you a story that allowed me to know what Cape May really means to me. It was in 1974 or 1979, and our Chapter was being assembled; the delegates had a three day retreat here at Cape May. Our retreat director said to us: Where is your fire? It made me stop and think and reflect. I knew I had a fire within—it wasn’t a big one, but it was there.

As I thought about it, I realized that this holy ground, St. Mary’s by-the-Sea, kindled that fire. It tended it by the beauty that surrounds us, by my sister companions in deep prayer and by the wonderful men and women who served us so joyfully.

This morning at prayer I had an image. When I was small we had a coal heater at our house. Sometimes, I had to go and stoke it, This is what Cape May, St. Mary’s, has been to me. It has helped to stoke my fire.

We all have fire! We all need the fire tended. St. Mary’s has done it for so many of us. We must continue it. The world needs us. We have a responsibility for our broken world. Let us all be sure that we stoke it.

I am privileged to represent our sisters at the Villa. There we have sisters who have all been here on retreat, who have been volunteers, retreat directors and council liaisons. And so I offer a sincere thanks to them as to all of us.

And so, I cry, I weep for our loss, but I praise our God for our gift. I implore all of us to remember to stoke the fire, tend the fire. We need to give life and light to our broken world. Thank you.

—Sister Anna Louise Shuck SSJ
Following the reflections, Sister Carol Beevers SSJ invited each one present and at home to share a memory of gratitude for St. Mary’s.

Sister Sharon McCarthy SSJ, Administrator of St. Mary’s, prayed a final prayer. “Be with us as we bless and bid farewell to St. Mary by-the Sea. Our hearts are full of gratitude for all those who have been part of this sacred space over all these years. For all that has been, we say ‘thank you.’ For all that will be, we say ‘yes’.”

Everyone was invited to move to the dining room for some refreshments and the opportunity to take a prayerful walk through the house.
Holy Ground

This is holy ground
We're standing on holy ground
For our God is present
And where God is is holy
This is holy ground
We're standing on holy ground
For our God is present
And where God is is holy...
To view the livestream video of the Ritual of thanks and blessing click here:

To see and be seen: embracing presence as a ministry of learning

By Sister Colleen Gibson SSJ
Reprinted with permission from Global Sister Report
Read Sister Colleen Gibson SSJ’s latest article in the Global Sisters Report: To see and be seen: embracing presence as a ministry of learning

When we probe more deeply into the practice of ministry of presence — being actively present to the people in front of us — we discover that what seems to be simple is, in reality, rather complex.
Norwood-Fontbonne Academy
100th Anniversary Liturgy
September 26, 2021
NFA held its long-awaited 100th Anniversary Liturgy, in the beautiful Mount Saint Joseph Convent Chapel on Sunday, with Sisters of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia, alumni, current and former families, and current and former faculty and staff. Many thanks to all who had a part in this moving celebration.
United Nations 
Committee on The Rights of the Child
Amilyn Rose Thomas
The 2021 edition of the Day of General Discussion organized by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child had a Kerala connection.

One of the opening remarks and the only one by a child was given by 17-year-old Amilyn Rose Thomas, who represented the United States of America.  Amilyn is a senior at Mt. St. Joseph Academy. Her family hails from Pala in Kerala’s Kottayam district. The other speakers at the opening session were the UN Chair of the Committee for Rights of the Child, Associate Director and Global Chief of UNICEF and special representative of Secretary-General on Violence against Children.
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                         — SSJ Constitutions #21
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