A word from Sr. Mary Jo:
In 1963 I entered the Franciscan community, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. Our home was right here in Portland on Palatine Hill Road next to Lewis and Clark College. We were known as the “Palatine Hill Franciscans” since we’d established our community on that hill in the 1940s after moving from Pendleton, Oregon. I was young when I entered, 17. Why would I do such a thing when I still had the world to explore? The answer, I suppose, lies in my roots. I grew up Franciscan. You might say it is in my DNA. I was born in Baker City where our Sisters had established themselves in the late 1880s when five young sisters ventured from Philadelphia to the Wild West. The Franciscan Sisters were midwives to my mother when she gave birth to me. My birthday, on August 2, is a Franciscan feast day celebrating the birth of the original Franciscan movement in Assisi, Italy. As a child, from grades 1-12, I went to St. Francis Academy and was taught by our Sisters. This was the school where my five siblings, parents, aunts and uncles had all been educated.
At Palatine Hill, I spent five years learning what it meant to be a Franciscan Sister. I attended college at Marylhurst. Then I set out as a teacher to middle school and high school kids for 26 years. I loved my teaching years and the relationships with hundreds of young people as we studied mathematics, religion, and science. Then, in 1994, I felt a deep call to engage in spiritual ministry and spiritual direction. My Order supported me. I pursued a Masters in Applied Theology from the School of Applied Theology in Berkeley, California. Then I returned to Palatine Hill and jumped right into a spiritual direction and retreat ministry. What an awesome ministry it is!
Though we had to change locations many times, for 26 more years I have continued to practice this Franciscan ministry. Today my colleagues come from various denominations and backgrounds. Currently, I direct about 30 people. Their faith traditions, lifestyles, ages, and backgrounds are diverse. My work gives me the privilege of holding very still and being like a mirror that reflects to another how they are aware of the Divine. It doesn’t get any better than this. At the end of each day, I’m filled with the wonder of God’s extravagant love for God’s people, for me, and for all of creation. I am reminded, over and over, how God works through every choice we make and can only do one thing – continue to love us. For God’s name is Love.
Along with Rev Eileen Parfrey, I co-facilitate a Spiritual Direction Training Program. This is a two-year program that teaches people how to be spiritual directors. We currently are supporting our seventh cohort. We are one of the few programs globally that teaches spiritual direction from a Franciscan perspective, which is all about relationship with the Divine, with others, with oneself, and with all of creation. Since we can offer this program using a hybrid model, some participants come in person and others participate virtually from places as far away as Singapore, Africa, the East Coast, and Canada.
One joy of mine these days, in being both a Sister and a participant in the Center’s work, is being in relationship with a group of Franciscan Companions. The Companions are the formal group of lay people who commit to come alongside the Sisters of St Francis of Philadelphia and enter into a mutual relationship of service and intentional development of the Franciscan charism. Currently we meet monthly as a group of 28.
The Franciscan Hermitage Experience is a place where my heart comes alive. This is a retreat that was formed out of the subject of my Masters thesis. Its current format is a weekend retreat, which uses the elements of silence, community, and the spirituality of St. Francis and St. Clare. Hundreds of people have made the retreat. Some have done so several times. Those who co-facilitate it with me today began as retreatants. Together, we ask ourselves where is God calling us now? How are we to respond with heart, spirit, and soul to the needs of our twenty first century world? And how can we love extravagantly as we have been extravagantly loved?
My Franciscan community continues to sponsor the Franciscan Spiritual Center. My Sisters invest time, energy, and resources into this ministry as it now continues in the not-so-Wild-West. Each day I relish the welcome home of colleagues and old friends at the Center. Please join me in praying that we may continue in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare. Please consider giving something of your financial resources to make this ministry possible.
Sr Mary Jo Chaves
Click here to read more stories in the Season of Franciscan Giving series.