50th Anniversary Celebration of the Redemptoristine Monastery in Esopus & Feast of the Immaculate Conception – December 8, 2007
by Rev. Thomas Travers, CSsR
When I was a young priest I was sent to Puerto Rico to work as a missionary and, of course, the first task was to begin the life-long study of Spanish. So we were sent to Catholic University in Ponce to start the process. And as an important part of the course we assisted at a series of lectures in Sociology given by a young priest/professor from New York. He was Fr Ted Mc Carrick, now Cardinal Mc Carrick, and the former Archbishop of Washington, DC.
And I remember, especially, one of the talks that he gave us on seeing the blessings of an exodus. He was talking specifically about the Puerto Rican exodus to the US mainland which was at its peak at that time. And to make his point, he put this exodus in the context of other exoduses such as:
- That of Abraham from Ur of the Caldeans,
- The exodus the later exodus of Moses out of Egypt to the Promised Land,
- The exodus of the Jewish captives from Babylon,
- The exodus of the early Christians from Palestine, and so on.
Each exodus, painful though it may have been at the time, because sometimes it was a leaving behind of one’s native land and culture, turned out to be a great blessing in the long run, a blessing for the people themselves who made the exodus and a blessing for the place where they finally settled.
Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of another exodus, the exodus of six Redemptoristine nuns from the Holy Redeemer Monastery in Barrie, Ontario, Canada to come to the United States, to Esopus New York, to what was to become the Mother of Perpetual Help Monastery.
(They were: Sister Mary Catherine Parks, the prioress; Sister Margaret Banville;, Sister Mary Anne Reed;, Sister Mary Bridget Kusmickus; Sister Gertrude Wilkinson, and Sister Paula Schmidt.)
It was an exodus, a leaving behind of the known for the unknown. It was a new venture and a new life. And like all other exoduses, it was a great blessing for them who made it, and it was a certainly a great blessing for this place where they settled, here at Esopus, New York, in the Baltimore Province of the Redemptorist Fathers.
And today is a fitting day to celebrate this exodus, this new beginning and this new life,
because today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And on this feast we celebrate the mystery that Mary was conceived without sin in the womb of her mother. We celebrate the beginning of Mary’s new life.
The New Testament tells us that as this life grew it was characterized by:
- A spirit of obedience to God’s will,
- A spirit of mission,
- And a spirit of prayer and contemplation.
Today’s gospel narrates what was perhaps the highpoint of this willing obedience to God’s will. The angel announces to Mary that she is to be the Mother of God and she answers simply: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. I will always do what He wants.” With these words, she expressed her commitment to do the Lord’s will always.
Fifty years ago, our 6 pioneers did just the same when their angel, the prioress, announced to them at a community gathering that they were chosen to start the new monastery here at Esopus. There were no questions, no discussion. They answered simply, as Mary did, “We are the servants of the Lord. May His will be done.”
Mary’s life had a purpose, a mission. She gave birth to Jesus and cared for him in his early years and then later his mission became her mission. She was the first and the most faithful of his disciples. The gospel mentions that she was there for him when he needed her most during his public life;
- When he was accused of being crazy and told to go back home,
- And when he was dying on the cross.
Mary was there to encourage him and later to console him in his sorrow. She was present. And it was there, beneath the cross that she accepted her second vocation, to be the mother of the Christian community, the mother of the church. Jesus said to her “Behold your sons and daughters” and says to us, “Behold your Mother.”
Our Redemptoristine sisters, too, have a mission. And their mission is to be present with us in our apostolic work. They are very much a part of our ministry, a part of our community. We are brothers and sisters in a very real sense. We are a missionary team, each with a different function.
When St Alphonsus, our founder, gave parish missions, he would often gather a team of 18 to 20 missionaries. Each priest or brother had a specific task and the one who preached the major sermons was often considered the most important person on the team. But Alphonsus, to put things in their proper perspective, would often say “that the humble lay-brother sitting in the front pew under the pulpit often did more to convert sinners by his prayers than the chief missionary by his preaching.”
As Redemptorists, we are a preaching order. We go forth to preach and we go forth with confidence, knowing that the results of our preaching depend in a great part on the prayer and sacrifice of our Redemptoristine sisters, the other part of our pastoral team.
In this, too, they imitate Mary. The Book of Acts tells us that after Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples returned to Jerusalem and went to the upper room and “they all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus.” She was there for the primitive community, united with them in prayer just as our Sisters are here for us and united to us and to all the Christian community in prayer.
So we give thanks, today, for this exodus that happened 50 years ago. Cardinal Mc Carrick was right. All exoduses are great blessings.
And it is fitting that we celebrate this new life on the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, a feast that marks a new beginning, the beginning of Mary’s life, a life of committed obedience, a life dedicated to a mission of presence and a life of prayer and contemplation.
As we celebrate and we give thanks on this day, we ask Mary, on her feast, to continue to bless this work of her hands, for that is what this monastery truly is and has been for these last 50 years. May she grant it a long and fruitful history filled with many sisters and associates; cooperating with us Redemptorists and others in the one mission of spreading God’s Kingdom to the poor and most abandoned. And we ask Venerable Maria Celeste and St Alphonsus, who must be very happy today to see their sons and daughters gathered together with all their friends and associates to celebrate this great event, we ask them to bless us all. AMEN.
[Read more of Father Tom's great homilies at his blog: http://journals.aol.com/tjtrower/Reflections/