Students from Assumption College for Sisters Make Leadership Visit to
St. Francis Residential Community in Denville
DENVILLE A dynamic group of students from Assumption College for Sisters is enrolled in a Leadership Program, inspired by Chris Lowney’s most recent book: Everyone Leads: How to Revitalize the Catholic Church (Rowman & Littlefield 2017). In fact, the faculty, staff, and student body of Assumption College for Sisters recently had the honor of meeting Chris Lowney in person at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Denville where he invited his audience to step up to the plate and help lead the Church’s revitalization into the future.
Intrinsic to Chris Lowney’s leadership approach is what he calls the five pillars of Church renewal, wherein he urges all Catholics to be: Entrepreneurial; Accountable; to Serve the Poor and Marginalized; to Transform each Worshipper’s Heart and Soul; and to Reach out to the World Beyond Our Church Doors. If you connect the bold letters above, you have the EASTeR Project, which can be summed up as follows:
Be Entrepreneurial: “Our mission is to lead others to an encounter with Jesus that changes them and the world….To improve, we will become more nimble…express our message creatively, share information more widely, empower our laity, vary prayer and worship styles to accommodate our very diverse populations” (p. 73).
Be Accountable: “We will therefore be more conscientious in monitoring, evaluating, and assessing how well we are fulfilling the various mandates Jesus gave us” (p. 74).
Serve the Poor and Marginalized: “We will fascinate an increasingly self-absorbed world by our commitment to selfless love” (p. 74).
Transform Each Worshipper’s Heart and Soul: “Our Church’s mission, says Vatican II, is to lead others to faith, freedom, and the love of Christ…Our Church should be a place where lives are transformed for the good…” (p. 74).
Reach Out to the World Beyond Our Church Doors: As Pope Francis says: “A Church that does not go out of itself, sooner or later, sickens from the stale air of closed rooms” (75).
Challenged by the EASTeR Project for Church renewal, some students at Assumption College for Sisters jumped into the project with both feet and decided to be entrepreneurial in their approach to revitalization. More to the point, their leadership mentor, Margaret McCann (a Sister of Charity of St. Elizabeth, Convent Station), took them to visit Saint Francis Residential Community in Denville, where they were enthusiastically received by residents and staff, alike.
During their first visit to Saint Francis, (October 23, 2017), the sisters were warmly welcomed by the residents, and the rapport between them suggests that all were transformed for the better. This becomes apparent when we consider the insights of Sr. Marie-Therese Nguyen, SPP (Congregation of the Sisters of Providence, Portieux, Vietnam), who recalls: “I was most impressed with Jean Kay, the lady at the desk who greeted us when we first arrived. When Jean Kay gave us a tour of the Residence, I enjoyed her talk. She told us her story and she believes that whatever happens to her in life, comes from God’s love.”
By the same token, Sr. Lucia Anh Nguyen, SPP (Sisters of Divine Providence in Vietnam), was also impressed with the Residence, as when she states: “The building is so beautiful from the outside and the inside, too. I saw some men sitting on the front porch, talking together and I enjoyed Jean Kay’s speech, especially when she said that God makes good things come out of bad things, and we should treat the elderly with dignity. She is a mirror for me and I want to imitate her in serving people with dignity.”
Not to be outdone, in the words of Sr. Catherine Thu Le, (Daughters of Our Lady of the Visitation, Vietnam): “We went to visit St. Francis Residence in Denville, a beautiful home for the elderly with a lovely statue of St. Francis to greet you outside of the building. This is a peaceful place. In the beautiful living room we took some pictures together by the fish aquarium. We went to the chapel and we looked at the relics of the saints. Then we met Johnice Thone, a Sister of the Sorrowful Mother and Executive Director of the Residence. She is a leader and I would love to learn from her. She is confident, very smart, and puts the organization’s goals above her own. I am grateful for having the chance to visit St. Francis Residence, right near my school in Denville.”
In the same vein, Sr. Norbertha Mlowe (St. Gertrude of the Benedictine Sisters in Tanzania), writes of her first visit to St. Francis: “I am very thankful for all the wonders I have seen there! We met Jean Kay…I love that lady. She was very charming and strong. She did not get tired talking. She showed us all around the house and she told us that to lead means to show the way and that no matter what happens, God is with us.”
Likewise, Sr. Mary Cecilia Akol from Uganda enjoyed her visit to the Residence. Her congregation is the Little Sisters of St. Francis, and her first impressions include the following: “St. Francis Residence in Denville is a very beautiful place with beautiful people who have beautiful hearts. The most outstanding person was Jean Kay, such a wonderful lady; full of life and vigor and very happy about her work. Jean has leadership skills, and these were evident in her talk. As she showed us around the home, she took it upon herself to explain to us everything. She is eager to give knowledge to other people and this is a very good quality for a leader. As a leader, Jean Kay shows her devotion and her love for God. This leadership quality is very outstanding in her. The way she shared her experiences as a worker in the Residence was very touching. Jean Kay told us: All the time that I have worked with the seniors, I have learned that we all need human contact, whether we are poor or rich; sick or healthy. This, to me, is an inspiration. How I wish that there were more people like Jean Kay on this planet.”
In addition, Sr. Charity Nkwera, OSB, (Benedictine Sisters of St. Gertrude, Tanzania), describes her first impressions of St. Francis Residence: “When we arrived, we were welcomed with love. They allowed us to take photos. Then Jean Kay came and took us on a tour of the place. I really admire the way she is so courageous and how much she loves her work. She says to treat all residents with dignity. Then we met Sr. Johnice Thone, Executive Director, and we went to her office, which is beautifully decorated with different saints. Sr. Johnice welcomed us all. She is kind, charming and filled with love, which is the way we should all be. I learned a big lesson from Jean Kay and Sr. Johnice Thone – how to be a good leader. They really touched my heart.”
Similarly, in the words of Sr. Fransiska Leja (Sisters of the Divine Vocation, Indonesia): “The most striking thing to me on visiting the Residence was the great faith of Jean Kay, and her joyful and loving heart. I could see how happy she is, serving the needs of the residents and telling such great stories. Her faith in God is very deep. When I came back from that place, I kept asking myself: How much do I serve God and how deep is my faith in Him? How truly do I listen to God, to whom I have promised to be faithful? That visit made my eyes open and it made my faith awaken, too.”
Finally, according to Sr. Martina Marni (Sisters of Divine Vocations, Indonesia): “It was an exciting time for me to be at St. Francis Residence – seeing new things, new people, a whole new place to be! I was impressed by the way it was structured; by the beauty of the chapel, and the holy images that made the environment sacred. The different games that the residents played kept their spirits alive. I was amazed by Jean Kay and her loving service to the residents. Her zeal for God shows in her love for the residents. As a leader, we should be at the service of others. To be a leader is to be with the people one serves, both in good times and in bad. Being a leader means to teach others, not just with our words, but with our deeds. I am hoping to discover more from the residents and to do something that can make them smile. I want to be a leader that people can count on; a leader who gives people hope and joy; a leader who sees and shares the pains and burdens of others.”
Clearly, the words of these sisters attest to the fact that their experience at St. Francis Residential Community is evoking in them the desire to become strong leaders and to put into action Chris Lowney’s invitation: Reach out to the World Beyond our Church Doors.
Reaching Out to the World Beyond Church Doors
In just a short while, the students enrolled in the Leadership Program at Assumption College for Sisters discovered that by entering a social sphere which is new to them, they learn more about themselves and about other people, as well. In hearing the stories of the residents at St. Francis in Denville and in sharing with the residents stories from their own lives in Vietnam, Uganda, Tanzania, and Indonesia, seeds of diversity are planted. Who knows what amazing fruits will emerge? Moreover, sisters and residents alike benefit from a new style of evangelization, and sisters follow the edict to be entrepreneurial in their approach to leadership.
Still another benefit from visiting St. Francis Residence is best expressed in the words of Sr. Margaret McCann, leadership mentor at Assumption College for Sisters: “Not only do my students learn to be leaders at St. Francis Residence, they also learn from the leadership skills of the expert staff they encounter there. What’s more, at Assumption College for Sisters, I am their instructor in a course they are taking this semester: The Fundamentals of Public Speaking. So when my students stand up and speak into the microphone in the living room of St. Francis Residence, not only are they learning to be leaders, they are also enhancing their public speaking skills and getting tangible practice that exceeds the pages of their textbook. They are getting on-the-spot-experience in the art of impromptu speeches and extemporaneous speeches. As such, I am proud of my students’ new leadership prowess, and at the same time, I witness their improvement in the art of public speaking, especially when they tell stories to the residents of what life is like in Vietnam, Tanzania, Uganda, and Indonesia. Diversity never sounded so sweet as it does at the microphone, when my students share their lives, their hearts, and their voices with the hospitable men and women at St. Francis Residence in Denville!”
Students enrolled in the Leadership Program at Assumption College for Sisters have shared with the Saint Francis Residential Community some stories about what it is like to be a sister, in particular before they came to the United States to study. They bring with them a rich heritage from their religious congregations and from their own personal lives, as well. From the following observations, each sister sums up what she did in her previous life and what most impresses her about the St. Francis Residential Community. They speak as individuals and as leaders-in-the-making. In addition, their mentor, Sr. Meg McCann, SC, has asked her students to record experiences in their journals wherein they have started to assume a leadership role, right in the houses where they live. Putting into practice what one has learned, especially in the local community, is a hands-on-approach to leadership, and one that students will share with one another in the classroom at Assumption College for Sisters, in particular, on Leadership Mondays.
Meet the Sisters, in their own Words
Sr. Mary Cecilia Akol, LSOSF (from Uganda): “Back home, I worked in a school as a third-grade teacher. I am from Uganda, and was born in the Katakwi District, located in the eastern part of Uganda. I love being at St. Francis Residence because they are so joyful and appreciative of us. They felt as much love as we did.”
Sr. Catherine Thu Le, FMV (from Vietnam): “I was a teacher for adult students who did not know how to read or write. In addition, I took care of elderly people in their homes. At St. Francis Residence, I love all of the seniors that I have met there.”
Sr. Fransiska Leja, SDV (from Flores, in Indonesia): “Back home, I was an elementary school teacher. At St. Francis Residential Community, I am impressed with the beautiful smiles on the faces of the seniors, especially Ruth Ann. I was touched with what she said: You are a sign of God for us. When we asked what they expect from a nun, the seniors said: A smiling face.”
Sr. Martina Marni, SDV (from Lempe, in Indonesia): “Back home, I was a substitute teacher in the nursery school. At St. Francis Residential Community, I was able to speak with a woman who shared her life with me.”
Sr. M. Norbertha Mlowe (from Njombe, in Tanzania): “My ministry used to be tailoring, and I worked in the food store to serve the high school students. I am proud of the St. Francis Residential Community because it is peaceful and they shared their love with us. I believe that the Holy Spirit is working in them. The beautiful elders told us to grow in our faith.”
Sr. Lucia Anh Nguyen (from Dong Thap, Vietnam): “Back home, I was a kindergarten teacher. I also gave communion to the elderly people who live alone and to the patients in hospitals. My experience at St. Francis has been good because I enjoyed playing with others after school.”
Sr. Marie-Therese Nguyen, SPP: (from Vietnam): “I used to be a pastoral minister, in Portieux, Vietnam. What I enjoy most about St. Francis Residence is that it is a lovely community for the sharing of prayers and hospitality. They promised to pray for us and we, for them.”
Sr. M. Charity Nkewera, OSB (from Njombe, in Tanzania): “In my previous ministry, I took care of orphans. What is most beautiful about the Residence is how God works in different people. For example, Jean Kay calls the residents her children and she makes them very happy. She greeted us very well, too.”
Sr. Margaret McCann, Ph.D. (Sister of Charity of St. Elizabeth, Convent Station, NJ): “Most of my ministry years have been devoted to teaching English at the college and high school level. As mentor of the Leadership Program at Assumption College for Sisters, I am discovering potential in my students that I never saw before, and they are finding gifts that they never knew they had.