Just. Showing. Up.
Below is the speech given by Anna Zaros at A Taste of Thanksgiving 2016. She was in the St. Joseph Worker Program in 2008-09 and the following describes her experience in the program.
It was just day four at my placement site at Civil Society, just week three of the program, and I found myself in an Aldi parking lot, helping two police officers move the contents of their unmarked van into my car. Bedding, kid’s toys, a few clothes and cherished family items. From the back of the van peeked a set of eyes – watching me. Mai, with her toddler and newborn baby in tow, was escaping her trafficker. I was her new case manager, here to take her to a safe shelter.
Most of the time I wasn’t sure what I was doing as a case manager. The women I accompanied had lived unspeakable trauma – forced to work in factories and give over their pay to their abuser, raped, forced into prostitution, smuggled across borders, drugged. I had just graduated college with a heart full of idealism and a head full of social justice, what did I know?
But in the St. Joseph Worker program I learned to show up. With Mai, I helped her receive benefits so she could buy formula for her newborn. We went to the grocery store together. We went to her medical appointments. When she went back to her abuser – the father of her children – a common occurrence for abuse victims - I still showed up. I visited her home to give her some much needed clothing, and to reassure her I was still there for her, no matter what.
This is what the Sisters taught me, and I’m sure have taught all of you – to show up. With the sisters we showed up at Fort Benning, Georgia to protest the School of the Americas. We showed up on the Lake Street Bridge to pray for peace. We showed up at the capital to lobby for justice and equality.
And this is what the St. Joseph Workers, formed in the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph – to love God and dear neighbor without distinction – continue to live out every day of the program, and all the days after. I see my fellow St. Joseph Workers at the farmer’s market selling local produce, at the march for racial justice, at each other’s homes, bringing food when a new baby is born, at the hospitality house welcoming immigrants on the border.
Right now, it is so easy to be disillusioned with our world. We are four days away from an election that has brought out some of the worst of humanity. But the Sisters of St. Joseph have always been my beacon of hope – women’s religious communities are a counter cultural answer to the problems of the world – they actively create peace and justice because they show up. Usually not very loudly or obviously – but quietly, consistently, and with great effectiveness.
But the Sisters can’t be everywhere at all times. That’s why they invested in me – that’s why they’ve invested in all the women who have been and will become St. Joseph Workers - to spread and grow their impact. So we can show up in more places loving God and dear neighbor.
Eight years later I try to do this every day where I work at Domestic Abuse Project, helping families end abuse in their lives. With the stranger I pass on the street, and with my family, raising my daughter in this same tradition.
Thank you for showing up tonight for the St. Joseph Worker program. Your presence, your investment – it doesn’t just mean that a handful of women each year get to have this amazing experience. It also means that women like Mai receive the accompaniment and care they need – that hundreds more individuals are served because of the added capacity St. Joseph Worker’s provide to their placement sites. And it also means that more young women, every year, continue this tradition of the Sisters of St. Joseph, this tradition that we all hold so dear to us. It means the Sisters’ reach grows and grows and grows.
Imagine this ripple effect by Just. Showing. Up. Thank you for making that possible.
How I went to jail.
This piece originally appeared in the Fall 2009/Winter 2010 Possumus.
A turning point is the moment when you change and there is no turning back for you. For me it happened when I was watching a documentary about the rise of the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s. I was working at St. Mary’s Junior College, a good Irish girl from an 80-acre farm in Jessenland Township, near Green Isle, Minnesota.
As a young nun my life was largely about obedience, without a lot of big decisions to make. I worked in occupational therapy as well as a part- time job at the Free Store. But one day I heard a documentary about Nazi prison camps. “And the German people knew what was happening,” was the refrain.
It touched me to the core, because I knew what was going on about two miles from here, the making of cluster bombs, whose only function is to maim and kill. And what had I ever done about that?
I kind of joined the peace movement, hanging around the periphery. But then there was a very big demonstration, and the police went wild. I was standing back, afraid of being arrested. But before the day was over I did get arrested.
I went over to the bus to see if Sister Kate McDonald was there. A woman gave me a note to give her housemate, to bring her ID to her. A policeman told me I was in a prohibited area, and he tore the note to pieces.
He was pushing me, and I saw a policeman pushing Sister Brigid McDonald’s face into the wall. I began moving toward her and the policeman stopped me. He kept walking on my toes, until I lost it, and I stomped on his foot – which was exactly what he wanted me to do. I was charged with interfering with the legal process. It was the most miserable day of my life.
At five o’clock they told me I had better call a lawyer or I would be in jail for five days. But I didn’t know any lawyers. At about 8 o’clock they took me to the courtroom. A peace group got me out on habeas corpus.
I felt a kinship with St. Peter because he also betrayed the peace process by taking up the sword. I was so ashamed. But I’m glad for that awful day. I’m less frightened now. I haven’t been like the German people mentioned in the documentary.
I have learned so many lessons about nonviolence.
One day at the Free Store, a man came in. He was in great distress. I thought maybe we should call the police. But a woman who volunteered with us took the man by the arm and told him, “there’s more good in you than bad.” And the man calmed down and started to weep.
I keep a picture by my bed, of a young girl in Iraq, perhaps five years old. It was taken during the bombardment, and you can see the terror on her face, with the war happening all around her. This picture gets me going every morning.
I turned into an octogenarian last year, so that makes me old. But I can still go to jail. I can still tell the truth about what is happening.
The world itself is at a turning point today. There are powerful people who continue to make money from war, but a lot of other people feel that has to stop. Either we change and learn to live with one another in peace. Or we don’t!
Marguerite Corcoran, CSJ
It's not about charity.
This piece originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2012 Possumus.
Understanding and living out the Sisters of St. Joseph charism of loving God and neighbor without distinction has not been so much a turning point in my life but rather a process of going deeper. I now know that our work is not about providing charity but about engaging in right relationships.
My process of understanding this began long before I met the Sisters of St. Joseph. I remember watching the example of my parents – particularly, how my father treated my mother. My father’s health broke when I was under 5; no matter what happened, he held my mother in the highest esteem. He believed that she could accomplish anything. It was providential because she outlived him by nearly 30 years.
My greatest memories of time with my father involve going fishing and hunting. It was during those times he told me family stories and counseled me to do what made me happy. My oldest sister re-enforced his strong influence. She saw the bright side of life and focused on helping others. She taught me that by making others happy, I would become happy myself.
Later, in my training in social work and experience in relationships, I learned to communicate and express my true feelings. Deep relationships are not possible if one cannot express deep true feelings. I understood the reality that we all have both male and females sides, although one is dominant. When men get past fear and truly listen without judgment to the feminine input, they reach a peacefulness that sets them free. If they can accept this total gift, they gain a fullness of spirit that lets their gifts be fully present to the moment and leads to radical reconciliation.
My journey went deeper when my wife, Marybeth, and I were in Kentucky on a mission trip and met Sister Joan Mitchell, CSJ. We met her again at St. Joan of Arc parish in Minneapolis, and Joan invited us to “come see what we are doing.” I was affected by the acceptance that greeted us in Sister Joan’s Hedgerow classes on Scripture. Joan taught us to look for the women’s voices that were so absent in Sunday liturgical readings, and I realized that I had a lot to learn.
The focus of the Sisters of St. Joseph ministries on social justice fit my drive for systemic change. I became aware that the CSJs were living what I totally believed: that everyone has a meaningful purpose, no matter their background or work. All people are okay just because they are there. I resonate with the Sisters’ use of consensus to make decisions and to achieve meaningful change, rather than using individual power over others.
The year Marybeth and I were Consociate candidates was a year that division in our family became apparent. Our oldest granddaughter was coming out as a lesbian. Her parents blamed Marybeth and me for encouraging her to choose to be a lesbian; however, we had not talked to her about it. I thank God that the CSJ community was there for us, to listen and support us, and to affirm that we were on the right path reaching out to our granddaughter. Without that support, if we had failed to be present to our granddaughter, she told us, she would not be alive.
Throughout the CSJ community, I have met many wonderful women and men in diverse relationships. God lives in them as God lives in me. There is an energy that ignites and expands when I let go of fear and accept myself as I am. It is then that I may be truly present to others.
Joseph Boyle CSJ Consociate