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New Jerusalem Now
August 16, 2018
 At 23 years old, Calvin is the youngest member at New Jerusalem Now, an addiction recovery program in Philadelphia. The child of Cambodian immigrants, he doesn’t flinch as he recounts his parents’ story of standing in an “execution line” at a concentration camp. They don’t understand, he says, why he can’t overcome his drug addiction, just as they overcame their own struggle.

For the 30 or so of those recovering from addiction living at New Jerusalem, it’s just not that simple. Sister Margaret McKenna compares addiction to a desert. In her words, either “purification happens or you lose your life.” Many people in recovery don’t get it right on their first try, of course, and Sister Margaret accepts that. The good news, though, is that they have a better chance in her program. Studies have shown that programs like New Jerusalem which are founded on the concept of “addicts helping addicts” are more successful in preventing relapse than more traditional outpatient treatment.

Sister Margaret was introduced to this model for recovery after moving to North Philadelphia in 1989. She met Reverend Henry T. Wells who was running One Day at a Time, a program for those in recovery, and then decided to establish a program for repeat relapsers, a population that One Day at a Time wasn’t supporting.

Nearly 30 years later, Sister Margaret’s program, New Jerusalem, encompasses four houses, and a community garden that is spread out over a dozen vacant lots, tended to over the years by the hundreds of members who have come and gone and, in some cases, come back again. Members of New Jerusalem live in self-sufficient houses, pooling their wages and SNAP benefits, and taking on leadership roles. Don, who is a returning member and professional sous chef from Baltimore, finds joy and a sense of purpose in his role as kitchen coordinator for the entry-level men’s house, where he prepares three meals a day for residents.

“It doesn’t feel like a facility, it feels like a second home,” Don shares. “A lot of people are re-discovering themselves; it’s eye-opening. It can be like looking at your own reflection in the mirror.”

Of course, there’s something else that sets New Jerusalem apart from other treatment programs- the Medical Mission Sister who founded it. New members soon learn about Sister Margaret’s passion for social justice activism. She takes the New Jerusalem residents out to marches, rallies and other political events.

Sister Margaret links political action to the overall recovery process, explaining: “It’s a very important dimension of human and spiritual life to be concerned about others and to root that in something that’s deeply interior to you.”

Indeed, a key part of recovery is helping members discover the selves they had previously masked with drugs and alcohol. At New Jerusalem, people have learned to read, have earned their GEDs, and gone on their first camping trip.

“The nature of our program is to embrace life and make it right,” Sister Margaret explains. “Getting a taste of a good, authentic life, of mutual support. We try to enhance life for others while advancing our own understanding in the process.”

Reflections on Art and Spirituality
July 19, 2018

“Freedom” by Karol Feld, 2018

As a child, Sister Angelika Kollacks moved from Canada to Austria, and then from Austria to Germany. Music and singing were the only constants in her life as she learned to speak new languages and acclimate herself to new cultures. In many ways, music was a sort of therapy for her, a way of reconnecting with herself when everything else was foreign and confusing.  Her passion in life now is to share that same form of healing with others.
In Sister Angelika’s therapy practice, clients might experience one of several healing techniques involving the use of sound, like the “sound cradle,” for example. In this experience, the client lies on their back in what looks like a canoe. On each side of the “canoe” is a monochord with ten strings that are played to elicit the sensation of being held, inducing images and leading to a spiritual experience of being loved and held in God’s hand. 


“Music touches us on a deep level and evokes memories, emotions and different worlds,” Sister Angelika explains. “It helps us to connect with the spiritual ground in ourselves, with the cosmos, with God.” She describes what she does as 

soul work, helping people to discover their own personal “tone” and express inner thoughts and feelings that would be next to impossible to describe with words.  

Sister Angelika reflects: “I rely on God being present in every person, and I trust in the
healing power inside everyone.”

Like music, visual art also offers a mode by which to transmit our innermost thoughts into something tangible. In other words, Sister Eunice Cudzewicz explains, an artist tries to make the invisible become visible. A graphic artist, Sister Eunice began exploring her talent as a young Sister when she was asked to do “paste-ups,” a method of page design that involves literally cutting and pasting words and images onto a poster . She looks back on those “olden days” with a chuckle, recalling how she sat at a table with a glue pot, a ruler and a T-square, making sure everything was as straight as possible. “In those days you had to have an eagle eye,” she says.

Over the years, her work continued to evolve as she produced drawings and other creative images for various publications. She uses colors and shapes to create visualizations of love, hope and sorrow. When people ask her about the meaning of a given piece of her art – for instance, someone may ask “why did you use the color blue? What does blue mean?” – she will respond with a question of her own: “well, what does blue mean to you?” The way that Sister Eunice sees it, the meaning is always subjective – art is meant to give the viewer an insight into their own experience more so than that of the artist.

Sister Eunice shares: “I am of the opinion that the liturgy work I do, even [for our MMS publications], they’re all connected to spirituality- they are work that comes from your heart, your soul, that communicates on a level that’s deeper than the image or the words on a piece of paper.”

At St. Hubert Catholic High School, Associate Karol Feld leads courses in digital imaging and graphic design. She makes a special point to incorporate elements of nature – flowers, trees, birds, clouds, etc. – into her lessons, hoping to foster in her students an appreciation for the beauty of God’s creations. Karol especially takes joy in using Photoshop to imitate stained glass windows.

Karol shares: “We can create art or admire art, and this practice is very spiritual, like a prayer, a ritual, a remembrance of the Divine. We can appreciate that which is indescribable and the beauty of creation – God’s creation.

“We can appreciate color, balance, harmony and the importance of light,” she continues. “So, art can certainly create meaning by celebrating life and a longing by connecting to the inner recesses of our mind, heart and soul. Art, no doubt, can touch and serve us well!”

Mission Changes, But it Never Ends
June 28, 2018 
For a Medical Mission Sister, retirement is a vague concept-even our Sisters in their eighties and nineties can’t sit still for too long. When missions end, they carve out new ways to be a healing presence in the world. Sisters Patrice McSweeney and Patricia Gootee are two Sisters who, after decades of cherished missions in South America, continue to find ways to be fire and flame.

Sister Patrice McSweeney engages playfully with a child of one of her patients in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, in 1987.

Sister Patrice McSweeney says she will never forget the day her youth ended. She was 60 years old, give or take a few years. As she drove into the barrio where she was working in Venezuela, the local children came running up yelling “Grandma! Grandma!” She scoffed at the idea but took a quick look in the mirror. “Goodness,” she thought, “Those kids are right!”
 
“That was my introduction to old age,” she recalls with a chuckle. Sister Patrice is in her 80’s now, and lives at our North American Headquarters, where she volunteers each week in the Mission Development Center. She walks with a cane, and her voice is soft, but it is worth leaning in to listen to what she has to say, often something funny.
 
Maybe Sister Patrice’s good humor is a natural part of her personality, or perhaps the result of contentment with a life well-lived. Born to American parents in Colombia, Sister Patrice lived in Venezuela as a young girl. Years later, after making her Final Vows as a Medical Mission Sister, Mother Anna Dengel called her aside. She was still trying to decide to which country Sister Patrice would go.
 
“Is there any reason you would not want to return to Venezuela?” Mother Dengel asked her. Sister Patrice stood as stiff as a board and answered with a simple “no.” On the inside, however, she says, “I was doing cartwheels!”
 
Sister Patrice would spend nearly 40 years in Venezuela, ministering as a rural health nurse and doing parish work. If she was sad when she left her mission she doesn’t say so. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary if she had been.

Sister Patricia Gootee changes the tire on her car in Peru in this photo from 1995.

It took Sister Pat Gootee more than a year to get over the blues she felt after returning to the U.S. from more than 40 years of mission in Peru. Over time, her sadness became overshadowed by a feeling of joy. A trained nurse, Sister Pat’s legacy in Peru includes helping to end a smallpox epidemic that had periodically plagued villages throughout
the Caylloma province since the 17th century, and establishing the Anna Dengel Center, which serves preschool children and empowers local women.  She also co-founded the Community of Families and Comprehensive Rehabilitation (COHARI), which serves primarily low-income children suffering from cerebral palsy. When Sister Pat first arrived in the area, children ran away in horror – the only women with white skin and blue eyes they had ever seen were the witches in their story books. By the time she left, however, she had inherited a multitude of godchildren, many of whom still keep in contact with her.
 
Currently, Sister Pat lives in Camden, NJ, where she visits elderly people who live alone, all but forgotten by their busy relatives. She hopes to soon join an ongoing project working with Spanish-speaking people, perhaps something related to health.
 
“In Spanish we don’t say ‘retirement,’ we say ‘jubilación,'” said Sister Pat Gootee. “That means ‘a celebration.’ You have arrived at the point where you’ve been there, done that and you turn over what you have done to the younger people who are going to carry on what you have been doing doing it the same or better than what was done by me. That’s something to be joyful about, not something to be sad about.”