Spiritual Reflections

Celebrating Shared Sisterhood

Jo-Ann Baca explores celebrating a shared sisterhood between IHM Associates and IHM Sisters.

When asked to compose an article about the meaning of Sisterhood in the IHM-Associate relationship, I wondered how I could put this mystical, multidimensional relationship into words. No stranger to the joy of siblings, I began with my own personal experience. I was born the fourth of seven children, blessed with three brothers and three sisters. Our parents lived with faith and raised us to know God’s love. Although it has been more than 40 years since our parents’ passing, my siblings and I celebrate our ties today more than ever as we keep the memories of their love alive. Uniquely different individuals, we are forever united in the lifelong bond of family. Similarly, our IHM Associates keep the torch of the living reality of God’s love burning. We delight in our shared faith and love of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Together we strive to emulate Mary, the first disciple, and joyfully carry the charism following in the example of foundress Mother Theresa Maxis.

Merriam Webster defines sisterhood as:“the solidarity of women based on shared conditions, experiences, or concerns.”

Solidarity, in our case, is rooted in the IHM Charism and Core Values. Webster further provides examples such as a quote from Kathleen Newman-Bremang, a journalist for a multinational digital media company dedicated to inspiring young women to live informed and well-rounded lives. On Dec 21, 2023, she wrote: “… the strength of sisterhood is the only way forward.”

Through shared sisterhood we can forge our path into the future as we nurture each other and build strength in numbers.

To understand what sisterhood means to those blessed to be in an IHM Sister-Associate relationship, I wanted to hear from and honor those who stood by my side during formation, commissioning, and along this sacred journey. So, I turned to the Associates and sought their input. And they did not disappoint!

You do not have to have a sister to enjoy sisterhood. ~ Cathy D.

As we move forward, together, the wisdom and teachings of the sisters are internalized, pondered, and finally incorporated into our very beings so we may further the charism of bringing Jesus to others through word and works.
~ Olga W.

We are the community of Christ at Mass. We are the hands of Christ in our ministries, but we are bound by love of one another and Jesus in our Circle. How grateful I am. ~ Diane B.

It is wonderful to have sisters in faith to support, encourage, and band together to nourish each other through our shared life journeys. Our burdens are lessened, our joys enriched. As we pray, bringing strength and healing, the Holy Spirit is so present and richly felt; it is contagious. We are truly blest and called to be together in spirit.  ~Kathie S.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish Circle of Grace
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish’s combined Circles of Grace, L-R seated: Olga Ward, Joyce Marchesi, Diane Braendly, Joan Burlew, Cathy Davy.L-R standing: Jo-Ann Baca, Kathie Sarnecky, Mary Calderone.

IHM Associate Sisterhood has enriched my prayer life, brought me closer to the Holy Spirit, and is helping me grow through sharing with our IHM Sisters. ~ Joyce M.

I have been blessed in my life with many sisterhood relationships. By that I mean the kind of interactions where we accept each other unconditionally and are free to be vulnerable. My sisterhood with my IHM associates is this and more. It has added a deep spiritual dimension to our relationships. Thank you, God, for this sisterhood where we share a deep love for our brother Jesus. ~ Joan B.

Our sisterhood is a loving community, formed and strengthened through the mutual bonds of prayer, support, and fruitful relationships. Both the sisters and the associates contribute to and receive the wisdom of the others. Then, as companions in vision and mission, we can collaborate to make God‘s creative presence more visible, and in the process, transform our world.~ Mary C.

Their heartfelt responses attest to their solid foundation in IHM values and exemplify “journeying together with grace to co-create our ever-evolving future.”  Our shared relationship brings forth graces and blessings beyond measure.  It is no wonder we sometimes refer to ourselves as Ladies of Grace! IHM Associate Sisterhood is a modus vivendi, a way of life. We get to share our sisterhood with our IHM Sisters, inspired by them to “engage in actions that reflect God’s unconditional love for all creation and the transformation of the world.” In following the examples of Mary and the brave women of the bible, we are boldly affirming that our shared relationship is rooted in God.

Finally, I turned to the wisdom of spiritual giants like Joan Chittister, who in Friendship of Women: The Hidden Tradition of the Bible (Novalis, Toronto, 2006), conveys: “The realization that friendship is one of the great spiritual resources of the human existence… drives us beyond the superficial to the meaningful…. To grow… requires us to surround ourselves with people who speak to the best part of us from the best part of themselves.”

When I imagine the potential life-changing power of friendship, Joan Chittister’s words resonate even more deeply within my soul. Recently, I had a reunion with dear longtime friends, whom I consider sisters by choice if not blood. We attempted to define sisterhood by using the method of a popular late-night TV host who often asks his guests to describe their lives in five words. Applying this approach to sisterhood, we generated these: connection, support, encouragement, imperfection, acceptance, ability to disagree agreeably, and longevity. This exercise was fun and illuminating, as we connected the threads of friendship, sisterhood, and relationship, although admittedly we did not limit our responses to five words! How fitting are the words of Thomas Merton, whoarticulates this so perfectly, in Letter to a Young Activist, Essential Writings, as cited by Chris Koellhoffer in Longing for the Endless Immensity, (2014 Sisters of IHM, Scranton, PA): “In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”

Through our shared IHM sisterhood, Associates can aspire to build holy relationships and inspire others to do the same. And that is something to celebrate!

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