On May 1st our dear Sister Mary Aloysia, who is 90 years young, celebrated her Silver Jubilee of Religious Profession. We share with you her vocation story as told to one of our sisters some time ago. Pictured is our dear Sister before Mass and enjoying the company of her great, great nephew in the parlor after Mass.
“Through the Narrow Gate”
Vocation Story of our dear Sister Mary Aloysia as told by herself
I lived in Detroit, Michigan with my mother and father and my older sister, Betty. Dad worked for the DPW, Detroit Public Works – at the dump. He worked himself to death there We were poor, but dad still did good deeds – like visiting his uncles Jack and John in Shipkey, Canada. Mom worked for Burroughs Automative. She kept the books. Dad said she was the best bookkeeper they ever had. Mom’s mom had died when she was 8 years old of a brain hemorrhage, and her dad died of the same thing when he fell off a ladder. Mom was 14 years old at the time. We were poor. Every Christmas our “Rotary Uncles” brought us a Christmas box – with a present for everyone. And in the summer, they hired out the Put-in-Bay boat and we went for a ride down the Detroit River and had a picnic lunch. I’ll never forget them. They were so good to us.
I wasn’t always handicapped. When I was three years old, I cut my head. Mom and dad took me to Hyland Park General Hospital. They said I had blood poisoning and scarlet fever. The Good Lord got me through. After 52 days, they said they couldn’t do anything more for me and sent me home. Mom made me fried potatoes. She was a good cook and made big, fluffy dumplings. She made me fried potatoes, and that brought me back. I always loved fried potatoes after that, but we don’t get them much here. From that time on, I had dislocated bones and I couldn’t walk easily. Blood poisoning and scarlet fever, that’s what they always said it was. I went to a wonderful school for the handicapped, Charles Oakmann School. When I was sixteen years old, dad fixed up a bike for me, a twenty-six incher. He fixed bicycles. I taught myself to ride it on a walkway next to the house. I scraped up my two fingers pretty badly from holding on to the handlebars and bumping into the house. But I learned to ride.
I finished my schooling at Cooley High School. My sister Betty got married to Ken and I went to work. One night when I got home from work my dad was sitting in the arm chair. “Where’s mom and sis?” I asked. “They went to the hospital.” Sis was going down to the cellar when the latch broke and she tripped. She went into labor, and the baby was premature. That was my sister’s first child. The baby’s name was Colleen. Dad loved that baby. She had the biggest blue eyes and the sweetest smile. And sis would put a big bonnet on her. She was so cute with her diaper and big bonnet. Dad died on May 2, 1950 of exhaustion. He wasn’t practicing his faith, but the priest who came to see him on the night he died said he never heard such a good confession.
I had a couple of offers of marriage, but they fell through. Then I went on a retreat at Mt. Mary, where the Sisters of Mary Reparatrix had their convent. After my retreat, Mother Mary of St. Mildred became a good friend of mine. I talked to her about becoming a religious, but due to my handicap, I didn’t know who would accept me. She said, “I know where you can go.” And she told me where the Sisters of the Visitation were located – Toledo, Ohio. After a couple of years, I contacted them and I talked to Mother Francis de Sales Cassidy who was very kind and encouraged me to come and I did in 1952. I loved everything about the monastery. It was a holy place. Everything was so beautiful. Then my health broke and the doctor said it was too hard for me. Mother said I would have to leave. I didn’t want to go away, but I had to.
I went back home. Mom was sick and, not too long after that, my sister got Parkinson’s Disease – that’s a terrible illness. I got a job as the secretary and bookkeeper at St. Colman’s and I helped out at home with mom and Betty and my little nieces. For 20 years I was the secretary at the rectory. They had the cutest dog there, a miniature schnauzer named Linus. One time he ate all the candy. You should have seen the mess! After that, we had to lock him up when Father’s housekeeper and I weren’t there to watch him. Then they got computers, and I didn’t think I could do that, so I retired. I had a couple of job offers, but I had been corresponding with Sister Mary Theresa and she thought I might try again at the Visitation. Mother Mary Bernard said I would have to come on a retreat. “That won’t be hard,” I said. So I came and I reentered. I’ve been here 24 years. And on February 28th, I’ll be ninety years old. Thirty-fours years away from the monastery and twenty-four back in.
In this Year of Consecrated Life, we continue the account of our foundation as told in our “Mission and Spirit.”
The Original Plan (from “Mission and Spirit”)
Why this foundation? St Francis de Sales has often himself explained it: “The plan is to give God Daughters of prayer, and souls so interior, that they may be found worthy to serve His Infinite majesty and to adore Him in spirit and in truth. The great Orders already established in the Church may be left to honor our Lord by excellent spiritual exercises and striking virtues, but all I want for my Daughters is that they should try to glorify Him by their lowliness; . . .”
“. . . so as to follow Our Lord more readily, more freely and more favorably , hearing the voice of the One who calls them to follow, they leave all things, like the Apostles, clinging to one thing only – to please God and follow Him , not wanting their heart to be divided and distracted by many different things, but simply and whole-heartedly to seek the unity of a sole and single minded love of God”.
There will be no solemn vows in this little assembly but very great inner perfection. (This would change with the first foundation made in Moulins after which the congregation was erected into a regular Order with solemn vows and papal enclosure.)
“. . . as this Congregation will not have great austerity, nor yet bonds from which the Sisters cannot be released, as is the case of formal or regular Congregations, the fervor of charity and the force of a very firmly held inner determination must supply for all that, and take the place of laws, vows and jurisdiction, so that this Congregation may demonstrate the truth of the Apostle’s words, that the bond of charity is the bond of perfection”.
From 1st July 1610, St. Francis wanted his little Congregation to be called: The Visitation of Our Lady, or Religious of the Visitation of Holy Mary, “because”, as he said , “he found in it very many spiritual facets which filled his mind with special light about the spirit he wanted to establish in his Institute”.
“. . . because it was a hidden mystery and was not given solemn celebration in the Church as were others, it would at least be given a special place in our Congregation”.
According to his particular genius, which was firmly to leave beaten tracks and to keep his eye only on essentials, St. Francis de Sales was trying out an experiment of the kind which made him publish The Introduction to the Devout Life. After he had put a deeply Christian life within the reach of all, he opened up the doors of an authentic religious life to every soul called to it by God:
“It often happens that girls and women with a true vocation want to enter religious life , but either because of their health or their age, or simply because they are not drawn to austerities and external rigor, find that they cannot enter orders where considerable physical penance is the rule . . .”. And so that souls of this kind should in future find some assured retreat in this part of the country, our Congregation has been designed in such a way that no great rigor should prevent those who are not strong and robust from joining it and pursuing the perfection of divine love”.
“Two things are needed if women of this kind are to be given a positive vote: firstly, they must be people really called by God ; secondly, they must have the conditions laid down for our manner of life . . . A good vocation is, in fact, a firm and steady will on the part of the person called , that she wants to serve God in the manner and in the place to which His divine Majesty is calling her”.
“It seems to me, Monseigneur, that there is still a definite need in the Church for this Congregation and that God has raised you up in our day to make this foundation. Our Lord has indeed visited his people, and it looks as though the blessing of this beginning will extend ever more widely with a great increase in numbers: for surely , the less robust needed a middle way, widows a moderate approach, and the hardy and fervent can well do with this kind of mortification”.
We share the July 2nd (then the Feast of the Visitation) revelation of the Sacred Heart to Saint Margaret Mary known to Visitandines and Jesuits but perhaps not to you. In this revelation, the mission to make the Sacred Heart known and loved was entrusted to the Visitation Order and to the Jesuits. The mural (an extract) above depicts the revelation and is located in the Shrine of Saint Claude de la Colombiere in Paray-le-monial, France near the Visitation Monastery.
From a letter to Mother de Saumaise, at Dijon, July 1688
. . . I must tell you that I had the good fortune of spending all day on the feast of the Visitation [July2] before the Blessed Sacrament. My Sovereign deigned to favor His wretched slave with several special graces form His loving Heart. He drew me into Himself and made me experience things I cannot express. He showed me a very high place, spacious and wonderfully beautiful, in the midst of which was set up a throne of flames and within it the adorable Heart of Jesus with Its wound. From this shot forth flames so luminous and glowing that the whole place was lighted up and warmed by them. The Blessed Virgin was on one side and Saint Francis de Sales and the saintly Father de la Colombiere on the other. The Daughters of the Visitation were there with their guardian angels beside them, each holding a heart in his hand. The Blessed Virgin invited us with these words: “Come, my well-beloved daughters, draw near, for I want to make you the trusted guardians of this precious treasure which the divine Sun of Justice formed within the virginal soil of my heart, where It lay hidden nine months. After that It was manifested to men. But they did not recognize Its value and contemned it because they saw It mixed and covered with the clay of their humanity. Onto It the eternal Father had cast all the filth and corruption of our sins. These He caused to be purified away for thirty-three years by the burning flames of Its charity. But seeing that men, far from enriching themselves and making use of so precious a treasure for the purpose for which It was given them but rather trying to set It at naught and exterminate It, if possible, from the face of the earth, the eternal Father, by an excess of mercy, made use of their malice only to render yet more useful this precious gold. By the blows they gave It in His Passion they have made of It priceless money, stamped with the image of the divinity, so that with It they might pay all their debts and carry on the great business of their salvation.”
This Queen of goodness continued to speak. She said to them, pointing to this Heart: “This is the precious treasure especially reserved to you because of the tender love my Son has for your Institute. He loves it and considers it His dear Benjamin, and for that reason wants you to have a greater share in this inheritance than all others. They must not only enrich themselves with this treasure but do all they can to put this precious money into circulation. They must distribute it lavishly, trying to enrich the whole world with it without fear of depleting it. For the more of it they take the more of it there will be left to take.”
Then turning to the good Father de la Colombiere, this Mother of goodness said: “As for you, faithful servant of My divine Son, you have a great share in this precious treasure. For if it is given the Daughters of the Visitation to know and distribute it to others, it is reserved to the Fathers of your Society to show and make known its utility and value so that people may profit from It by receiving It with the respect and gratitude due so great a benefit. In proportion as they give Him this pleasure, this Divine Heart, source of blessings and graces, will shower them so abundantly on the works of their ministry that they will produce fruits far beyond their labors and expectations. And this, too, for their own personal salvation and perfection.”
Our holy founder [St Francis de Sales], speaking to his daughters, said to them: “Esteemed daughters, come and draw from the source of all blessings the waters of salvation. From it a little rivulet, your constitutions, has already flowed forth into your souls. In this divine Heart you will find an easy way of acquitting yourselves perfectly of what is enjoined you in the first article of your Directory. This contains in substance the whole perfection of your Institute, and reads: ‘Let their whole life and endeavor tend to unite them with God.’ For that end let this Sacred Heart be the life that animates us and His love our continual exercise. This alone can unite us with God, help holy Church by prayer and good example, and further the salvation of our neighbor. With this in view, let us pray in the Heart and through the Heart of Jesus, Which wishes henceforth to make Itself the Mediator between God and man. Our good example shall consist in living in conformity with the holy maxims and virtues of this divine Heart and we shall further the salvation of our neighbor by spreading among them this holy devotion. Let us try to diffuse the good odor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus into the hearts of the faithful, so that we may become the joy and crown of this adorable Heart.”
Thereupon all the guardian angels drew near to present Him with what they held in their hands. As soon as these hearts touched the sacred wound they became beautiful and shone like stars. Some of them did not shine as brightly as others. The names of several remained written in letters of gold in the Sacred Heart, into Which some of those I speak of eagerly disappeared and were buried with mutual pleasure. These words were spoken: “In this abyss of love is your dwelling-place and repose forever.” These were the hearts of those who labored to make Him known and loved. . . .
(from The Letters of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, Tan Books and Publishers. Pages 125-127)