A “Fragrant” Family

By Sr. Marilyn Marie | April 2, 2012 |

Today’s Gospel reading takes us back to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. We’ve visited here on two other occasions; once, when we learned of the tension between Martha’s preoccupation with service and Mary’s contemplative listening and again, when we heard of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  Today’s account tells of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with costly perfume.  Is it significant that at the raising of Lazarus we’re told of the stench of the decaying body, and today we hear of the fragrance of Mary’s perfume filling the house?  Someone has a keen sense of smell!

I’ve noticed over the years that certain smells remind me of particular places or people.  The smell of freshly baked sugar cookies reminds me of my grandmother, the smell of candles reminds me of times as an elementary student when I helped in the parish Church/sacristy, and the smell of floor wax reminds me of my early days here in the convent.

I was once told that the origin of the name “Mary” (I can’t remember which language) is “living fragrance.” This seems to fit well in today’s Gospel reading as well as in relation to Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  Mary’s whole life was a living fragrance, reminding others of Jesus.  Simply by living her daily life, she filled the world with the fragrance of Jesus.

Are there fragrances/smells connected to the memories in your life? What fragrance will you spread by your life today?

A Life of Love and Care

By Sr. Marilyn Marie | March 28, 2012 |

Sister Mary Susanne Wenninger died on March 23 after almost 99 years of life and 78 years as a Sister of Notre Dame! That Sister’s family was blessed with many priestly and religious vocations speaks to the vibrant faith alive in their home.

Caregiver seems an apt word to characterize Sister Mary Susanne when we recall that she served as teacher, principal, local coordinator and nurse’s aide.  A sister who knew her well remarked that Sister Mary Susanne had a way of knowing your needs before you voiced them, and was quick to generously offer you an assisting hand.

Letter writing and care packages were ways that Sister Mary Susanne reached out to our sisters who lived far away—in the foreign missions or in a distant state.  Her letters were always handwritten and filled with news from home.  She had a heart for the needy and would gather gifts each Christmas for the Santa Shop at one of our central city schools.   There was a special place in her heart for our Papua New Guinea mission where her sister, Sister Mary Virginia, and her niece, Sister Mary de Porres, spent many years in missionary service.

Sister’s giving and generous spirit certainly echoes the loving care that Mary showed to Jesus and all those she encountered.  May Mary welcome Sister home with open arms!

Here I Am, Lord

By Sr. Marilyn Marie | March 26, 2012 |

As Sisters of Notre Dame, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation today as our Congregational patronal feast.   This day was marked as our patronal feast in 1969. In her letter to our Sisters on that day, Mother Mary Anselm wrote of Mary’s response:

1. Mary was READY FOR GOD’S MOMENTS in her life; she was spiritually alert; she caught the Message; she understood it.

2. Mary said “Yes” to God, bringing Christ into the world, a Savior for mankind.

3. Mary LIVED BY FAITH; she had absolute faith in God. She could accept the second message of the Angel: “NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE TO GOD!”

4. Mary was NOURISHED BY PRAYER.  Prayer was her atmosphere; therefore we see her magnificent RELIGIOUS POISE before the most startling Message ever given and the STRONG CALM of her FIAT.

We pray today, not only for all of our Sisters and Associates, but for all those with whom and to whom we minister.  May you be blessed with the same generous spirit that enabled Mary to say “YES” to all that God dreamed for her.

God’s Time or Mine?

By Sr. Marilyn Marie | March 22, 2012 |

I must say I’m very much enjoying this unseasonably warm weather.  There’s something about sunshine, budding trees and green everywhere that seems to bring out the best in people. Perhaps the timing of having this sort of weather so early in March has made it even more of a gift.

I find it interesting how much I appreciate God’s “surprise timing” when it involves things like sunshine and spring days, but how I tend to struggle when my plans are “interrupted” in other ways. It’s so much easier to trust God’s timing when the results are comfortable and pleasant.  Will I trust in His care just as much if we have snow on Easter?

Mary was certainly familiar with God’s interruptions in her life. If anyone knew what it was like to have her plans turned inside out and upside down, it was Mary!  She, like our foundress Hilligonde Wolbring, came to trust God’s love and care more than her own plans no matter where they took her.

Will I trust God’s timing today, knowing that He cares for me infinitely more than I can even begin to imagine?


Hidden Meaning

By Sr. Marilyn Marie | March 19, 2012 |

We celebrate today the feast of St. Joseph – patron of the Universal Church, patron of a happy death, patron of making sense out of life.  At least for me, Joseph is the one I look to when I have my plans made and God decides to intervene. The anguish Joseph must have experienced upon hearing of Mary’s pregnancy must have stretched his faith to the limit.  Just when things were falling into place in his life, God turned things upside down.

Perhaps Mary would have understood his situation best, considering her recent encounter with God’s “surprises.”  What amazing conversations Mary and Joseph must have had as their lives unfolded!  And while we may not experience the same visions or dreams of angels, I think we’ve all known the trauma of having our plans turned inside out.

An article from our Constitutions comes to mind:  “The meaning of the obedience [or life’s happenings] asked of us can occasionally remain hidden. Such obedience, like Mary’s fiat, is a surrender of love made in faith, leading through darkness to light.” 

Let’s go to Mary and Joseph for help in “making sense” of what lies before us. After all, they seem to be the experts!

Basketball and Spirituality?

By Sr. Marilyn Marie | March 15, 2012 |

As a proud alum of Notre Dame Academy, I am very excited that our basketball team is going to the state playoffs this weekend for the first time in our history !  The girls and their coaches have certainly worked hard to get to this point, and we as Sisters are so proud of them. 

As the excitement continues to unfold, I’m aware of a parallel with the spiritual life. I heard a homily the other day in which we were reminded not to be just “good” but to strive to be “great” – to be a saint!  I think I’m basically a good person; I don’t commit major crimes or serious sins.  I wonder though how hard I work at becoming “great”?  Do I truly desire to be a saint?  I can learn much from the discipline and practice of the basketball team and their singular focus to be their best. I’m hoping the disciplines of this Lenten season will keep me focused as well.

Mary understood the importance of recognizing all she had received as gifts from God and then striving to use those gifts in the best way possible. Whether our girls win the state title or not (and I certainly hope they do!), I know for certain they’ve given it their best.  I hope I can say the same.


Opening the Door of Education for Women

By Sr. Marilyn Marie | March 12, 2012 |

As we continue to celebrate International Women’s Month and I reflect on the various ways our Sisters minister to women, one of those is our Sisters who work with G.E.D. programs around the country.  Sister Mary Audrey Kreuz, Sister Mary Anna Therese Hartlieb and Sister Mary Frances Herkender are volunteers serving at Women Blessing Women here in Toledo.  This program supports women in obtaining their G.E.D. as well as gaining job skills and securing employment. Sister Mary Bonita Sniegowski is part of a similar program at St. Vincent de Paul Adult Learning Center for Empowerment in New Orleans.

In many ways, these programs highlight the personal gifts and abilities of these women so they are able to move forward with their lives.  The fact that Jesus did this often in His own life leads me to believe He must have learned it from Mary as He was growing up.  I pray that Mary will help me to see and focus on the good qualities in each person and then do what I can to empower them to grow into the people God created them to be.

Who are the people in your life who have empowered you to become a better person?

International Women’s Day

By Sr. Marilyn Marie | March 8, 2012 |

As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, I am reminded of a newsletter we received last month from our Sister Mary Jo Toll who ministers at the United Nations.  Sister participates in a Working Group on Girls and their current effort with the Commission on the Status of Women is to raise awareness of the need for education for girls throughout the world. Education is certainly a key factor in moving out of the cycle of poverty, yet many girls lack this opportunity.

Our Sisters in many other countries also work to uphold and promote the dignity of women.  Sister Mary Rashmi in Tanzania writes, “I began my mission by organizing rural, marginalized women into Self Help Groups with an aim of empowering them towards self-reliance and leadership. The women have shown steady growth by taking new initiatives and steps to bring about transformation in the society. As I look back I have much to be grateful for. Motivating the rural women to be ‘agents of transformation’ in the society, we have been able to move ahead.”

I am so proud of my Sisters who follow in the footsteps of Mary and seek to find ways to celebrate the special gifts which women bring to our world.  It also causes me to stop and reflect on the women who have influenced me.  I thank God for their presence in my life.

Who is a woman who has made a difference in your life? How has she influenced you to be a better person?

Mother Knows Best

By Sr. Marilyn Marie | March 7, 2012 |

Today’s Gospel reading at Mass tells the story of the mother of James and John looking out for “her boys.” Her reply to Jesus’ question, “What is it you want?” is an impassioned plea that her sons have the best seats in the house when they enter the kingdom with Jesus.  One has to give her credit for caring for her sons and for knowing to whom she should go with her request. Jesus doesn’t fault her care, but he does give a new direction to what is truly best for them.  Their lives, given in loving service, are the surest guarantee for spending eternal life near Him.

Mothers usually have an uncanny sense of knowing what is best for us. I certainly believe this is true with Mary, our Mother.  Because she knows the heart of God more intimately than any other, she has an inside view of what will bring us true happiness and peace. This is one of the reasons I love the traditional prayer, The Memorare.

Remember, O Most Gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known, that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petition, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

I can’t think of anyone I would rather trust with my needs than Mary.  What is your favorite prayer to Mary asking for her help?

Obedience of Faith

By Sr. Marilyn Marie | March 5, 2012 |

Yesterday’s Scripture reading about Abraham being put to the test and being asked to sacrifice Isaac always leaves me feeling a bit uncomfortable, to say the least.  It just doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.  Abraham and Sarah were good and faithful people, they hoped and prayed for children, God gave them Isaac, and then…they are asked to give back the greatest gift of their lives.  Perhaps my knowing the end of the story lessens its impact.

While the examples of being tested in my own life may not be as dramatic or traumatic as Abraham’s, they can also call forth tremendous faith and trust. Sometimes the obedience of daily life, the call to give without counting the cost, and the invitation to put others first can truly stretch my capacity to love. 

Mary knew a similar “testing.” At times dramatic and at times very simple, her life also challenged her to place her faith and trust in a loving God.  “The meaning of the obedience asked of us can occasionally remain hidden. Such obedience, like Mary’s fiat, is a surrender of love made in faith, leading through darkness to light” (SND Constitutions, Art. 39).

We, too, know the end of the story – the gift of eternal life that will be ours someday.  May this knowledge strengthen our faith.