Remembering Sister Mary Christine Athans, BVM

I recently learned of the death of one of my seminary professors, Sister Mary Christine Athans. As a teenager, I admired her from afar at my Catholic parish in Arizona.  After many years, I returned to school to study theology, and there she was again, a dynamic professor of church history at — get this long title she used to say — “the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota.”

When Sister Christine retired as a full time professor at the seminary, I was asked to give a talk at her retirement celebration.  She was a pioneering and professional religious woman, and lived through many interesting times in the Catholic church.  Below is a copy of the talk I gave on that occasion.

Ode to Sr. Christine Athans, BVM, by Julie McCarty
May 5, 2002

By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard of Sr. Christine’s new book about the history of this seminary. [To Work for the Whole People: John Ireland’s Seminary in Saint Paul] In reading the opening chapters, I was struck with how pioneering the early Catholics of this diocese were. Out of their dedication to the Catholic tradition, the church leaders were willing to venture into the unknown and endure the harsh asceticism of Minnesota weather, “to boldly go where no man—or woman–has gone before” (well, at least no Catholic).

When I look at Christine, I see a Catholic pioneer.

Pioneers must be creative, because things do not always go the way you plan. When I asked a number of students (both seminarians and commuter students) what they would remember about Sr. Christine, one thing they named was her creativity. They recalled she would do whatever it took to interest them in church history, even if it meant singing songs or shelling out reams of time lines. This led to the discovery that learning and fun are not mutually exclusive.

Pioneers need to build on the past but move into the future. Explorers use their past experiences in new ways when encountering new situations. Christine made sure students learned not only the European roots of church history, but also the history and spirituality of the church in America. One student mentioned his appreciation of Christine’s truthfulness in teaching not only the “good news” but also the “bad news” of church history. Recognizing the human side of the institution is necessary for one committing to a lifetime of church service.

Pioneers also need courage and perseverance “to boldly go where no woman has gone before.” Christine has done a lot of things earlier generations of Catholic women might have enjoyed if given the opportunity, like earn a doctorate or teach seminarians.

When I first met Christine, it was over twenty-five years ago, in my home parish of St. Francis Xavier in Phoenix, Arizona. It was the roaring 70’s and I was a teenager, thrilled with the exciting new things that were happening in the church. I remember the admiration I felt for the BVM[1] sisters in my parish. The BVM’s nurtured my faith with their hospitable ways. I saw them as friendly, devout, and intelligent women serving the Church with gusto.

I will never forget the surprise I felt, when, as a teenager, I opened the parish bulletin and read about this new organization called “The North Phoenix Corporate Ministry.” This was a consortium of five Protestant congregations, two synagogues, and my own Catholic parish, in what was the very beginning of the ecumenical movement in Phoenix. This bulletin insert had photos of five ministers and two rabbis—all men, of course—who were on the Corporate Ministry board ….  and when I looked for my parish priest—OOPS! What was this?—There was Sister Christine, not only on the board, but serving as the full-time executive director.    (It was sort of like the icons you see of the Upper Room at Pentecost: a bunch of male apostles with one fairly important woman, Mary.) You have to remember, back then, my only understanding was that sisters were teachers or nurses: there certainly weren’t any sisters working as leaders at the diocese offices! Christine’s professionalism convinced me that a woman’s place wasn’t only in the home, but also in church ministry.

So much did this impress me, that one Sunday, after Mass, I approached Sr. Christine with a question. Here I was, this little 15 year-old—keep in mind that it was the seventies and all sorts of things were being discussed–and I asked her, “Do you think women will ever be priests?” I can’t remember her exact answer because she replied like the typical theologian: with neither a simple yes or no. Hers was a rather long, careful response. I do recall that she was very graceful, tactful and honest about the whole thing, neither overly optimistic nor bitter.

Finally, pioneers need enthusiasm, or they will not survive the journey. The overwhelming response I got from students when they were asked about Christine related to her enthusiasm, her high energy for education, her friendliness, what one student called her “joyful presence”… I once heard that “joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” It is this “joyful presence,” this enthusiasm, that this community will miss the most.

However, I know that others will benefit from Christine’s enthusiasm for doing God’s work. You see, I’ve noticed that professed sisters never retire, they just shift their priorities a bit, continue the Lord’s work, radiating that “joyful presence” that has its source in God.

Christine, on behalf of all your students—and there were hundreds of us–I wish to thank you, for your pioneering strength and beauty, for the many gifts you have given us, and for your joyful presence. May God bless you. Shalom.


[1] Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary


What I did this summer

Oct 2014 Lunar eclipse--photo by Julie McCarty

You have made the moon to mark the seasons; 
the sun knows its time for setting. . . .
O Lord, how manifold are your works!
(from Psalm 104: 19, 24)

When I was growing up, “What I did this summer” was the standard theme for writing assignments when we returned to school. Since this summer, I haven’t been blogging here, so I thought I’d fill you in on what I’ve been doing.

Minnesotans love to be outdoors in the summer (especially after this past winter!), and I am no exception. The summer here is filled with all the outdoor work on the home and garden that you can’t do the rest of the year. More importantly, we Minnesotans just like to enjoy being outside in the summer. So I spent lots of time nurturing my vegetable garden, taking long walks to practice nature photography, and enjoying time with summer visitors from out of state.

Veggies from garden--Julie McCarty

(click on photos to enlarge)

In September, my husband Terry and I spent two weeks exploring Manitoba, Canada and Thunder Bay, Ontario. We enjoyed hiking and practicing photography in the wheat fields, zoo, Riding Mountain National Park, and Whiteshell Provincial Park.  I hope to write more about that enjoyable and soul-nourishing trip sometime in the future.

Manitoba entrance

One of the highlights of this summer was digging deeper into my volunteer coordinator role of another blog called “Easter Prays / Easter Praise!” This reflection blog is a joint effort of many people from our church, Easter Lutheran.  I’m so blessed with what others are sharing: personal reflections, original prayers, tips on praying and spiritual practices, and stories of God’s work in our everyday lives.

This week, Terry brought in the last of our garden: carrots. (Carrots can survive longer into the fall, as they are protected deep in the ground.) With the turning over of the garden soil, my mind turns indoors and inwards, in anticipation of winter… to the writer side of me… and the newly developing artist studio in my basement…and all the potential those reflective, creative activities hold. My mind also returns to this blog and the plan to post reflections more frequently again

So, as the last few leaves scurry across our lawn, I wish you a happy November (the beginning of autumn, perhaps, for some of you), filled with every blessing from above.

Until next time, Amen!  

Winner of Les Miserables Giveaway

LESMHE-008_2D-BD_ORING_01_R4 - Copy--smaller--…And the winner is… Ryan C. of Columbus, Ohio.  Congratulations!

Ryan C. wins the Les Miserables DVD from the giveaway drawing we recently held here on the Spiritual Drawing Board blog. Thanks to my hubby Terry for drawing the name out of a hat.

Thanks to all of you who participated.  
May your week be filled with sunshine!
(Here in Minnesota, we are shoveling snow. LOL.)  

Until next time, Amen!

Giveaway: Les Misérables (Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital Copy + Ultraviolet)

Les Miserables Announcing the Spiritual Drawing Board Blog Giveaway of Les Misérables, four ways to watch, all in one box–you choose DVD, Blu-Ray, Digital, or Ultraviolet. Names will be put in a hat and one person will be drawn at random as the winner. (Details below.*)

Three ways to enter: To enter the drawing, send Julie your e-mail one of three ways:

1. Enter your e-mail address in the upper right box where it says “follow this blog.” (If you have already done that in the past, do #2 or #3 below.) –OR–

2. Write a comment somewhere on this blog. (If you write something really plain like “hi,” I may think it’s spam and you won’t be included in the contest. Simple is fine, but please be genuine, civil, and true to yourself. Others will not see your e-mail address.) –OR–

3.  Send your real name and e-mail address to my e-mail:  juliemccarty (at) usfamily (dot) net  — Please put “Les Mis” in the subject line and indicate you want to enter this contest.

Deadline to enter is end of the day Easter, March 31, 2013 (11:59 PM Central Daylight Time). Winner will be announced in early April. 

Best wishes to all, and Happy Easter!

*More details: Only one entry per person. You must be over 18 to win. You must be U.S. citizen to win (sorry to my other friends, I don’t know the laws in every other country). At the time of winning, the winner will need to provide his or her mailing address to receive the price. Thanks to Allied Faith & Family for their assistance with this giveaway.

A Personal Note from Julie

Be still and know that I am God.
 –Psalm 46:10

I know that many of you have been praying for my dad this past year, and some of you may not have heard that he passed away, peacefully, on April 23 with his family gathered around him. Your prayers are greatly appreciated!

I spent some time with my family in Arizona, and now I’m back home. These days I’m allowing myself some quiet time, planting the vegetable garden, cleaning house, talking long walks, and having “downtime” in general. Although I am a writer, I am even more a “contemplative” with an artistic streak which demands at least some solitude.

I don’t want you, my readers, to think I’ve forgotten you in all this! We are one in the mystical union of Christ (or the Divine One however you may perceive God).  For me, writing is not just about cranking stuff out on paper, but taking my time to ponder life, to communicate with others, to serve the community of God’s people with words.

And so it is, I trust you will understand if my blog is quiet for a while. In the silence, God is present, between you and me, within us, and around us.

Until next time, Amen.

Julie now on Facebook

Violet in Nerstrand Woods--photo by Julie McCarty

Are you on Facebook? I finally caved and signed up just this week. I’m completely new at this, so it may take me awhile to get the hang of it.

I would love to have you as a Facebook friend… so please do look me up. I plan to focus on spiritual quotes, encouraging words, nature photos, practice watercolor paintings, and a few thoughts about life in general. And maybe a bit of personal stuff, too.

There are pros and cons about Facebook, but I want to be able to communicate better with people I care about–and that includes you!

I especially want to listen to what you have to say! So if you are timid about posting here on my blog, write to me in some other way. (Facebook is just another way to send messages.)

You are always welcome to send me email messages, too. Just visit the contact page. You can use the contact form or the email listed at the bottom of that page. I try to answer every personal email with a personal response.

I care about what you think and feel.

“Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All?”

…for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.
–I Corinthians 15:22.

All will be made alive in Christ? All? All might end up in heaven?  Or just Catholics? Or just Protestants? Or just Missouri Synod Lutherans? Or maybe just baptized believers? Or maybe “good people” of any spirituality? Or just those who do good things? Or those who give enough money to charity? Or those who believe the right things?  

Rob Bell brings up questions like these and many others in the book we’re reading in my church group, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne, 2011). In case you haven’t heard about this book, here’s a preview video (if you are reading this in your email, the YouTube preview is on my blog):

Bell raises important questions about heaven and hell that many Christians secretly wonder about but are afraid to ask. He particularly challenges the types of church-goers who seem to relish the thought of some people being sent to hell. They consider themselves “saved” and righteous, but anyone outside their select group “condemned.” They seem to worship a God who is loving one moment and wrathful the next. 

Reading Bell’s book is one thoughtful way to consider how we view Christ-followers of “other groups” (denominations, political parties, that “other choir” at church, etc.), those of other religious groups (Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc.), the “merely spiritual,” or those of no particular philosophical or faith adherence. Do we treat them will equal dignity and compassion? Or, as Rob Bell points out, do some of us secretly rejoice to picture certain people in hell? Would Christ our Lord rejoice to see someone be cast into hell? Bell asks, Is this “good news”?

Christians of other centuries have also wrestled with these questions. In the article “Dare We Hope For the Salvation of All?” Greek Orthodox theologian, Bishop Kallistos Ware  examines how Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Isaac the Syrian considered the salvation of all people and the restoration of all things in Christ.  He also draws material from a variety of others, including Julian of Norwich, C.S. Lewis, and St. Silouan of Mount Athos. (Theology Digest 45:4 (1998); also reprinted in The Inner Kingdom, Vol. 1, pages 193-215).

Like Bell, Bishop Ware is trying to remain true to the immense love of God, while also upholding human free will. My favorite story in the article was about a conversation between St. Silouan and a hermit. St. Silouan was so convinced that hell might not be a forever situation that he actually prayed “for the dead suffering in the hell of separation from God. . . [Saint Silouan] could not bear to think that anyone would languish in ‘outer darkness.'”

When the hermit criticized St. Silouan for this, the holy man said, “Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire–would you feel happy?”

The hermit responded that it would be the condemned person’s own fault.

The holy St. Silouan replied, “love could not bear that…we must pray for all.”

(Quotes above from Saint Silouan the Athonite by Archimandrite Sophrony, quoted in The Inner Kingdom, page 194).

For Eastern Christians, heaven is less a “me and Jesus” and more of a mystical communion of persons. God is “communal” in the sense that God’s oneness is Trinitarian–and to truly mirror God and be taken into the glory of heaven, the multitude of saints (all God’s beloved people) would need to be included in order for the joy to be complete.

The best way to explain this is to consider that the definition of hell for Russian Christians is two people, tied to each other but back to back. They are with each other but not really one. The opposite of that, heaven, is “face-to-face”: face-to-face intimacy and union not only with God, but with each other.

Saint Silouan didn’t think he could be completely happy in heaven until every last person was there, “face-to-face,” dwelling in glory with God and each other, including every single person.

“Into these things, angels long to search.”

Until next time, Amen!

New Sharing Features on the Spiritual Drawing Board

Sharing a meal at the Minnesota Zoo -- photo by Julie McCarty

See something here at the Spiritual Drawing Board you would like to share with someone you know? At the end of each post there is now a “Share This” section. You can email the post to a friend, print a copy off to share with your small faith group, or send a message on your social network.

(At the moment, I’m having trouble using the new print feature using Internet Explorer 9, but I was able to print it using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. Perhaps your computer will sail through the process. Hopefully WordPress will be fixing that soon.)

By the way, it’s fine with me if you print a copy for your own personal growth, or share with others in your bible study group, college course, or similar setting. If you would like to reprint material found here in other publications or online,  please contact me for permission before printing or republishing in any format, including the web. (It’s okay to quote small portions or place links from other sites.) See the “about” page for more details. When in doubt, please contact me with your questions.

For quick feedback, there is also a “like this” button at the end of each post.

Happy sharing–and God bless you! 
  –Julie McCarty, author of the Spiritual Drawing Board

Prayer book offer still good

Remember the special offer, back a few posts, about how to win a daily prayer book ? Weeelll, um, we do not yet have a winner, but we are getting closer. If you know anyone who might like this blog, please let them know they might win the book if they sign up for e-mail subscription.

DEADLINE is June 30, 2011. See May 4th post for details.

P.S. If we don’t have a winner by June 30, I’m going to award the book to whoever comes closest. 🙂  Look for an announcement of the winner in early July.