I hope you have picked up on a theme that is important to me in my practice of Christianity in general and in my practice of ministry in particular. That is, I am totally convinced that Jesus had a “Kingdom perspective.” What exactly does that mean? That means, as Jesus taught, the Kingdom of God on earth, even as it is in heaven, is open and available to all. All who trust in God, are invited in and welcomed as a beloved daughter and son of the living God. Contrary to what people may think, heaven is not a place of segregation. It is not a place where each religion has their own “section.” We are one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world until Christ comes again in final victory and we all feast at his heavenly banquet.
May I join you in prayer?
I share all of this to say, I have had the privilege of experiencing the truth of what I named through my friendship with Sr. Josephine O’Gorman, a sister of the Congregation of St. Joseph. When the CSJ convent had a retreat center, I would take the staff for occasional retreats. One day, we were in the back of the chapel, starting the morning with prayer by using the Book of Common Prayer. All of a sudden this woman comes into the chapel and sits down. I ask her if I may help her and she says, “May I join you in prayer?” I said, “Of course, we would love to have you join us,” and offered her to help us pray the morning office from the BCP.
Later that morning, as we gathered for lunch, Sr. Josephine asked if she could join us for lunch. We were delighted to have this Irish nun join us with her friendly smile and spunky disposition. At the end of lunch, I asked her if she had a word from the Lord for us. She gave me a look that make me think I may have crossed the line. She obliged my request and shared something incredibly profound from Sacred Scripture and offered her own commentary. And then, she prayed for us with a sincerity and depth that moved me to tears. She had a connection with the Almighty I respected and revered.
Will you join us in prayer?
Every time we went to the convent, I asked her to pray with us and for us and to share a Sacred word that might encourage and challenge us. She always brought something that was so relevant only the Holy Spirit could have led her to share what she did. Sr. Josephine and I developed a bond of friendship that was a precious gift to me. We would share lunch every other month or so and when she would go into the hospital, the chaplain knew I wanted to be called.
Two weeks ago, I knew the hospitalization was different because I got a call from Fr. Doug, the chaplain, and three nuns. The last day of Sr. Josephine’s life, I felt one of those nudges and I followed it. I called Fr. Terry Hedrick and asked him to go with me so we could anoint her and pray for her. She was trying to teach Fr Terry and I about Genesis 1, 2, and 3. While she was eating ice chips to moisten her dry throat, she was speaking about God’s creation and then said and don’t forget Genesis 3. We messed things up!
Fr. Terry and I chuckled and then prayed she would know she was precious to God and to us. That God’s grace is amazing and abundant and incredibly sufficient for every need on earth and for every fear in death. I wasn’t surprised when I got the call from one of the Sisters that she very suddenly and surprisingly stopped breathing.
Sr. Josephine and the kingdom of unity
At age 16, Sr. Josephine left her home in Ireland and road a boat to New York City and then traveled by plane to Kansas City. She was told she could take a cab to Wichita because it wasn’t very far. Little did she know a three hour cab ride would break the bank! So, the Mother Superior had her ride the bus to Wichita. Can you imagine? Leaving your homeland for another Country in order to become a religious nun? The most courageous among us would hesitate to do such a thing. But, Sr. Josephine told me that God spoke to her and she could do no other than to respond with a resounding “yes!”
A few months later, after having arrived in Wichita, Sister’s father died. She was not able to attend his funeral. I cannot imagine what that would have been like for a 16 year old girl. But, she was bound and determined to follow through on God’s call on her life. And she did, extraordinarily well. The longer I live the more I learn not to take the people God has placed in my life for granted. I feel blessed to call her colleague and friend.
The last lunch we had together at Jimmy’s Egg, she loved their poached eggs, I asked why she was so hospitable to us every time we went to the convent for retreat. She said, “The Sisters of St. Joseph have one major charism: unity.” She lived the charism well and forever changed our lives. Thank you Sr. Josephine for sharing the CSJ charism – you have helped us experience heaven on earth!
–Rev. Jeff Gannon
Read an obituary for Sr. Josephine.