International Centre of the Sisters of St. Joseph

Monday, May 16, 2022

New Roots & Wings Program Brings Young Sisters from Africa and India to Le Puy



The 10-day program (May 3-13) began officially with a French meal. Sisters also gathered around the table to meet each other.

They came from India, Burkina Faso, Congo, Vietnam/Norway. Languages were in English and French while staff spoke in a combination of French, English, Portuguese, and Spanish.

There was a lot of picture-taking as the sisters began to collect memories of their new friendships and experiences. They also attempted to speak a few words from each other's languages.






Those responsible for the program were international, too. (Left to right) Judy Donovan (USA-presenter), Simone Saugues (France-translator), Gloria Philip (Argentina-presenter), Olga Bonfiglio (USA-Centre Staff), Eluiza de Andrade (Brazil-Centre Staff).


The sisters began the program by welcoming each other in their different languages.


Sister Judy opens up the program with a tree metaphor.
Sister Gloria introduced the sisters to the process of the program:
observe and experience things as they are;
contemplate them in light of the charism and documents;
integrate them and discern the flow of where God is moving.



Sister Simone served as the French-English translator. She also presented some background about 17th century France.



Sisters pitched in to help take care of the Centre. After the main meal at noon and in the evening, two sisters did the dishes and one or two swept  the dining room floor. They were very efficient, too! They finished clean-up in 15-20 minutes. Here are Justine (Congo) and Maria (Vietnam/Norway) washing dishes in the kitchen while one other sister swept the dining room.

Journeying to the foundations

The sisters wasted no time before they took to the streets of Le Puy to orient themselves in both its geography and history. Centre staff conducted the tours to the Kitchen (home of the founding sisters), Scenography (digital history of the Sisters of St. Joseph), Église du Collège (where Fr. Médaille preached), and the Tree of Martyrs (where 2 or 3 sisters were guillotined during the French Revolution).


The sisters walked the same streets as the founding sisters did and had the experience of tasting a bit of the long history of medieval and Renaissance Le Puy. In this photo they are outside the lace-making school. Le Puy has been a center for lace-making since the 1600s. The founding sisters made lace at night after ministering to the people of the city during the day. This work earned them a living, which distinguished them from the monastic nuns who relied on donations for their keep. This independence was one of the major reasons the Sisters of St. Joseph and the apostolic movement was able to emerge.

Martine's lace shop is one of the popular stops on the tour. Here Martine shows how lace is made by hand using the same tools the founding sisters used. 



The Sisters of St. Joseph founded a school in Le Puy, which is still operating today. In 2018, the school was expanded to accommodate more students and to provide dormitories for those who live too far to make a daily trek to school. The school dedicated the new wing to one of the six founding sisters, Françoise Eyraud, (1611–1683) who was born in Varennes into an old and illustrious family that had connections with the charitable works of the diocese. She was placed in charge of the hospice as early as 1646 and was its superior at the time of her death.


The 6 founding sisters who lived in Le Puy in 1650 grew to over 30,000 sisters on all continents by 1950, as this tableau at the Living History Centre (near the Kitchen) demonstrates. The tableau on the right shows one of the first "family trees" in the development of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Both of these tableaux were commissioned to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding.

 The sisters also climbed the hill and 134 steps of the Cathedral of Notre Dame to become acquainted with the diocesan seat of Le Puy. The Cathedral was built between the 11th and 13th centuries. It holds a Pilgrim Mass at 7 a.m. every day as it sends off those who will walk the 1,000-mile Camino of St. James to Compostelle, Spain. Many of the sisters attended the Mass.




The sisters spent the day in Lyon to learn more deeply about Mother St. John Fontbonne. They visited the Origin & Evolution Centre, the grave of Mother St. John, and the Basilica at Fourvière. Sr. Rita Bujold served as their guide and also invited the sisters to eat their bag lunches in the garden at the Congregation of Lyon's Generalate. Sisters Line Rioux, Rosa-Maria Oviedo, and Lily Thockanattu of the Lyon Leadership Team greeted the young sisters.










The evenings served as a time for socializing. Small groups of sisters organized dancing, singing, explanations about their native dress, and games from their countries. They invited the rest of the group to try out some of the dances as the videos below demonstrate.




Closing Rite


The sisters had grown close to each other and enjoyed each other's company in the almost 2 weeks since they arrived in Le Puy. However, on May 13, the Roots and Wings program would come to an end. In order to celebrate the journeys and times they had together, the sisters spent the afternoon preparing for the closing rite of the program. All was unusually quiet at the Centre as the sisters worked to set-up the Community Room and to write messages of thanks to their presenters, Judy and Gloria; Simone, French/English translator; and staff members, Eluiza and Olga. 







In a final act of appreciation, Sister Judy invited the sisters to take a one-meter piece of cloth that each sister had brought with them for the program and to give it to another sister whom they would remember and pray for.





D'accord !!!

As part of learning each other's languages, the group settled on the French word, "d'accord", to express agreement with whatever was happening. In one of its last acts of unity, the sisters all agreed that their 10-day program was a success. It was fun, and it had enriched their spiritual lives.


Many photos are courtesy of Sister Judy Donovan. Many thanks, Judy!

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