Ministering to advance the rights and dignity of all

Ministering to advance the rights and dignity of all
Sister Bonnie McMenamin, SSJ helps with a catechetical lesson Jan. 10 at Blessed Teresa Parish, Collingswood, during a meeting of GIFTS (Gathered in Faith to Serve), an interfaith group of adults with disabilities who meet to pray, socialize and do charitable work. Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

Sister Bonnie McMenamin, SSJ helps with a catechetical lesson Jan. 10 at Blessed Teresa Parish, Collingswood, during a meeting of GIFTS (Gathered in Faith to Serve), an interfaith group of adults with disabilities who meet to pray, socialize and do charitable work.
Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, was founded in LePuy, France in 1650, by a Jesuit priest, Father Jean-Pierre Medaille. As active contemplative women religious, the Sisters have always been “dedicated to the practice of all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy … which will most benefit the dear neighbor” (History of the Congregation).

In 1836, The Sisters of St. Joseph began “their missionary” work in America when they responded to the request of Bishop Joseph Rosati, CM, the first bishop of St. Louis. In St. Louis, the Sisters established a school for Native American and Deaf children.

The Sisters arrived in Philadelphia in 1847 to staff St. John’s Orphanage and because of their willingness to engage in various ministries, they soon became known by “their spirit ready for any good work.”

Aware of the invitation by Pope Francis to religious to “Wake up the World,” the Sisters of St Joseph minister within a rhythm of “contemplation and courageous action.” The various ministries of the Sisters of St. Joseph in the Diocese of Camden reflect the Gospel message of Jesus “that all may be one” (John 17: 21). We are engaged in pastoral ministry, social work and education with a focus on “the unmet needs of persons who are poor, marginalized and vulnerable”(SSJ, Chapter Statement, 2014).

A Sister of St. Joseph is all about relationships — our relationship with God and our relationship with the “dear neighbor” which is reflected in our mission statement: “We live and work so that all people may be united with God and with one another.”

This desire for union is the charism, the gift to the church, of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Our spirituality is based on an Ignatian-Salesian tradition, with an orientation toward excellence, tempered by gentleness, peace and joy.

As I minister with the Deaf and persons with disabilities, I have the privilege of listening to the life stories of the Deaf and person with disabilities, stories which are always connected to the Gospel story. As I accompany and advocate for Deaf people and persons with disabilities in the church and in their everyday journey, I am reminded of Pope Francis’ challenge to the church to embrace the “culture of encounter” rather than the “culture of exclusion.” As I minster to welcome and include Deaf people and persons with disabilities into all aspects of church, society and family life I “see with new eyes” and “my heart burns within me.”

It is a joy to experience their love of Jesus and their desire to share this love with all members of the church. The SSJ hospitality of serving others with the same manner that Joseph served Mary and Jesus takes on new meaning for me. I am most grateful for the gift of ministry in the Diocese of Camden. “Impelled by the Spirit of God and the consciousness that all is one” (SSJ, Chapter Statement, 2014).

I minister to advance the rights and dignity of all people, especially Deaf people and persons with disabilities.

Sister Bonnie McMenamin, SSJ is co-director of Ministry With the Deaf and Persons with Disabilities, Diocese of Camden.