From Baltimore to Philadelphia: a 50 Year Journey

Sunday, June 28, 2009

On June 27, 1959, at the age of 22, Miss Sheila Flynn of Baltimore, Maryland stood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and made her first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to God. From then on she would be Sr. Sheila Marie of Jesus, R.A. Through a strange and wonderful set of coincidences (including her discovery of a biography of Marie Eugenie in a Baltimore library -- a place where, as far we know, no Assumption Sister had ever set foot which had set her heart afire with the idea of a fellow 22 year old woman starting a religious congregation), she had arrived at the jumping-off place for her life in the Assumption. Fifty years later, still on June 27 (and still in Philly, though ever loyal to Baltimore!), Sister Sheila and her many friends celebrated that life and the fidelity of God with a beautiful Mass in the parish church of the West Philadelphia community, Saint Francis de Sales. The pastor, Father Zachary Navit, wove his homily around the three women we celebrate today: Our Lady of Perpetual Help, whose icon graced the sanctuary, the woman with the hemorrhage from Sundays gospel, and Sr. Sheila herself. Each one's life, according to Father Navit, had something profound to say about faith and hope. The presence of so many of Sr. Sheila's friends and Sisters testified to the accuracy of his remarks.

Earlier in the day, Sheila had renewed her vows of chastity, poverty and obedience at Morning Prayer. In the small chapel of the community, she began, according to the vow formula, by recognizing herself as standing "before God, in the Church and in the presence of my community," and by placing her hands in the hands of Sister Mary Ann Azanza, our provincial. Then she promised to live the three vows following Christ until death. It's a powerful moment in any Assumption profession or renewal, but its starkness is softened a little by the next words: "Like Mary, I entrust myself to the love of the Father, to the grace of the Lord Jesus, and to the power of the Spirit. Amen." On this feast day of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Sr. Sheila once again connected her life to the life of Our Lady's Son and to that of His Mother. As she pronounced "Amen," she was joined in it by all the others who witnessed her renewal, and then the strains of the Taize Magnificat filled the chapel: "My soul magnifies the Lord!" It was the start of a beautiful day.