West Philly Sisters in the News

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The University City Review featured the community of Assumption Sisters in West Philadelphia in their October 16th issue. We're happy to print that article for you here.

Look into West Philly's Hidden Treasure: The Assumption Sisters

By Nicole Contosta

Staff Writer

News tips, as any reporter will tell you, can come from emails, phone calls, press releases, meetings, other news articles or insider information.


In this case, a West Philly resident and avid UCReview reader stopped by the "UC Reviews" office in Spruce Hill for a chat with our Editor, Robert Christian. This visitor stressed the importance of writing an article on the Catholic Assumption Sisters Convent, located at 1001 S. 47th Street in Cedar Park. The Sisters, she argued, contribute immensely to the West Philadelphia community. However, because the Assumption Sisters are not directly associated with a church parish or priest, many do not know about them.

Having attended Catholic School as a kid, this reporter puzzled over the fact that nuns could operate outside the guidelines set by a parish's priest. But following the habit of all reporters, I conducted a little background research before contacting the convent's Director [Superior], Sister Clare Teresa Tjader, R.A.

The Assumption Sisters belong to the Religious of the Assumption. Mother Marie Eugenie founded it in Paris on April 30, 1839 with the vision of transforming society through education. From there, the congregation quickly spread through Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. Mother Eugenie's teachings stressed that all action should flow from a life of love and prayer. Today, the Assumption Sisters continue their mission by advocating for immigrants, teaching English as a Second Language, and continuing to emphasize a life through love and prayer.

Of course, the Assumption Sisters, as Sister Clare later explained, are not completely autonomous. When it comes to implementing their various programs and outreach activities, they need to receive permission from their Bishop, Sister Clare explained. But within that structure, the Sisters have a certain freedom in determining the mood and tone their convent sets. For the house in Cedar Park, where the Sisters moved in 1999, the environment is one of welcoming and openness.

In fact, that's the first thing this reporter noticed when entering the convent, which, incidentally, is located directly across the street from the Saint Francis de Sales Church.....Standing in the vestibule, a ginger cat scampered to greet me as enticing aromas wafted from the kitchen. To my left, a round dinner table was set with formal yet modest cutlery.

The Sisters, Sister Clare explained as she guided me towards the large reception and meeting room across the hall, were preparing for the arrival of their newest resident, a Sister from Vietnam. The new Sister's arrival would mean eight sisters would reside in the house. As an international order, the other Sisters hail from France, Ecuador, the Philippines and America. As such, the Sisters' daily outreach activities range from work at West Catholic High School as well as Hispanic and Philippine Ministries.

"This room is often used by the Saint Francis de Sales Church," Sister Clare said as the cat climbed on her lap. "The Church," Sister Clare continued, "doesn't have smaller rooms, so it will often use this for meetings."

"The Sisters of Assumption are a contemplative order," Sister Clare continued. "We pray five times a day: Once alone in the morning, once during a morning prayer together, once during morning Mass, once in the evening and then the prayer at night." Many of the Sisters' group prayers-- open to neighbors-- occur in their small chapel.

Saint Francis de Sales' proximity to the Conventwas one of the reasons why the sisters moved there. "We go to church at 7 a.m. every morning," Sister Clare emphasized. "If a church wasn't in walking distance, the sisters would have to pile into a car and drive some distance."

Also, it doesn't hurt that the proximity to Saint Francis de Sales "connects us to a church," Sister Clare said. Although the convent and the church aren't directly connected, "we collaborate with the Sisters from Saint Francis de Sales on a variety of things," Sister Clare explained. For example, "We participate in the church's choir. And the Assumption Sisters are readers at the church," Sister Clare explained.

The meeting room is used for a host of other purposes, Sister Clare continued. "Every Sunday, the sisters have at least one meeting, if not three," Sister Clare explained. "On Tuesday nights there is one Spanish meeting and one English meeting," Sister Clare said, adding that the meetings are directed towards prayer. On Wednesday afternoons, a craft group meets to make things for the elderly in the neighborhood," Sister Clare said. And on Thursday nights, "there's choir."

Another strong component of the Sisters of Assumption rests in its 30-week spiritual retreats. In the past, Sister Clare has hosted the retreats from the house as well as other churches such as Woodland Presbyterian Church at 42nd and Pine.

The retreat is modeled after the retreat Saint Ignatius started in the 16th Century. Originally, "Saint Ignatius would host a retreat for 30 days," Sister Clare said. That involved people traveling away from their homes," Sister Clare said. However, even in the 16th Century, "Saint Ignatius realized that not everyone could leave their work and their homes for 30 days," Sister Clare added.

Hosting a 30-week retreat has other advantages.

Sister Clare has of course hosted 30-day retreats. "People go away and experience many insights. But its hard for them to make that transition in their day-to-day lives.

When people participate in a 30-day retreat," Sister Clare continued, "they're knitting their spiritual lives with their day-to-day lives. It really pervades people's entire lives," Sister Clare emphasized.

The spiritual retreats begin in October and last until after Easter. Since it just began, people can still join, said Sister Clare. They need to make time in their lives to pray every day from the book of Saint Ignatius.

Many of the people who join are those who are "lapsed" practitioners of their faiths, Sister Clare said. And in Sister Clare's opinion, this holds particularly true for Catholics. "The history of the Catholic Church," said Sister Clare, "often ties back to immigrants." "They really went to church every Sunday. They really didn't eat meat on Fridays. It was part of their identity. But at the same time, many Catholics didn't think about what it meant to practice their faith. Thus, they left the faith without considering why. Or they continued to practice it without considering its significance."

"Because the spiritual exercises during the retreat are done in a community setting," Sister Clare continued, "people become close as a result. In fact they often continue to meet in some spiritual capacity afterwards. The meetings also extend to non-spiritual activities like the craft group, the book club and the prison administration."

Beyond just the convent's religious aspects, "We try to be good neighbors. We try to be here for people," Sister Clare said.