Suffer little children to come unto me

For a long time I have wanted to be part of a solidarity group, but with one condition, (that is what I thought), that they would be children.

Quite a long spell passed until one day a friend of mine, Laura, said to me: “there are sisters who go to Mass with a group of children and they live in the Matadero”.   I got their phone number and on the Children’s Day of 2010 I went to bring along some little presents and to see for myself.   Little did I think that that day would be so important in my life!

I told them that I was a psychologist and that I would like to help wherever I could.   They called me and I began to go one day a week.   Everything was so strange at the beginning.   It was my first experience with religious; I am not very religious; moreover anti-religious and distrusting.

But strange things began to happen to me.   I was sad or depressed and I went to the room which is called Carlos Mujica where the children and the sisters were, and I returned well and happy.   I went with 10 and returned with 100?!

One day I saw the film “The Holy Cross” and I realised that the Passionists Fathers were the first to offer shelter in their parish to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.   I began to ask questions, find out things, all my doubts were directed mainly to one sister, Gladys, and she in her gentle way, her patience and humility, helped me to get to know God.   The God that is good, compassionate, understanding, forgiving and full of love, who always has the door open for all of us; and not the God to be feared, who is always ready to chastise us for our sins, severe and at times cruel, unjust, that frightens and drives us away.

In this way I began to integrate myself in the Project “Allow the children to come to me”.   It is an educational project, which, with the help of teachers and voluntary workers, has as its aim “to take the children off the streets”.   There are 120 children between 3 and 13 that during the week get a snack, help with school work, physical education, computer skills, music, song, along with help for the children and their families. (This is my work and the service I offer, which I do) but, like the sisters, I am wherever I am needed).   The objective of the project is to help to recuperate the dignity of the children of God: as simple as that.   What a challenge: poor children, marginalised, with no space within the system, who are hungry, cold, badly treated and without assistance; links in a historic chain that never seems to end.

With the sisters we decided that the challenge would be to cut the chain, and we are willing to do what it takes to give the children a different option to what the street offers them, and fight to free them.   This means a huge transformation.   We have discovered that more than half of our children between the ages of 8 and 11 are illiterate and many more semi-illiterate.   This is the result of the schooling they receive where the objective should be that at the end of the primary cycle all children should be able to read, write and understand, because otherwise it is impossible for them to pass to the secondary level.   If they cannot reach this they will be condemned to a life of work as slaves, to prostitution, delinquency and the abuse of women who are only considered to be useful if they have many children.

This is all part of the system here but we try to keep close to them and we do all we can for them.   This is a huge challenge, and I would say the challenge, but there is somebody who does not allow us to give up, on the contrary we get the strength we need every day.

These children help to make sense of my life and the sisters helped me to discover this.   In my 56 years of life it is the first time I can say: “thank you God for walking with us” or “thank you God for the gift of life and your life shared with these little ones”   This love, this recognition hidden deep in me and unknown to me, makes me begin to feel that God really exists, that He is in them and I am with them.

The Passionist Sisters are my daily Paschal Mystery: from the darkness to the light… from death to life.   In them is founded my vocation of commitment with the poor and needy, and my ideology that a better world is possible.   The sisters follow the path of Jesus and I want to do the same.

Now I go twice a week.   What I get from the barrio and the sisters, I would never get in the surgery.   It is impossible for me to think of my life without them and I thank God for coming to me in that way, which is the best.

Alejandra Primavera, Psychologist and a Passionist at heart.

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A New Campus for CCM

The Hon. Audley Shaw, M.P., Minister of Finance and Sister Una break ground for the new campus.

Sister Una O’Connor, C.P. with Bishop Neil Tiedemann, C.P. and the Hon. Audley Shaw, M.P.

Greetings from Jamaica especially from CCM!  Can you believe it?  A New Campus is looming on the horizon!

December 8, 2010, the Ground-breaking Ceremony and Luncheon went off very well, thank God.  For the most part, those whom we expected to attend were present.  The weather cooperated and the location was beautifully decorated – under the tent, of course. It was truly a blessed moment of celebration!

Bishop Neil Tiedemann, C.P. was Celebrant for the Ground-breaking and brought greetings from the Diocese. The Hon. Audley Shaw, M.P., Minister of Finance provided remarks at the Ground-breaking as well as helping to break the ground!  He happened to get the piece already secretly broken! He was also the Guest Speaker at the Luncheon. Greetings were also rendered on behalf of the Ministry of Education and the Jamaica Teachers’ Association.

About 15 representatives were present from the media so we should have received excellent coverage.  Although we are approaching the 20th Anniversary of the beginning of CCM, it is surprising how many people are still learning about us for the first time!  This event should have its rewards from the marketing that it entailed.

Both musical renditions (a solo and the full group) carried the theme: “To God Be the Glory, Great Things He Hath Done” which was the title of both songs but with different lyrics.

The project is now out for bids/tender which will be completed in January, God willing.  It is our hope to start building as soon as possible after that.

Please continue to keep us in your prayers and pass on the news to enable us to gather the necessary funding for this mammoth project we have undertaken.  Every donation is needed and is appreciated.

Thank you for the prayers and support thus far.  God bless you all!

With love and prayers to you,

Sister Una O’Connor, C.P.

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Transforming the Classroom in Jamaica

Few would have believed It possible when the Roman Catholic College of Mandeville opened Its doors to just 18 students back In 1992.

But 18 years later, the teacher training institution has 700 students and offers courses from the Diploma level, through to Master’s.

Of the close to 200 students who graduated recently, 19 completed the inaugural Master’s of Education in Teaching and Learning programme, (which belongs to Saint Mary’s University, MN, USA and is offered at CCM through a partnership with SMU), 97 received their Bachelor’s degree, and 76 collected their Diploma – with most of the latter expecting to move on to their first degree.

Founder and principal, Irish-born Passionist Sister Una O’Connor can now say without a hint of boastfulness that her institution is helping to “transform the classroom” in Jamaica.

And since stagnation is not an option, the school is now preparing to relocate from its cramped quarters on Caledonia Road to a nine-acre spread owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese in Williamsfield.

“We need to relocate, we realty don’t have the space to offer the range of services we believe we should,” said Sister Una.

L to R Tracy Lehnertz (SMU admin), Suzanne Peterson (SMU Dir of M.Ed), Marcel Dumestre (SMU V.P.), Sr. Una O'Connor, C.P. (CCM Pres), Msgr Michael Palud, MSM (CCM Chairman Board of Governors)

“We want our resources to be solid, our library needs to be solid, we need more information technology labs, and we need a decent science lab. We are very interested in developing people who are solid in Science and Maths, and we need a strong reading programme.

“Overall we want our teachers to be really in touch with what is happening in the classroom…,” she added.

It’s estimated that what Sister Una calls the “fundamentals” of the building project will cost about US$5 million providing space for about 1000 day and evening students. The “fundamentals” will include an administration building, staff building, 10classrooms, a library, a science lab, an IT lab, a cafeteria, an audio visual room, guidance counseling centre, and a sick bay.

Sister Una expects that the project will be “broken down into two or three parts because we are fundraising, we don’t have all that money lined up.”

Much of the bureaucracy including the crucial approval from the Manchester Parish Council has been received and Sister Una Is hopeful the building phase will begin “sometime in January”.

Sister Una, a member of the 160 year-old religious order, the Passionist Sisters, insists that even when bigger and better her college will remain true to its mission to offer “quality tertiary education to adults, at an affordable cost and in a format convenient to their social/family responsibilities and their initial academic standard”.

Currently, the college charges $120,000 (Jamaican) per year for full-time students while the part-time, two year Master’s programme which Sister Una says is “highly recommended, well established and well accredited in the United States” costs US$8,500. The Master’s program is said to be within months of being accredited by the University Council of Jamaica.

View drawings for new CCM campus

Visit the Catholic College of Mandeville

Developing Community in Lima

Local women rest on a hill above their home

The district of Villa el Salvador is a huge shanty town on the outskirts of Lima Peru, built on the sand dunes, 25 kilometres to the south of the city of Lima, Peru. The district was founded in1971 and has a long history of struggle and organization, working together to get basic necessities such as electricity, water, sewage and roads. Today the district has a population of almost half a million people. Although these first settlements are now well established, the areas covered by the parish, the 7th, 9th and 10th sectors, are much later developments, and have the added difficulty of being situated on the sand hills where living conditions are very basic and in many places they still do not have water or sewage. The Community Centre is situated at the top of the 7th sector, and also serves the 9th and 10th sectors, with a population of 29,492 most of whom live in conditions of extreme poverty.

The economic situation of the families of the area causes constant conflict and violence in the home, serious health and educational problems. There is little or no employment available within the area. The majority of the women have little formal education, are unskilled, their self esteem is very low, and many suffer from depression as they cannot find work that will help them to contribute to the upkeep of the family. 24.2% of the population are single or abandoned mothers most of whom have small children. 12.8% of young people do not attend school because they have to work. Those who do, sometimes perform badly at school because there is no money to buy schoolbooks, and they have very little incentive to continue to study. They have little hope of finding work and even less of continuing their studies once they finish school at 16. Delinquency is on the increase, violence and gang warfare have become part of the local scene and drugs and related crimes have also increased.

The Community Centre was built in 1999 thanks to a g rant from Irish Aid. The Centre is one of the services that our Parish, Nuestra Senora de la Paz offers to the local community. Other services include a Legal Aid Centre, a Medical Centre and Programme for the Elderly. Originally we just had a small library that has grown over the years and we tried to respond to the needs of the young people who use the library by providing workshops including music and dance.

Llamkaq Warmi with Sister Clare

It gradually became evident that we needed to include training opportunities for women that would give them the possibility of learning new skills, discovering their leadership qualities and offering them the space to put them into practice. Today the Community Centre has a staff of 18 people including teachers and administrative staff. Manuel Canterac is the Director of the Educational and Training

Programmes. And Lily Garcia is Coordinator of the Library. Three young librarians, the secretary and administrative staff are all students who, thanks to this work, can cover the costs of their studies. They study in the mornings and work in the Centre in the afternoons. The Centre functions from 3.00pm to 10.00pm, Monday to Friday.

The overall objective of the Centre is “To empower the local community in order to improve the quality of life”. The Centre offers a series of training workshops for women which enables them to acquire marketable skills that give them a better chance of finding work or of setting up small workshops in their own homes. In this way they are able to contribute to the upkeep of their families and so improve the quality of life for the family group. Classes and courses for women include dressmaking; hairdressing, computer skills, arts and crafts, and aerobics. Each of the workshops has an average of 20 students and courses run from April to December. The Centre constantly studies the commercial market, demands and business possibilities in the area and orientates the students so that they can respond to the needs of the local community. It also provide workshops on Leadership, how to set up small businesses and marketing, as well as human relations, conflict management and recently we have introduced a few workshops on Care of the Earth.

The Centre also provides Library and Internet service for 300 primary, secondary and some third level students. Our first donation of a box of 59 books has grown to over 4,000. Librarians organize learning groups to encourage reading and investigation. A teacher runs a school support group for children who have learning difficulties. In this way the students improve their participation in school and have a better chance of finishing with a worthwhile certificate that will help them to find work.

Video forums for young people are also organised on the subjects of Drugs, Aids and Human Relations. The Centre also provides opportunities for young people, which include Folklore, Dance, Theatre, Guitar and Andean Music as well as Computer skills, and Karate. The young people, conscious of the dangers that abound in our area, participate actively in these activities, which keep them off the streets, and away from the drug scene.

Taytaco elderly enjoying a dance

The programme for the elderly, which was begun by Sister Patricia Denny and is known as the ‘Taytacos” is now an integral part of the Community Centre. Two afternoons a week a group of 70-80 elderly men and women are brought to the Centre where a dedicated group of volunteers prepares a hot meal for them, and provides simple activities, including literacy programmes, arts and crafts, dance (which they love), music, and aerobics. They also have medical attention and physiotherapy and enjoy the company of one another.

Sister Maeve O’Driscoll C.P.

In this way the Community Centre tries to improve the quality of life for the local community and although there is still a long way to go we feel that in some way we have contributed to making life more bearable and enjoyable for a small portion of those who live in our area.

– Sister Maeve O’Driscoll C.P.

Why the Sisters of the Cross and Passion? Reflections on a life lived…

Sister Ann Rodgers, C.P.

I entered the community of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion in September 1966. I can remember people asking, “Why would you enter a community with that name?”

My response then was, “All I know is that having met the sisters in the parish where I grew up and seeing their spirit and sense of family and ministry I was drawn to consider life with them as an option for me.” Then and now I experience the  call, as a Sister of the Cross and Passion, an invitation to be in relationship with a God who loves us so much that God sent a Son to let us know that love and to witness to the hope of that love in a world that suffers.

The community, when I entered, was focused on education. All of us had the opportunity to finish our college degree and to have further education to be able to teach in the parish or diocesan schools where our sisters had convents. I always wanted to be a teacher, being the oldest in my family and wanting to instruct others in basics as well as in the knowledge of God in their lives.

The Prout School in Wakefield, RI

With my BA in Education and Theology I had the opportunity to teach in parish grade schools in CT, NY and inner city RI. Having gotten an MA in Theology I began teaching at Prout Memorial High School in Wakefield, RI, a school built and run by our sisters. When I arrived there it was an all girls’ school and in my last two years there we transitioned, as a diocesan school, into a co-ed High School.

Looking for another challenge after leaving Prout Memorial H.S. I went into Parish Ministry as Director of Religious Education in St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Wakefield, RI. What an opportunity! Walking with the youth of the parish and ministering to their parents in the Religious Education program, particularly in sacramental levels. Along with that was the excitement of doing outreach with some of the elderly in the weekly Share The Word program – reflecting on the upcoming weekend readings and sharing faith. As the years added up in parish ministry I had a sense of being one with the families – watching children be baptized, receive First Communion and Confirmation. Programs I created were blooming and parents were coming forward interested to help in a variety of ways in the parish and in religious education classes.

During that time I was also involved in our community Vocation Ministry Team.

It was a difficult decision, made with deep discernment that drew me from parish ministry to my involvement over the past 15 years in retreat ministry at Our Lady of Calvary Spiritual Center in Farmington, CT. Having been invited to retreat ministry as well as to be a member of the community being formed for candidates (young women interested in entering the community of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion) was something new.

Our Lady of Calvary Retreat Center

The first year – feeling like I didn’t know who was coming each weekend on retreat – was followed by other years where I recognized faces and the spirits of women coming for the weekend or to mid-week days or evenings of reflection.

As some people asked me to companion them in their spiritual journey, I realized that I needed to go somewhere to be educated in the art of spiritual direction.

My experience of the Spiritual Direction Program at Mercy Center, Madison, CT, was a growing experience. Learning more about myself to be able to be present to others added to the prayer circle practice in our theme weekends and enabled me to become a companion with people on their journey with their God. That lived experience has only grown and made me realize how precious each of us is to God. It’s also let me see how God has a sense of humor in the invitation to be present to the God-life of everyone.

One of the elements that has been part of my own spiritual journey is the gift of music.

I learned some chords from one of the sisters from Chile, South America, who was in the novitiate with me. I can remember the awe of seeing a drawing of fingers on a guitar neck and realizing – oh, when I put my fingers that way it’s a particular chord. In grade schools and the high school, in parish ministry and now on retreats music is a thread that lets me be present to God and that helps me lead others to seeing God in their lives.

Daniel Rose’s song God Is… begins with the line: “You want to know me…you want to see my face…” and it continues part way through with the lines: “I am the beginning in the end… I am the faith in your believing… I am the color of truth… I am the dreamer of your dreams… I am the silence in the music…I am the music in the silence…”

So, that’s my life… lived as a Sister of the Cross and Passion. There have been bumps and pot-holes along the way. There have been loses and delightful experiences of gaining new friends and new insights into myself, others and God.

God bless you on your journey and discerning God’s call in your life!

– Sister Ann Rodgers, C.P.

Congratulations Sr. Una!

Congratulations! Sister Una O’Connor, C.P. President of Catholic College of Mandeville, Jamaica will receive a Presidential Award for Outstanding Merit from St. Mary’s University in Minnesota today.

Read more here:

Combating Social Exclusion in Chile

This semester I have been busy with a new project of a library and open center for children and youth. It has involved building cupboards, protections for windows, getting books and encyclopedias, etc also computers which I hope to have installed soon, getting people to help out, doing propaganda for the center which by the way is called St. Patrick’s Center. Its aim is to give an opportunity to the children and youth here to advance in their studies by providing access to books, computers etc which their peers have in the town nearby. I think it should be a means in the future to avoid that the children and youth here will be excluded later on in life. It is slow work as it is hard to get workmen people to help and take responsibility. Keep this in your prayers as it is just taking off and we are learning by degrees.

I was interviewing a lady from here on social exclusion and decided to send to you what she said.

1. How people experience exclusion in the society or village where they live.

“I see it as an injustice the fact that people exclude me. The people don’t take the time or the bother to hear my story and my point of view but form their opinions from what they hear and on that basis exclude me.”

2. This lady says she doesn’t participate in anything in the village except school meetings for her children, which are obligatory. Any richness she could have contributed to the area has been stifled by the exclusion she feels and receives.

3. Name a few actions that you have done to help people reach their potential.

The lady says that we as Passionist sisters have not excluded her but we have listened to her story, have helped her and given her strength to go forward.

4.What would help you and your people to be part of a construction of a more inclusive society.

If people were more united. If they would be interested in helping the rest of the community as a whole. If they would organize activates for the youth and get them to participate.


Ann Langan, C.P.

Jamaica – People of Faith and Beauty, Nation of Struggle

Patty McGowan of Belmar, NJ, and Christine Whalen of Lancaster, PA, nieces of deceased Passionist Fr. Kilian McGowan, C.P., wrote the following to share with other friends of the Passionists their reflections on their recent trip to Jamaica.

In November 2008, we accepted the invitation to visit the Passionist missions in Jamaica, and although benefactors and friends of the community, both of us were a bit anxious knowing that we’d see and experience the country as Jamaicans do, not as tourists. And for much of the 6 days we spent on the island, our views were of people fighting to survive, and our sites—and sights—were of towns and rural villages struggling to provide the basic necessities to citizens. We were not in Lancaster or Belmar anymore!

Our connection to the Passionists is through our deceased uncle, Fr. Kilian McGowan, C.P., who often told us stories and wrote of the wonderful and inspirational work of Passionist missionaries in far-off lands. The accounts intrigued and awed us, and we now know first-hand the heroics of those Passionist men and women.

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more about “Passionists in Jamaica“, posted with vodpod

Upon our arrival, we saw hundreds of children of all ages on their way home from school, their uniforms clean and spotless. Yet, they walked in streets filled with trash, garbage, stray dogs, cats and chickens, and on sidewalks that were barely distinguishable from the pot-marked, poorly maintained streets. The city of Kingston was not unlike any other: traffic, noise, and business people. The neighborhoods, too, were similar to the poorest in our own inner cities except they went on and on and on with corrugated metal for roofs, blankets and sheets for windows and barbed wire and fences everywhere.

During our visit, we met with parishioners at St. Elizabeth’s Parish in Kingston and visited Calvary Retreat in Mandeville. We spent a day with the lay Passionist volunteers and Fr. Gaston Nsongolo, C.P., the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish (and of four other mission churches!) in Stony Hill. We met the Passionist sisters and walked with Bro. Michael Stomber, C.P., through the infirmary for the poor that he visits regularly. We laughed and smiled with many children who know of the Passionists and proudly wear the uniforms of St. Elizabeth’s Basic School, of one of the mission schools or of the Catholic College of Mandeville. We listened to mothers and fathers speak of how they struggle for income and work in a country with few jobs and often little opportunity. We heard details of the violence and crime while visiting, and of the ongoing horrific events surrounding the abduction and murders of a number of young school children for no other reason than for criminals to obtain money for drugs. And, we saw—experienced—the miraculous things our uncle Fr. Kilian described: People who are loved, who are uplifted, and who are given hope and faith because of the Passionists.

The time spent in Jamaica was short, but we received a glimpse of life and culture few outsiders ever do. The food and music, the smells and colors all live vividly in our memories. The stories we heard—a mother given a chance thanks to Fr. Richard at St. Elizabeth’s; young women being afforded an education to become teachers due to Sr. Una, a Passionist sister; boys and girls in remote villages receiving catechism because of the Passionist volunteers, and then receiving their Sacraments from Fr. Gaston who drives hours to minister to them; and Bro. Michael walking through the Mandeville infirmary hugging, consoling, comforting the most forgotten of our world—story after story of men and women sharing the compassion of Christ.

The Mandeville Infirmary is a place like none other we ever visited. The odor, the brokenness of everything, the lack of essentials and cleanliness astonished us. Bro. Michael called it, “a poor house,” a place where people end up rather than dying on the street because they have no one and own nothing. Yet, it was there that he turned and asked us, “Can you feel God’s love?”

We both did in a way we had never felt before, in a way we will never forget.
— Patricia McGowan and Christine Whalen