Written by Bonnie Kane (Chicago, 2011)
It has been about 10 months since I ended my volunteer time in Chicago at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation and not a day goes by that I don’t think about the lessons that I learned while there. My volunteer experience began for me with perfect timing. I had just wrapped up my final year at Rockhurst University. I was craving an escape. At first, that escape was merely to be independent, challenged in new ways and getting out of a city that I grew up in. In hindsight, I was escaping and searching for so much more.
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Bonnie had the opportunity to help out young men studying for their GED at the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation
Since Chicago I have been through three jobs. I began by working at a hospice care business, helping with new referrals. Only a few short weeks later I got the break of a lifetime when my dream job was offered to me—working for Catholic Charities Kansas City-St. Joseph as a Foster Care Case Worker. The job was a huge challenge, and just as I began to get comfortable, Catholic Charities found out that they were losing the contract for the Foster Care program. I would be out of the job as of January 1, 2013. However, I was offered a job through Catholic Charities at their Turnaround Program, a prison re-entry program for those who are up to six months out of jail, funded by the Department of Labor. As a Case Manager, I work with clients to help them obtain education, jobs, opportunities and stable housing.
To say the least it has been a roller coaster of a year for me. I have learned something through all of these professional changes, but I have my Chicago experience to thank for preparing me and giving me the strength to go through them and come out on the other side.
I knew from an early age that I wanted to go into some kind of Social Service field, e.g., hospitals, mental health, youth, elderly, substance abuse, underprivileged, and education. Chicago taught me to be open and understanding. Talking with teens in their environment opened up my mind to so many obstacles they overcome to become successful. The experience groomed me; it started me off with an open heart, an open ear, and hope for those who have lost all hope. With these lessons and exposure I have been able to feel comfortable and somewhat successful working with children in foster care and ex-cons at the Turnaround Program. I felt prepared to take it all on.
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Bonnie with her community-mate, Sr. Donna Liette
Chicago changed my personal as well as my professional life. The experience gave me confidence. In social service fields one needs to be prepared for whatever walks in the door and be able to talk and stand up for oneself and one’s job if need be. Despite being on my own, I wasn’t alone. Immersing myself into my surroundings and reflecting on my life and others’ lives helped me learn about myself. I was able to re-evaluate who I was and where I was going. At the time, I was not heading in the best direction possible. Chicago forced me to meet myself all over again. The biggest lesson that I learned about myself was how strong and independent I had really become. I know now how much I can challenge myself and how much I can take on, thanks to my willingness to expand my comfort zone.
I also learned more about my faith, my spirituality and who God was to me. For some time, my faith had been dwindling. I kept running into situations that challenged me and I didn’t understand why I could never catch a break. So instead of leaning on my faith, I began to lean elsewhere. It was always still there—I attended church on Sundays and still believed—but I didn’t believe in myself and my own personal relationship with God. The first several months in Chicago were a big challenge. I was learning to live on my own, away from anything and everything that I knew. It was not all deep dish pizzas, Cubs games and sunny days. I had a personal struggle for quite a while and that struggle began with my faith. Again I asked myself and God, “What the heck am I doing here? What are you trying to show me and teach me. Once I was able to listen and to be honest, to get over myself, things began to unfold. I have all of the boys and staff at the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation to thank. They taught me more about faith than I knew, and they most likely had no idea they were doing so. On my journey to find myself, I found God again as well. I began to accept hardships and learn from them. I wouldn’t be where I am today without this experience and God helping me blaze my own trail.
I cannot thank enough the staff and youth of Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation for the experience that I had. Chicago prepared me and gave me the experience to be successful in an everchanging non-profit profession. I learned so much more about myself and my faith. With a stronger faith, I am always looking for what is next—yet still juggling and reminding myself to live each day as is; too much planning is no fun. I like to live with a little mystery! Like I tell so many clients, just roll through the hardship and slow down during the happiness and excitement.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]
by Fr. Mark Miller, C.PP.S.
During another Advent Season, we are challenged once again to reflect upon what exactly we are preparing for. Are we preparing to celebrate Christmas in a more meaningful way? Are we preparing ourselves to allow the Savior of the World to guide our lives more perfectly? Yes, and much more. We are preparing ourselves for that new creation of heaven and earth of which the Book of Revelation speaks. We are preparing for a time of peace and harmony among all of creation to regain that original blessing which was from the beginning.
There is a difference between an imagined future and an imaginary future. An imagined future is one that guides the decisions of our lives, knowing that whatever we decide will either enhance or diminish the possibility of that imagined future. Certainly, for the Christian, the imagined future is spending eternity with the Lamb seated on the throne along with all the others who are a part of that great cloud of witnesses. But our journey is not one that is walked alone; we are a member of that community who professes our belief in the covenant that God has made with us. Thus, whatever decisions we make along the way will not only benefit or detract us from achieving that imagined future but will also benefit or detract from the rest of creation for that imagined future.
If the future is only imaginary, then it doesn’t make too much difference in what we do. After all, that which is only imaginary is not real; it exists only in the mind of the one who imagines it. Also, if the future is only imaginary, there is no real commitment necessary to achieve it.
Jesus Christ had an imagined future: that they may all be one. For this imagined future to take on a life of its own, Jesus gave us instructions in order to achieve this imagined future. It is primarily contained in Chapter 5 and Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel. When we integrate the principles and attitudes of those two chapters, the imagined future will be ours. St. Gaspar had an imagined future: that everyone would experience the saving power of the Blood of Christ. These two imagined futures are now in our hands.
If we believe these two imagined futures are only imaginary; well, then life will go on and we will see our life as divorced from all others. But if we make them our own imagined future, then we will set out on a course that can and will change the world into the reign of God. Advent is the season to decide: what is our imagined future and are we willing to commit to living a life that will make it happen?
“The First Thanksgiving, 1621” was painted by Jean Leon Jerome Ferris between 1912 and 1915. Historians note that the scene depicted here is not historically accurate. The clothing worn by the Pilgrims is incorrect, the Wampanoag did not wear feathered war bonnets, nor would they have been sitting on the ground.
by Dennis Coday, Precious Blood Renewal Center
A teacher who was a guest on a National Public Radio show on November 24th described a scene I could remember from my childhood and my children’s elementary days too. Michelle Portera, an 18-year veteran teacher described how she used to celebrate Thanksgiving in her first-grade classrooms:
You make the Native American headdress, and you make a medallion with your Native American name on it and put beads on your shirt and make all those fun things — and the turkey activities. And then you would have a day where you dressed as pilgrims and Native Americans.
I vividly recall making those construction paper pilgrim hats and Indian headdresses. I remember my children bringing home these same creations, almost as if their teachers and mine had used the same patterns. It left us with good feelings, pride even, about the founding of our nation: stalwart Pilgrims who overcome the odds, surviving and then thriving.
But as Portera continued her story on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, she also admitted to a nagging feeling she couldn’t shake: “I didn’t feel like we were teaching truth.”
What most school celebrations of Thanksgiving ignore or at best gloss over is that the Pilgrims were colonizers, intent on taking land away from the Native People’s whose home this was before the landing on Plymouth Rock. In a few short years, the European newcomers would use all means available to kill Native people, up to and including giving them blankets infected by smallpox and drive them from the land. It is an ugly chapter of our national history.
The rest of the NPR program talks about how teachers are adapting their lesson plans to better reflect the reality of the roots and consequences of that first Thanksgiving.
As I was thinking about all these things, I ran across a couple of news stories about a satirical play by Native American playwright Larissa FastHorse called “The Thanksgiving Play.” The premise of the play is, as described by Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty, “Four adults [are] on a difficult progressive mission … to devise a Thanksgiving pageant for an elementary school that will pass muster with today’s unforgiving standards. … [They are] determined to pull off an unobjectionable Thanksgiving commemoration in which no animals will be slaughtered and no Native people will be demeaned.”
FastHorse, a Native American playwright whose work has challenged blind spots in America’s historical narrative and cultural presumptions, isn’t setting up straw men. The disagreements and spats among the characters reveal entrenched conflicts and prejudices that continue in a sanitized form the Pilgrims’ erasure of indigenous reality.
“The Thanksgiving Play” incorporates as interludes skits that are taken from actual lesson plans and classroom ideas for Thanksgiving activities posted by teachers on Pinterest. The casual racism, exhibited in silly songs and playful reenactments, would defy credulity were it not so deeply ingrained.
Reexamining our relationship with Native Peoples was the focus of a program, Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Hope, Precious Blood Renewal Center hosted in October. Participating in that program opened my eyes to how the dominant culture shapes – distorts – history. History, as they say, is written by the victors. The program left me with a nagging question: What can we do about this history of injustice?
Why should this matter to us? Precious Blood Father Robert Schreiter has written that a foundational task in the work of reconciliation, a key component of Precious Blood spiritualty, is the healing of memories; this is a first step toward reconstructing societies riven by violence and conflict and crucial to creating safe and hospitable spaces in which the work of reconciliation can take place.
Undoubtedly part of the healing of memories — especially when it comes to reconciling our relationships with Native Peoples — is discovering the truth of the past. Because our Thanksgiving traditions have perpetuated false narratives about our relationships, this time of year is probably an ideal time to do this.
Adults interested in a clearer history may want to look up Howard Zinn’s classic A People’s History of the United States or, a book that I recently finished by Harvard historian Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States, which has just come out in paperback. For kids, one of the teachers on the NPR show suggested these books: Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Smith, When We Were Alone by David Robertson and The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp.
But we would all benefit from learning more about our particular situations. What do I mean by “our particular situations”? I mean this: Do you ever wonder about the people who occupied the land where we now live? How many of us know who those people were and what they were like? Part of healing a memory is bringing it into clear focus.
A good exercise for this time of year, then, is learning as much as we can about the Native People who had stewardship of the land we now occupy.
I live in Clay County, Missouri, which is also where the Precious Blood Kansas City province has been headquartered since its inception. Did you know that the official, marked Lewis and Clark Trail runs along Pleasant Valley Road, which forms the northern boundary of the Precious Blood property in Liberty?
This is what I have learned of the people who lived here before us:
The Nebo Hill archeological site near Excelsior Springs, Missouri, has revealed evidence of a culture that flourished here between 3000 and 1000 B.C. These people were the predecessors of the Kansas City Hopewell peoples who lived along what we call the Missouri and Kansas Rivers between 100 B.C. and 700 A.D.
The Hopewell peoples, living in oak and hickory forests were hunters and gatherers, but established permanent villages. They also traded extensively. Archeologists have found in Missouri sites volcanic rock from the Yellowstone, copper from Lake Superior, and shells from the Gulf Coast.
But the stewards of this land when Europeans began their migration to North America were a tribe who called themselves the Niutachi, which in their language, Chiwere-Siouan, meant “People of the River Mouth.” Because of misunderstandings and bad translations, when French traders encountered the Niutachi in the late 17th century, they dubbed them “Wemihsoori” or “Mihsoori,” roughly meaning “people of the wooden canoes.” The name stuck and the Niutachi became the Missouria. (A Catholic footnote to this story: It was the Jesuit missionary priest Jacques Marquette who recorded the name wrong.)
Writing in Missouri Life magazine, Ron Soodalter describes their life:
The Missouria were hunter-gatherers who spent time farming. Semi-nomadic, they would plant their crops — beans, corn, squash — in the spring … leave their villages to go on extended buffalo hunts throughout the summer, and return to harvest their crops in the fall. The fullness of their larders reflected the bounty of their crops, the availability of various species of nuts and fruit, and the success of the hunt.
The Missouria lived in frame dwellings of various types. Some were covered in woven reeds or rushes; others were overlaid with slabs of bark. Some of the lodges were elliptical in shape; others were round.
According to Michael Dickey, site supervisor of Arrow Rock State Historic Site, the Missouria were deeply spiritual and monotheistic, worshipping Waconda, the Earth Maker or Creator. (I found one reference that called the Creator Maun.) The clan, the extended family, was the basic societal unit. While men were polygamous, the women were allowed only a single partner. The women, however, owned the clan lodges and all the possessions therein. While they followed strict gender roles, boys and girls were equally valued in the family.
When the Niutachi and the French met, the tribe numbered some 10,000 members and dominated the territory north of the Missouri River in present-day Missouri. But by 1804 when the Niutachi, met Lewis and Clark at the outset of their Corps of Discovery Expedition, Clark referred to them as “once the most powerful nation on the Missouri River” and reported only about 400 members. Their contact with Spanish, French and American traders exposed them to infectious diseases, especially smallpox that decimated the tribe and made them vulnerable to their traditional enemies, the Sac and Fox. To survive, the Niutachi merged with their close relatives the Otoe around 1790-1800. Together they maintained their territory, but that would not last.
Settlers from the east seeking rich farmland coveted the traditional lands of the Otoe-Missouria people. They fought to keep their land, but the settlers came in multitudes. By 1855, native people and white settlers were in open warfare and the U.S. government intervened, sending troops to confine the Otoe-Missouria to the Big Blue River reservation in southeast Nebraska.
Their tribulations did not end there, however, as the history page on the Otoe-Missouria tribe’s website attests:
Life on the Big Blue Reservation was hard. The tribe was not allowed to hunt for buffalo. The government encouraged a shift from a migratory lifestyle to an agrarian one without consideration of long-established tradition or social structure. For years the tribe watched as acre by acre of their land was sold off by the government to non-Indians. They suffered as treaties were broken and food, medicine, livestock, and basic essentials were not delivered as promised. Sickness was rampant, children starved and the mortality rate climbed higher year after year. In 1881 they were moved to Red Rock, Oklahoma, where the tribe is currently located.
Theirs is the land we claim for ourselves now. What can we do about it now? FastHorse has said, “To acknowledge indigenous culture and history in this nation, we have to acknowledge complicity. And that if you’re here, you’re on stolen land, however you got here.”
If we are about the work of reconciliation, it seems to me that the first and least thing we can do is learn as much as we can about the people who walked here before us.
McNulty, Charles. “Review: The politics of Thanksgiving, served up as lukewarm satire.” https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2019-11-07/thanksgiving-play-geffen-playhouse-review
Mosley, Tonya and Allison Hagan “In ‘Thanksgiving Play,’ Native American Playwright Larissa FastHorse Tackles ‘Wokeness’ ” https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/11/26/thanksgiving-play-larissa-fasthorse
Otoe-Missouri Tribe. “Otoe & Missouria: Five Hundred Years of History” https://www.omtribe.org/who-we-are-history and https://www.omtribe.org/who-we-are-history-facts.
Peace Studies, University of Missouri. “Otoe and Missourias Tribes” https://peacestudies.missouri.edu/di/tribes?q=di/otoe-missourias
Peace Studies, University of Missouri. “Alternative narrative from the perspective of the Otoe and Missouria tribes” https://peacestudies.missouri.edu/di/tribes?q=di/counter
Precious Blood Renewal Center. “Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Change” https://www.pbrenewalcenter.org/blog/2019/09/roots-of-injustice-seeds-of-change/
Schreiter, Robert. “Theology of Reconciliation and Peacemaking for Mission,” https://preciousbloodspirituality.org/spirituality-and-theology/preparing-missionaries-be-agents-reconciliation-and-peacemaking
Soodalter, Ron. “The Tribes of Missouri Part 1: When the Osage & Missouria Reigned” https://missourilife.com/the-tribes-of-missouri-part-1-when-the-osage-missouria-reigned/
Weekend Edition Sunday, National Public Radio. “Teaching Thanksgiving” https://www.npr.org/2019/11/24/782403538/teaching-thanksgiving
August 15, 2018
“Be especially concerned for the poor, particularly those most in need and deprived of every comfort.”
Dear Members, Companions, Volunteers, and Friends,
Blessings as we celebrate the feast of our founding 203 years ago! As we recall our father Gaspar’s passion for the poor and those on the margins of society, we also recall on this Feast of the Assumption our Blessed Mother’s focus of faith. As her Magnificat boldly proclaims, Mary had a heart for the poor and outcast, the lowly and lonely, the hungry and hopeless, the vulnerable and the victim. Mary models for us what it means to be missionaries of renewal and reconciliation in a world filled with scandal, shame, and sin because God “has remembered his promise of mercy.”
The horrifying report from Pennsylvania yesterday documenting seventy years of clergy sexual abuse and cover-up by bishops and lack of care for victims; the recent resignation of former Cardinal McCarrick because of credible accusations of abuse; and the ongoing trials in Chile and Australia where the church is being held accountable for the sins of the fathers, has put the church once again in the eye of the storm and at the foot of the cross.
At times like these, I am reminded of a meditation the former Master General of the Dominicans, Father Timothy Radcliffe, wrote about the cross: “At the foot of the cross is born our family from which no one can be excluded.” We are all brothers and sisters and Mary, Woman of the New Covenant, is our Mother. We are not distant cousins or related through marriage once removed. No, the cross makes us brothers and sisters because “we share the same blood, the blood of the cross.” Father Radcliffe points out that to call another a brother or sister is not only a statement about the relationship we share in the new covenant, it is a “proclamation of reconciliation.”
Our work of reconciliation begins in the recognition of each person as a blood brother or sister. But as our mission statement reminds us, this recognition is reflected in our peripheral vision: “especially the poor,” meaning those who are most vulnerable, the victims of poverty, injustice, and abuse. As people born again in the water and blood that flowed from the side of Christ, our call is to recognize every person, regardless of ideology or ecclesiology, political viewpoint or religious affiliation, as brother or sister in the blood of Christ.
This is the standard of relationship that Pope Francis underscored two weeks ago when he declared, “The death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” In approving this change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis noted “there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes.” He challenged all in the Church to work for the abolition of capital punishment around the world.
Our Corporate Stance Against the Death Penalty echoes the Holy Father’s call to action: “Motivated by the Blood of Christ and called to be ministers of reconciliation…we encourage our priests, brothers and companions…to engage in activities which will end the death penalty in those states where it is still used and to work toward the goal of ending this type of sentence in our nation. Whenever and wherever it is deemed appropriate, we encourage our members to preach justice and mercy on behalf of the victim and perpetrator of such horrendous crimes.”
In the United States, thirty-one states still have the death penalty, although five of these are under a moratorium issued by a governor. Since 1976, the state of Missouri has executed 88 of our brothers and sisters. There is much work to be done to give witness to the words of Pope Francis and bring the light of the gospel to bear on all the issues that threaten the dignity of human life.
Our work of reconciliation begins in recognition of each person as a blood brother or sister—no exceptions. Like our founder, St. Gaspar, Archbishop Helder Camara of Recife, Brazil believed deeply that all the poor—the poorest of the poor—were his brothers and sisters. Father Radcliffe recalled that if Archbishop Camara heard that one of the poor “had been unjustly arrested, he would telephone the police and say, ‘I hear you have arrested my brother.’ The police would apologize and say, ‘We are sorry, your Excellency, we didn’t know he was your brother’ and release him to the archbishop. When the police would point out the person arrested did not have the same family name, the archbishop would say every poor person was his brother and sister.”
As we celebrate the courage of our founder to start a religious community dedicated to renewal and reconciliation in the blood of Christ, may we rededicate our efforts to promote the dignity of all human life as we recognize all peoples are our brothers and sisters. No exceptions!
With peace in the blood of Christ,
Joe Nassal, C.PP.S.