Friday, October 31, 2008

Glimmers & Glimpses of God: The Faith Journey of Franciscan Sister Tina Still


With neither a comment nor a comma, Franciscan Sister Christine (Tina) Still rattled off the names of all nine kids in her family. The closeness of the names was a sure give away to the tightness of this Seattle area clan whose oldest daughter celebrated her silver (25th) jubilee as a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia recently. Nearly one hundred members representing Sister Tina’s multiple families—her family of origin, her family of Franciscan sisters, her parish family, and her family of ministry—converged upon the historic St. Anthony Chapel of Holy Spirit Parish in Kent, Washington for the day-long celebration on October 24.

I was delighted to be the homilist at Sister Tina’s jubilee— I had worked with her as well as Sister Patti Novak, osf, for several years in vocations efforts in the Northwest. I admired both sisters for their positive attitude and invincible ‘can do’ spirit. But most importantly, I liked them for their complete dedication to religious life. As Tina put it quite matter of factly: “I wanted to serve the God I love. And so I did.”

We Franciscan men can learn a great deal from our sisters—from their faith, their calling, and their approach to the charism we share. We hold to a common heritage and spirituality—and a common vocation to serve the poor and marginalized in the name of Jesus. In speaking with Sister Tina about her own vocation story, I found a great deal which I believe can inspire others, both women and men, in their discernment of God’s call to deeper faith and service:

Tina’s story and journey are about the “glimmers and glimpses” of God she has experienced throughout her life. As a child growing up in a Catholic family and neighborhood, she was influenced by the religious sisters who taught at her school: “I watched their lives, their simple joy. How they communicated with each other. I really enjoyed their great sense of humor—they were Irish like me!—and their gentleness. The way they cared for each other.”
As a young girl, Tina also received “glimpses and glimmers” of God’s call through the inspiration of literature—most especially in the biographies of people she admired. Learning about the lives of Helen Keller and Louis Braille inspired her to become a teacher of people with disabilities. Reading about the lives of Sts. Francis and Clare of Assisi brought her to a life of service as a sister: “The Franciscan spirituality connected my heart and soul…. I realized that this was the best way for me to serve God. It’s at my core; it’s who I am.”

Tina’s path led her to enter the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, a community of some 650 religious women formed in 1855 by Maria Anne (Mother Mary Frances) Boll Bachmann and established with the assistance of Bishop John Neumann. The community’s mission statement reflects both its historical roots and contemporary commitment: “Claiming our identity as prophetic Franciscan women and opening ourselves to God’s radical hospitality, we move forward communally and personally by choosing to live more deeply, intentionally, and hospitably into the truth of our mission statement.” The sisters work in a wide range of apostolates throughout the US and internationally, seeking out and serving the poor and marginalized.

It was into this milieu that Sister Tina brought her own gifts and desire to serve God and others. Today, a quarter of a century later, she can look with pride on the ways she has been led and formed to serve. Early on, she obtained a Master’s degree in adapted Physical Education—a professional training which has put her in good stead. In addition to various teaching assignments in Catholic schools throughout the Northwest, Tina has given every one of her summers since 1988 to serving chidren with disabilities at the Mount Hood Kiwanis Camp at Mount Hood, Oregon.

So how does the journey look after twenty-five years? “Things have changed a bit, but the basics remain. When I first entered community, I was just like Francis. I wanted to ‘rebuild the Church’, but I wasn’t exactly sure how. I feel like I have a deeper understanding of my commitment now…. For Sister Tina, the values of ministry and community are intertwined. At present, she shares a modest home with another Franciscan sister, but will soon be moving into a larger community in an apartment-style setting. The living situation, though, has been less important than the relational aspects of religious life: “I am so grateful to the sisters who have ‘companioned’ me,” she reflects. We have an area chapter of 11 sisters up and down the Pacific coast. We get together and keep in touch. Our discussions have come from such a diverse place—we are all so different in terms of age, ministries, and background. But my sisters have challenged how I look at things. Not just decisions I make, but how we live our lives…. They challenge me to ask myself time and again: ‘What am I willing to sacrifice to meet the needs of one of my sisters?”

Sister Tina’s respect and affection for the other sisters in her community was evident. But I decided to test her just the same. Could she rattle off their names with the same speed and alacrity as she did with those of her own family members? You betcha!:


So there!//

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