Category Archives: Religion

National Catholic Sisters Week 2018

Possibly I was too wrapped up in Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day to remember that March also heralds the special recognition of some of the strongest women of all.  I have just realized that this week, March 8-14, is also National Catholic Sisters Week

In the interest of sharing that time-sensitive message without delay I am taking the liberty of quoting the website description of this major initiative:

Created to honor women religious, it is a series of events that instruct, enlighten and bring greater focus to the lives of these incredible women. It’s our chance to recognize all they have done for us. It’s also our hope that as more young women learn about women religious, more will choose to follow their example. 

 National Catholic Sisters Week, a branch of National Catholic Sisters Project headquartered at Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisc., is headquartered at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minn., and is held in conjunction with Women’s History Month.

For a not-quite-recent update on today’s women religious this 2011 article in the National Catholic Reporter offers a brief history of the contributions of women religious to the history and values of this nation.

I am also taking the liberty of noting some past Poking Around posts that give a sense of the unique missions and roles of women religious in this region:

These posts are a minimal sampling of the myriad articles and books that reflect the leadership of individual women and communities of women religious in Minnesota.  In the interests of piquing the interest of readers, I presume to note just a smattering of the stories that record the work of strong committed women who have shaped the state’s health, education, political, social movements and intellectual life.

Minnesota Women’s Press has published several articles about women religious; following are links to just a couple:

A quick skim of MNOpedia disclosed these articles about women religious – there are, and will be, more but these offer a taste of the research that has been and needs to be undertaken, recorded and shared:

On my personal bookshelf I found these books that record the work of the women religious in Minnesota.  The shelf is tilted to the contributions of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet because the CSJ’s were my teachers throughout high school and college:

  • They came to teach; The story of Sisters who taught in parochial schools and their contribution to elementary education in Minnesota. Annabelle Raiche, CSJ and Ann Marie Biermaier, OSB. Published by North Star Press, St Cloud in 1994.
  • Eyes Open on a world: The challenge of change. A collaboration by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St Paul Province. Published in 2001 by North Star Press, St. Cloud.
  • On Good Ground, The story of the Sisters of St. Joseph in St. Paul. by Sister Helen Angela Hurley. Published by the University of Minnesota Press, 1951.

By any measure this is a sadly incomplete listing.  My last-minute effort is to share the message that we are now celebrating National Catholic Sisters Week.  Much more important, this post is intended to spark and encourage scholars’ interest in learning and share more stories.  The archives of the religious communities and academic institutions (of which there are many!) are robust, meticulously preserved, and open to serious students of the history of these too-often under-recognized powerful women of faith and vision.

I am interested in and will post other publications – please share ideas, suggestions, stories and publications that fill in the gaps in the role that women of strength and wisdom have played of Minnesota’s and the nation’s history.

National Catholic Sisters Week, March 8-14 2018


Smithsonian to focus on nation’s religious history

The day is gloomy, the political news is disquieting, the World Series is touch-and-go and the world is holding its collective breath. Of course, it’s Halloween!

In an unsteady world, there is solace and wisdom in the historic record. So today I’ve found refuge in celebrating the final day of National Archives Month with a most welcome announcement from no less a source than the Smithsonian Institution!

Good news indeed. For the first time since the late 19th Century the Smithsonian has named Curator of American Religion History. He is history of religion scholar Peter Manseau ( who may have been predestined to the position by parentage as well as profession. In his new position, underwritten by the Lilly Endowment, Manseau will “lead a five-year series of events and exhibitions”, including a June 2017 exhibit on religion in early American life.

Speaking of the challenge he faces, Manseau observes “it’s the first time in generations that we look at religion in a holistic comprehensive way….taking a very broad view of religion in America, including and welcoming to all, without obstacles.” One of the earliest events under Manseau’s direction, scheduled for early next month, is a performance of the religious sounds the first Pilgrims may have made and heard coupled with the sacred music of the Wampanoag Native Americans.

It strikes me as worthy of note that Manseau’s appointment and the announcement of the Smithsonian’s attention to our religious heritage meshes with the opening of the Martin Luther exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams – they all have different names,

but they all contain water. Just as religions do – they all contain truths.

Muhammad Ali




MIA Exhibit Tells Story of Martin Luther, Art and the Reformation

The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship ~ Martin Luther

The capstone exhibition of National Archives Month 2016 for this region is undeniably the Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation exhibition opening the end of the month at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The exhibition features newly excavated objects that depict aspects of Luther’s personal life as well as Reformation and post-Reformation art. The Luther exhibit is traveling in this country for the first time. This commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses offers a once-in-a-millennium learning experience for this community.

Focus of the exhibition is Luther’s support of art as a tool for worship, teaching and propaganda. Of particular note are the paintings of Lucas Cranach the Elder who was inspired by Luther’s preaching to develop didactic and narrative paintings. In addition to paintings the exhibit offers numerous historical objects including sculpture, gold, textiles and works on paper, this last of particular note in light of Luther’s use of the newly invented printing press to share the written word.

Another aspect of the exhibition is representation of Luther’s personal life. The exhibition features archeological finds such as household goods and items found in his homes and studio; artifacts include original furnishings and precious gold and silver objects. The exhibition will also share examples of rarely seen 16th Century editions and a selection of 16th Century publications that offer insight into Luther’s intolerance of corruption and his concern for women.

The Martin Luther: Art and the Reform exhibition opens on Sunday, October 30. The opening day lecture explores “Learning about Martin Luther: How Archaeology Changed the Picture of the Reformer.” (2:00 p.m.) Additional lectures throughout the exhibition:

  • Martin Luther Art and the Reformation (Thursday, November 3, 6:30 p.m.)
  • An Artist during Times of Change: Lucas Cranach between Court, Church and Reform (Sunday, November 20, 2:00 p.m.)
  • Art Illuminating Human Rights: Muslim in Minnesota (Thursday, December 1, 6:30 pm)
  • Martin Luther’s Reformation impact on Nordic Europe: Finland and its evolution to independence in 1917 (January 14, 2:00 p.m.)

In conjunction with the MIA exhibition the Center for Austrian Studies at the University of Minnesota is sponsoring a robust series of programs. The series begins Wednesday, October 12, 7:30 p.m. with an introductory lecture by Thomas Rassieur, Curator of Prints and Drawings, Minneapolis Institute of Arts.   This will be followed by a second lecture by Andrew Pettegree, University of St. Andrews (Scotland) who will discuss “Martin Luther, the Reformation and the Making of a media Phenomenon” and a student tour of the exhibition itself. (

Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation will remain on exhibit at MIA through January 15. More information and updates may be found here:


Celebrating women religious as visionary agents of change

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.  Mahatma Gandhi

As noted earlier on this blog March 8-14 was National Catholic Sisters Week. At random moments during the week I struggled to think of how to write something about the week and about the role of women religious, their history, their contributions, their leadership the challenge to achieve social justice in so many fields. Try as I might I couldn’t focus on a general theme that encompasses the enormity and complexity of the narrative – or that expresses my personal experience. The common thread, I’m finally beginning to realize, is the ability and willingness of the women religious I’ve known to embrace change. Thus, post -National Catholic Sisters Week tribute:

The change among women religious that everyone remembers is the shift that most community members made from restrictive habits to modern dress indicative of their worldly role. While memorable, that change is but a clue to the substantive change within the minds and hearts of the Sisters.

What the visible change indicated, in fact, was manifestation of a far more profound change in the role of women religious, a change credited in a 2011 “Essay in Theology” by Richard McBrien, Professor of Theology at Notre Dame University.   In his essay on “Women Religious’ embrace of Vatican II change commendable” McBrien notes the several changes happening in the Catholic Church during the 50’s and 60’s; he specifically cites “abolition of outmoded customs, the modification of habits and increased attention the professional education of sisters.” As a consequence, McBride observes,

Vatican II urged religious communities to return to their biblical roots and their founding charisms and to develop a greater measure of engagement with the modern world. Women religious, however, responded with more energy, creativity and enthusiasm than church officials anticipated, to the chagrin of more traditional nuns and ultra-conservative Catholics – the very type of both constituencies that applauded, and even instigated, the recent investigation of U.S. sisters and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious….”

While McBrien focuses on the impact of Vatican II, my experience is far more personal and actually pre-dates his post-Vatican II reflections. What follows is a stream-of-consciousness collage of vignettes that remind me – and I hope illustrate — my story of a lifetime of experience with women religious who, as individuals and communities, have not so much responded to change but have taken the lead to make change happen.

Some personal memories and observations may illustrate a common theme:

  • As a wet-behind-the-ears freshman at the College of St. Catherine in the early 60’s my first major assignment was to write a paper-of-consequence on the topic “The Idea of Progress”, a mighty challenge. Though I’m sure the paper was painfully naïve, it shaped my frame of reference for life.
  • Later in my college years, still in the early 60’s, I recall a professor heading a bus tour to St John’s University to hear the controversial theologian Hans Kung, whom we found not only inspiring, but very handsome……
  • In my first grown-up job I led a national Catholic college student organization that joined the struggle for civil rights at the federal level, a role that involved hordes of youth in the struggle for equal rights. There it was often the Sisters who supported not only the cause but us ardent young protesters – of every denominational persuasion – who knew little of the how’s and why’s of the movement.
  • Again, during the 60’s I spent endless hours learning about the techniques of educational technology. It was not until I saw a brilliant Sister using computer assisted learning for a long-distance discussion of the depths of Thomas Merton’s writing that I understood the possibilities.
  • I had the same experience when I observed the leadership of women religious in revamping the health care delivery system. Women religious took a visible lead in the advance of alternative medicine, personal health responsibility, home and hospice care and other evolving efforts in the health care arena. Consistently, their focus was not so much on techniques but on human needs and possibilities.
  • More recently, as a staffer for a national open government advocacy coalition my job has been to reach out to other like-minded groups working in agriculture, environment, food, climate, health, to grapple with cataclysmic change. Whether it was sustainable agriculture or hunger, immigration or climate change I found women religious not in the headlines but in the trenches, seeing each issue as it relates to social justice.
  • Today hope for progress in a global context much of that hope is directed to the Millennium Development Goals. Again, women religious stand out as a united network committed to understanding and working to achieve those goals locally, nationally and globally. The quest for justice has inspired women religious of all ages and religious communities to share their knowledge and experience in the slow and steady struggle to make real the vision reflected in the MDGs.
  • Finally, as I have come to know the rank-and-file advocates of change in so many sectors, I have observed just how colleagues were educated by the Sisters and inspired by their willingness to assume personal and institutional responsibility as change-makers in the relentless reach for progress.

These are simply personal memories of the Sisters I have known as teachers, colleagues and visionaries, just a few facets of a beautifully complex history. Still, the lesson I learned many decades ago is that there are many paths to progress. As Martin Luther King reminded us, “human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

Film and Guide Offer Faith Perspective on GLBT Issues

Love Free or Die ( is the widely acclaimed film that depicts the story of Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal Bishop whose experience has ignited both church controversy and a call for faith communities to examine their own dogmas and attitudes.  Twin Cities area public libraries, in partnership with tpt (Twin Cities Public Television), will host a free screening of the film on Monday, June 3, 7-8:30 p.m. at the Merriam Park Library, 1831 Marshall Avenue, St. Paul.

The film is one in a series of films produced by PBS as part of the Independent Lens initiative, a national engagement program known as Community Cinema that pairs independent films with public discussions moderated by hosts from public television systems.

David Gillette of tpt will moderate a panel discussion featuring panelists Reverend Anita C. Hill, Regional Director of Reconciling Works (formerly Lutherans Concerned North America) and Reverend Bradley Schmeling of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.

The documentary is “about church and state, love and marriage, faith and identity – and openly gay Bishop Eugene Robinson’s struggle to dispel the notion that God’s love has limits.”

In a unique and superb support guide the filmmaker, Macky Alston, offers keen insights into life as the gay child/grandchild  of clergymen who struggled to open their minds to GLBT lifestyle.  The guide itself offers a robust introduction to the film, to Robinson and to difficult topics including Religious Teachings and Homosexuality, Changing Attitudes Over Time, Genetic Explanations of Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court Cases, What Science Tells Us, and much more.

The guide also includes suggestions for action that are particularly timely for the faith community.   Each of the topics covered is replete with links to additional resources for individuals and groups, including young people, who seek information and ideas within a faith construct.  The resource guide stands alone as a powerful tool.  It’s readily accessible on the Love Free or Die website.

Though I have not seen the film, I have immersed myself in the supplementary resource guide.  Based on that introduction I am totally impressed by the thought and study that imbue this project.  The background guide is a well-written, fair-minded treasure  trove of issues and links for further study and discussion.  It is a  readily accessible tool for any individual or group struggling to learn, discuss or simply come to grips with the complex dimensions of one of today’s most challenging social issues .  Bishop Robinson’s personal struggle reflects and informs the answers sought by virtually every faith community.


Native American Catholics Reflect on the Canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha



It is a peculiar irony that the most famous of all the Mohawks – arguably the most well-known nation of the Rotinonhson:ni (Iroquois) Confederacy – is a 17th century woman who, by her vow of celibacy, isn’t an ancestor to any of us.

Daren Bonaparte, A lily among thorns

 Minnesotans Know the Lily of the Mohawk – Kateri Tekakwitha

The canonization of Catholic saints is generally of interest to a devoted cadre of the faithful who have promoted the blessing of the Church on a pious soul who meets the rigid criteria for sainthood.  Though the event of the person’s canonization has a profound impact on the community of supporters, it is of minor consequence to the world, even the Roman Catholic world, at large.

The October 21, 2012 canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha does not fit the traditional mold.  It is, in fact, an occasion charged with unique political and religious aspects.

For Minnesotans the focus on the “Lily of the Mohawk” offers an occasion to reflect on both the political and religious aspects of a forgotten, if ever known, history and on the role of this simple woman whose life story is veiled by the complexity of the inherent symbolism.

Parishioners at the Catholic Church of Gichitwaa Kateri, the place of worship for many Native Americans as well as for the community at large. Many of the parishioners and advocates for Gichitwaa Kateri have been active in efforts to learn about and to promote the canonization of Kateri and to bridge the spiritual mores of the American Indian culture with the traditions of the Catholic Church – a challenge that has not been without an occasional – and painful – clash.

Following the process of Tekakwitha’s canonization with special interest are scores of American Indian women who know something of her legacy from their experience at Kateri Residence, a program of St. Stephen’s Church in South Minneapolis.  Kateri Residence offers a home and help with recovery that blends contemporary recovery methods with a focus on American Indian culture and spirituality.

Needless to say the American Indian community watches with interest and some ambivalence the process and impact of Kateri Tekakwitha’s canonization.  The challenge for all is to understand and assess the meaning of this unique blending – or the contradiction of trying to blend – Native American and Catholic/Christian traditions.

 The story:

Kateri Tekakwitha was a Seventeenth Century Algonquin Mohawk woman , member of the Iroquois Confederacy, born in 1656 in the Iroquois village of Ossemenonunder in what is now New York state.  She died just 24 years later in a Jesuit mission village near present-day Montreal.  Though stories of her short life are inconsistent, what is generally understood is that she was the eldest daughter of a Mohawk chief and a Roman Catholic Algonquin who had been adopted into the tribe after her Huron tribe was captured.  Kateri’s mother had been baptized and educated by Jesuit missions.

While Kateri was a young girl her family, including both parents, was decimated in a smallpox epidemic that left the orphaned girl with scars and impaired eyesight.  Her name meaning “she who bumps into things” speaks to her reputed poor vision. Because the Mohawk tribe followed a matrilineal kinship tradition Kateri was adopted by her maternal uncle.  Kateri’s early life brought her in contact with the Jesuits, for whom her adopted uncle had no time.  Nonetheless, at age eighteen Kateri met the Jesuit Father Jacques de Lamberville and began to study the catechism, the first step in her conversion to the Catholic Church.

Still a very young woman of 20 Kateri was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church in 1676.  Rebuked by some in her tribe she moved to the Jesuit mission of Kahnawake near Montreal, a sort of gathering place for converts, primarily women.  These women believed in self-mortification as a way to absolve themselves of their sins.  It was in this period of her impressionable young life that Kateri “took Jesus for her husband”, a decision that led to her subsequent reputation as the “first virgin among the Mohawk.”  The influence of the Jesuits is complex.  Some Native Americans argue that it negated her Indian roots, while others, including Mohawk leader Tom Porter, maintain that “she was raised mostly by our tradition, so her spirituality was mostly of the real old faith” adding that “I don’t look at it like she gave up her native believes. She added to her faith.”

Many suggest that it was Kateri’s life of self-mortification that led to her final illness and death in 1680.  She is buried at St. Francis Xavier Church in Cahnawake, Quebec, South of Montreal.

Soon after Kateri’s death the people of her community noticed a physical change.  The pockmarks changed so that one Jesuit observed that “this face, so marked and swarthy, suddenly changed about a quarter of an hour after her death, and became in a moment so beautiful and so white that I observed it immediately.   There were reports of individuals who claimed to see Kateri in the weeks following her death.

A chapel was built near her gravesite.  By 1684 pilgrimages had begun to honor her there.  Her physical remains were used as relics for healing.  The epitaph on her grave read “Kateri Tekakwitha – The fairest flower that ever bloomed among red men.”

All of these happenings were recorded by the Jesuits.   From earliest days the story of Kateri became a sort of bridge between Mohawk and European cultures.

Representations of Kateri Tekakwitha:

Many 21st Century Americans have learned about Kateri through architectural and literary depictions of her life.  As the wheels of the Vatican have ground slowly, the laity has not waited for the decision about her canonization.  Tekakwitha is already honored in three national shrines in this country – the National Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in Fonda, New York, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC and the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs, originally constructed to honor three slain and canonized Jesuits in Auriesville, New York.  The humble shrine at Fonda, New York, focuses on devotion to Kateri Tekakwitha.  A statue of Tekakwitha also stands outside the Basilica of Saint-Anne-de-Beaupre in Quebec and outside the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe and at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC.

Closer to home, visitors to the campus of St. John’s University in Collegeville will recall the Statue of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha on the Eastern shore of Lake Sagatagan.  The statue, installed on the tri-centenary of Kateri’s death, was a gift to St. John’s from St. Olaf parish in Minneapolis and its pastor, Father Leonard P. Cowley.  The statue originally stood outside the original St. Olaf Church before it was destroyed by fire.

A bronze statue of Blessed Kateri kneeling in prayer was installed in 2008, created by artist Cynthia Hitschler along the devotional walkway leading to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  One of the Bells of St. Mary at the Basilica in Minneapolis is dedicated to Kateri Tekakwitha.  The entering class this fall at the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute will be named after her.


The stories and the veneration of Kateri have endured over the decades.  In fact, the Catholic Church commemorates her feast day on July 14; along with St. Francis of Assisi she is honored as the patroness of the ecology and environment. The canonization is a long and protracted process that requires persistence on the part of the faithful and manipulation of an intricate system by the hierarchy.  In 1884, three centuries after Kateri’s life began, Catholics in the U.S. and Canada began the process for her canonization.  In 1943 Pope Pius XII declared her “venerable.”  She was beatified on June 22, 1980, by John Paul II.

A critical canonical requirement is the verification of miracles realized through the intercession of the saint-to-be.   In December 2011 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, part of the Vatican establishment, certified a second miracle.    This cleared the path to Kateri Tekakwitha’s canonization as the first Native American/First Nations woman to qualify for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

Numerous literary works depict the life and legacy of Kateri Tekakwitha.  Among the most important are Allan Greer’s Mohawk Saint – Catherine Tekakwitha and the Jesuits (2005) and Darren Bonaparte’s A Lily Among the Thorns: The Mohawk Repatriation of Kateri Tekakwitha. (2009These and other books and articles include references to the records of the Jesuits as well as descriptions of the miracles for which she credited as part of the canonization process.  The implications of this historic canonization will be interpreted in very different ways by Native Americans in particular, by Roman Catholics and by historians of this era.

For some Native Americans the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha is an attempt on the part of the Catholic Church to deflect attention from the reality of history, particularly the pain inflicted by the controversial boarding schools that separated American Indian children from their families and traditions during the late 1800’s through much of the 20th Century.  Some harbor deep resentment for the ways in which Christianity in general eroded their traditional culture and religion.

Others look to the potential of the interweaving of Christianity and Native religion as a positive development.  Thousands of American Catholics, including many of this nation’s 600,000 Native American Catholics, will travel to Rome for the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha.  For the faithful who are devoted to Kateri Tekakwitha the occasion speaks to a movement towards tolerance and integration between Native ways and Catholic traditions.   For Sister Kateri Mitchell, executive director of the Tekakwitha Conference located in Great Falls, Montana, Kateri’s canonization is an important historical moment; for Mitchell Kateri Tekakwitha “ is the face of our future church.”  For the faithful who worship at Gichitwaa Kateri in South Minneapolis the canonization of the first Native American saint is a time to reflect and pray.





Epiphany – Expanding the Customs

For reasons too numerous and too vague to recall, Epiphany, the Feast of the Three Kings, has always been a special day for me.  I love the story of the traveling Magi, the romance of fold, frankincense and myrrh, the charm of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and, most of all, the fact that the tradition in my family was to allow the Christmas tree to rein in all its glory till January 6 when it usually met a fiery, but glorious, end in the fireplace.  And then were was the hallowed rite of positioning the Three Kings in their rightful place on the manger scene.

Though customs differ by culture, those that endured in my family are heavily influenced by the Irish heritage, so those are the stories into which I delved in anticipation of Epiphany 2012.  Now I have more good reasons to celebrate January 6

In Ireland Epiphany is celebrated as Little Christmas because, on the Julian calendar, January 6 was the Feast of the Nativity.  By tradition Little Christmas is also Women’s Christmas (nollaig na mBan).  On Women’s Day the men presumably took on the women’s chores while the women socialize, go shopping, enjoy small gifts from family members, or just draw a deep breath after the holiday preparations – and school vacations.  In his classic work, The Year in Ireland: A Calendar, Kevin Danaher notes that the term “Women’s Christmas” is explained by the assumption that “Christmas Day was marked by beef, and whiskey, men’s fare, while on Little Christmas Day the dainties preferred by women – cake, tea, wine, were more in evidence.”

One delightful story about Little Christmas is recalled by Bridget Haggerty writing in Irish Customs and Culture.  “This was a very special occasion when the women would gather for what we’d call a high tea – with wine!  There are some who say that water turns into wine on this day in honor of the Magi, others who maintain the miracle occurs because it’s the Anniversary of the Wedding Feast of Cana.”

In Ireland today Epiphany is a holy day of obligation, a day when Catholic faithful are required to attend Mass.  Many churches throughout Ireland feature Epiphany processions with carols and readings, particularly stories that celebrate the Three Wisemen from the East.  In some communities families are invited to share unwanted Christmas gifts to share with those less fortunate – a more generous form of what modern Americans practice as “re-gifting.”

And so my holiday decorations will remain in place for another day, the Maji will arrive at the stable, and I will ponder a reasonable strategy for instituting the worthy custom of Women’s Christmas on this side of the pond.

Rose Ensemble Tours Minnesota

The twelve performers of the internationally renowned Rose Ensemble, based in St. Paul, have traveled the globe during their years of preserving and performing sacred and secular early music.  During this holiday season they will be sharing the riches of their voices and a thousand years of music with audiences throughout the state of Minnesota.

The music of the Ensemble brings to mind ancient chants, hymns, choral works and legends mingled with the Christmas story.  Spanning eight centuries, “Slavic Wonders” includes a 12-part Russian Orthodox motets written for Peter the Great’s Imperial Court Chapel Choir, powerful double-choir works from the Polish Renaissance, Czech-language medieval hymns and Ukrainian Christmas carols.

Their Minnesota schedule includes:

Friday, December 15, 7:30 p.m.        Mary of the Angels Chapel, 901 Franciscan Way, LaCrosse, WI  $25

Saturday, December 17, 8:00 p.m.     Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, 12650                                                                  Johnny Cake Ridge Road, Apple Valley, MN  $25

Sunday, December 18, 7:30 p.m.       Sacred Heart Music Center, 201 West 4th Street,                                                                  Duluth, MN  $25/$10 students at the door

Thursday, December 22, 7:30 p.m.    Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church, 1900 Wellesley, St. Paul $37, $27, $15

Friday, December 23, 8:00 p.m.        Basilica of Saint Mary, 88 North 17th Street, Minneapolis  $37, $27, $15



St. Nicholas Day – Learn, Celebrate and Share the Legend

Though in this country St. Nicholas Day, celebrated on December 6, generally gets short shrift, the feast, the stories and the traditions of St. Nicholas offer a sane alternative to rampant commercialism that prevails.  Whether legend or history, the stories that mark St. Nicholas and his Feast are filled with gentle care for children, a spirit of giving, even concern for young women in peril.

The saga of St. Nicholas has roots in the 4th Century when Nicholas was widely known as the Bishop of Myra, a See that is in modern-day Turkey.  Born a Greek into a wealthy Christian family in Asia Minor Nicholas was orphaned at an early age, reared by an uncle, and named to the bishopric before he was ordained (a detail soon remedied.)  He was known as a generous man who gave his substantial inheritance to the poor, the sick, orphans and other poor children.

Though stories of Nicholas abound, it is his generosity that is most honored in celebration of his Feast.  Catholicism, Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy as well as Lutheranism and Anglicanism recognize the sainthood of Nicholas.  Legends of his good deeds, and their symbols, are legion, including these key stories:

v    Nicholas is often represented by various symbols of the dowry he offered to save impoverished young women from being sold into slavery because their father could not afford their dowry.  The story is that Nicholas tossed the dowry money through a window where it landed in stockings left to dry near the fire.  The three gold balls (sometimes usurped as symbols of the pawnbroker) are the most prevalent of the act, though gold coins, money bags and orange or apples also symbolize his largesse.

v    The children in the tub point to Nicholas as the protector and patron saint of children, based on the story of his rescuing young children from various perils, some of which have a distinctly sordid element.

v    Nicholas was also venerated for his protection of sailors and ships.  That relationship is depicted by the symbol of a ship or an anchor.

v    This is a stretch, but it is said that the candy cane is actually a symbol of Nicholas’ crozier, the hooked shepherd’s staff that recognizes the bishop’s care of the flock.

The common thread of Nicholas’ generosity is the element of secrecy.  Stories of the gifts and other acts of kindness invariably incorporate the theme that all of the sharing was anonymous with a heavy emphasis on the element of surprise heightened by the fact that the treats arrived under the cover of night.  Gratitude was to be expressed not to the human donor but to the heavenly giver of good deeds.

Today the lore of St. Nicholas is celebrated in Central Europe, a highly Catholic region; many of the customs continue throughout Europe and in several U.S. communities, including Northeast Minneapolis and other areas in the Twin Cities, where residents trace their roots to the Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia and other Eastern European nations.  The Dutch of New Amsterdam carried the legend of St. Nicholas to the New World where the connection lives on in other American cities with significant German populations, such as Milwaukee, Cincinnati and St. Louis.  I

Throughout the world, families and institutions that hold with tradition, celebration of St. Nicholas Day on December 6 remains an honored custom.  By custom children set their shoes outside their bedroom doors on the evening of December 5.  If they have been good, they will find on the morning of St. Nicholas Day that their shoes have been filled with small gifts, candy, fruit and lots of love.

It was the influence of Clement Moore that transformed St. Nicholas into today’s Santa Claus.  From “jolly old St. Nick” to the stockings “hung by the chimney with care,” it is the legend of St. Nicholas that permeates “The Night Before Christmas”  — which henceforth assumed most of the traditions that historically typified St. Nicholas Day.

Lost in translation or with time and unfettered capitalism is the spirit of St. Nicholas, precursor of Santa Claus. December 6, an Advent feast, suggests that a dip into the legends of the season are well worth a bit of research and a few moments of reflection.  The stories add a meaningful – and delightful – aura to the holiday season.

Clipart by Gertrude Mueller Nelson

St Anthony of Padua High School – Northeast Minneapolis

A black and white picture of a class from St Anthony High School.(This article originally appeared in The Northeaster)

“Strong and strident women” is the memory that Carolyn Puccio has of her years at St. Anthony High School  Now a leader in the Sisters of St. Joseph Carondelet community, she is a proud graduate of St. Anthony which decades until it was closed in 1971.  At that time nearby DeLaSalle, operated by the Christian Brothers,  became a co-ed high school.

Unlike most of the Catholic high schools in the area St. Anthony High School was operated by the parish itself.  The original building still stands at 8th Street and 2nd Avenue Northeast where it houses one of the Catholic Eldercare sites. St Anthony High School was actually co-educational until DeLaSalle opened in 1900.

St. Anthony’s High School grew out of the parish of St. Anthony of Padua which was established in 1849.  In 1853 the Sisters of St. Joseph opened the school, which was known for a time as St. Mary’s Convent. The name change came when the school was merged with the parish school across the street some years later.  The new facility  which provided a home for the first church, the convent that housed the first parochial teachers in Minneapolis, continued to be known as St. Mary’s for many years. Though tuition was just fifty cents a month several of the young scholars were admitted free.  Receipts for 1854 were $197.58, with expenses at $203.70, leaving a deficit to begin the school year in 1855.  In his book Lighting New Fires, published by the National Catholic Educational Association, historian Michael Guera notes that “this item of information is of interest only to show how poorly and simply our predecessors lived, their wants were few and even those were supplied with difficulty; their spirit of self-sacrifice was great and their contentment in making sacrifices was still greater.

The first school had just five school rooms and a residence for the Sisters on the second floor. Sister Gregory LeMay, one of the original teachers, was the first Sister to receive the habit of the Sisters of St. Joseph in St. Paul. For most of its history St. Anthony was staffed almost entirely by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

St. Anthony, unlike most other high schools of the Sisters of St. Joseph, remained a parish-owned school.  Although the three year diploma offered at the high school for many years did not qualify students for college entrance, many students were admitted by taking entrance exams. At that time it was uncommon for young people to go to college, but most of the St. Anthony graduates did. In 1915 the building for St. Anthony’s High School was opened.  For decades it educated the young Catholic women of Northeast.

Graduates of St. Anthony of Padua High School have happy and amusing stories of their experience.  They agree that attendance at the school was “always a special advantage to families in the area.”  Graduates of St. Anthony of Padua elementary school were assured of admission to the high school.  They tell stories of threadbare blue jumpers  and blue oxfords commonly known as Happy Hikers, of playing basketball – and “usually losing” – against other Catholic girls’ schools in the Twin Cities, of dramatic productions in which boys from DeLaSalle were recruited to play the male roles.  1954 graduate Rose Vennewitz, now living in Fridley, remembers the experience of being checked out by the Sisters before going to the Prom.

One common memory is of the May processions to the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, constructed in 1947 and still a on the grounds of St. Anthony of Padua church.

Though the school is closed the spirit remains as countless graduates of St. Anthony continue to lead the Northeast community.