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Follow Sylvania Franciscans as they blog about living their mission of joyful service to all people. Each week you can read a new entry from the personal journal of a Sister and how she applies Franciscan values to her ministry and the impact they have on the community where she lives. If you like what you read, comment back. We’re always looking for a good conversation.

Illness Can Be an Opportunity to Test or Live Your Faith

By Sister Lois Anne Palkert, OSF

One year after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Pope John Paul II decided to create a World Day of the Sick to be celebrated on February 11, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.   The Pope had written a great deal on the topic of suffering and believed that it was very much a redeeming process through Christ, as he indicated in his apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris.

The feast of Our Lady of Lourdes was chosen because many pilgrims and visitors to Lourdes, France have reportedly been healed through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Fittingly, this is also our community feast, because we are known as the Sisters of St. Francis, Congregation of Our Lady of Lourdes, and a feast significant for Catholic Health Initiatives, the sponsor of St. Joseph Health System, where I minister in Texas.

The theme Pope Francis selected for this year’s World Day of the Sick is “Entrusting oneself to the merciful Jesus like Mary:  ‘Do whatever he tells you”.  The Pope uses the Gospel account of the wedding feast of Cana to provide a reflection for the celebration.  He sees the 24th World Day of the Sick as an opportunity for him to draw closer, to those who you are ill, and to those who care for them.

According to Pope Francis, illness, particularly grave illness, always places us as human beings in crises and brings with it questions that “dig deep.”   Our first response may at times be one of rebellion:  “why has this happened to me?”  We can feel desperate; thinking that all is lost that things no longer have meaning.

In these situations, the Pope acknowledges “faith in God is on the one hand tested, yet at the same time can reveal all of its positive resources. Faith offers a key by which we can discover the deepest meaning of what we are experiencing, a key that can help us to see how illness can be the way to draw nearer to Jesus, who walks at our side,  a key given to us by Mary, our Mother, who has known this way at first hand.”

Each time I visit patients in our rural hospitals in Texas I see and hear these words of Pope Francis reflected in the lives of the sick.  I will often hear a patient say “There are times when I feel sorry for myself and ask ‘Why me’ then I look around and see that there are others who are suffering so much more than I am.  I know that God is with me and will see me through this. “The lived faith of those who are ill is always a source of inspiration and edification to me.

Reflecting on his recent diagnosis and surgery for prostate cancer, Richard Rohr acknowledges that  “I realized that in the moments of diagnosis, doctor’s warnings, waiting, delays, and the surgery itself, I was fragile, scared, and insecure as anybody would be, but if I could stay with the full narrative all the way through, it was afterward that I could invariably see, trust and enjoy the wonderful works of God…After the fact, it is then much easier to know-really know – the patterns of divine love and faithfulness.”

“This experienced faithfulness can only morph into love for all those who might be elderly, infirm, suffering chronic pain, powerless, or even dying at this very moment.  The circle widens to all who care for them-for me-along with friends, nurses, doctors, family.  Right now my empathy for all human suffering has increased tenfold.  I know how much it hurts to hurt, how sad it is to be sad. When I wanted to feel sorry for myself the image of Syrian refugees flooded into my mind and heart.  My tiny bit of discomfort became a huge gift and opportunity, because it offered me a way to experience and to love communion with the fate and the state of all humanity.  I wonder if there is any other way to learn such things.”

Like Richard Rohr, for me, it is in the experiences of vulnerability, especially during an illness, that I learned and continue to learn the meaning of empathy and compassionate caring.

The Pope reminds us that even though the experience of suffering will always remain a mystery, “Jesus helps us to reveal its meaning. If we can learn to obey the words of Mary, who says “Do whatever he tells you”, Jesus will always change the water of our lives into precious wine.”

The Pope notes that at Cana the distinctive features of Jesus and his mission are clearly seen:  he comes to the help of those in difficulty and need.  In the course of his ministry, Jesus would heal many people of illnesses, infirmities and evil spirts, give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, restore health and dignity to lepers, raise the dead, and proclaim the good news to the poor—a mission and ministry that we all share.

The Pope goes on to point out that in the scene at Cana, Jesus relies on the cooperation of the servants.  Being a servant to others is “wonderful and pleasing to God.”  He asks that we have that same readiness to serve others, especially those in need. His hope is that every hospital and nursing home be a place of peace where those who are suffering experience the tenderness of God from those who care for them,

On World Day of the Sick 2016 as we celebrate our Feast day in our centennial year, rejoicing in 100 years of Franciscan presence and our response to serve in the ministry of healthcare, may we remember with gratitude each life we have touched with the tenderness of God’s mercy, healing and love.

  1. Re: Fond Memories

    Nice article-- I share many of those memories as a fellow-Detroiter and Boblo boat passenger. Readin

    --Sister Judy Z.

  2. Re: Keepers of the Faith

    Excellent blog--I love the connection of faith, women, and nature! Thanks for your reflection of an

    --Sr Julie

  3. Re: What I’ve Learned From My Move

    Well said!

    --Sr. Magdala

  4. Re: What I’ve Learned From My Move

    Well said!

    --Sr. Magdala

  5. Re: Our Tree of Life

    What a wonderful memory! And how things do come full circle!

    --Sr. Sharon Derivan

Meet the Sylvania Franciscan bloggers. We invite you to join us helping the Christian community commit themselves to works that reverence human dignity, embrace the poor and marginalized, and respect the gift of all creation.

Sister Lois Anne Palkert
Health and Human Services

Sister Lois Anne has had the opportunity to serve in a variety of ministries, initially as a teacher in Detroit and Toledo.  She transferred her teaching skills into formation ministry in Sylvania, then to Lourdes College where she was Director of the Lifelong Learning.  She then moved into parish ministry and served as a Director of Faith Formation and as a Pastoral Associate in two rural parishes in Minnesota.    From education she transferred to healthcare ministry and currently serves as the Director of Mission Services at St Joseph Regional Health Center in Bryan, Texas.

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Sister Julie Myers
Religious Life Reaching the Online Community

We are all called by God to be our best selves and to serve God in ways far beyond our imagining. Sr. Julie’s vocational  journey reflects this statement as she recently joined the team of A Nun’s Life Ministry—an online ministry where people come to the website and social media to talk about God, spirituality, prayer, community, ministry and more. Sr Julie’s ministry career has called her into service through Vocation Ministry and Sacristan duties for the congregation as well as Physical Therapist Assistant in an acute care/trauma hospital. 

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Sister Nancy Surma
Health and Human Services

Sister Nancy is a native of Detroit and was taught in grade school by the Sylvania Franciscans. Her early years were spent teaching and administering at the junior high and high school level. Life took a turn, as it so often does, and she served as administrator in four different Catholic colleges and universities, earning a doctorate in higher education administration along the way. She currently works for Sylvania Franciscan Health, the Sisters’ sponsored health and human service ministry, in the world of mission integration. Sr. Nancy lives with three other Sisters in a house that is filled with laughter and love.

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Sister Karen Zielinski
Health and Spirituality 

Karen J. Zielinski, OSF, is a Sylvania Franciscan who has lived with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) since 1975.  She writes, speaks and consults regularly on issues relating to spirituality and health. Her recent book, Hope and Help for Living with Illness (Franciscan Media) discusses chronic disease and coping strategies and is addressed to both caregivers and patients.  Karen also writes a blog on spirituality and wellness--Soul Sister-- for the National MS Society website.

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Sister Ann Carmen Barone

As Vice President for Mission and Ministry, Sister Ann Carmen Barone is responsible for developing consciousness of the Franciscan mission and for ensuring its implementation and integration into the community of Lourdes. Sister Ann Carmen also supports the other Vice Presidents and the President in their mission-related activities.

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Sister Nancy Linenkugel
Franciscan in the Marketplace

Sister Nancy Linenkugel has served in healthcare administration, education and leadership for the Sylvania Franciscans.  She is an accomplished cello player and a member of the Washington D.C.-based Medical Music Group, made up of doctors, nurses and medical professionals from around the country.  Sister Nancy is currently the chair of the department of health service administration and director of the graduate program in health services administration at Xavier University in Cincinnati.  She has served on the Sylvania Franciscan Leadership Team, was president of Chatfield College in Cincinnati, president and CEO of the Providence Health System and Providence Hospital in Sandusky, Ohio, and vice president of St. John Medical Center in Steubenville, Ohio.  

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Sister Sharon Havelak
Justice and Peace

Sister Sharon is an artist, educator and long-time peace activist, who currently oversees All Good Things, a store/gallery/gift shop featuring art by the Sisters, handmade soaps and lotions, and Fair Trade products.* She also serves as the coordinator of the Sylvania Franciscan’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation efforts, and teaches art history at Lourdes University. She keeps her creative juices flowing by painting on silk scarves.
* All Good Things gallery is located in our Sylvania Franciscan Village and many of the items are sold on our website.

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Sister Pam Nosbusch
Hospice Chaplain

Sister Pam is native of Hopkinsville, Kentucky.  She is a Chaplain with Gentiva Hospice in Nashville, Tennessee and is a Board Certified Chaplain with the National Association of Catholic Chaplains.  Previous ministries include Theater Arts and Music Education and Pastoral Associate in Catholic parishes.

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Patrick Mills
Spiritual Enrichment

Pat is a husband and father living in Sylvania, Ohio. He has worked many years for Owens Corning in Toledo and elsewhere. He leads programs there for recruiting and developing talent early in their career, primarily for engineering and operations. As Pat and his family moved around the country, he has been blessed to fellowship in Cursillo, Christ Renews His Parish, bible studies and liturgical music ministry. He presently serves on the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania Associate Advisory Board, Chairs the Associate Spiritual Enrichment Committee and is a member of the Expansion Committee for Feed Lucas County Children. Pat is a pilgrim on the journey.

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