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Sister Judy Oliver: Embracing the Mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph

When Sister Judy Oliver, SSJ, was a student at St. Hubert’s High School, she was taught by sisters from several religious orders, but for many reasons, the Sisters of St. Joseph appealed to her.

“I graduated high school in 1965 and worked for a year as a teacher. In 1966, when I entered (the order), I had already made contact with the sisters, and my great aunt was a Sister of St. Joseph,” she recalls. “In Catholic high schools in those days, you had all different kinds of sisters and a small population of lay teachers, so you had Sisters of St. Joseph who lived in one convent, there were 10 Sisters of Mercy, and they lived up the road, and so on.

“But there was something that was attractive about the charism and mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph that I think, for me, was a grace. I don’t know if, when you’re 18, you know that you’re being led by grace, but it really was a grace of invitation for the Sisters of St. Joseph, and as I’ve lived the vocation, I have found more and more that our charism and mission really do fit who I am and who I’ve become.” Continue Reading

News, People

Remembering Bishop Joseph P. McFadden

Bishop Joseph McFadden

Bishop Joseph McFadden, chaplain emeritus of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade, joined St. Thomas More alums in singing the school song.

Harrisburg Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, a well-known and loved member of Philadelphia’s Irish community before his upstate appointment in June 2010, has passed away. His death was announced today by the diocese. 

Bishop McFadden, who served as chaplain of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade, died unexpectedly while attending a meeting of the Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

We interviewed Bishop McFadden not long after his installation. He could not have been more gracious and down-to-earth. We’re grateful to have known him.

Here is the interview.

An “average Joe” is about to helm the Harrisburg Diocese.

Of course, Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Joseph P. McFadden is really far from ordinary. In naming him this week to become the 10th bishop of Harrisburg, Pope Benedict XVI surely must have recognized Bishop McFadden’s solid record of accomplishment.

McFadden has been a priest for 29 years, but he was someone special right from the word go. After a brief stint as assistant pastor of Irish St. Laurence Parish in Highland Park, Delaware County, he become administrative secretary to then Cardinal Krol in 1982. Less than 10 years later, he was appointed honorary prelate to Pope John Paul II—as a monsignor.

He later served as president of Cardinal O’Hara High School, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Downington and, in June 2004, auxiliary bishop under Cardinal Justin Rigali.

Not bad for a guy who grew up in St. Rose of Lima parish in West Philly, graduate of St. Thomas More, and high school basketball coach.

McFadden, contacted Friday just before he left to catch a flight to Rome, was characteristically humble when asked about his sure and steady rise. “For most priests the goal is to answer the call of God and to be of service to Jesus and the preaching of his gospel as a parish priest,” he said. “I don’t think a young man focuses on becoming a bishop. I didn’t. As bishop, a priest is still called to preach the gospel, but it means that you have responsibility of a larger flock, a larger group of people. when God gives you responsibility, you expect to have to answer to that responsiblilty. It’s one thing for an individual to open himself to the grace of God. It’s quite another thing to be responsible for shepherding other people in response to the same call.”

Throughout his rise to the top, Joseph McFadden apparently has not forgotten his humble roots, said Michael Bradley, director of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade, who has known him for a long time—including McFadden’s more recent service as parade chaplain and chaplain emeritus.

“He (McFadden) was president of Cardinal O’Hara when I was athletic director at Broomall,” said Bradley. “We knew of each each other for a long time. He went to Tommy Moore, and my dad went there. But we became close in the ’90s.”

Over the years, Bradley could see how much McFadden loved the Philly parade. The future bishop would march every year with the group from O’Hara. In 2007, when chaplain Father Kevin Trautner died, Bradley named him chaplain. That first year, McFadden spent some time providing commentary in the CBS3 booth. “They raved about him,” said Bradley.

What has appealed most to Bradley about this well-connected prelate, who in his time has tackled some nettlesome issues—including the closing of Cardinal Dougherty and Northeast Catholic high schools—is how down-to-earth he is. “I’ve always felt that he is a regular guy who became a bishop,” said Bradley. “He has an ability, when you’re talking to him, to make you feel like he’s your best friend.”

Bradley, for one, is not happy to see this best friend go. While acknowledging that McFadden’s promotion to preside over the Harrisburg Diocese is a great honor, Bradley wishes the Vatican had looked inside the Harrisburg Diocese to “hire from within. He asked, “Why can’t they get their own good guy?”

Philly’s “good guy” understands that his local friends might miss him. At the same time, he hopes he’ll be able to maintain at least some of his ties to the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade while forging new ties with the Irish-Americans of Harrisburg. “I would like to hope I can,” he said. “I love the Philly parade.

My parents, as you know, were born in Ireland. I’m proud of my Irish heritage. the parade has been such a great experience the last several years. It really has become a wonderful event in Philadelphia.”

People

Lorna Byrne: Blessed by the Angels

Lorna Byrne

Lorna Byrne

On a St. Patrick’s Day that began with Jimmy Lynn’s fabulous and noisy breakfast at the Plough & the Stars and was followed by a solemn and chilly commemoration at the Irish Memorial at Penn’s Landing, I couldn’t have foreseen the sacred and truly spiritual afternoon that would crown my day at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill. But that’s the wonderful thing about being Irish in Philadelphia on March 17th; you never know what the day will bring.

For me it brought Lorna Byrne, an Irish woman whose earliest memories are of the angels who have always been a presence in her life. Lorna sees angels the way most of us see other people; to her, these ethereal beings are a very solid physical manifestation. And, she assures us, every single one of us has our own guardian angel following us at all times.

It’s a comforting thought, and only one of the many encouraging messages that she has been chosen to share with the world.

As a young girl, her relationship with the angels meant she spent her days in almost a cocoon. They talked with her, she laughed with them, they even played hide and seek together. Her separateness from the world around her led to her being given a diagnosis of “retarded.” Lorna was born into a poor Dublin family in 1953, a time when anyone labeled as different in any way was automatically considered to be somehow mentally deficient. Teachers basically ignored her, and it didn’t help that she was actually dyslexic. Although the angels were adamant during those years that Lorna tell no one about them, they also revealed to her that one day when the time was right, she would write a book and share their existence with the world. At the time, Lorna laughed because her dyslexia meant that she couldn’t read and could barely write; she hardly felt she was the one who would write a book about anything. But as with everything the angels told her, they were correct in this, too.

She used to ask the angels, “Why me?” And their response was “Why not you, Lorna?”

This past Sunday, Lorna spoke to a crowd of more than 550 people who attended her free appearance at St. Paul’s, an audience made up of both those who had read her books and followed her for years, as well as others who came because they were hearing about her for the first time and wanted to learn more. The format took shape as a one hour interview, with Lorna being questioned by Rev. E. Clifford Cutler, the rector of St. Paul’s, followed by a 30 minute question and answer period with the audience. But it was the nearly two hours of blessings that Lorna stayed and gave to every single person who wanted one after the 90 minutes of interviewing that left those who had gathered there awash in a wave of peacefulness and tranquility.

The Archangel Michael gave Lorna the prayer that she recites in her blessings, and that she has had it printed on cards for the audience to take with them:

“Pour out Thy Healing Angels,
Thy Heavenly Host upon me
and upon those that I love.
Let me feel the beam of Thy Healing Angels upon me, 
the light of Your Healing Hand.
I will let Thy Healing  begin
Whatever way God grants it…Amen.”

Lorna’s messages are about love, acceptance, and being the best we can be during our physical time here on earth. The God she knows doesn’t have a single religion; His angels are gifts to everyone on earth regardless of the faith they follow. Here are some of the words she shared with those who joined her in Chestnut Hill:

“The angels have always been my best friends, my companions, my teachers,” she explained. “But I suppose the important thing to say to all of you is that each and every one of you, no matter whether you believe, or if you’re a skeptic, or what faith you have, or what religion you have…each and every one of you has a guardian angel that God has given you. And your guardian angel never leaves you for one second. So you’re never, never alone and you’re loved unconditionally.

“But I suppose the other thing is that the guardian angel is the gatekeeper to your soul, and I’m afraid you can’t throw that gift away that God has given you. You can ignore it, and you can do your best and deny it, but I am traveling the whole world and I have never seen any man, woman or child without a guardian angel, and it doesn’t matter what religion you are.

“So it is to be conscious and aware that you have a guardian angel and that has been one of the most powerful messages that has come out to the world since I have written the book, ‘Angels in My Hair.’ Angels, I have to say to you, are neither male nor female. Just sometimes they give a human appearance within themselves so we can recognize them. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t.

“And again, it’s to teach us that…material things are important, we do need material things. But they’re not the most important thing. And, if for some reason, your life, you know, creates a lot of material things, you’re actually meant to share them. Because you can’t bring any material thing with you when you die. Your soul brings no material thing whatsoever, just the love and all of the good things you have done. And even too the hurt and pain, but it’s not as if that hurt and pain at that moment is washed away, straight away, because when your guardian angel takes hold of your soul and brings it forward to come out of your human body, you know God is real. You know you are a spiritual being as well. And you know you are being reborn. And that is an important thing to remember. And that is one of the very strong messages in both books, that when you die it’s only your physical body that dies. You actually live forever.

“And, I’m afraid, God IS real, and so is your guardian angel and all those unemployed angels that are here as well, in hope that you will ask your guardian angel to allow an unemployed angel to help you within your life. And, to me that is fantastic. God is real. Don’t wait til the last moment of your life to realize that. Change the world for the better. We all have that opportunity…lots of adults say to me, ‘But my life is insignificant. I have done nothing.’ But your life is very precious, and the most important gift God has given you is to live life, and everything you do within your life is accountable. But everything as well is that you’re changing everyone else’s life every time you do good. Every time you reach out and help someone, even if it is just a smile. I always have to smile at the angels, you know.”

You can read more about Lorna Byrne at her website and order her books here as well.

People

Amazing Grace

Fiddler Kitty Kelly

Fiddler Kitty Kelly

Stand for a moment facing any of the tall stained glass windows at St. Malachy Church in North Philadelphia, and you’ll learn everything you need to know about its early history just by reading a few of the dedications:

“In Memory of Helen A. Devlin”

“Gift of John O’Neill”

“In Memory of George Kelly”

Founded in 1850 by Irish immigrants fleeing An Gorta Mor—the Great Hunger—the church that is now described as “a beacon of hope” on North 11th Street reflects the population of its present-day neighborhood, mostly African-American and Hispanic since the 1960s.

Sunday, all of the parish’s ethnic traditions came together in what organizers hope will become an annual event: an Irish Mass, complete with a bagpiper, a fiddler, a harpist—and, from one packed pew to the next, the green jackets of the city’s many Ancient Order of Hibernians divisions.

“Somehow in this little parish, there’s a beautiful blend,” said pastor Monsignor Kevin Lawrence during his homily. “A unity, if you will—a journey together.”

Later on, in the parish hall, the hospitality committee served up ham, cabbage, and potatoes, along with caraway-speckled, buttery slices of Irish soda bread—including at least one loaf baked by Monsignor Lawrence himself.

“I tried three different recipes until I found one I was happy with,” he laughed, as he sampled another baker’s bread. “It’s kind of like building community.”

Asked if Sunday’s Mass might be the first of many, Monsignor Lawrence replied enthusiastically. “Absolutely. I’d really love to see this become a tradition. We always look for creative ways to grow here. We have a long tradition of reaching out to the broader community.”

Parishioner, Hibernian, and Mass organizer Charlie McNulty concurred, saying he knew the AOH divisions would come through with strong representation. “I look forward to it happening every year.”

We have photos from the day. Watch our slideshow, above.

News

Amazing Grace

Fiddler Kitty Kelly

Fiddler Kitty Kelly

Stand for a moment facing any of the tall stained glass windows at St. Malachy Church in North Philadelphia, and you’ll learn everything you need to know about its early history just by reading a few of the dedications:

“In Memory of Helen A. Devlin”

“Gift of John O’Neill”

“In Memory of George Kelly”

Founded in 1850 by Irish immigrants fleeing An Gorta Mor—the Great Hunger—the church that is now described as “a beacon of hope” on North 11th Street reflects the population of its present-day neighborhood, mostly African-American and Hispanic since the 1960s.

Sunday, all of the parish’s ethnic traditions came together in what organizers hope will become an annual event: an Irish Mass, complete with a bagpiper, a fiddler, a harpist—and, from one packed pew to the next, the green jackets of the city’s many Ancient Order of Hibernians divisions.

“Somehow in this little parish, there’s a beautiful blend,” said pastor Monsignor Kevin Lawrence during his homily. “A unity, if you will—a journey together.”

Later on, in the parish hall, the hospitality committee served up ham, cabbage, and potatoes, along with caraway-speckled, buttery slices of Irish soda bread—including at least one loaf baked by Monsignor Lawrence himself.

“I tried three different recipes until I found one I was happy with,” he laughed, as he sampled another baker’s bread. “It’s kind of like building community.”

Asked if Sunday’s Mass might be the first of many, Monsignor Lawrence replied enthusiastically. “Absolutely. I’d really love to see this become a tradition. We always look for creative ways to grow here. We have a long tradition of reaching out to the broader community.”

Parishioner, Hibernian, and Mass organizer Charlie McNulty concurred, saying he knew the AOH divisions would come through with strong representation. “I look forward to it happening every year.”

We have photos from the day. Watch our slideshow, above.

News

“A Real Irish Mass”

St. Malachy’s is the scene of one of the area’s best Irish concerts every fall.

St. Malachy’s is the scene of one of the area’s best Irish concerts every fall.

St. Malachy Church boasts a largely African-American congregation today, but way back in 1850, when it was dedicated, the church provided food for the soul for Irish immigrants seeking escape from the desperation of the Great Hunger and pursuing a better life in Philadelphia.

So in Charlie McNulty’s view, it’s only fitting that the church, at 1429 North 11th Street in North Philly, play host to a “real Irish Mass.”

That Mass is planned for Sunday at 10 a.m., and McNulty, a longtime and proud parishioner, hopes a lot of you will be able to join in the service—and the hospitality at the school next door afterward.

“I’ve been going to St. Malachy’s for seven or eight years now. It’s just such a wonderful parish,” says McNulty. “I was there when Father Mac (John McNamee) was still the pastor, and after that with Monsignor (Kevin) Lawrence. They couldn’t have brought in a better guy. He really continues the mission of the church down there.”

McNulty is also an active member of Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 61 in Northeast Philadelphia. That fact heavily influenced his interest—with some gentle prodding from Parish Services Director Sister Cecille Reilly, SSJ—in hosting an Irish Mass.

“I thought it would be a good idea to start an annual Irish Mass to get some of the Hibernian divisions together,” McNulty explained. “St. Malachy’s is the perfect place to do it because it is, to the best of my knowledge, Philadelphia’s first famine church. “

St. Malachy also stood as a bastion of Catholic belief against members of the rabidly anti-Catholic “Know-Nothing” party in the mid-1850s. “The ‘Know-Nothings’ burned down Old St. Augstine’s. When St. Malachy’s was built, it was a fortress,” says McNulty. “When it was originally built, there were no windows in it for fear of something coming in the window and burning the church down.”

With that kind of back story, McNulty believes a Mass at St. Malachy’s should appeal to members of the AOH, a Catholic fraternal organization formed in the mid-1830s to help protect Catholic churches and other parish properties from harm.

What makes this Mass Irish? Primarily music. Much of the music provided during the Mass will come courtesy of bagpipers, a fiddler, and a harpist. But the get-together after the Mass should also appeal to local Irish. Plans for that lie in the capable hands of Monsignor Lawrence.

“I don’t know what Monsignor Lawrence has planned, but I’m sure it’ll be something pretty nice, though. Monsignor is great at extending Irish hospitality.”

Of course, you don’t need to have Irish blood coursing through your veins to attend the Irish Mass.

“The regular parishioners will absolutely be there, and they will love it,” says McNulty. “They love when the community is discovered and celebrated. This is an Irish event, but there’s always some kind of event going on, celebrating other cultures. They’re always well attended. And that’s the beauty of St Malachy’s.”

Arts

Drawing Inspiration

Susan Kelly Von Medicus

Susan Kelly Von Medicus, with an icon of St. Patrick she created for Ireland's Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

The morning is overcast, so available light is hard to come by. The only light in Susan Kelly Von Medicus’s studio comes from a few small table lamps that surround her studio workspace.

Well, maybe not the only light.

Compelling, Byzantine-style paintings of Jesus and the saints are everywhere you look, hanging on walls and lying flat on top of a couple of tables. Many are finished; others are works in progress. Finished or not, they are remarkable for the evident level of detail that goes into their making. Design elements such as saints’ flowing robes, bishops’ mitres, flowers and rolling waves, shine with deeply pigmented color. Precisely circular halos gleam with 22 karate gilding. Each image seems to cast its own heavenly light.

And that’s precisely the point, says Von Medicus, who has created hundreds of these sacred works. The painting of icons draws its inspiration from the stories of Jesus and the events of his time on earth, and from the lives of the saints. Icons are no mere paintings; the act of creation is a form of religious meditation and devotion dating back to the earliest days of the church.

“It’s just an entirely different practice from the Western tradition,” she says. “There are decorative aspects, but it (the painting of icons) is heavily rooted in church canon. Icons are meant to provide a window or a gateway allowing access to a connection point with the divine realm.”

This creative act of faith goes back a long time. Icons are copied from patterns or inspired by other, older graphic depictions. Originality isn’t the point. Neither is ego; in fact, icons are are left unsigned. What counts is a faithful replication of what has come before, following established conventions, says Von Medicus. “It’s like the medieval monks copying the gospels, with no artistic intent—like being a really slow Xerox machine.”

Everything about an icon has meaning. Icons are created on one side of a plain wooden plank. A base of clay is laid upon the wood, and paints overlay the clay base. The paints are mixed from all-natural materials such as marble dust, plant materials, and metals like lead and mercury. And there’s the gold, of course, a final touch overlaying the clay that gives the paintings their distinctive appearance, says Von Medicus. “Gold represents heavenly light. Gold comes from the explosion of supernovas,” Von Medicus points out. “It is indeed light from heaven.”

This symbolic ascension from the earthly to the divine is the hallmark of the tradition. Says Von medicus, “It’s a symbol of the unity of earth and light in the form of the divine Christ.”

For Von Medicus, one of six children of former Philadelphia councilman and Olympic medal winner Jack Kelly, the painstaking creation of icons is perhaps the most obvious manifestation of her lifelong love of art. Parenthood interrupted her artistic pursuits for a time, but circumstances changed when the kids were older. “I heard of an opportunity to study with Vladislav Andrejev (in 1991), founder of the Prosopon School of Iconology. He was in Philadelphia, doing a workshop” she says. “It seemed to combine my interest in art and faith in one endeavor.”

Lately, iconography has re-opened ties between her art and her family’s Irish roots—County Mayo, in particular.

In April 2011, she accompanied her cousin Prince Albert of Monaco on an official visit to Ireland, which included time in Mayo. While there, she struck up a relationship with Mary Gibbons of Newgrange Tours. Gibbons was extremely pleased that a Mayo man, Enda Kenny, had recently became Ireland’s Taoiseach (prime minister). Gibbons introduced Von Medicus to Kenny, and she commissioned a an icon to honor him.

What resulted is a lovingly crafted portrayal of St. Patrick approaching Croagh Patrick, Mayo’s legendary sacred mountain. Like any good iconographer, Von Medicus looked for prototypes from which to draw inspiration; she found many, and elements of those works have found their way into her rendering. Religious symbols are incorporated into the painting. For example, waves in the background represent Patrick’s arrival from foreign shores. The mountain, she says, signifies Patrick’s spiritual ascension. “I am trying to depict an active Patrick, striding across the land.”

One other significant Irish connection: From January to April 2013, Von Medicus will serve as artist in residency at the Burren School of Art on Ireland’s rugged West coast.

Even though she now teaches iconography herself and her work is displayed internationally and treasured by collectors, she still takes instruction from Andrejev. And she continues to find inspiration in her work. “It’s a wonderful way of learning complex theological stuff when you work it out on an icon.”

If you want to learn more about iconography—learn by doing, that is—Von Medicus is hosting workshops at St. Thomas Church, Whitemarsh. Workshop dates are Sundays, February 12, 19, 26 and March 4, 11, 18, 2012. To learn more, call the church at 215-233-3970.

Visit Von Medicus’s website at http://www.susanvonmedicus.com

News, People

Philly’s “Good Guy” Set to Become Harrisburg’s 10th Bishop

Bishop Joseph McFadden

Bishop Joseph McFadden, chaplain emeritus of the Philadelphia St. Patrick's Day Parade, joined St. Thomas More alums in singing the school song.

An “average Joe” is about to helm the Harrisburg Diocese.

Of course, Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Joseph P. McFadden is really far from ordinary. In naming him this week to become the 10th bishop of Harrisburg, Pope Benedict XVI surely must have recognized Bishop McFadden’s solid record of accomplishment.

McFadden has been a priest for 29 years, but he was someone special right from the word go. After a brief stint as assistant pastor of Irish St. Laurence Parish in Highland Park, Delaware County, he become administrative secretary to then Cardinal Krol in 1982. Less than 10 years later, he was appointed honorary prelate to Pope John Paul II—as a monsignor.

He later served as president of Cardinal O’Hara High School, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Downington and, in June 2004, auxiliary bishop under Cardinal Justin Rigali.

Not bad for a guy who grew up in St. Rose of Lima parish in West Philly, graduate of St. Thomas More, and high school basketball coach.

McFadden, contacted Friday just before he left to catch a flight to Rome, was characteristically humble when asked about his sure and steady rise. “For most priests the goal is to answer the call of God and to be of service to Jesus and the preaching of his gospel as a parish priest,” he said. “I don’t think a young man focuses on becoming a bishop. I didn’t. As bishop, a priest is still called to preach the gospel, but it means that you have responsibility of a larger flock, a larger group of people. when God gives you responsibility, you expect to have to answer to that responsiblilty. It’s one thing for an individual to open himself to the grace of God. It’s quite another thing to be responsible for shepherding other people in response to the same call.”

Throughout his rise to the top, Joseph McFadden apparently has not forgotten his humble roots, said Michael Bradley, director of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade, who has known him for a long time—including McFadden’s more recent service as parade chaplain and chaplain emeritus.

“He (McFadden) was president of Cardinal O’Hara when I was athletic director at Broomall,” said Bradley. “We knew of each each other for a long time. He went to Tommy Moore, and my dad went there. But we became close in the ’90s.”

Over the years, Bradley could see how much McFadden loved the Philly parade. The future bishop would march every year with the group from O’Hara. In 2007, when chaplain Father Kevin Trautner died, Bradley named him chaplain. That first year, McFadden spent some time providing commentary in the CBS3 booth. “They raved about him,” said Bradley.

What has appealed most to Bradley about this well-connected prelate, who in his time has tackled some nettlesome issues—including the closing of Cardinal Dougherty and Northeast Catholic high schools—is how down-to-earth he is. “I’ve always felt that he is a regular guy who became a bishop,” said Bradley. “He has an ability, when you’re talking to him, to make you feel like he’s your best friend.”

Bradley, for one, is not happy to see this best friend go. While acknowledging that McFadden’s promotion to preside over the Harrisburg Diocese is a great honor, Bradley wishes the Vatican had looked inside the Harrisburg Diocese to “hire from within. He asked, “Why can’t they get their own good guy?”

Philly’s “good guy” understands that his local friends might miss him. At the same time, he hopes he’ll be able to maintain at least some of his ties to the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade while forging new ties with the Irish-Americans of Harrisburg. “I would like to hope I can,” he said. “I love the Philly parade.

My parents, as you know, were born in Ireland. I’m proud of my Irish heritage. the parade has been such a great experience the last several years. It really has become a wonderful event in Philadelphia.”