By Phillip Jordan
To be a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ), means making a lifelong commitment to a radical concept — a charism of unifying love. The beauty of the idea is that “unifying love” can be advanced in many different ways.
Sister Anne McMullen says the charism is about “finding God in the other person. It’s respect for the dignity of people and empowering people to bring out their gifts.” Sister Pat Krommer ‘57, ‘67 MA says the charism “opens a person to the enjoyment of people. It’s community building.” Sister Callista Roy ‘63 boils it down to this: “It’s the spirit and soul that directs us.”
Shannon Green, director of the University’s CSJ Institute — which seeks to advance the mission and history of our CSJ founders — interprets the sisters’ charism this way: “Everybody belongs and everybody has a place. That God’s love is all-inclusive.”
Green has a keen insight into the sisters’ thinking. Over the past two years she has interviewed 55 sisters, producing more than 100 hours of footage — including the quotes above — that have been transcribed, indexed and made available to University faculty and students interested in researching the sisters’ lives, ministries and history.
The CSJ Oral History Project is a collaboration between the CSJ Institute and the Mount’s Department of Film, Media and Communication. Already, the project has produced 14 videos that reveal how the sisters entered religious life, how their community has evolved through the years, and what inspired them to create ministries focused on social justice and human rights, education, healthcare, domestic abuse, refugees and victims of human trafficking, prison reform, homelessness, peacebuilding and more.
The newest videos released this summer feature sisters’ involvement in education, leadership and service, including a video spotlighting Sister Clare Dunn, the first and only CSJ to serve as an elected official. Going forward, the Institute plans to create one or two short documentaries a year, highlighting the sisters’ various ministries.
The videos also capture moments of levity and joy, revealing the personalities, humor and humanity of the sisters. In a video introducing the project, behind-the-scenes footage shows the sisters preparing for their interviews, including having their makeup done by a professional stylist.
“The last time I did makeup was for my high school prom,” Sister Celia DuRea ‘63 says in the video, laughing. “Senior prom, that was it!”
This is an invaluable project for a University where sisters have served as students, alumnae, presidents, trustees, professors, staff members and mentors. The project carries a sense of poignancy and urgency, too. As Green notes in one video: “We don’t have many sisters working at Mount Saint Mary’s University anymore. The average age of our sisters is around 80. This means it’s time to hand this mission and charism on.”
Thankfully, the sisters have long engaged partners in their work, like Mount Saint Mary's, who are ready to carry the mission forward.
“Our charism is living through the people that are here with us, who celebrate their gifts through the work they do with our sisters,” Sister Celia says in one video. “Even if our community doesn’t make it through time, our love of God and our love of the dear neighbor will continue, through you. And I am very grateful.”
“We are part of the sisters’ story,” Green says. “This mantle is being handed on to all of us — to advance the mission, to advance the charism, to serve all without distinction, to prepare for that ‘more just future’ the sisters have fought for.”
Get a look at the MSMU filmmakers who have brought to life the CSJ Oral History Project. Read our Mount Magazine feature, "Behind the scenes."
To watch the videos created by the CSJ Oral History Project, visit our playlist on Mount Saint Mary's YouTube channel. Each interview from the CSJ Oral History Project has also been transcribed, in full, and is available online through the Mount Archives.