by Sheryl Lynn Sochoka (firstname.lastname@example.org)
There would not be a Marywood University without the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Built by women of courage and spiritual fortitude, the IHM Sisters are known for stepping forward into unknown territory, relying on the Spirit, and beginning something new. As Marywood approaches its Centennial, there are many opportunities to carry forward the IHM spirit and embrace the University’s Catholic Identity. The IHM Associate Program is a powerful way for the Marywood community—faculty, staff, and alumni—to step forward in faith, much like the pioneering Sisters who started it all. Some already have.
Preserving the IHM Heritage
There are fewer vocations to religious life than in past generations. This reality, while sobering, does not have to alter the vision, mission, and values at institutions like Marywood. It just means that these cherished tenets must be carried forth by others. The spiritual fire of many congregations, including the IHM Congregation, is being renewed through associate programs with the laity. IHM-sponsored institutions and other ministries served by the Sisters are wellsprings of this spiritual energy.
Becoming an IHM Associate is about relationship; it is an invitation, a universal call to intentional holiness, guided by the IHM’s distinct charism—“to proclaim the Good News of God’s unconditional love for all.”—that has shaped Marywood’s Catholic Identity for nearly a century.
Referring to Marywood’s approaching Centennial, Sister Jean Louise Bachetti, IHM, Director of the IHM Associates and a Marywood Trustee, observes, “Since IHM Associates are an extension of the IHM spirit and charism, members of Marywood’s community who become Associates will be imbued with that pioneering spirit of the founding Sisters and those who now continue the legacy at Marywood. While fewer Sisters will be able to staff Marywood University in the future, the IHM spirit has the potential to grow and live on for years to come through Associates.”
This Spirit-led endeavor is steadily growing. It’s also relatively new territory for the IHMs themselves, started less than a decade ago in Scranton. Presently, there are 122 associates and aspiring associates in Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida, and Peru.
In 2004, Sister Jean Louise stepped forward, across the threshold of faith, to respond to a request from Sister Mary Persico, IHM, then President of the IHM Congregation.
“She asked if I would develop a formal associate program for the Congregation…I had no idea what that meant. As an educator, this was totally out of my league,” says Sister Jean Louise. “It was, however, a call, and our initial call in Baptism is not stagnant, but always evolving as we say ‘yes’ even to the unknown.”
As the newly-minted Director of the IHM Associates, she put together a plan with three women who attended a monthly prayer group at the IHM Center in Scranton. She told them, quite frankly, that she had no idea where this journey would lead, but prayed to actualize this dream of God for the IHMs. Through trial and error, she recalls, the program worked best “when we did not get in the way” of God’s plan.
“How many other thresholds like this had I crossed in my life and survived?” Sister Jean Louise recalls. “In all those instances, I realized that I had become transformed in the process.”
As news of the program spread and interest grew, people began meeting formally in Circles of Grace—small groups composed of Associates and IHM Sisters—sharing their faith stories, learning about the history and charism of the Congregation, and creating enduring communities of prayer and friendship.
Connecting to the Sacred
Sister Maria Rose Kelly, IHM ’65 has been a faculty member in Marywood’s Religious Studies Department for more than 20 years. Students clamor to enroll in her classes, “Christian Marriage” among the most popular.
“I’ve been the teacher, and I’ve been the learner about sacrament, Vatican II, Buddhism, Islam, theories of faith development, and more topics than could be counted,” says Sister Rose. “What I love most about being Catholic is that it has pushed me to explore what it means to be catholic. Being part of the IHM Associate Program has been that kind of stretching experience for me also. Through the Circle of Grace, peers, friends, brothers, and sisters search out faith together.”
She adds, “Vatican II described us as ‘the people of God.’ We here at Marywood are working to be that—and the IHM Associate Program is one fine path to that goal.”
Janice Richardson ’09, Coordinator of Application Processing in Marywood’s Financial Aid Office, was invited to the Associate Program by Sister Jane Snyder, IHM, ’69 (M.A. ’80), Assistant Director of Financial Aid and a former trustee of the University.
“It’s not just about religion, it’s about how we can bring positive messages to the community in any situation we encounter,” observes Janice.
“I have been convinced for a long time that God gets us to the place He needs us to be, and I am grateful that He led me to the Associate Program,” Sister Jane states. “There is a hunger to be part of the works of mercy and justice in which the IHM Sisters engage. Association with the members of the Congregation can strengthen that resolve and provide avenues for participating in those kinds of activities.”
Ann Montoro Williams ’84 (M.A. ’07), Graduate Admissions Counselor, joined at the invitation of her friend and colleague Janice. “I’m ashamed to admit that I never heard of the IHM Associate Program until Janice mentioned it to me over two years ago.”
Her initial embarrassment quickly gave way to a hunger to know more. “The spirit of the program, deepening my relationship with God, and learning more about the IHM Congregation and its mission drew me to apply for admittance to the Associate Program,” Ann says.
Marcia Chmielewski Eckerson ’70, Apalachian, N.Y., concurs. “As an alumna and parent of several Marywood graduates, I’ve always felt a strong connection and deep gratitude to the wonderful IHM Sisters who gave so much of themselves to all of us.”
It was the invitation of Sister Robert Mary Murphy, IHM ’64 (M.S. ’75, M.S. ’89), Pastoral Associate at Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Vestal, N.Y., that prompted Marcia to “take a look” at the IHM Associate program.
“In these days of great change in the reality of religious life, none of us really knows where the Spirit of God is leading us,” states Sister Robert Mary, “but it seems a pretty good guess that the IHM Associate Program and the formation of these Circles of Grace are enlivening bridges at this time. Who better to be this bridge than those who have already caught the IHM spirit in our classrooms and friendships built over these grace-filled years?”
As the program grows, the need for connection deepens. As such, IHM Associate groups from around the country will travel to Marywood’s campus in Scranton to participate in the first conference of IHM Associates, June 22-24, 2012.
“I would encourage all of the Marywood family—alumni, faculty, staff—to explore this prayerful association with the IHM Congregation,” says Marcia. “The good Sisters whose vision and dedication founded our great university deserve our prayers and our support. They sent us to teach, to live, and to serve as Jesus did. Through involvement…we deepen our connection and support for one another and for the work of the IHM Sisters, wherever they continue to serve in our world today.”
Immaculate Heart of Mary Window at the IHM Center Chapel-The large symbol at the upper center of the window is the great seal of the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Directly below is the Immaculate Heart of Mary. On the left and right are Father Louis Florent Gillet and Mother Theresa Maxis, founders of the IHM Congregation. The log cabin depicts the humble beginnings of the Congregation. Below that can be found the golden city. The symbol directly below Pope John XXIII, that of the serpent entwining the world, suggests sin encircling the earth.
L to R: Mary Hanley, Mary Ann Siddons, Amy Fotta, Sister Maria Rose Kelly, IHM, and Sister Dorothy Lancor, IHM.
Seated L to R: Betty Becker, Lily Pedrosa, and Sister Robert Mary Murphy, IHM. Standing L to R: Patricia O’Connor-Allen, Jude Byrne, Else-Marie Griffin, and Diane Rigotti.
Seated L to R: Lisa Kirby, Sister Jane Snyder, IHM, Janice Richardson, Amy Fotta, and Ann Williams. Standing L to R: Judy Battle and Chuck Wallinger.