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Young woman reflects on recent Ursuline gathering

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Commentary by Maryann Hudak

I walked up to the microphone at the front of the ballroom, holding my notebook in the crook of my arm. It was Saturday, July 6, the second full day of the North American Ursuline Convocation at the Crowne Plaza in Cincinnati, and ideas were continuing to buzz through the room. Since 1992, the convention has taken place every three years.  Its mission: “To gather] the daughters and sons of Angela to celebrate our Ursuline identity in bringing the Gospel to the world.” This year’s theme was “Angela’s Radical Gospel Vision: Expanding the Circles.” I was grateful that the circle had expanded to include me.

We had just finished our small group discussions about our foundress St. Angela Merici’s vision and the ways we continue to expand circles, and I had been elected to report our table’s insights to the larger group.  I looked out at the crowd gathered before me, more than 200 members of the international Ursuline community, including vowed religious, associates, and companions from the United States, Mexico, Canada, and India. Most of them have been living the Gospel and the charism of Angela since before I was born, yet here I stood humbly before them, and they listened.

If someone had taken a snapshot of my moment addressing the Ursuline community and showed it to my younger self, I wouldn’t have believed it would be a part of my future. I had only been introduced to the Ursulines a little over a year ago when Sister Norma Raupple of Youngstown came to speak at my church in small-town Garrettsville, Ohio. The focus of her talk had been retirement funds for the religious, but she also mentioned internship opportunities for young women. I accepted her invitation. That summer, I spent two months living at the Youngstown motherhouse as a Companion in Mission, participating in community life and helping out with their various ministries. Since then, my relationship with the community has continued to grow.

Friday’s featured speaker, Ursuline Sister Sue Scharfenberger, compared the notion of “community” to a circle. Each of the points on a circle are equidistant, and any two points on a circle can be connected by a chord.  The image resonated with my experience with the Ursulines of Youngstown, as well as with the participants at the convention. Regardless of a person’s title — sister, associate, friend — I felt an affinity with each person I met.  Our relationship with the community might be different, but we shared a common connection: Angela. On an elevator ride Saturday afternoon, one of the sisters asked me if I was enjoying the convocation, and I told her I’d met many interesting people.

She replied, “You’ll find that those conversations are not a fringe benefit but one of the main enrichments of events like this.” Truly, I learned as much from the planned events and discussions as I did from the spontaneous meetings — conversations at lunch, at various vendor booths, or on the bus ride to the Reds baseball game.

In her speech, Sister Sue talked about the possibility of being a part of several circles at once, which Sister Mary Alyce Koval of Youngstown described as “cross-pollination.” After dinner on Saturday evening, I had the opportunity to witness this process unfolding. A crowd of people had gathered in the hallway outside the ballroom, engaged in their own small conversations.  The Mexican sisters were posing for a picture when all of a sudden, their smiles turned into song. Lyrics of Mariachi music filled the hallway, and American sisters who recognized the tune joined in the chorus. The energy was contagious, drawing more people into the group until everyone was swaying and clapping to the music. It was a moment of pure joy and harmony.

Thinking back to my first introduction to the Ursulines — meeting Sister Norma at my church in small-town Ohio — I had no idea how expansive of a community I was entering into. The featured speaker on Saturday, School Sister of Notre Dame Catherine Bertrand, addressed this notion of expanding perspectives. She showed a slideshow of illustrations from Zoom, a children’s book by Istvan Banyai. The first image was an unidentifiable cluster of specks on a pointy red sliver, which the next image revealed was the comb on top of a rooster’s head. Each series of images revealed a widening of perspective.  The children watching the rooster were part of a miniature play set, which evolved into an image on a postage stamp.  The focus continued to widen until the planet earth appeared on screen, tiny amidst the stars. As someone at my table pointed out, the video started and ended with a speck.

There is no real beginning and no real ending. It is all part of the circle — a circle that continues to expand.

Hudak is an affiliate with the Ursuline community in Youngstown, Ohio.


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