By Frances Okafor, SSND, Africa Province
Thanks to a scholarship championed by Caelie Haines, first recipient Sister Frances Okafor, SSND, was able to attend the 2023 conference of the Communicators for Women Religious in St. Louis, MO.
In addition to the inspiration and information gathered during sessions in October, Sister Frances was able to get to know some of our Central Pacific Sisters, many of our communications staff (Collaborative, AM,CP and NAVT), and Sister Eileen Reilly, AM-SSND, who represented the Catholic Mobilizing Network and served as a presenter at the conference.
Now safely back home, Sister Frances has shared a few thoughts about her visit.
What surprised you?
I was amazed at how natural it felt to be here, among people I haven't physically met. Arriving in the country, my heart was gladdened by the graciousness of SSND Central Pacific communicator Trudy Hamilton and her husband to come get me in the middle of the night. I settled in and thank God I didn't have to suffer jet lag a lot.
I was up and doing about mid-day the next day and offered assistance to SSND vocation communicator Laurie Lindauer and her crew to set up and be ready for the conference. I worked with two others on the balloon arch and other responsibilities, we bonded so naturally, I am grateful for that. I felt at home for sure.
What challenged you?
Although it's not my first experience outside my country, I still found the temperature a bit of a challenge at least for the first days. I am used to intercontinental dishes so i enjoyed what was provided.
It meant a lot to me that we shared the meals together.
One time during the conference, all SSND Sisters and staff got together to share a meal. It felt so special. It resonated within me, affirming the unity we proclaim and strive for as SSND.
What did you learn?
From the conference sessions, and the interactions with Sisters and communicators, I heard the word 'openness' frequently. I learned anew that openness is very essential in life. It will keep me optimistic and free.
What wisdom and/or simple learnings are you taking back with you?
My heart was deeply impacted by the time spent with our SSND Sisters. Listening to their varied experiences of ministry and religious life kept my heart more aflame with a desire to do more and be more. I heard how deeply they have loved God and everyone who came their way. They shared their human experience and how they relied on grace to see them through.
Indeed, I left St. Louis a better person than I came, more motivated with heart on fire to keep the flame of our charism burning.
I am amazed at how our SSND staff has imbibed our charism and strive to share it and to live it out in their work and daily lives. Very inspiring indeed!
What were some favorite experiences?
Celebrating Foundation Day both at Notre Dame High School and with the Sisters at Ripa! It was so nice of the school community to have nice greeting cards and flowers for the Sisters.
Other highlights from my time there included the participatory liturgy, renewing of vows, and blessing of the students by the Sisters.
Moments with the communicators, interactions during the conference, walking to the Arch and Mississippi River, encounters with our SSND Sisters at the motherhouse, praying on Ripa ground, watching the trees change color and begin losing leaves were very special. All led me to reflect on the seasons in our lives and the wonder of God.
I am very thankful to God and Blessed Theresa for the opportunity to visit and meet the wonderful women who have lived religious life, and now inspire me to live my religious life more faithfully and joyfully.
I thank the entire SSND community, as well as CWR, for the opportunity, friendly atmosphere and memorable experience.
I thank my Province for permitting me to travel, and thank my community for taking care of my responsibilities while I was away.