Bees: To Act in Harmony with All Creation

Article re-posted with permission from Sisters of Mercy website sistersofmercy.org

By Sister Katherine Hill
September 10, 2019

The Critical Concerns call upon us to act in harmony with all Creation, and beekeeping is one way I can do that. To actively participate in healing Earth. Visionary thought leader Jan Phillips says “to heal the world is to heal ourselves, whole and entire.”

In an effort to participate in Earth’s laboring to heal herself, I wanted to do something that encouraged that healing. I thought about the possibility of backyard beekeeping as a means to help the bees and to be in harmony with Creation. I joined the Michigan Beekeepers Association in 2016.

Sister Katherine Hill taking care of the bees
Sister Katherine Hill taking care of the bees

I attended a daylong workshop in the summer of 2017. Subsequently, I invited the presenters to our Mercy complex to speak to the sisters about bees. The presenter incorporated the mission of the Sisters of Mercy. She spoke about “the life of bees” and the importance of the survival of bees as pollinators.

After their presentation, they visited with the sisters and shared honey from the Detroit metropolitan area. The teachers, Joan Mandell and Rich Wieske, are from a company called Green Toe Gardens. They have been instrumental in supporting new beekeepers in the city and suburbs for a number of years.

I received an email from Joan at Green Toe Gardens inviting me to sign up for a class sponsored by Michigan State University in January 2019. She sent me the link to the website and the information was all there. It was a beginner’s class. I would be with 45 new beekeepers all doing the same thing—trying to set up a backyard beehive. I felt like this was serendipitous.

There is grace in paying attention and just moving one step at a time. I knew that God was leading me. I signed up for the class and purchased the beekeeping book. I found a website where I could get materials for beekeeping. I felt more relaxed about the process because I would be in a class with other beekeeping beginners.

Sister Katherine Hill
Sister Katherine Hill

I have learned that bees “read” pheromones—ours, as well as the members of the hive. In the practice of beekeeping, one must slow down and be in the present moment, let go of fear, impatience, agitation and anger in order to enter bee space safely.

The art, in the work of beekeeping, fits effortlessly into spiritual direction practice. It demands that I be calm and remember to direct my attention and intention for the benefit of the one before me. It reminds me to let the speaker lead with their story. It reinforces in my mind the importance of providing judgement-free space when listening to others in the direction setting. Like bees, we humans can sense when we are being heard.

Beekeeping is aligned with our commitment to live in harmony with Earth and to do all that we can to minimize our carbon footprint. Bees are essential to food production and to providing good healthy plant and animal life.

The practice of beekeeping has the potential to provide me with “…a doorway into silence, where another voice may speak.” (Mary Oliver)

Sister Katherine is grateful to be part of a larger community of beekeepers and bee lovers in the Mercy family that includes Associate Danielle Daguio of Mercy Volunteer Corps and her husband Robert Orler; Andrea Vettori, a Mercy Companion in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the maintenance and grounds keeping staff at the Farmington Hills, Michigan, campus (Greg Bloch, Mike Burrell, Alan Kukurka, Ron Sill and Don Tack); Sisters Donna Deedler and Helen Marie Burns; the sisters at McAuley Life Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan; and Mercy Farm Eco-Spirituality Center in Benson, Vermont.

Mercy Center – St.Louis, MO also has beehives and a 5 acre pollinator garden to help the bees come back! Sr. Corlita Bonnarens, RSM has been instrumental in adopting more environmental practices on campus!

reflections, spirituality

The Lily Pool

June 14, 2019

I was on my way to the cathedral today for some time of quiet reflection and unexpectedly stumbled upon a lily pool. I sat on a bench nearby intending to continue on a few minutes later. I never made it to the cathedral because I had the experience of God I needed right there in the lily pads.

The Lily Pool

Delicate green lily pads float on the serene water
Lilies sprouting from the luscious shades of green
The sun peeking through the clouds glistens
A light breeze whispers a word of peace
Peering into the water I see my reflection
Calling me to stillness and quiet with God
A spirit of joy blossoms in my heart
As I recall the narrative of my life
And anticipate with excitement the next chapter

–Sister Marissa Butler


The Rhythm of Contemplation and Action

The Rhythm of Contemplation and Action 

What did I do when I was jokingly told I had been signed up for a dance class?
Well, the first thing I did was say “I have two left feet, I don’t follow, and I need to lead.” If I had to guess, this really wasn’t the expected answer. Actually, fear was the first thing that flashed through me. Why the fear? Why the anxiety? Why the excuses?
As I pondered these questions I began to think about the “dance” of my own life and the need for “rhythm.” Without “rhythm” movement can be chaotic, less intentional, and confusing. The world around us is full of “rhythm.” This also led me to think about the “contemplation” that is necessary for meaningful “action.” 
As I turn the page to a new chapter, a new year, what did I do in 2018 that I don’t want to repeat in 2019? Did I not have a healthy “rhythm” for myself or a healthy “give” and “take” with those around me? What is the essence of starting anew that I found myself challenged by this past year? As the world is sure to make another circle around the sun, what did I not give my attention to that I could better attend to the next 365 days? If I am attentive for 365 days, then why not push the limits a little further? What spark has ignited inside myself that I didn’t realize was there? What spark was felt but I didn’t embrace because of fear? 
So many questions so little time! Slowing down would force me to become more contemplative than I am accustomed to. In this experience called “life,” there seems to be a “rhythm” that is always changing. It is palpable if I just “be still.” I am starting to see that finding a “rhythm” is needed to be fully alive. I cannot do this in twenty-four hours! It takes a lifetime of trying to “dance” with others without violating what each of us holds sacred to our daily lives. Or better yet, not being violent to myself by not taking time to “be still.” “Dancing” is more than just moving on your own; it also involves those you have encircled around you. Each of us has a “rhythm” that sometimes feels like a solo but in reality is an ensemble. In this lies the challenge of living a “rhythm” of “contemplation” and “action.” Without contemplation, there is little thoughtful or authentic action. As a Sister of Mercy, I am called to make space for quiet contemplation and from this contemplation will come genuine – intentional – focused action. 
If life is moving too fast, only I can slow it down, pause, and step back. In the pausing to step back, one takes a stance of retreating from or retreating to something. In this retreat, we are able to take a better look at, see differently, or sit and hold what might be challenging each of us as an individual, a resident in our local community, or as a citizen of the United States. 
Without challenge, human beings do not grow into a full understanding of themselves. Human behavior can tend to stagnate, like old pond water; then we start to settle for what is comfortable and our curiosity to explore the “new” stops. When I sit and hold what I feel and hear I am being called to “do” or “be” my “dancing” finds its “rhythm.” The “rhythm” becomes the “action” of my “contemplation,” from my “being still.” 
As a new year begins filled with many different “rhythms” life will continue to call me to feel not only my pulse but also the pulse of others. There will be a “rhythm” that I will “dance” to. It is time to take the challenge head-on and lean into the day, dust off the cobwebs, put on my dancing shoes, and well, DANCE! My wish for each of us in 2019 is that we find our own “rhythm” that allows each of us to enter into a “dance” that is healthy and life-giving. So, let’s listen to the music together, find the rhythm, and dance!
 Sister Patti Baca, RSM

Border Wall

IMG_1509Recently I journeyed with other Sisters of Mercy who were gathered in McAllen, TX.  Some of us were seeing again or for the first time the devastation of already erected sections of a “border wall.”   Amy had just entered the Mercy Community as a Candidate and agreed to be our tour guide for a few hours.  As we approached the sections of the “wall” I was taken aback by the gasps of others in the van.  The wall is tall, with open spaces in between the rungs that are in a “V” formation.  The wall stands about 30 feet tall, has a rusty color, and a textured feel to it.  The air temperature was about 112 degrees, the sun bearing down on your head and back, the rungs of the wall were hot to the touch.  This brought many emotions to me as I reflected on “why do we need this wall?”

The “wall” is not just holding back persons in search of a better quality of life.  The “wall” is holding back Mother Nature’s process of nature being able to migrate and replenish itself.  All of nature is affected by not being able to come and go across what was once an imaginary line.  This means the natural migration of birds, pollens, and other land, water, and air animals can no longer live in their natural habitat.  This means that crops and fresh water could be in jeopardy of being negatively affected and possibly snuffed out by building a “wall.”

What are we doing to Mother Earth?  I kept thinking about the species that can and will become extinct, contamination of the soil as well as contamination of the fresh water supply.  Included are the men, women, and children that have risked their very being to take a chance to escape a life that is in danger.  These families take a risk, a risk that I, as a citizen of the United States have not had to experience!

IMG_1514As I watched, a border agent drove an SUV dragging several large used tractor tires behind causing a cloud of dust to form.  The tires smooth the dirt and make it easier to see where foot tracks crossed the border.  The agents can tell which direction the persons were traveling as well as narrow the timeline to when the crossing was made.  I thought about the agents who risk their lives each day to carry out the orders that have been handed down by their superiors.  I tried to see a different view, to see through the eyes of one who is trying to provide for their family too.  Not all agents are anti-immigrant, pro-wall, persons.  Maybe both the agents and the immigrants seek the same thing:  to provide a better life for their children.  I want to believe that deep within each agent is a heart full of compassion, empathy, and Mercy. If given the chance to change careers, they too would try to find another occupation, possibly a profession that does not cause them to draw specific lines of who can come into this country and who must be removed from this country.

In the end, I come to a conclusion that I need to hold every Earthly creature gently and to not judge those who are following “orders” because I do not know what is in their heart.  I do know this land does not belong to you or me, it belongs to God and in God all things are sacred.

Sister Patti Baca, RSM





Finding God and a Way Forward in a Jarring and Unsettling Time

For many people, myself included, these past days, weeks, and months have been challenging. Immigrant children remain separated from their parents, many of whom have since been deported to the countries from which they tried to escape. Lies, confusion, and cover-up at the highest levels are the norm instead of the exception. Trade wars, to a degree unprecedented since the 1930s (before some of us were born), are like a tit for tat ping-pong match between countries and nations with the “least of these” most impacted. Smartphones wake us up in the morning (or the middle of the night) with the latest tweet of aggressive initiation or angry response. And the leadership of institutions, mainline Protestant and evangelical churches, and the Roman Catholic Church are being challenged with the questions “what have you done,” “what are you doing,” and “will you not stop” violating those most vulnerable.

Where are you God in the midst of this cacophony and chaos? What can we hold onto and believe?

I believe that You are lovingly present in, with, and for all of creation. I believe that Your mercy, compassion, and healing are surrounding and enfolding all who have been harmed in any way under any circumstances. I believe that You will bring justice to those who use their power to oppress the child, the poor, the immigrant, the outcast.

I believe that You call each one of us to examine our own action and inaction, to repent, to change, to make amends and restitution. I believe that You call us to listen to the truth spoken by those who have been victimized and not discount or dismiss it but hold it tenderly and compassionately in a sacred trust. I believe that You call us to speak the truth and stand up for those who live in fear, to be the voice for the voiceless, to support efforts to end oppression and to hold accountable those who abuse their power and abuse others.

I didn’t wake up today with the intent of writing this post, and yet all that it says has been weighing on my heart. When it erupted unbidden, with an urgency to share it, I let it flow. May we open ourselves to the ways in which the Source of Life, Source of Love, and Ground of our Being wants to work through our hearts, hands, and voices.

Dawn Stringfield
August 24, 2018


“Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door”

“Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door”

It fascinates me that one of the most influential rules of all of Christian monasticism has a chapter devoted to opening the door.  In the Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 66:  The Porter of the Monastery states,  “At the door of the monastery, place a sensible person who knows how to take a message and deliver a reply, and whose wisdom keeps them from roaming about.  The porter will need a room near the entrance so that visitors will always find someone waiting there to answer them.  As soon as anyone knocks or a poor person calls out, the porter will reply, ‘Thanks be to God’ or ‘Your blessing, please,’ then, with all the gentleness that comes from the reverence of God, provide a prompt answer with the warmth of love.  Let the porter be given one of the younger members if help is needed.” 

               While it may seem very strange that such a rule would focus on the person who answers the door it is, in fact, of critical importance.  You see, the way that we answer the door is the way in which we deal with the world.  If we prefer to focus on ourselves and our own needs then, when the doorbell rings, we will most likely feel bothered and annoyed.  But if our focus is turned toward the needs and cares of others then, when the doorbell rings, we will be excited by the possibility that we have an opportunity to be kind and of some assistance to a person in need. 

               Here at the Mercy Conference and Retreat Center, we feel privileged to be the porters of this house!  We are a group of crazy Christians who love to be interrupted and barged in upon.  We strive to maintain a culture of welcome and hospitality.  Here you will not find any “no trespassing” signs but rather, you will find a group of people ready to welcome you day and night in the spirit of Catherine McAuley – foundress of the Sisters of Mercy.

               The Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that mercy is “a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion.”  I believe that we have all experienced God’s mercy in our lives and, because of that, we are compelled to be people of mercy.  This is why I love being a part of the Mercy Conference and Retreat Center where we as a staff get to be a blessing to the community that we serve here in the Saint Louis Metropolitan area and beyond!

Dave Malek
Feast of St. Benedict


How Do You Measure Up?

How Do You Measure Up? 

Success is measured in many ways.  Each of us has our way of measuring our personal and professional successes.  How do we learn what success is? How do we learn to measure it? Who determines who is successful?  Everyone at some point has either asked themselves or will ask themselves, how have I been successful and how was that measured?  
I believe that everyone possesses the deep desire to be successful and that our success will be measured in monumental wealth.  After all, we live in America and are “entitled” to the “American Dream.” What exactly is the “American Dream?” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the “American Dream” is defined as this: “A happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans as something that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S. especially by working hard and becoming successful with good jobs, a nice house, two children, and plenty of money, they believed they were living the American dream.”  
Over the past many years I have begun to dismantle the “American Dream” for myself.  Honestly, I cannot say that I never believed in the same dream that by which others mark their success.  As I was growing up, I understood success would be measured by getting married, having children, living in a house with a white picket fence, and by the size of my bank account and investments.  Is this sounding familiar to anyone? Little did I know someone else’s expectations would measure my success in life. Someone else’s values have been placed on my life. How could I ever measure up?  How could I ever be accepted by those who were middle to upper class?
Growing up in Southeast Texas there were not a lot of options for my future.  I knew that I would have to work harder than my friends and family to get anywhere.  The question was, how was I going to do that? At fifteen I moved from living with my mom in Southeast Texas to living with my dad in the Ft. Worth area.  The move came as a great shock to me. I went from a small school district where you know everyone in the school to a large high school where there were approximately 2500 students.  I went from living in the country to city life literally overnight. One moment I am living in poverty to the next moment not worrying about whether or not I would have a meal. I don’t know if anything could have prepared me for the transition, but I knew I had to take that chance.
After my high school graduation, I attended the junior college not far from my dad’s house.  After two semesters of not knowing what direction I was headed, I again made a choice to quit college and join the Coast Guard.  This decision was made out of hope and desperation with a little adventure poured in. Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”  This is in fact what I was doing. I left behind everything that was familiar for the unfamiliar. This hope-filled leap was being taken for the second time in my life.
During my tenure with the Coast Guard, I measured hundreds of successes and failures.  Sometimes the achievements were measured in lives saved and sometimes they were not. The mariner nor I was able to outsmart Mother Nature and poor human decisions.  I couldn’t save everyone, but I did my best with the resources I had. After twenty years of majoring in search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, as well as maritime pollution response, I decided to set my sails in a different direction.
Michael John Bobak said, “All progress takes place outside the comfort zone.”  For Religious Life is outside anyone’s comfort zone and I was about to find out how true that statement was.  Once again taking a hope-filled leap into the unknown. Some would say that Religious Life is counter-cultural, I would agree, and so is joining a military sea-going service.  Before I entered Religious Life, I felt I had to divest myself of “things.” I can honestly say that divesting my life of “things” was much easier than I thought it would be. You have to understand that by this time in my life I would be measured as “successful.”  I had the car, the house, minus the children and the picket fence. I also had excellent investments and a sum of money in my bank account. So, by the Merriam-Webster’s definition, I had achieved the status of “successful.” Then why in the deepest part of my innermost being did I feel incomplete?  That’s right, success for me has never been measured in things and the size of my investment portfolio. I fell into the trap that our culture puts on the next generation.
Once I started to divest myself of property, I was able to think more clearly, to make better decisions, to stop chasing the almighty dollar, and I was able to make decisions based out of “freedom” from.  Freedom from running, freedom from working overtime, freedom from having to produce to be deemed worthy by our society, and by my family. Please do not misunderstand me, there is no ill will by my family, but there is an expectation of working until you can’t work anymore and you have to fall back on your investment portfolio to support you in your declining years.
Tony Hsieh said, “Stop chasing the money and start chasing the passion.”   I was beginning to figure out that I am full of passion. I needed to follow that passion, and in doing so, I answered a pull to my heart to enter another “counter-cultural” lifestyle. Passion triggers in me different things but mostly to be of service to others.  Once I stopped chasing the over-inflated “American Dream,” I began to understand that success is measured in more ways than having a house, car, and financial stability. My success was taking shape right before my eyes, and I was for the first time in my life at peace with the path I was on.  
Each step I have taken in my life has been a message of hope and realization that success will not be measured by the size of my house, car, or my retirement fund.  Success will be measured differently. “In the end, it’s not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away,” Shing Xiong. Take time to stop and smell the roses, to see the beauty in nature and to embrace the many ways success can be measured.  Take back your own identity and live life as it is to be lived. So, in the end, how do you measure “success”?

 Patti Baca, RSM


Keeping Vigil

Keeping vigil takes a lot of energy!!
Staying awake and alert – being vigilant – can be hard work!!

Almost 71/2 years ago I spent 5 weeks here at Catherine’s Residence “keeping vigil” with my Mom during her last 5 weeks of this life until she crossed over into her “new life.” I remember the long days and seemingly endless nights wondering when the angel of death would arrive. Each day I asked myself, “Would this be the day?” There were several times during those weeks when I leaned over my Mom and whispered in her ear, “Mom, today would be a great day for you to cross over.” (I was getting tired!!) She would give me a gentle nudge as if to say, “Honey, it’s not time yet.” And so I kept waiting… but I didn’t wait alone.

The community “kept vigil” with me…Sisters Giles, Geralda, Bernadette, Angelita, and Roland made sure I ate and took breaks while they stayed with my Mom… and Agnes made sure I took walks outside…she even did my laundry a few times! I didn’t wait alone during that tender time. The community “kept vigil” with me, lovingly and faithfully.

This evening we gather once again as a community “keeping vigil” together. It is not as if we don’t know what happened that first Easter morning. We do. Rather we gather to remember that what happened to Jesus is promised to us… not only someday in the future, but right now! Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that by virtue of our baptism we are intimately united with Jesus in his life, death and resurrection. We carry within us the energy/power of Risen Life.

When we look at our world, we see what a mess it is…and it is a mess! We wonder, “Will this be the day:
*when Dreamers no longer fear deportation?
*when young people are free to learn or to walk the streets of their neighborhoods without worrying if they will be victims of gun violence?
*when Earth is reverenced as revelation of the Creator?
*when every person is honored as the presence of God regardless of race or creed?
*when war is no longer considered a path to peace?”

And yet, in the midst of escalating fear, isolation and violence the power of resurrection is at work. Every time we are awakened by the cries of suffering people…every time we choose to respond to those cries with works of justice and mercy (in whatever way we can), we are raised up and we in turn raise others, as well.

The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate revolution…though it be peaceful in the radical transformation it births. Death, in all its forms, no longer has power over us. Love has conquered sin and death once and for all. We need not fear to be who we are!

If you watched the news on television last weekend you sw the massive crowds across the world “Marching for Our Lives” led by fearless young people. What a powerful example of the revolution of resurrection at work!!!

Tonight we remember Jesus, the Risen One, raised from the dead and brought to new life by the One Who “kept vigil” with him, lovingly and faithfully. It was the God of Jesus Who awakened him to the cries of suffering people so that Jesus might “keep vigil” with them while on their own journey of transformation. As followers of Jesus, we, too, are called to “keep vigil” with our broken world. It is the same God who “vigils” with us…holding us with all of our questions, our longings, our fears, our betrayals and our hopes to make the reign of God real in our day.

The Spirit of Jesus fills us with the energy we need to be a reconciling presence of Mercy in a world desperately longing to be made whole.
Recall if you will, the mission to which our Community Leadership Team has called us:
“Be a sanctuary of peace in the world-
Grow in the practice of non-violence.
Promote a bold revolution of tenderness.
Speak a word of comfort to our suffering world.

We rejoice that our God is a God of Life who summons us to come forth from our tombs to be made new again. We celebrate that our God beckons us to unleash the power of resurrection in our day.

Catherine McAuley once wrote these encouraging words: Pray for your portion of the Easter Grace…do not give up until all is given you!!

Yes, “keeping vigil’ takes a lot of energy. It can be hard work. But the burden is lightened when we “keep vigil” together, lovingly and faithfully.

Indeed, it IS time for us to sing those Alleluias!!!

Ginger Andrews, RSM

Holy Saturday Homily, Easter Vigil Liturgy