Salesian Reflection

On Simplicity
Olivia Wills Kane '85

I am touched by SGA’s invitation to reflect on the Salesian Little Virtue of simplicity. So much of what I understand of this unsung virtue has come from my being in relationship with the Sisters. They actually have monastery stationery and the back of the envelope is printed with words that speak beautifully to their life: “Salesian Simplicity - Monastic Fidelity.”  

In a few weeks, we’ll hear the classic Christmas story of the 3 Wise Men and their 3 precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and the night star that was a visual compass to guide them to the baby in Bethlehem. But, before we race ahead to those men on their journey, I’d like to share the story of 3 wise women and their 3 precious gifts that are a spiritual compass in guiding me to understanding “Salesian Simplicity.” 

The first wise woman is Sr. Claire Joseph O’Neill. Sr. Claire Joseph was the beloved infirmarian and Moderator of the Christian Action Society service club when I was Director of Student Activities in 1991. Our offices were right next to each other in what is now the Cub Shoppe.That spring, Sr. Claire Joseph came to me… explaining that she wanted to give up her role moderating the CAS. She said that she simply needed more time for prayer.  I was stunned - I remember thinking, “You are a cloistered nun. You pray the Divine Office 5 times a day.. And you want MORE time for prayer?” Yes. Sr. Claire Joseph wanted to simplify her life so she could give more attention to her interiority. She knew that she needed to say “no” to outside requests so that she could say “yes” to the inside yearnings of her heart.  Sr. Claire Joseph brings the gift of time to Salesian Simplicity. 

The second wise woman is Sr. Sylvie Marie Guerron. Like so many others, I have been blessed to be in frequent conversation with Sr. Sylvie Marie - she shares herself so generously and her vocation so joyfully. I’ve been struck to hear her describe how she embraces her life as a Visitation Sister, particularly the vow of obedience. What many of us might perceive as giving up control, giving up agency for what we do… Sr. Sylvie Marie says that it is, ironically, so liberating, so empowering… so simple. To hear her talk about it, allowing the Will of God to be what - and really WHO - guides her words, her decisions, her actions… brings a clarity and a liberty of spirit that makes life so much more simple. Obedience has ‘listening’ in its root word. And to see Sr. Sylvie Marie live out her vow of obedience, is to see someone who is listening to the Spirit in her deepest center… and then simplifying her will to the will of God. Sr. Sylvie Marie brings the gift of obedience to Salesian Simplicity.

The third wise woman is Sr. Mary Berchmans Hannan. In the last few years of working more closely with Sr. Mary Berchmans, I have been graced to witness a special dimension of simplicity, that of detachment. It is an outward practice of simplicity that leads to inner transformation. It is in detaching from things that allows one to attach to people.. And to be drawn through prayer and in relationship to God. When the Salesian Center was founded two years ago, Sr. Mary Berchmans moved out of her office on the second floor of Founders - the most prime real estate on this campus, fitting to the President Emerita - and she “gifted” it to me, saying, “I had my time. Now is your time. It is time for the Sisters to step back and let the lay lead us into the future. Now is your time.” Sr. Berchmans has nurtured simplicity in her interior life so that clarity, humility and trust can bear fruit… in our lives… and in Visitation’s future. Sr. Mary Berchmans brings the gift of detachment to Salesian Simplicity.

St. Vincent de Paul believed that, “Simplicity ought to be held in great esteem. It is a virtue most worthy of love, because it leads us straight to the kingdom of God.” This Advent, and every day, may we be inspired by the Salesian simplicity of these three wise women and their gifts of time, obedience, and detachment that can lead us straight to the kingdom of God.

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