Two ‘freshmen’ from France hope to touch hearts

MONTCLAIR, N.J. – They’ve traveled a great distance to open doors and touch hearts, one person at a time.
Sister Faustine of Jesus and Sister Jeanne Marie, from the Community of the Apostolic Sisters of St. John in Burgundy, France, recently arrived in Montclair to serve as Catholic campus ministers at Montclair State University’s Newman Center.
Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, the archdiocese in which the university is located, invited the sisters to serve in the archdiocese several months ago.
Though still adjusting to their new environment, they were clear regarding their mission and ministry: to reach out and establish personal relationships that celebrate the spirituality of Montclair State students.
“We are here mainly for the Catholic students of Montclair State, but we are open to speak with students of all faiths, to help open the door to their hearts and satisfy their thirst for the truth,” Sister Faustine said in a lilting French accent.
Sister Jeanne Marie said that, as Catholic campus ministers, their duties will include Bible studies and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults programs, as well as serving as a “praying presence” on the campus. She said they also will participate in Sunday evening Masses in the Montclair State Student Union building.
The daily garb for the sisters – a gray habit and veil – no doubt will spark curiosity among students and faculty, but they acknowledged that their attire is an integral part of their presence on campus and, in turn, part of the learning process for the Montclair State community.
They said they will strive to connect with one person at a time, rather than deal with an arbitrary assortment of individuals from a given community. In explaining this subtle distinction, which will be at the core of their ministry, they pointed to Pope John Paul II’s 1998 encyclical, “Fides et Ratio” (“Faith and Reason”).
“We are children of the John Paul II generation,” Sister Faustine said. “This encyclical is a guiding light for us. He wrote that people have lost their sense of what it is to be a human being because they have lost their sense of God. As campus ministers, we want to give our lives to the Lord in a very true way. We will try to touch the heart of each person we meet. We want to know what makes you, you.”
She said they also will give witness to fraternal charity and the spirit of St. John, the “beloved” disciple of Jesus.
Their initial tour of duty at Montclair State will be three years. Nearly 17,000 students attend the university – a secular institution – and around 40 percent are Catholic, according to estimates by officials at the Newman Center.
Though currently immersing themselves in the diverse culture of the Garden State, the sisters also have visited communities in Texas, North Dakota and Illinois as part of their American experience.
The events that led the French nuns to the New Jersey university began in the early 1990s, when Archbishop Myers, then bishop of Peoria, Ill., became acquainted with Father Marie Dominique Philippe, a French Dominican priest who founded the Brothers of St. John and the Apostolic Sisters of St. John. Both communities have as their mission the evangelization of young people in college settings.
Another community of women religious, the Contemplative Sisters of St. John, also was founded by Father Philippe, who died last year.
Archbishop Myers invited Father Philippe to send members of the Brothers to work with students at Bradley University in Peoria. A group of Contemplative Sisters of St. John soon followed.
“I was deeply moved by Father Philippe’s dedication to ministering to the needs of young people in college, by the spirituality of the members of the group and by the eagerness with which students at Bradley embraced the presence of these priests on their campus” Archbishop Myers recalled. “So when I learned a few months ago that some of the Apostolic Sisters were available to work, I encouraged them to take up their ministry here in the archdiocese.”
While the Newman Center will be the headquarters for their campus activities, the two sisters will reside at the St. Joseph Parish rectory in East Orange. They are joined at the rectory by their prioress, Sister Anne of Jesus, who also hails from France, and Sister Theresia Maria, who comes from the Netherlands.
There are 150 members in the Apostolic Sisters of St. John. The four sisters at the East Orange rectory are the only members of this community in North America.
The community was founded first for brothers in 1975 and then for sisters nine years later.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.