Last month I wrote about the beginning of the Year of Consecrated Life and promised that I would be interviewing men and women in religious/consecrated life in the coming months. This month I bring you the first of those interviews. I had the privilege of chatting with Sr. Anne Joan, FSP. Read on to hear about her life as a consecrated religious sister.
What is your name?
My baptismal name is Anne. We keep our baptismal name and have the option to add a new one. This practice highlights that the religious consecration is built on the baptismal consecration. In all the years I’ve been in religious life, only one sister opted not to add a new name.
My profession name is Sister Anne Joan. Sister Joan Mary, a much beloved sister, died when I was a novice, and since she was the first American Daughter of St Paul to finish her life’s journey, the death made a deep impression on the community. And so when it came time, Mother Paula had it at heart to honor Sister’s memory by keeping her name alive in some way. I was pretty indifferent about the name until my 25th anniversary when I decided that the “Joan” (a feminine version of John) connected me to one of my great heroes, John the Baptist, so now I celebrate his (two) feast days as my feast days.
So my full name is Sister Anne Joan Flanagan, FSP
FSP= Filiae Sancti Pauli (Daughters of St Paul, in Latin)
What is the name of your order and what is your order’s particular charism?
We started in northern Italy 100 years ago without a name, but with a great devotion to St Paul and to the goal of evangelizing the world through communications media. In 1918, during the community’s first experience running a newspaper, the local townsfolk (who missed no details) started calling the young women “le figlie di San Paolo” (the young women associated with St Paul) and it stuck. So the name really does express our charism: to let St Paul continue his evangelizing mission of bringing Jesus to people wherever they might find him (even in their pocket!). SOON SOON SOON we will release a documentary about our Founder and what the Holy Spirit did through him for the New Evangelization, way back when nobody (but the Founder) was talking about a “new evangelization,” and hardly anyone was even talking about evangelization.
How did you know God was calling you to this life?
When I was applying for college, my goal was to study communications so I could do something to help give the Church a voice in the media. (I felt that the Catholic Church was not particularly effective in that field, with the one exception of Bishop Sheen.) Then one Saturday I accompanied my mom to the Daughters of St Paul bookstore in our New Orleans suburb, and as she scoped out the rosary bracelets, I was stacking up some good reading. The sister at the front desk noticed this (teenaged girl with a foot high stack of books!) and commented, “You know, we sisters print some of these books ourselves.” (It was true: the nuns had printing presses and bindery equipment in the novitiate house.) I shrugged it off with a “That’s nice.” Her next words gave me goosebumps (and still do!): “It’s our mission to put the media at the service of the Church.”
What?! I’m not the only person on the planet who wants to do this?! There are other people who have the same desire that I do? That are already organized and active? I can have Jesus and the media in one life, and not have to decide between one and the other? This is the life for me!
A year later I was filling out the entrance papers.
I still marvel at how the Holy Spirit inspired that sister to use those precise terms to express the Pauline vocation. It still makes me want to jump up and give my life to such a mission.
Tell us a bit about what your day-to-day life is like.
It starts way too early for my comfort, but what can you do? That’s the best time to pray! I get to chapel at 5:30 and make my Hour of Adoration before community morning prayers and Mass. The Hour of Adoration is our characteristic prayer, dating back, you could say, to our Founder’s initial experience of his call at age 16, when he spent the night between the 19th and 20th centuries in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. He always said, “You were born of the Eucharist.”
In a monastic community, the pattern of life itself is part of the community’s mission. For an apostolic community like ours, the mission determines how the day unfolds. Although the community schedule is pretty basic (Morning Prayer at 6:40, Mass at 7:00 followed by breakfast; community lunch at 12:30; Evening Prayer at 6:15 followed by supper), each sister fills in the rest according to the demands of her assignment in the mission. The sisters who run the bookstore, for example, have their schedule written for them by the fact that the store has to open and close on set hours! On Thursdays we have exposition of the Blessed Sacrament from after Mass until the end of Evening Prayer, and take turns through the day for adoration. The characteristic “Pauline” note here is that the Bible is also exposed as a sign that it is one and the same Jesus, in the Eucharist and in the Word, that we adore, proclaim and lead people to whether through our direct apostolate or by our prayer.
After breakfast, I usually head for my office here in the publishing house/convent (“Pauline Books & Media” is the publishing house “expression” of the Daughters of St Paul). I have only been assigned here since Thanksgiving (after 12 years in Chicago and 6 months in England), so I don’t quite have an “Ordinary Time” pattern to my work yet. I assist with our website which is a kind of multiple-site serving the publishing house, the online bookstore, the community site with links for discerners, lay collaborators, spirituality, etc. We have a couple of new apps coming down the pipeline, and I’ll be learning how to work on those.Then there’s social media…right now I am collaborating with our sisters in Kenya, England and the Philippines on a project for Lent. There are a lot of things to juggle! I have a couple of other side projects, too, but I haven’t figured out how to fit them in.
Throughout the day sisters pop in (or text!) with questions or ideas or (just happened!) chocolate!!! Sometimes unusual requests come in: “Sisters, we need ten volunteers in the recording studio to pray the Rosary…” “Are you free to help take inventory of the stockroom?” “Can you write a 700-word reflection for this book? We need it in two weeks…” (I have contributed reflections to our whole “Lectio Divina” series, and also wrote a small book of Holy Hours and a Way of the Cross for middle-school children.)
Our Boston community is quite large; in fact, it is composed of three communities for a total of about 75 sisters (the sisters mostly involved in the publishing house are one community; the senior sisters, especially those with special healthcare needs, form another community with their own superior and schedule; our Provincial Superior and her council are a distinct community as well), but the three communities share breakfast and lunch.
After lunch I should take a nice walk, and maybe I will when the ice goes away. (As a native of New Orleans I do not get along well with ice, or cold, or winter itself as a matter of fact.) For now I check the mailroom (any real mail?) and read the paper before going back to chapel for a half-hour. I get another half-hour of free time with Jesus before Evening Prayer and supper, and then help wash the supper dishes.
On Saturday I see a lot less of my office, though I do manage to do some odd jobs there. Mostly Saturday is dedicated to housecleaning—if you call a “house” a complex of five massive buildings! We also sign up for cooking turns for Saturday supper. The rest of the week we have a professional kitchen staff, so that all of the sisters who are able to can focus their talents and energies directly on the mission. (So far, I have not volunteered to coordinate a Saturday supper, but I have helped chop vegetables… I have a ways to go before I will be ready to use industrial kitchen equipment to cook for 80 people!) Many weekends there are book fairs in parishes, so we have the opportunity to join the exhibit team to visit the parishes and help people find the books and media that best meet their needs.
Most evenings, my energy is pretty well depleted by the time the supper dishes are done, so my day ends with a good book (currently a massive biography of Blessed Pope Paul VI) and sweet dreams.
What advice would you give to someone considering a consecrated religious life?
Discernment is about discovering where God knows you will best be able to live life to the full. If you feel attracted to a life of consecration, explore it! But it starts with prayer. If you don’t have a regular prayer life yet, work on that and let God do the rest!
What does it mean to you that Pope Francis has dedicated this year (Nov. 30, 2014-February 2, 2016) as a Year of Consecrated Life?
It is especially significant to me because this year the Daughters of St Paul mark the 100th anniversary of their existence, and I mark the 40th anniversary of my entrance into the community! It is a huge invitation to renew and hopefully increase my availability to Jesus.
What is your favorite thing to do during your down time/recreation time?
I am stationed with several superb singers here (we are part of the Daughters of St Paul recording choir), and now that Ordinary Time has come, we plan to form an a cappella group, focusing mostly on Renaissance polyphony (but other musical genres as well). I am looking forward to that getting underway, and already sent the sisters music for the lovely (and decidedly contemporary) “Anima Christi” by Father Marco Frisina. Another group of sisters is talking about organizing line dancing, which I love (despite having two left feet). I also love to cook (although…it’s a lot less intimidating to cook in a small kitchen for a community of five!); I want to pick up cross-stitch again, and I still love to read.
If you are interested in learning more about the Daughter’s of St. Paul, you can visit their vocational website HERE.
A selection of items Sr. Anne has written or contributed to:
- 5 Keys to Understanding Pope Francis (ebook)
- Come to Jesus: A Kids Book for Eucharistic Adoration
- Children’s Way of the Cross
- Contributions to Daily Gospel Reflections for Advent, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time.
And check out the offerings from the Daughter’s of St. Paul Choir HERE.
Thank you, Sr. Anne for taking the time to share your vocation with us! If you want to follow Sr. Anne on Twitter (which she loves!) you can find her at @nunblogger.