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Living the Vows in More than Seven Communities

Chero Chuma, CSJP

Almost 13 years ago, I said yes, and filled up the application to be a candidate with the Congregation of which I am apart of now, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. The decision came after a period of listening intently to what I heard, felt and wanted from God. Even though I did not understand entirely what it all entailed, I was a 100% sure that I was making the right choice. I met us, and the process to become a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace, started. Six years ago, on Friday, April 13, 2012, I professed my final profession to God in the presence of my CSJP community, family, and friends.  It was a joyous moment for me, family, community, and friends. That celebration is always a reminder of God's love and support from family, community, and friends.

Since I started the candidacy until now, I have moved and lived in more than seven CSJPs communities. These experiences have shaped how I live my vows daily. I observed and learned how different sisters live community, pray, celebrate, how and who they minister to, about region and congregations, their families, the kind of politics, and life in general. I made new friends while at different ministries and more importantly met Kenyans that lived wherever I went. I am who I am because of these vast experiences.

I first moved and lived in St. Marys on the Lake (SMOL) where our regional office resides. Our sisters retire at SMOL, so this meant that I lived in the community with my elders. This is not unusual for women entering religious life now. They were older than me but young at heart and spirit. I respected them as my elders but saw them as my peers. I loved every minute of it. We said the prayers together every morning and evening, and broke bread together. The life-stories and faith shared during the meal, at tea time, when playing Rummikub or cards, during the commercial while watching a game, or when visiting one on one with another. I was the lucky one to be bestowed wisdom by women who had lived their vows for many years! They enriched my journey. Most of the sisters that welcomed and made me feel that I belonged to the St Marys community in 2005 and then later on as a CSJP have passed on to be with our creator God and are part of the living dead.

It was time to experience life in a small CSJP community. There I continued to discern my journey as I encountered and lived community life with four other sisters. There I learned, for the first time, how to cook for more than me. That was a challenge for me because my parents took me to a boarding school when I was nine years old. I did not have the experience to learn how to cook for others as my siblings did. I can say that cooking is one thing that I did not learn from my mother. I taught myself how to cook when I came to the US. I prepared Kenyan food and learned how to use recipes to cook other meals. I learned how to cook a portion of the food with spices and a little part with no spices. We were gone during the day to our various ministries. I loved the evening meal for we ate together and shared how our day went to the community that prayed, loved, cared, and lived together. The words in our Constitutions came to life during the evening sharing as it says, "our intimacy with God [through one another] unifies our prayer and activity so that we are moved to action by prayer while action urges us to pray." (Constitution of Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, #28). It was through the sharing and actively listening that some of the challenges I experience at the ministry and in life made sense.

From there I moved to New Jersey for the novitiate. I was among the five that made a community at the convent adjacent to St. Michaels Villa (where our sisters retire). The move there was a significant shift given the culture, weather, and the nature of the novitiate. I met and got to know our sisters in the Eastern region. Some for short period before they died. The ministry year of the novitiate gave me a chance to experience additional community living.

I moved to Jersey City and lived with three other sisters in the house that our founder Margaret Anna Cusack bought and lived in. Living there was exceptional for I imagined how she lived life while she continued to give meaning to who we as CSJPs became. The children I ministered to at the school for the blind invited me to perceive life differently. I then moved back to Washington state and lived with two other sisters. In this community, I was introduced to praying with poems which are still part of my prayer life. The women at the day center that I ministered to during this time gave me an insight of the homelessness in Seattle. 

I moved back to the small community that I lived with before in Seattle. Even though the same sisters stilled lived there, it was different for me. My life had been shaped by many people and places I had been since I left. While living my temporary vows and ministering at the hospital, a request came to start a new community in Vancouver, Washington. This was an exciting move because I got to experience how to set up the new convent. Where things went in the kitchen and how we wanted the living room to be… I was there for three months before a request came to move back to Seattle to become a full-time student.

I moved into a different small community with two other sisters. I lived there for three years which was the longest that I had lived in one place. The two sisters that I lived with were called to be part of other ministries that forced them to move. I now live where it all started, St. Marys on the Lake. The community is not the same as it was when I entered. The buildings have been renovated, several sisters have died, some sisters have moved in, and I am 13 years older! What remained the same? how we live our vows and the gospel.