Drawing to the close of Year of Consecrated Life

“When Pope Francis declared the Year of Consecrated Life, which ends on Feb. 2, 2016, the purpose was to have a renewed look at religious life, for Religious to Wake up the World, to be witnesses of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living. I do believe it has awakened people to Consecrated Life in a positive way, but also as something that has been taken for granted: thinking that priests and nuns would always be around.”

I am grateful to Archbishop William and honored to have been asked to speak on the topic “Family: the foundation of Consecrated Life,” and to share my personal confirmation of this statement. I have been a member of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate for 35 years, and my two brothers [Joseph and Basil] are priests of the Phoenix Eparchy and Parma Eparchy respectively.

I am the youngest of the four children born to Mary and Basil Hutsko, grew up in Whiting, Ind., parishioners of St. Mary’s Byzantine Church. My parents are deceased as well as my sister MaryAnn, who died at the young age of 30. We were the typical family: 2 boys, 2 girls, a mom whose occupation was homemaker, as she had to give up her court stenographer job when she married my Dad, who worked at Standard Oil. My parents worked diligently to instill in us the importance of being honest, hardworking, loyal and always to do our best. But more importantly, we – along with other Catholic families in our neighborhood – were reared with the values of Family and Church and they were the focus of how we lived our lives.

Our neighborhood had many children on our block and we were always outside playing. However, on days when it rained, my brothers and I played Church. Of course, they were the altar boys and I was the priest (wish I had saved those pictures). We were roleplaying something familiar to us, something valuable in our family life.

Church, family time and traditions were non-negotiables: we attended the parochial elementary school and were taught by the Sisters of St. Basil the Great. I acknowledge and extend my gratitude to them for their role in nurturing my vocation as a Sister.

We attended Divine Liturgy every Sunday, holyday, Lenten services and Marian Devotions. The sisters and priests would come to our house for supper at times. We were always helping out around the church and school – and if that wasn’t enough spiritual stuff, we knew that summer was coming to a close and school would begin soon when it was time to sign up for the bus trip to Uniontown for Our Lady of Perpetual Help Pilgrimage.

Like my sister and brothers, I began attending Pilgrimage at the young age of 7 years old, with $10 in my pocket for the weekend. I paid $2 a night at the retreat hotel (3 nights) $2 for any extra food I wanted and $2 for a souvenir. Although we didn’t want to always admit it, we enjoyed the rosary marathons on the 9-hour bus ride, the many blessings we received throughout the weekend and most of all, finding out ahead of our classmates which Sister would be teaching us that year.

Another family tradition was the monthly Saturday trip to Confession, but my parents added a little twist to it: we had to go to each person in our family and ask forgiveness in case we hurt them that month. Some months were easy, some were not, but to this day I attribute this ritual to helping me to be able to ask forgiveness and to forgive more easily than others.

Saturdays also had the highlight of watching Bishop Fulton Sheen on TV with his big cape, red shoes and fireand- brimstone speeches. All of these things were the fibers that helped weave the the Hutsko children’s fabric of faith. We experienced a strong family unit, not a perfect one, but we knew what was expected from us, we knew our parents loved us and were there for us – but they were not our friends. Did my parents force my brothers to become priests or me to become a sister? Not at all, but they laid the foundation and supported us every step of the way.

The 50s through 80s were times when families prayed that one or more of their children would become a priest or a nun. I remember parishes being proud of bragging rights because they had many priests or sisters from their parish. Today, when I speak to the parents of someone who I think has a vocation to be a priest or sister, they almost have cardiac arrest: “Oh, noooo, I want them to have a life, I want them to have money, I want grandchildren, I want them to be famous,” because that is what our society calls successful. The culture no longer fosters vocations as it once did.

For decades our society has been dealing with a family unit weakened by so many factors. Massive changes in U.S. family structure over the last 50 years may be America’s biggest problem for a variety of reasons, and unfortunately attempts by the Church to strengthen the family unit have met with strong opposition.

Several years ago, I read an article about the late Cardinal John O’Connor who was surrounded by reporters on TV, being hammered with questions about his opposition to a plan for the widespread distribution of condoms in public schools to curb AIDS and teenage pregnancy. One of the reporters stuck a microphone in Cardinal O’Connor’s face and said, “Cardinal, you’re expecting an awful lot from people, especially our young people, in thinking they can control themselves. That’s an awfully high standard. Isn’t it just better to admit that people can’t live up to this so they have to take precautions?”

And the Cardinal, without blinking an eye, said to the reporter, “Oh no, the whole world is saying to our young people, ‘Be good, but – wink, wink – we know you can’t, so at least be careful.’ Somebody has got to say, ‘Be good; I know you can be,’ and that has to be the Church.”

My sister, brothers and I, as well as many of you are products of a family life which was strong enough to not worry about being popular but being faithful to their beliefs and values.

When Pope Francis declared the Year of Consecrated Life, which ends on Feb. 2, 2016, the purpose was to have a renewed look at religious life, for Religious to Wake up the World, to be witnesses of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living. I do believe it has awakened people to Consecrated Life in a positive way, but also as something that has been taken for granted, thinking that priests and nuns would always be around.

Right now some of you may be thinking “yes Sister, it’s a nice story and you grew up when life was simpler, safer, not so many options.” It’s tough for parents to instill counterculture values in their children. Today, kids have so much peer pressure and opportunities for whatever they want to do with their lives. This may be true. But, I truly believe that parents – today or 50 years ago – have a difficult yet powerfully influential role in their child’s life. But you should not have to do it alone; your family, parishioners and even the culture needs to support you, as they say, “it takes a village to raise a child.” We have an uphill journey in this, but it is one worth traveling.

I will conclude with a story: In a city, there was a little girl who was walking from street to street. Finally, after a while of going and coming back almost to the same street, she got the attention of a police officer. He approached her and asked if he could help her. She replied saying that she was lost and couldn’t find her way back home. So the officer very gently asked her to get in his car and he would take her home. Driving for hours, she couldn’t recognize her street nor even her house. She finally said to the officer, “Please take me to my church and from there I’ll know my way home!” Wow!

Let us teach our children, grandchildren, and our youth their way, to God, to Church so one day if they find themselves lost, they will find their way home, their way to God from their Church.

The Provincial Superior and a 35- year member of the Congregation of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, a Byzantine Catholic Congregation, Sister Kathleen is a native of Whiting, Ind., She is a graduate of St. Mary Byzantine Catholic School and a graduate of Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. She also attended Regina Mundi in Rome, Italy and earned a certificate in Religious Studies.