Brother Robert Chiulli, O.Carm.
Change. It comes whether we want it to or not, whether we welcome its effect in our lives or choose to ignore it as best we can. Certainly we have recently seen a great deal of change in our country with the election of a new president, and this change has generated a range of emotions from excitement to anxiety and fear. But regardless of how it arrives, change means stepping into an uncertain future, trusting that what has gone before will be a suitable foundation for what is to come. Mother Angeline, by her own admission, was not a bold personality, not one who sought out change for novelty’s sake. She was often described by those who knew her as being somewhat reserved, and perhaps even a bit shy, never seeking to be the center of attention. However, God chose this woman to be brave, to journey out into the unknown and to trust that He would always be there to guide her. Mother Angeline began her religious life as a Little Sister of the Poor, a French Congregation dedicated to caring for the indigent elderly population. And it was in the Little Sisters of the Poor that Mother’s vocation for caring for the elderly matured and deepened. For some fifteen years, Mother served as a dedicated vowed religious, looking after the old people in her care in the manner that the Little Sisters of the Poor prescribed for all their houses.
However, after some time, Mother Angeline began to believe that the method of care the Little Sisters of the Poor required for the aged in their homes did not fit the American mentality, and that a new approach was needed. At first Mother tried to gradually implement small changes that broke from the uniformity that the Little Sisters mandated, but this was met with disapproval from her superiors. At this point, the internal conflict within her began to swell. She deeply loved her Congregation, and believed wholeheartedly in the vow of obedience. However, she also felt that her vow of hospitality, a fourth vow the Little Sisters profess, was not being lived to the fullest under the constraints she was put under. Changing the style of care for the elderly without her superior’s consent would be disobedient and dishonest; continuing to deny the old people the type of care she believed they were entitled to would empty her vocation of its meaning to serve the elderly as they would serve Christ himself.
The easiest thing for Mother to have done would be simply to do nothing, to accept the situation as it was and hope, in some sort of vague way, that maybe things would change for the better. Why agitate her superiors, why complicate things by insisting things could be done differently? It would have been simpler for all involved just to maintain the status quo. However, being a woman of profound integrity, Mother could not accept such a weak and uninspired solution. To be true to her vocation, the vocation God instilled in her, she had to move beyond what was comfortable and stretch out into something new, something unknown and without any guarantees of success. After consulting with people she trusted and after much deep prayer, she knew the right course, the honorable course, would be for her to leave the Little Sisters of the Poor and to find a new way to live out this vocation of caring for the elderly. The result of this decision lead to the foundation of the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm.
The path was not always smooth, and there were failures, along with successes, but in time, God was able to use Mother Angeline to accomplish His will because she trusted in His Providence more than she feared any change. When asked what inspired her to start a new order, Mother responded, “I never intended to start a new order. It was part of God’s plan. It grew from a desire to bring about some changes in the kind of care provided at that time for older persons.”
Mother’s response to a divine invitation is a reminder that God sometimes calls us to venture beyond what we know, beyond what is safe and predictable, so that He can put us on the front line of building up the Kingdom of God.