Sister M. Gabriella Doran, CSC (1922 -2015)

In the 75 years Sister Gabriella served the people of God as a Sister of the Holy Cross, she embraced each one of her assigned ministries with enthusiasm and zeal. Whether it was as a classroom teacher, principal, social worker, advocate for the elderly, health care coordinator or volunteer, she became totally involved in meeting the needs and challenges of each role. It was never enough to do only what was expected. Sister Gabriella extended herself to go beyond the demands of the position and reached out to others with whom she worked. During her 30-plus years as an elementary school teacher in the schools of the Midwest, she used every opportunity to help not only the students but also the parents and others involved with the school and its activities. When she was changed from one mission to the next, she left behind many friends and associates who remained loyal to her for years.

In 1976 Sister Gabriella began a new type of ministry. She assisted Father Louis Putz, CSC, in establishing Harvest House in the South Bend-Mishawaka area. Father Putz had established these groups all across the country, and Sister Gabriella was enthusiastic to help the program get started locally. The program is active today at St. Adalbert Parish in South Bend, Indiana, and its purpose has remained the same: “The seniors in Harvest House are a lively group of Catholics who rejoice in the God-given gift of dear friendship …. If you are looking for a place to belong, as well as a place where God can use your gifts, then Harvest House is the place for you!”

Working with these energetic senior citizens sparked in Sister Gabriella a real desire to continue working as an advocate for the elderly, so it was a natural transition for her to spend the next five years as a caseworker in R.E.A.L. Services (Resources for Enriching Adult Living). Sister Gabriella then moved to related services in health care as nursing home director of pastoral services at St. John’s Medical Center in Anderson, Indiana, before taking that same position at Saint Joseph’s Care Center in South Bend for the next 13 years. Her retirement from that position sparked a farewell that reflected the appreciation and love of her fellow workers. Never to rest on her laurels, Sister Gabriella became an avid member of the congregation’s vocation outreach team, pouring her energy into one of her favorite causes. She contacted numerous local parishes and urged them to form vocation committees that would identify and promote vocations. This zeal, for which Sister Gabriella was valued, was typical of her pursuit of what she considered a worthy cause.

From 2002 until her death, Sister Gabriella worked to gain recognition of the service of the Sisters of the Holy Cross at St. Columba School and Saint Mary’s Hospital in Cairo, Illinois. She was sad to see the sisters withdrawn from the school in 1963 where she had been principal for 13 years. The school initially was established as a mission to serve the African-American children in the area, but the state ordered the school to integrate, removing the aspect of special ministry to the poor. Saint Mary’s Hospital was established in 1867 and remained staffed by Holy Cross until 1973 when it was sold. This lack of recognition became Sister Gabriella’s and numerous parishioners’ burning cause and together they launched a campaign to attempt to gain recognition for the years of work of the Sisters of the Holy Cross among the people of Cairo.

December 25, 2020

The word infant literally means “one who cannot speak.”  How ironic, then, that the eternal Word is born into the world as a helpless infant who utters not a single syllable.  While some will see such a contradiction as absurd, our faith nevertheless invites us to trust that there is a lesson in it all.  What if the Word’s humble acceptance of this particular plan of salvation actually sounds forth more powerfully than all the wavelengths that ever existed?  What if, by this divine risk of incarnation, the Word is modeling for us the meaning of our human existence?  What if instead of “speaking our minds,” “voicing our opinions” and “telling our tales,” we are called to be co-listeners with the Word, to be vulnerable by our openness, and to speak a message of hope to others through the very witness of our lives?  One day that little baby will become a man and the wooden manger will become the Cross, and we will learn that the meaning of our lives, from the feeding trough to that gushing side, is eucharistic.  In the meantime, let us simply enjoy the silence of this most holy night and allow our hearts to be captivated by the mystery and beauty of the Word-made-infant.  Ave Crux, Spes Unica. 

Father Timothy Maher, C.S.C. (1831-1925)

“Timothy Maher was born in Tipperary, Ireland, and he came to Notre Dame in 1846. His first thought was to become a Brother of Holy Cross, and that he did, taking the name of Brother John Chrysostom.  Later on, in 1861, he decided that he would like to become a priest of the Congregation, a change that was permitted in those days. He was ordained in New Orleans, together with two other men, who had likewise been Brothers, on August 15, 1869. Father Cavanaugh writes about Father Maher: ‘. . . Even before profession, Father Maher had been charged with the financial accounts of the University. In a little room opposite the treasurer’s office now, on the ground floor of the (old infirmary), the difficult duties of the Secretary of the University were carried on. . . [He] continued in charge of the University ledgers for many years and was then transferred to a similar work as Postmaster of the University, an office he held not merely for years, but for decades. He had already attained extreme old age, but he remained a charming and cheerful figure on the campus, taking a young man’s delight in every incident of importance, cheering younger men with his light-heartedness, his genial humor and his incomparable courage, and lending his natural gaiety to the Community recreation in a way that created universal happiness and content. Until his strength so far failed him that he had to retire to the gentle shades of the Community House, he remained the inspiration of the younger members of the Community, and indeed it was their love and devotion to him and his rare and beautiful ascendancy over them that won for him, by the common voice and out of the common heart, the title of President of the Young Men’s Club. Academically, Father Maher was not a scholar, but I have hardly ever known a better judge of a good book, a strong magazine article or a substantial and inspiring speech. What other men got by a long scholastic training, he seemed to possess by a sort of natural instinct, as he knew without teaching how to detect shoddy in a coat, a book, or a man’.

“Father Maher was a model religious. He never missed an exercise of piety through neglect. There never was a more charitable tongue in a monk and never was a Soldier of Christ less a pharisee.  When he passed away in the early morning of Friday, May 15, 1925, there disappeared from the life of the campus and the Community one of the rarest figures Notre Dame has known. He slipped out of life as unostentatiously as he had slipped into everything and out of everything for the past sixty years of his abiding here. True, he had been anointed a few days before, but the intervening days had been comfortable and normal and no one dreamed the end was so near. Indeed, the Superior was actually on his way from the chapel to the room of the venerable priest to bring him Holy Communion when Brother Julius hurried out to tell the Sister that Father Maher suddenly seemed to be sinking. Before Sister could reach his bedside, he had gently and almost imperceptibly ceased to breathe”.  Hope, Father Arthur Notre Dame—One Hundred Years.

December 19, 2020

Were you afraid of the dark as a kid?  Waking up in a dark room, walking into the basement, or being outside in the late hours of the night can still make my heart pound and cause my breath to become shallow!  The uncertainty and the powerlessness of our senses during these moments are, nevertheless, an excellent analogy for our spiritual lives.  Indeed, it is when scientific certainty and clarity of intellect give way to that slow process of trust, that we begin to really and truly walk in intimacy and friendship with the Lord who calls us forth from the shadows of the night (cf. Jn 3:2).  Indeed, maybe the darkness really is not that dark after all.  Maybe our minds, which have become the seedbeds for all sorts of expectations and illusions and ideas about life and the way things should be have been dark all along and we just don’t recall what the light is like!  Let us, therefore, learn to not be afraid of the dark (Jn 6:20).  Let us remember that “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12) can only be perceived at the level of the heart (cf. Rom 10:9).  And above all else, let us not forget that Jesus rose from the dead “while it was still dark” (Jn 20:1) .  Ave Crux, Spes Unica!

Sister M. St. Brigid (Hilda) Bromeling, C. S. C. (1916-2020)

The Least Likely to Become a Nun

When Hilda Bromeling applied to the Sisters of the Holy Cross in May 1941, after graduating from Saint Mary’s College in 1940, her motivation was “to serve God and to remove the obstacles which hinder my perfection.” She was accepted into the Congregation and entered a few months later. Among her college classmates, Hilda was viewed as “the least likely to become a nun.” Yet, she spent over 75 years seeking perfection in charity as a consecrated woman religious as Sister Mary St. Brigid. There were obstacles along the way, whether due to her personal history or restless spirit.

She was born in Woodlawn (now Aliquippa), Pennsylvania, September 1, 1916. Hilda was the youngest of eight children born to Czechoslovakian immigrants. When the children’s mother died, their father needed help raising the youngest siblings, one boy and two girls, as the rest were older or close to adulthood. Since no one was able to care for all three children as the father insisted, they were placed in a home for adoption. It is known that Merton and Margaret Blacker Bromeling adopted Hilda, “who was a very sweet child,” giving her every advantage, providing for an excellent education and extensive travel. In adulthood she called them her guardians.

Sister St. Brigid developed a very deep faith. At the end of her novitiate formation at Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, Indiana, she seriously considered entering a contemplative order instead of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. After counsel by her spiritual director and the Congregation’s superior general, she accepted God’s will and freely pronounced vows. Two other times she felt called again to enter a monastery and twice more, her discernment led her to remain in Holy Cross. 

Sister earned a master’s in theology in 1952 from Saint Mary’s School of Theology, Notre Dame, the first of its kind for Catholic women. The first 28 years of her ministry were spent mostly in elementary education in Utah, California, Indiana and Michigan.

In her pursuit of perfection, Sister St. Brigid always wanted to be or do something more. Not only had she felt drawn to the sacrifice and silence of the contemplative life, she simultaneously felt compelled to throw herself into being a missionary in the new Holy Cross foundation in São Paulo, Brazil, where she taught at the Colégio Santa Maria from 1956 to 1961. Later, in 1971, having given two previous summers of service in the leper settlement of Kaulapapa on the island of Molokai, Hawaii, she managed to secure an extraordinary permission from the state’s Department of Health to live for one year on the island, lest she develop the infectious Hansen’s disease herself. Her mission was to write for blind and handless lepers, visit them in their cottages, and read them the Bible and other books. Upon advice of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis of Syracuse, New York, who trained her for this ministry and with whom she lived, Sister St. Brigid returned to Saint Mary’s in 1972 and gave service to the Congregation in various capacities for many more years. She retired to a fully contemplative life of prayer in 2000 at Saint Mary’s Convent. [Adapted from an obituary written by Sister Catherine Osimo, CSC]

December 12, 2020

Question: What’s the difference between the mythological figure Atlas, who spent eternity bearing the literal weight of the world on his shoulders, and Jesus, on whose shoulders the heavy wood of the Cross rested?  Answer:  only one of them was going somewhere!  The Cross is indeed a weight but it is not a punishment – as the famous god had to endure.  Rather, the Cross is heavy so as to keep us focused, grounded and on track on the way to transformation.  And while we can sometimes find ourselves in an Atlas-situation during our journeys through life, we must not give into the temptation to simply “shrug” and go on our merry way (as a popular twentieth century author suggests).  No, we must learn to ask for the desire to move forward, the grace to walk in true freedom, and the humility to let go of attachments that simply add to our load without giving us life.  And so, the next time we catch ourselves complaining about how we have the weight of the world on our shoulders, we should look to Jesus whose “yoke was easy and burden light” (Mt 11:30)  and be reminded that we have only truly taken up the Cross when our feet are taking us somewhere in life (cf. Mt 16:24).  Ave Crux, Spes Unica!

Brother Charles Borromeo Harding, C.S.C. (1838-1922)

Patrick Harding was born in Ireland and entered the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1862.  A carpenter’s son, he became a self-taught institutional builder and construction manager involved in almost every new addition to Notre Dame’s physical plant between 1868 and 1911. St. Edward’s Hall, Corby Hall, Dujarié Hall (now Carroll Hall), the Institute of Technology (now Crowley Hall of Music), the current Sacred Heart Basilica, and the boat house are all his extent designs.  He also built two wings of Sorin Hall, the Fieldhouse Gymnasium (no longer on the campus), the Manual Labor School, the Ave Maria Offices, the Community House (now Columba Hall), the Portiuncula Chapel (no longer on campus), and the first post office. In 1879 he also served as the supervising architect of the Main Building.  Finally, in the 1880’s he oversaw the building of the dome and a spire each going up simultaneously.  There are no records that indicate that he had taken any courses in construction nor architectural renderings. Tradition has it that Brother Charles used unsawn tree trunks from the Michigan hardwood forests as the inner structural supports around which he fashioned the piers that support Sacred Heart’s vaulted roof.  (Adapted from Schlereth, Thomas J. “A Spire of Faith: The University of Notre Dame’s Sacred Heart Church,” 1991)

The minutes from the meetings of the Notre Dame Council of Administration for 1897-1900 illustrate how greatly Brother Charles’ services were in demand and how extensive his contributions to the growth of Notre Dame:

22 January 1897: Brother Charles Borromeo is authorized to build the two wings at Sorin Hall at an estimate of $12,000.

26 March 1897: Brother Charles is requested to make a plan and an estimate to enlarge the gymnasium.

9 April 1897: Brother Charles is directed to make plans and specifications for the new Manual Labor School to be ready for September.

18 March 1898: The Portiuncula Chapel is to be taken down and the bricks used for the new gymnasium.

22 September 1899: Brother Charles was appointed to draw the plans for the new Community House.  Stones and bricks are to be ordered and the construction begun at once.

23 March 1900: It was directed to erect one more wing to the new Community House at Mount St. Vincent.

His competence extended beyond Notre Dame to the University of Portland where he worked from 1911-1922 and built the sisters’ convent.  Because of his age, he was sent back to Notre Dame, but had to stop in Salt Lake City and seek assistance from the Sisters’ hospital where he died.  He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery.  In 1983 archivist Brother Edward Sniatecki wrote, “Brother Charles Borromeo was always quiet and retired in manner: a genuine, gentle and courageous religious.  A man of deep faith and sincere piety which was never showy.  He loved the rule and practiced it with fidelity.” The Columbiad of the University of Portland carried the following obituary notice in October, 1922:

Once more I missed Him on the accustomed hill,

Along the heath and near his favorite tree;

Another came, nor yet beside the rill,

Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he.


December 5, 2020

When we were kids, we tried to imagine what the end of outer space looks like.  Is there a fence?  A concrete wall?  A sign posted?  But again and again our minds refused to accept such a ridiculous conclusion, because we all knew that there would be something on the other side of the fence, wall, sign, etc. that would have to be accounted for!  This simple intellectual exercise is a good analogy for our human journeys.  At what point will we finally be discontented with the narrow space of our self-containment?  When will our hearts be restless enough for us to take the risk of living outside the little worlds we have created for ourselves?  How long will it take for us to realize that we were meant for transcendence and not complacency?!  We have only to look to the Cross, that boundary-pressing reality, which invites us to go beyond what we feel to be safe and secure.  Indeed, this Jesus, crucified outside the literal walls of Jerusalem, wants us to discover our true selves in this bold act of trust that puts us in touch with the infinite, where our true identities as children of our heavenly Father are realized.  So, the next time we find ourselves sad and depressed and feeling stuck in life, we should ask ourselves whether we have settled for a fence or a wall, then consider adopting the Cross as the pattern that will lead us to true life.  Ave Crux, Spes Unica!

Sister María Luisa Güereña, CSC (1928-2020)

Amada María Luisa Güereña was born in Los Angeles, California, of parents who had migrated from Mexico. She was the second oldest and first daughter of José María Güereña, a blacksmith, and Magdalena Gómez, a homemaker. As the first girl she must have been “The Beloved,” as her first name in Spanish implies. After graduating in 1946 from a Catholic girls’ high school in Los Angeles, where she was called “Mary Louise,” she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. At the end of her postulancy she received the habit and the name Sister María Dominga. She later wrote that her religious vocation came first from “our home, which was deeply Mexican in its religiosity and in its customs.” Throughout her life she sought to claim an authentic identity and spirituality rooted in her Mexican values and those of the Congregation, which was culturally Euro-American in 1946.

Making her initial profession of vows in February 1949, Sister Maria later earned a Bachelor of Education from the College of Saint Mary of the Wasatch, Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1959. Her schooling prepared her for 28 years as an educator—from the care of orphans at St. Ann Orphanage in Salt Lake City to training teachers in Telêmaco Borba, Brazil.

Over a lifetime, Sister María Luisa spent 59 years in full-time ministries of education and pastoral care, in schools, hospitals, and parishes in California, Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Texas, Indiana, and Brazil. After many years serving the Church and the Congregation so generously, she retired from active ministry in 2008 to live at Saint Catherine by the Sea Convent, Ventura, California, where she served in a ministry of prayer while volunteering in chaplaincy in local hospitals, particularly in neonatal intensive care units, utilizing both her experience and her bilingual skills. As an artist, she had once worked at Franciscan Communications in filmmaking in Los Angeles. In Ventura, she enjoyed making pottery, painting watercolors, and contemplating the garden she tended from the patio outside her bedroom.

Sister María Luisa wrote in a reflection years ago that transitions were difficult and challenging for her, but they opened new vistas and provided “an ongoing pilgrimage of discovery.” After a long illness, Sister María Luisa completed her pilgrimage of discovery dying at Mary Health of the Sick, a skilled nursing facility in Newbury Park, California.  –Written by Sister M. Joseph Cecile (Voelker), CSC