Bishop John Noonan celebrated the closing Mass of the Diocese of Orlando Sisters’ Council Retreat on Jan. 11, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. He asked the sisters to reflect on their baptism and shared moments of encounter with the Lord.
“On the day of his installation as Pope, when asked if this was the most important day of his life, Saint John XXIII replied, ‘The most important day of our lives was the day our parents brought us to the church for baptism,’” Bishop Noonan said. “And so today we thank our parents for their faith and bringing us to the church. As we come and remember our own baptism we ask our Lord to open that grace-filled moment of mercy in our lives.”
The feast and focus were an apt conclusion to the retreat held January 8 – 11 at the Doubletree Hotel, Melbourne Beach.
“Bishop, we can’t thank you enough for allowing this weekend to happen,” said Sister of Mercy Immaculata Knox, pastoral care minister at Ascension Parish, Melbourne and President of the Sisters’ Council. “We’re so happy to be here with you to celebrate the Baptism of the Lord.”
In his homily, Bishop Noonan reflected on several personal encounters with the Lord – the witness of Pope Francis’ love; the shining light of Elizabeth Buckley, a 13 year old student at St. Margaret Mary Catholic School who lost her life to brain cancer in 2012 but was an inspiration to others, and two good friends he knew from high school.
“Patrick married Patricia who gave birth to five sons,” Bishop Noonan recalled. “She had ovarian cancer during the fifth pregnancy but decided not to have chemo or radiation that might hurt the child. They named him Zachariah.”
Bishop Noonan continued that Patricia was so faith-filled that although given only six months to live, she was determined to see Zachariah walk, go to school and make his First Communion. She attended seven year old Zachariah’s First Communion in May; and the family celebrated Father’s Day, a Sunday in June with a picnic at the beach; on Monday, Patricia went home to the Lord.
“That was an encounter with the Lord,” Bishop Noonan said. “People who bring Christ in a very real way witness to the Lord in life. The Lord leads us by the hand when we take those very precious moments into our lives. We share not only our faith but the gifts of our Baptism.”
Dominican Sister Mary Hughes, Director of Transitional Services of the Leadership Council of Women Religious had facilitated the retreat – “Gospel Women: Setting the World on Fire” and focused her talk on the encounters of women with the Lord in the Gospels so that participants could recognize their own personal encounters.
“I identified most with the Syro-Phoenician woman,” said Sister of the Living Word Ruth Platte, adult faith formation director for St. Paul Parish in Leesburg. “She was someone who persisted with what she wanted not for herself, but for her daughter. It’s what we as religious do – not for ourselves, but for others. That was the bishop’s story about Patrick and Patricia. She was a persistent person. She knew what she needed to do, that kept her going and that touched the bishop’s life.”
Sister for Christian Community Jean Riggs from Annunciation Parish in Altamonte Springs is a chaplain for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
“I have the opportunity to go out and mingle with God’s people,” Sister Riggs said. “I have the opportunity to see Christ in them. I most identified with the Gospel woman who reached out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. So many who don’t know Jesus reach out to me as part of the hem of his garment and I am ever so grateful to have this vocation. Bishop Noonan’s homily made me cry – the story of Patricia, a mother’s gift to sacrifice all for her children – the feelings, a deep down faith, our Catholic religion and the love of Our Lord.”
“Sister Mary brought me to the Gospel to see and ponder the Word of God and bring it to my own life,” shared Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Reparatrix Sister Concepta Najjemba from Blessed Trinity Parish, Ocala. “I’m going back to work with the homeless and I feel the Gospel in all my actions.”