Sister Mary Catherine Litell



Brief description of your growing up years and family / Breve descripción de tus años de crecimiento y de tu familia?

I began my life in southern California in a small town bordering East LA. I had 4 siblings. When I was 5, my father died so, for the rest of my life, I had a single mom. A couple years later, we moved to Sacramento and went to St. Francis for a couple years and again in high school. I got involved in the music there where we met a teacher who became a father figure to me, Anne Marie and Celie. As we grew up, my siblings gradually pealed off. Tillie went into the convent. Jerry went to live with my uncle and aunt for some years. Anne Marie left to go to the Maryknollers, then returned home. then married. Jerry returned to live with Celie and I. Then I entered the Franciscans and Jerry went to Air Force Officer’s school, leaving Celie at home with mom. Our family was all very musical – very often when we were together, there was music involved. We would make up songs doing the dishes.

Mom, Anne Marie, Celie and I were always in choirs and Celie and I were part of a German choir that met right across the street in Sacramento. My mom died 5 months after I entered. I didn’t know she had cancer. When she said goodbye to me, she knew she wouldn’t be around. When she did write to me, after collapsing at work, I knew what it was about. I would say her death at that time was very strong for me. She was my one ally in the world in terms of having a similar point-of-view and seeing everything. Her experience of God was what shaped the mom that I knew. I loved the relationship with her and what we shared together. I was a big one for the underdog and, when I was in 8th or 9th grade, I read a book by Irving stone about the man who started labor unions. I was really really moved by that and wanted to dedicate my life to that. I told my mom about the book and it turns out that she knew this guy!

He ran for President 5 times, 2 times from prison and she voted for him all 5 times! During WWI, she was 20 years old and made a point of being friends with Germans. During WWII, she came up with the idea of create a May shrine to honor the Japanese. The FBI interviewed her because her husband was a “foreigner” and might be German (He was Norwegian.) and conspiring with a Japanese man who was a gardener. I found alignment with my mom and, when she died, I felt very alone and went into a fog for 5-6 years. In college, I read a book by Rudolph Otto about awe and loved the Hungarian professor who taught that course, who had spent time in a prison camp and escaped to the US where he received American citizenship in Buffalo, New York.

I was in the midst of registering as a music major at the local state college and, while talking with one of the Sisters about the music department, I had an experience of incredible light which guided me towards becoming a Franciscan. Before joining, I went to Norway to meet my father’s family before coming home and joining the Sisters.

Favorite story about a first—or early—ministry / Historia favorita sobre tu primer o temprano ministerio?

It was during my second, third and fourth years of teaching when I was in Montana that I had a lot of freedom to come up with ideas to enhance the topics through art and music and dance. I remember when one whole class recreated a series of parable though songs they made along with movement. Anther time, the students went through magazine, especially advertisement, and found things that expressed parables in themselves. Like Corita Kent, we looked at everything as part of the mystery and consider what it expressed and how to break the code. For the ascension, we decided together that we could get the whole school involved to celebrate the ascension, that this earth-bound person became part of everything.

They made up a song to Mexican mariachi-style music and created a line dance. At the end of the day, I remember that the whole school was outside and all the students released balloons up into the air. There was a special mass that all the priests and sisters and students took part in. It was a holiday that we celebrated all together. During art classes, I would put on music and the students, “What color is that?” Then the students created an art piece just with that color and it’s various shades. At the beginning of each year, I positioned this quote at the front of the classroom. “To understand is to stand under which is to look up to, which is the best way to understand.” It was hard to leave Montana. I loved it.

The next year, when I moved to Pasadena, our parish was made up mostly of African Americans, then Mexican Americans, and a minority of white students. Because the students loved movies and Star Trek came out, we used that movie to discover how movies are made. So I called up the producers of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, and let him know that the class was studying Star Trek to learn how to critically watch movies. That resulted in some of the students spending a day on the set, where he described the reason he started creating Star Trek. He realized that, if he created a reality on another planet, he could cover any issues he wanted, like racism, civil differences and other social issues. Then they made a film and invite Gene to come and watch with them. I liked teaching and was lucky in the principals I had.

Where you live now and how you share your Franciscan values, lifestyle, and spirituality / Dónde vives ahora y cómo compartes tus valores franciscanos, estilo de vida y espiritualidad?

I live in Oakland and I share the things that are exciting to me with friends, with my local community. It all has to do with how everything, everything, everything, is an expression of the divine, of the incarnation. Right now where I live, I’m really excited about regenerative gardening, permaculture, misolineum, forests, all that stuff. I can’t get enough of it. I read A HIdden Wholeness by Parker Palmer, The Books of Delights by Ross Gay, A Paragon by Collum Jesus and the Buddha by Marcus Borg, The Disinherited by Howard Thurman, The Earth Gospel, Sacred Earth- Sacred Soul by John Phillip Newell, The Overstory, and everything I see by Thomas Merton and Charles Eisenstein, including The Beautiful World that Our Hearts Know is Possible. I can’t get enough poetry and music – a language that can interpret what you know and have no words for – so that we can speak to it. And I watch Youtube for music and Yoyo Ma and the places he goes where he’s never gone to meet the people there and make music with them. In addition, I teach with Capacitar and continue to belong to Pace Bene.

What you most want others to know about you and the Franciscan community / Lo que más quieres que otros sepan sobre ti y la comunidad franciscana?

That the world is round and everyone and everything belongs. That God is good and so is everything else. It may get buried deep but goodness is at the essence of life.

One of your favorite quotes from St. Francis, St. Clare, Mother Magdalen, or a Bible verse, poem, or other words you find inspiring / Una de tus citas favoritas de San Francisco, Santa Clara, la Madre Magdalena, o un verso de la Biblia, un poema u otras palabras que encuentres inspiradoras?

From the Praises of God by St. Francis: You are good, all good, supreme good. You are enough. You suffice. You are all we need. (This You of course is the great cosmic personal presence.) My favorite quote from Magdalen is, “Oh. This isn’t my work. couldn’t even dream it up. It’s God’s work.” And that work includes everything, inner, outer, creation, evolution, everything. Poem: Aimless Love by Billy Cannes. When I Am Among the Trees by Mary Oliver, and anything by Ursula LeGuin and Ross Gay.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? / ¿Hay algo más que te gustaría compartir?

I’ve been recovering from various health mishaps for 2 years and experience very often being helpless to thing, to do anything, to get dressed, to get into bed. And, yet, towards the end of that time, I knew that some kind of transformation had happened within me, not because I had been doing any spiritual practices, not because I was being good. I was doing nothing. It convinced me that God does everything that is being done.

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