I’m so honored to have Mother Assumpta with me today. We have been talking a lot lately about Dominican charism and exploring why would we intentionally take our charism – to praise, bless, preach, contemplate, and give to others the fruits of our contemplation – into these platforms of digital and print media.
Now, Mother, I have known you since High School, and you still let me enter the order. So that was a privilege.
I know. That’s right. We’ll keep most of those things off the tape, Sister.
Sr. John Dominic:
In high school, I learned a lot about being a Sister just from observing you. When I became a principal, I tried to revert back to what I learned about how to lead from just listening and watching you as a woman of prayer.
I think that order in your life brings forth the ability to do something that is bold. It comes from a heart that is centered and organized on Christ.
I’d like to hear your comments on the wonderful things I noticed you do that most people may not know about. And the first thing I think about is Mother Angelica. She started doing bold things back in the early 1980s. You knew her personally, right? And you believed in her and supported her?
Oh, yes, yes. Sister John Dominic, life is a strange adventure. I don’t think you start out planning what you’re going to do. I think if you really want to do God’s will, he’s going to put you in different places because nothing is planned. Honestly, when Mother Angelica started, people thought she was the most radical person on the face of the earth.
When Mother Angelica first came to Birmingham, I remember I used to go to Mother Mary Gabriel, the principal of Saint Rose. She said to me, “I believe in her because she’s so devoted to the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother.” She said, “She is authentic.” So I think that was my first introduction to her. They would take me out to see her.
Now, that was in the very beginning before any of her T.V. and radio work ever happened. I always supported her because I found her orthodox. God uses any of us, and that’s the mystery. He doesn’t put us in a box.
Of all the years that Mother Angelica was doing her thing, the Holy See never stopped her. Even when she was not supported or accepted in the Catholic world, we were faithful to her. I think they couldn’t figure her out because she was so charismatic. I found that fun and interesting – I like a charismatic person. It’s great working for God because you never know the plan. God can use anything.
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Sr. John Dominic:
I know I talk about the order of prayer, but is there anything that you’re seeing with the authenticity in Mother Angelica and the love of religious life? Is there anything that kind of strikes you?
All I have to say is, it’s faith. I mean, it’s God’s gift. I don’t even understand it. For example, after Vatican II, when things were crazy and there was some confusion, there were just wonderful things happening. That’s when these small Catholic colleges emerged like Thomas Aquinas or Magdalene or Christendom.
Additionally, that is when religious life, for instance, had this departure. It was very painful because you realized didn’t share a philosophy of religious life with so many. It was very confusing. However, there was a group formed, the Consortium Perfectae Caritatis, which I was on the board of. That is also when the Institute on Religious Life started.
From all of this, something very interesting happened with the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. It was this group of wonderful Catholics, and they asked me to be on the board. And I thought, “What on earth?” They were all men. I was the only woman on the board. They were mostly priests. We were actually the minority. There were groups emerging that were taking care of situations like that.
Sr. John Dominic:
Right. This is what Dominicans are; this is what St. Dominic did. During a time in history when there was confusion and there was heresy, he came in with the light of truth. You, too, were able to do something quite bold during a time when everyone was confused. That is when you were on the Phil Donahue show.
I don’t know how I got into all this, but he had a group of sisters on this show whom we did not share the philosophy of religious life with. If I remember correctly, these wonderful laywomen were out of Chicago. One named Mrs. Soloman said, “You know, there’s such a thing on television when you can have equal time.” The women said, “You’ve got to go on and represent the other side,” and so that’s how I got on Phil Donahue’s show.
You know what was so interesting about that? He was lovely off-stage. Gosh, not too many in our audience have probably ever seen or heard of him, but I expected him to be hard. When I was on the show, it didn’t bother me because I expected it. There was a call-in where people could call in questions. A lady called in and said, “Phil Donahue, I do not agree with Sister, but I don’t like the way you’re treating her.” It was very interesting.
So many interesting things were happening, it made ask, “How on Earth did I get into all of these things?” Wonderful Catholic groups were just fighting for their faith, the education of their children, and everything that’s important to them. I just happened to be one of their advocates in religious life. There were many other laypeople. It was an exciting time, but it was unclear where it was going. As I say, it’s faith. Because if you really study Vatican II, you couldn’t justify what was going on. I think people were just misinterpreting the documents.
Sr. John Dominic:
I remember you always encouraged us to read them. You would say, “Make sure you read the primary sources. Find what the truth is and move forward in that.”
I see the boldness of doing some of the things you did when you were Mother General of St. Cecilia, such as sending the sisters out to many schools and on different missions. I think we share delight in seeing that they continue to flourish themselves. With regards to the Sisters of Life now, often times, as they have become more established, some people will see us in our habits and say, “The Sisters of Life have a habit like that.” I’m thinking, “Do you know the real story behind that?” Maybe you could share a little bit about your experience with Cardinal O’Connor because he’s definitely a great man of the church.
Cardinal O’Connor and I, we had our rifts together, but it was wonderful. It was one of the greatest years of my entire life. When he asked me to help in the formation of the Sisters of Life, he said, “There’s one thing I want to do.” He believed in letting them decide everything, so they picked up their habit. I said to him, “Cardinal O’Connor, I’ll do anything but I am not touching the habit.”
However one time, I got a call from the chancery asking me to come down. So, I went to him, and he said, “I want to change the sisters’ habit.” And I said, “Well, what do you want?” He said, “I want a habit like yours.”
I had to go home and tell the sisters this. He had the white habit just like ours, and he had either a blue cape and a white scapula or vice-versa. I said, “Cardinal, I think it’d be nicer if the whole thing was in one color.” That’s the only thing I had to do with it.
But the sisters were wonderful. I went home and told them, and they were wonderful. I don’t know how they put up with me that year, but I loved them. It was wonderful working with him, too. He was just great.
Sr. John Dominic:
Sometimes people will say, “What are the Dominican sisters up to?” We hope that in this next step in faith, as we begin to publish things and step into the digital world of creating content, we can be a light for people who are searching for truth. I think that goes back to Cardinal O’Connor. In the beginning years he would ask us about our plans and encourage us.
I think we were in Rome at the time, and he kept saying, “Be open to other forms of the charism.” Obviously you supported this openness to outside the box charism, as we’ve established, but how did you feel about that?
I think, as I say once again, it’s a journey of faith. I think God will open up new avenues to teach the truth. It’s very Dominican.
I mean if I wanted to say anything about the charism of the Dominican order, it’s to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of your contemplation. The best way to do that is through teaching because Dominicans believe in a good education.
Dominic was strong in education. Some people didn’t like that because he kind of excited the professors of the university to enter the order. But I think that it’s such an important part of the Dominican order to teach truth. Nowadays we have opportunities that we didn’t have years ago through the media; you can be on YouTube or television or whatever else. That is a great gift. So, if Dominic were living today, this is exactly what he would be doing.
Sr. John Dominic
I agree. Think about where we’ve come and think back to our earlier discussion of Mother Angelica. I’m sure Mother Angelica interceded for all of this to make it go a little bit easier. Like Dominic’s boldness, where he would send friars to big universities and big cities where they would be exposed to and educated by those who were there, Mother Angelica’s work was countercultural.
I have to think about the reason Mother Angelica did that because she has such a temper. She said that they had her on some radio or television in Birmingham, and she noticed that they were going to have somebody on the show that she didn’t particularly want to be featured with. She said, “Are you going to have him on?”And once hearing the confirmation she said, “Well, I’m not going to be on.” They said, “You can’t just leave.” So she told them she would open her own studio.
Sr. John Dominic
Well, Mother, we couldn’t do this if it wasn’t for your deep faith and magnanimous spirit. You’re open to seeing how the Lord leads us, and it’s been that way since the beginning.
Who would have thought, 20 years ago, when Cardinal O’Connor encouraged us to be open to that charism, that this podcast and our other work would be where things would develop. We have to be open, and I think with being magnanimous, there always has to be that element of humility so that we see that God is the source of everything.
In community life, I love magnanimity because we think about how God is bringing so many wonderful young women to us. I thought there would be some that would never be able to do this, but they’re such holy sisters. They’re prayerful.
To me, magnanimity is to really appreciate the gifts in others, to push them, and to let them flourish. God made us the way he wants us. I have gifts somebody else does not, and it is important to appreciate the gifts in every single person.
You look at every single sister, and you think one has something that I don’t have. Praise God. That’s the beauty of community. Thank God there’s someone who can sew because I can’t sew. It would be a disaster. Thank God they can cook, because I can’t cook.
Sr. John Dominic
Yes, there’s always somebody that can do something that we cannot. Mother, it is in your leadership and your witness that we move forward. Since we started the community, we haven’t really ever stopped. It’s like we continued to be pushed forward, and I think that’s really the spirit that we see in Saint Dominic: he’s always moving forward.
Well, thank you, Sister John Dominic, for what you’re doing. I couldn’t do what you’re doing either, so that’s good.
Sr. John Dominic
Well, I love the opportunity. Hopefully, if all you listeners continue to watch and listen to the podcasts of Mind and Heart that we’ll be putting together and distributing through YouTube and wherever you receive your podcasts, you can see through our lives and through our charism as Dominicans that we can be a light that can lead you in your path to holiness. We hope that ultimately leads you to friendship and communion with God. So Mother, thank you again.
Oh, thank you, Sister. Thank you. Thank you.
Sr. John Dominic Rasmussen is a Foundress and General Editor of Lumen Ecclesiae Press for the Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Her podcast Mind and Heart can be downloaded every Monday at 3:00 p.m. EST from iTunes. A visual presentation of the podcast can also be seen on YouTube at GoLEDigital.