Soon I'll be celebrating my final Mass with the 44 Sisters of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart with whom I've been on retreat. The last eight days of retreat have been a very blessed time for me. When we began, I told the Sisters that I saw myself as John the Baptist--one who was there to direct their attention to Jesus, to facilitate their encounter with Him. The Holy Spirit is the real director of a retreat and last night, as the Sisters shared some of the graces they received on the retreat, I thought about what a privilege it is to give retreats to such blessed people.
During the retreat I was able to learn a little more about this community. It is an international and diverse group of young and old, including three of the founding Sisters. Here is a little bit of the history that I learned from them and from some of their printed materials from which I'll be quoting.
Sister Ida Peterfy was the foundress of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart. She "was born on October 7, 1922, of a Hungarian Catholic family in Kosice, Slovakia. From her early youth God prepared her to be a leader, to work for others, and inspired her to establish a new religious community. On October 7, 1940, her eighteenth birthday, Sister Ida pronounced her first vows in Kassa, Hungary (now Kosice, Slovakia). This marks the beginning of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart."
Sister Ida felt called to teach children about God and others soon joined her in this work, including Sisters Hermine, Agnes, and Eva, all of whom I had the privilege of meeting and talking with during this retreat. "God called Sister Ida to bring forth a new community in times when the universal Church was under attack in her Chief Pastor and in her religious children. As the future of formal religious education became uncertain [given the Nazi and then Communist occupation of Hungary], the times called for religious who dedicate their lives to proclaim the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ in a new, appealing and personal way."
"Sister Ida's ardent faith in God and inspiration of the Holy Spirit developed an innovative catechetical method which initiated the community's religious education charism, the Five Step Illustrated Method." This method was so successful that the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart has introduced it around the world and it forms the basis for the Paul VI Pontifical Catechetical Institute in St. Louis. It also led to one of the Sisters being appointed to the fifteen member International Council for Catechetics which works closely with various Vatican Congregations.
Priests, religious educators, and parents saw how effective Sister Ida's Five Step Illustrated Method was and asked for more. The result was the production of the "Sacred Heart Kids' Club"--"a method's course on video, and 30 half hour video tapes with teachers' guides." This is a "unique religious education program for children in harmony with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The program spread to five continents in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Hungarian."
Though Sister Ida died on February 8, 2000, her charism lives on in the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart. Her work continues through their generous and talented members who work in Southern California, St. Louis, Taiwan, and Hungary. I would like to tell more about their international work but the truth is that some of it includes work in dangerous places and I cannot talk about it without jeopardizing both the ministry and the safety of the Sisters.
This is the remarkable thing about the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart. They were born at a time and in a place of danger and turmoil. Their work continues at a time when the Church is in desperate need of good religious education. And it reaches out to parts of the world where the Gospel and those who proclaim it are at risk. The blessing of this retreat has been for me to experience their heroic charity.