Tess was director of the Formation Programme for Sisters in the Philippines from 2008 tp 2014. During that six years, she welcomed an additional 46 sisters from 13 countries to participate in different programmes. She also chaired the Good Shepherd Asia Pacific Formation Team.
In 2014 Tess began a new mission - she moved to Kenya to share her skills and vision with the sisters there. Her role in Kenya also provides an opportunity to further grow the Asian-Kenyan international experiences and intercultural co-learning.
The reunification of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity with Sisters of the Good Shepherd caused re-organization in Kenya, including the merging of formation houses and programmes. Tess is playing an important role in this process.
She maintains strong connections, formal and informal, with the Asia Pacific region and sisters and lay Mission Partners throughout the region welcome her recent reflections (see below) on her experiences in Kenya.
In 2015 Tess was invited to the Mother House in Angers to present some sessions to the RIMOA Formation Core Team and the Unit Leaders. (RIMOA is the Africa/Middle East/Europe Region). Here Tess shares her reflections.
I am on my train ride from Angers, France on this first anniversary of my response to God’s call to be a missionary. I never imagined being in the Mother House again at this time and I see this opportunity as a special gift from St. Mary Euphrasia. I immediately went to her room the night I arrived and embraced her bed. The past year has been such a great experience of her spirit.
Here in Angers I was given only one day to share with the RIMOA Formation Core Team and the Unit Leaders. By God’s providence, Susan Chia (who was in a leadership session) was there to help me make the most of the time. She asked me not to give a 'lecture' on the criteria but to do it in a holistic way. She told me to focus on the growth assessment instead and to share about my experience in Kenya. That excited me because deep within, I had hoped to share about my Kenya experience because of its richness although I was asked to come to share about what we have done in Asia. It was thus easy to add it to my presentation.
I started my Kenya sharing with my conversation with Alessandra, a member of the lay staff team in Rome who asked me if I was not sick of formation work. I shared a little about what I was doing in Kenya and I was surprised when she exclaimed, 'It is holistic since you do not just teach them how to pray.' I felt affirmed.
My sharing concluded in a very emotional tone as I shared my personal learnings. I quoted some words of St. Mary Euphrasia and those in the scriptures which became significant to me as they became alive in my experience.
We are one! I had gotten deep into creation spirituality and I have come to believe that we are one. This led to my decision to volunteer to go to Kenya. I saw the needs in Kenya and I felt called to help. This has made me realize that the Generalate was not just a structure but a spirit. I came to understand why St. Mary Euphrasia had to start the Generalate: it is for us to help one another since we are one. It is a spirit of oneness!
Missionary life is the fullness of the Good Shepherd vocation. St. Mary Euphrasia had no plan of founding a new congregation. The call was for her to make the mission St. John Eudes started universal. So, to be a Good Shepherd Sister is to be a missionary. Now her words to the sisters on preparing for the demands and difficulties of the mission have greater meaning to me.
I went to Kenya without a single book except our constitution as I left behind all my books. To my surprise, I discovered that Kenya had so many nice books which I had not read. These books have nourished me so much. God indeed cannot be outdone in generosity!
'We are only canals through which the grace of God flows.' I see myself only as an instrument but it is through me that the grace of God flows. I marvel at how God is at work in the hearts of the prenovices and those whom I accompany.
'Grace is a fruit of the cross and only those who climb its height are able to gather the fruit.' I had climbed this tree which is proven by the fact that I had lost 10 lbs. in five months. Hence I was able to gather the fruits of grace!
I am still in process - God is very patient with me! I also recognize God at work in my heart to transform me. I am not finished, not perfect as St. Paul would say. And I appreciate how God has patiently waited for me. I marvel at God’s patience and I feel one with the publican in the gospel when he said, 'Be merciful to me, I am a sinner!'
The facilitator asked for a short break when I finished. She said it was to enable the group to absorb what had been shared. It became a powerful sharing as the sisters felt it was a sharing from the heart. I am not used to sharing on my personal process and this has been a new experience. I guess Mother Foundress wanted it to be that way.
What also struck them much was the application of the holistic model. I was inspired to share what the prenovices did as a send-off to our priest who was elected provincial. They presented two kinds of leaders – a dictator and another who was engaging the members in the process. In the end one of them said, 'So Father, choose what kind of leader you will be.' I had not discussed anything about the hierarchical model to them. It has been more of their experience as they developed the capacity to discuss and make decisions together. Susan (who was told of the story I suppose by one of the unit leaders) commented that it indicated how much it was already within them. Mary France (the novice directress in Angers for the past 20 years) said she now understands what the holistic model is.
The Kenya experience has really been special. It has been an experience of the Spirit at work, both in the prenovices and through me. In her thank you speech in behalf of the group, Yvonne said they felt they were back in Kenya during the program as I shared and that I was able to again make them feel enthusiastic about the holistic model. Before I left Angers, Mary Claude asked me to join the RIMOA Formation Core Team as she said I was not just for Kenya but for the whole region. That too has been part of the call I felt. I saw the need of the region for sisters to help in formation.
It was great that all of this happened at Angers. Ae Sun (Korean Contemplative missionary in Kenya) was right. When I complained about being given only a day, she said that so much can happen even within just an hour. So much indeed, when the Spirit is at work! Mary Euphrasia, I suppose, was making me share with the sisters how we can make her spirit alive in our time and age particularly in the area of networking. And this sharing had to happen in Angers. As I expressed in the Kenya session in 2013, the spirituality of the congregation continues to be alive beyond the walls of Angers – it is all over the world!
I had some time on this my last morning just to walk around the grounds of the Mother House. St. Mary Euphrasia would have certainly walked those paths. Unlike our first visit, the plants and trees were just starting to grow leaves and flowers. The apple trees had no fruits. With the very low temperature, the place did not look as joyful and full as my heart felt. But like this season of spring, something is sprouting. And it is wonderful to be part of it.
I sang 'My Soul is Joyful' at the Magnificat garden giving emphasis to the verse 'strength and life in the Spirit given to me.' My soul was truly joyful. I suppose it is the same feeling the Blessed Mother and Mary Euphrasia felt. One feels shaken and overwhelmed by the presence of God … and one’s heart sings! I am now more convinced that when we share God’s mission, the yoke is easy and the burden is light: for one does not carry it alone but with the God who strengthens us. (15 March 2015)
Click here to read Tess's Reflections on Cosmology - Coming Home to Mother Earth with the Good Shepherd
Historic first Formation and Partnership Session in Asia Pacific creates a distinct shift in the understanding of Partnership for Mission
Comprehensive overview from the GSAPP team - how Good Shepherd Partnership for Mission is developing in this region