Land of Mists” is a reflection by Sr. Martha Counihan, OSU,a Sister who celebrated her 50th Jubilee of commitment to the Ursuline Community at the onset of the Coronavirus Pandemic.
As we celebrate the April 30th feast day of St. Marie of the Incarnation, I think back about a child’s book that my Ursuline great aunt sent me about Marie when I was about five. The lovely illustrations and story enchanted me. The book describes Marie’s life and subsequent arrival in Quebec (New France) in 1639. The young widow and Ursuline had been influenced by Jesuits who wrote newsletters (Jesuit Relations) describing their missionary efforts in the New World. A few years previously, the widowed Marie Martin had already made the daring decision to leave her pre-teen son with relatives to enter the cloistered Ursulines in Tours. She began to dream of New France, described vividly by the Jesuits, as a land of native peoples, with totally different cultures and beliefs, risks, danger and opportunity for evangelizing the “children of the forest.” Marie’s most vivid dream of Canada was of a “land of mists.” She got permission to go, gathered companions and some basic supplies, and set sail.
Marie and her companions arrived in New France to find a rough and ramshackle town on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. It was, naturally, a shock to the genteel ladies, filled with zeal—to face reality! Life was cold, rough, and lonely. Yet her desire to share the Faith with the indigenous people sustained her for the rest of her life.
Some years ago, I went far away to a town in the Andes of Peru with several Ursulines. We also had a goal of sharing the Faith with the poor Campesinos who lived there, far away from material comforts. San Miguel is also a “land of mists.” For much of the year, from mid-morning until mid-afternoon (when the rain begins), the area is cloaked in thick fog. A priest friend who came to visit and got out of the truck, in front of the church, could not even see the church where we lived in the sacristy, so thick was the fog.
I write this reflection for Mere Marie’s feast, having just passed the 50th anniversary of my Ursuline commitment—just as the Corona-virus broke forth in New Rochelle. The virus surrounds us and much of the world, weeks later, with its own uncertain mist. For me, making a commitment to the Ursulines at a time of constant change and uncertainty was and is both a risk and an adventure. With the present pandemic in our world, we live in a new “land of mists.” Faith and companions (at a distance) sustain us. Watercolor by Sr. Martha.
MARTHA COUNIHAN, OSU
APRIL 25, 2020