As we approached the 200th year of the existence of the Daughters of Mary and Joseph - the beginning of our third century- we of the CLT (Congregational Leadership Team) wondered how we might mark and honour this moment in our history. In consultation with the wider DMJ community, we planned an international experience for a group of the ‘younger’ sisters – an experience that would include visiting the places associated with our roots in Belgium. We planned to invite different people to write a reflection for our website that would connect with some aspect of our charism. Another thought was triggered by a former DMJ who spontaneously wrote memories of her novitiate in Castlecore. She offered it for the archives. However, this initiative sparked our awareness of the power of narrative, the treasure chest of memories that we hold among us and the notion that we might harvest these memories at this turning point in the life of the Congregation. Spurred by this thought we invited different sisters, Associates, former members to be contact persons and to extend the request for contributions among their circle. Like all such efforts to elicit material (even from the most willing of contributors) this task required ‘constant prodding’ as school reports of old used to say. We are very grateful to this cohort of supporters. Without you, this text would not exist.
The invitation was extended to current and former DMJ, to our Associates and indeed to anyone with a DMJ connection. Our brief was simple: Cast your minds over your years of DMJ connection and see what surfaces. What has stayed with you over the years and impacted on your life? Choose something that you feel comfortable sharing and simply write. We were as aware as anyone that our experience in life and our memories are often chequered. We have all had our blows. While we didn’t want sanitized versions or undue homage neither did we want a litany of miseries.
What emerged was a delight for us. There is a collage of memories reflecting life in different places and at different times. Some of it is ‘laugh-out-loud’ material; some evokes awe and silence. Our archives contain many records. However, it is hard to beat the personal accounts of lives lived. These stories are a kind of mosaic through which we see ourselves and others in a new light. They are a way of honouring our own past. We have all lived lives less ordinary. Those who journeyed with us will always be part of the fabric of our lives. Many of the stories make no reference to charism or any of the spiritual things. However, they convey so much of the spirituality, the stoicism and the humour that sustained us through hard times. They testify to companionship, solidarity, courage and lives well lived. They also reflect the extraordinary period of change that we have lived through from the pre-Vatican 2 style of religious life to a very different style of life in today’s world.
Most of the material was presented in English. We apologise to our French speakers but you will recognise that that body of material is too extensive to translate. Some contributions were presented in French and because it was a more manageable body of material and because we had sisters to undertake that translation you will find it in the two languages. We have included some overtly historical material – the experience documented by the sisters who lived through the two world wars.
This is hardly a tome that will be read straight through from beginning to end. We hope you will enjoy dipping in to the different areas of interest. We offer this to the young generation of DMJ and to those who will follow so that they will have a sense of the rock from which they are hewn.