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Feature Articles

Serving in the Now
by S. Frances Maureen Trampiets

S. Cathy Cahur (second row, second from left) with members of her Centering Prayer group at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in San Francisco, California.

S. Cathy Cahur is, in every sense of the word, a modern pioneer. She is also a living example of what Pope Francis has repeatedly called us to do: she left behind the familiar, the comfortable and secure, and reached out to the marginalized.

It all started with her sabbatical at the California Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Menlo Park, California, in 1985. The Institute offered graduate degrees in counseling with an emphasis on a balanced approach to mind, body and spirit.

“The participants came from different religious backgrounds and had different understandings of spirituality,” said S. Cathy, “but all were united in accepting love and support from a higher power and then trying to give loving service where it was needed. Some of my colleagues challenged my beliefs. They would say things like: ‘Cathy. How can you belong to such an exclusive Church that prohibits basic rights to gay and lesbian persons?’ This broke my heart.

“During this time our sabbatical required service in outreach and ministry,” she continued. “I chose ministry to gay and lesbian persons with HIV and worked with support groups in San Mateo County. Eventually, when I moved and settled in San Francisco, I joined Shanti, a community center providing health, counseling and support services for persons with HIV/AIDS. I was trained by Shanti and was assigned to a group. We leaders received ongoing training and support over the next several years.”                             
             
S. Cathy heard about Most Holy Redeemer Parish in San Francisco and was impressed by their outreach to the gay community. The mission statement on the cover of their weekly bulletin said: “Most Holy Redeemer Parish is a Christian Community in the Roman Catholic tradition. The parish draws people from isolation to community, from searching to awakening, from indifference to concern, from selfishness to meaningful service, from fear in the midst of adversity to faith and hope in God.”

That was a faith community that S. Cathy wanted to be a part of.

The mission statement continued: “The community of Most Holy Redeemer shares God’s compassionate love with all people. The parish offers a spiritual home to all: senior citizens and youth; single people and families; those who are straight, gay, lesbian, and transgendered; the healthy and the sick, particularly persons with HIV disease.”

S. Cathy sensed that God was calling her to ministry in the gay community and to MHR parish.  The community of Most Holy Redeemer became her faith community and her new spiritual home.

After receiving her counseling degree in 1987, S. Cathy moved to San Francisco. “I was able to find a rent control studio apartment behind a garage in the Castro, the heart of San Francisco’s gay community. It was a very small space but okay for me,” she said. “The apartment was just four blocks from Most Holy Redeemer parish.
“Father Tony McGuire, then pastor of MHR, tried to build up our parish. Many of the parishioners left were seniors. He invited gay people into the parish and began offering needed services. It was a wonderful connection – the gays and the grays! Father Donel Godfrey, SJ, wrote a book about our parish and called it just that, The Gays and the Grays. The parish did grow and continues to grow today,” said S. Cathy.

“During the AIDS crisis in San Francisco in the late 1980s,” she said, “we lost about 40 percent of the gay community.” She got a full-time job at Bay Area Research Treatment Services in San Francisco. The clinic offered services for persons suffering from opiate substance abuse, mainly heroin addicts. She served as counselor and eventually took on additional responsibilities including training of counselors and administrative and chart review duties.

It was during her ministry with drug addicted persons in the late 1980s that S. Cathy learned centering prayer with our Sisters in Colorado: Sisters Mary Michele Fischer, Mary Jean Fields, Marie Re, Mary Bauer, Margaret Donnelly, Nancy Hoffman, Pat Bernard and Jean Miller.
S. Cathy and MHR parishioner Tom Olszewski went to Snowmas, Colorado, to be trained and certified as centering prayer presenters. They taught centering prayer workshops at the parish and established a prayer group which still meets weekly. S. Cathy obtained a budget from the parish to bring in speakers and to support scholarships for centering prayer group members to make retreats at Mercy Center in Burlingame, California, where centering prayer programs and retreats are frequently offered.

Meanwhile, the western Sisters of Charity centering prayer group was meeting three times a year in Colorado. As members of the original group died, Sisters in the East began to join. Now Sisters Jean Miller, Pat Bernard, Carol Brenner, Joyce Richter and Cathy meet twice a year at the Mount for a weekend retreat.

Now retired from her work at the clinic, S. Cathy’s current ministry is in MHR parish and focuses on teaching centering prayer. She offers an annual introductory workshop, supports the ongoing weekly prayer gatherings and plans and coordinates the monthly distinguished speaker series. The March 2015 distinguished speaker was Richard P. Hardy, professor of theology and spirituality from St. Paul University, Ottawa, Canada, and the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California. He spoke on ‘Markings on the Journey in Prayer with St. Teresa of Avila.’ These monthly programs have helped parishioners cultivate deep roots in the practice of centering prayer. It has become an integral part of the lives of many in MHR parish.

Now S. Cathy is looking forward to celebrating her 60th anniversary as a Sister of Charity in September 2015. Like so many others, she began her ministry as a consecrated religious as an educator, teaching junior high school for six years in Royal Oak, Michigan, then in Cincinnati and Kettering, Ohio, and Port Huron, Michigan. In 1968 she was missioned to Holy Name High School, Cleveland, Ohio, to teach English and humanities, and from there went to Springfield, Ohio, and Denver, Colorado.

After beginning her sabbatical at the California Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, God led her down a new road. The journey was an unexpected one, but a very fruitful and deeply satisfying one.
“I am so grateful for my centering prayer daily practice,” she said. “It has been a tremendous gift for me which especially helps me to give service in the now. I keenly experience S. Simone Campbell’s definition of our vow of chastity as ‘radical availability.’ I strive for that kind of availability – to just ‘show up’ without my agenda and be truly present in the now. In my experience, very valuable.”

In speaking about her current parish ministry, S. Cathy says, “I sense I naturally offer loving ‘grandmother energy’ which is caring and supportive.”

She ended the interview with a quote from Psalm 132 in Praying the Psalms by Nan C. Merrill. “In my centering prayer teaching and in our group prayer experiences,” she said, “I try to lead others to:

‘Enter into the Silence, into the heart of truth;
For therein lies the Great Mystery where life is ever unfolding…
Listen for the music of the Holy Word in the resounding Silence of the universe.
May balance and harmony be your aim as you draw into the Heart of Love.’”