Cecile Reiley, SSJ in Philadelphia

Cecile Reiley frequently sits with us on sesshins; she is the sister of Kathleen Reiley, the Maryknoll nun and zen teacher in Japan. Cecile now lives in the  St. Joseph Villa in Chestnut Hill, north Philadelphia. Following is an appreciation written for a recent celebration of her and of her work at St. Malachy’s in inner city Philadelphia.

On meeting Sister Cecile Reiley, you are put at ease by her serene appearance and gentle smile. She has the look of someone who has lived a life of quiet reflection in a secluded cloister. In reality her life has been anything but quiet and secluded. It has been a life of service to children, immigrants and the poor, a forgotten of the inner city
She calls herself a “coal cracker” from Pottsville where she grew up in a large Irish family. In 1957, Cecile answered the call to a religious life and entered the convent of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. Between 1959 and 1970, Sister Cecile taught in several parish schools in the Pennsylvania and Maryland areas. In all of these assignments, she taught all subjects as well as music. Teaching music was her tribute to her patron Saint Cecile. In the 70s, Sister served at the Paradise School for Boys and the Catholic Home for Girls in Ardmore. By the late 70s, Cecile was ready to answer a new call. The Vietnam War had ended and the “boat people” were flooding our shores. She worked with the diocese of Allentown welcoming refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Later Sister was there welcoming the displaced from Cuba, Haiti, Bosnia, Iran and from any country experiencing the oppression of war. By 1982, she was continuing her work with immigrants in the Philadelphia Archdiocese and adjusting to life in the big city.

In remembering all the wonderful work she has done, it’s hard to believe that for many years she has been suffering from severe arthritis. She endured several painful operations and at times was confined to a wheel chair. Confined is not the proper word to describe Cecile Reiley. Father John McNamee recalls meeting her, at that time in a wheel chair, at an anti-war protest in 1985. “Wheel chair or no wheel chair Cecile was going to be there.” Father Mac invited her to work with him at Saint Malachy. Sister Cecile Reiley became a vital part of the parish and would serve as the Parish Services Director for over twenty-five years. She was on her feet once again and tirelessly visited the sick and imprisoned. She found jobs for the jobless and homes for the homeless. She would work the phones and plead for these favors. No one could resist Cecile Reiley.

With her musical talent, shesmallcecilereileySSJBioetal also became involved in planning the liturgy and music selections. The church decorations for Easter, Christmas, and the Irish Concert showed her deft hand. Her artwork adorned the Christmas and Easter cards.

Her dedication to her prayer life and meditation is the source of her strength and she believes in helping others to find that strength. She supported the founding of the Jesu Caritas Prayer Group and founded the Christian Meditation group at Saint Malachy.
Sister Cecile Reiley has been a vital part of old Saint Malachy for over twenty-five years. She has not only been a part. She is Saint Malachy. Her gentle spirit and dedication have helped to make Saint Malachy the vital parish that it is today.

Andrzej Ziolkowski in South India with Fr. Ama Samy, S.J.

As almost everything in my three month journey earlier this year through the holy places of South India,  I was led to Jesuit Fr. Ama Samy’s Bodhi Zendo in Kodaikanal/Tamil Nadu by a pure coincidence or, as it were, providence. Having completed a large part of my southern itinerary I was heading north. My next stop was Shiva’s abode on the Arunachala Mountain and the famous ashram of Ramana Maharishi. Br. Michael, O.S.B, who lived in the ashram, was the one who mentioned the Bodhi Zendo to me and said that I must absolutely go there. He told me about Fr. Ama Samy. It all sounded too familiar. A Jesuit, a zen master… hadn’t I hear this before. Of course – Fr. Kennedy S.J.! One look at the map however made it clear  that the idea of going there was completely crazy. Kodaikanal was totally out of my way. If only I had known about it two months before… I had missed the place by few miles on my way from Kerala!  There I was heading north towards Chennai. Going to the zendo meant making a complete u-turn 550 km south and would make havoc of all my travel plans. My decision was clear… maybe next time.

But the idea lived on in me. Finally two weeks later I booked the tickets in Mamallapuram and in Chennai I boarded a sleeper over night bus for the long  bumpy and rough ride to Kodaikanal. It was 4:30 am when I was dropped off.  One hour walk up a hill brought me to the zendo door. It was too early for the  staff to answer the bell. Suddenly the door was flung open and there he was: Fr. Ama Samy himself standing in the doorway. What a surprise! He showed me to my room and disappeared as quickly as he appeared. The morning zazen was going on and the Master was on his way to the dokusan room.

The next three days were to slow down and blend into the zendo’s daily routine of meditation, garden work, reading, silence and hearing into the sounds of the extraordinarily beautiful nature surrounding the zendo. It was an oasis of peace and serenity, hardly imaginable in the ever-present rattle of India 2000 m below.

I was lucky enough to have some private time with Fr. Ama Samy – a wonderful human being who humbly walks his talk with a heart warming smile, in whom Christ and Buddha were like two brothers in one household. Not compromising one another but at the same time inseparable and complementing each other. His insight-giving presence was his parting gift to me as I boarded a clattering bus that brought me down a winding road into the all too familiar heat and bustle of the plains of India below. Ahead to the north, the long awaited Buddhas of Ajanta were waiting for me.   (Andrzej recently translated Roshi Kennedy’s  John Main Seminar talks for the Polish WCCM website. He can be reached at:  and.ziolkowski@gmail.com)

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Joan Kirby, rscj in Rio de Janiero

Joan Kirby (second from right) and colleagues.  

RIO+20,  June 2012: Nations Conference on Sustainable Development:   My memory of the sensory world  of Rio is powerful. Lush mountain greenery, noisy birds and clean air brought us our earth connection. Our stay was graciously hosted by our Brazilian rscj nuns at Alto do Boa Vista convent situated atop a magnificent mountain. We went to Rio hoping that contact with earth conscious people would transform us. Actually it was insertion on the mountain that remains in my heart memory as a gift of consciousness transformation.

Every day Temple of Understanding Executive Director, Alison Van Dyk and I went down the mountain to Rio+20 meetings where we heard  the most brilliant minds on the planet speak with urgency about the need to attend to climate change, shortage of water, misuse of fossil fuels, loss of bio-diversity, fracking that destroys the water table and many other industrialized ways of destroying the earth.   It will take 450 years for the plastic bottles to dissolve in the sea. Deep sea fishing is subsidized while ten million tons of fish are lost to over-fishing.  Although de-forestation has been addressed in the last few years, forests should still be seen as a public good – reducing carbon, cleaning the air and saving the earth.  High density living in cities is the way of the future but redistribution of wealth reducing inequality and intelligent urban planning are needed.

Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia’s Earth Institute said: “Forget the governments and count on bottom up alliances of civil society. A shared global network of problem solving needs to be organized around the crises we face.”  Professor Iglesias of Brazil counts on education as the only way to sustainable development. It should start in pre-school – education, education, education is the only way to implementation. Vandana Shiva pleaded for a seed bank at every religious sacred site, church, synagogue, mosque, tirth, temple.  Rabbi Soetendorp from Holland reminded us that Juliet Hollster’s vision of different religions mending and healing the world is relevant today as we count on religions to shape human behavior, speak to and educate human hearts.  We spiritual beings are writing earth consciousness into our hearts.

And yet apparently the media at home has only picked up on the weakness of the Outcomes Document produced by Member States.  In fact, the government delegations are not attending to the crisis.   The media however neglected to listen carefully to the loud and determined voice of Civil Society assuming responsibility for the future health of the planet.  Civil Society, inspired and supported by the many different religious traditions, will have to bridge the gap to save the earth for the next generations. We need Religions to be aware and to talk about values. It is time for a paradigm shift away from business as usual.

Gro Bruntland, former Prime Minister of Norway, called for a change in our current consumption and production patterns because we are overstepping planetary limits. Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, called for new constituencies of demand, a collective mobilization. She asked: ”Is there something wrong with us as human beings that we can’t see and do something to bring about the new paradigm?”

Let us hope that what we hear as weather reports about 28 inches of rain flooding all of Florida, fires because of draught in Texas, 257 homes destroyed by fires in Colorado will somehow bring home the awareness that climate disasters are causing untold suffering for Americans and for human beings all over the world .  May our sense of interconnectedness to the earth and to future generations commit our action to Rio+20’s expectations of a mobilized civil society.  The sacred order of the cosmos will strengthen the connection between the infinite and the human heart and will provide the energy needed to preserve the earth.