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    Posted December 24, 2012 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Christmas where you live

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    Sisters of Compassion-the Power of Prayer


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     mediaman says he first heard about the Franciscan Sisters of the Mary of the Angels Chapel from people in the La Crosse, Wisconsin, community, which is where the Chapel is located. Already intrigued by their unique history, he says people's experiences praying with the Sisters interested him in covering this story. 'People would tell me stories of their devotion, hope and their prayer vigils,' he said. He says he pushed himself to tell this story because he wanted to share the Sisters' compassion. 'I wanted to capture the unseen world of the Franciscan Sisters,' he said.
    - Jareen, CNN iReport producer

    As 2012 comes to an end, most of us are focused on the holiday season and the New Year. People scurry to purchase last minute gifts, holiday lights twinkle and glow, and in colder regions, snowflakes are slowly drifting down to the ground as you look out your window at the evening wonderland.


    At midnight, on a late December evening, a soft glow can be seen coming from a stained glass window of a small chapel. Inside, is a story of a small group of Sisters sitting and kneeling in prayer- a vigil of continual prayer unbroken for over 134 years. For the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration- this is their story of compassion and prayer.


    The roots of the Franciscan Sisters can originally be traced back to Bavaria. Eventually the group founded an order in Milwaukee in 1849. In 1871, the Sisters moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin and later the first Maria Angelorum Chapel was dedicated three years later. In 1878 the Sisters began their Perpetual Adoration, a round-the-clock prayer vigil. Appreciating how much history has passed since the Sisters began praying, uninterrupted, is difficult to comprehend. Understanding the power of prayer and compassion is both fascinating and enlightening. To better understand their way of life, the Franciscan Sisters provided a private behind-the-scenes view of their world.


    Sister Ronalda Hophan, a member of the Franciscan Sisters, provided a tour of the Convent and some insight into her world. Each day she receives phone calls, letters, entries in a devotion book, and e-mails from people requesting prayers. She said, “We get a lot of prayers for military people who are in Afghanistan and Iraq… people who are dying, people who are having surgery…and we get a lot of children with cancer…just a lot of prayers for children.” Sister Hophan answers hundreds of requests each week. She answers every one of them.


    She commented, “Some will tell me I can tell you were praying for me, or the minute I knew you were praying for me, I felt better.” She reflected, “People will write back, sometimes a year later.”


    It is easy to see the compassion in Sister Hophan's eyes and voice. Each day she collects all prayers and groups them into categories for the Sisters to pray for. Sister Hophan said, “Just the thought that somebody cared enough for them right now, every minute of this day and night for this week” means a great deal. As the Sister spoke, tears welled up in her eyes. Struck with emotion she said, “It touches your heart. I feel for them…and partly because my sister just died and was buried (several) weeks ago… It gets to you, especially with the children…that are sick and dying of cancer...and the babies 2 or 3 months old dying of cancer.” She shook her head and smiled through the tears.

    Nearby I took a photograph of Sister Hophan in front of a stained glass window depicting Archangel Gabriel, known as the Messenger of God and whose name means “God is my strength.” The photo appears to capture Gabriel’s message to Sister Hophan herself, as she endures the weight of other people’s pain.


    Sister Hophan continued the tour as we walked to the Mary of the Angels Chapel in St. Rose Convent. This Chapel is breathtaking. It is here visitors can pray and attend prayer services. Inside are large towering arched ceilings, bathed in warm glowing light. The architectural is visually stunning. Above the altar is a painting by Thaddeus von Zukotynski (1855–1912) depicting St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order.

    Sister Hophan ushered us though a large wood door which leads into the Sister’s private Adoration Chapel. It is here that Sisters pray unseen by the public, 24 hours a day, 7-days a week- more than a century-old tradition. Sister Hophan sat quietly in silence in the back of the Chapel and prayed.


    After a few moments we left the private Chapel and Sister Hophan spoke about her life. She talked about her conviction of helping the homeless in the community. She said we should “treat them the way you wish to be treated if you were in their shoes.” When asked what she would like her legacy to be, she paused and said, “The legacy I want to leave…is compassion.”

    When talking about prayer Sister Hophan says that her greatest satisfaction is when people write back to say they felt the presence of prayer, even though they didn’t get what they wanted. “I think that is the greater satisfaction.” She continued, “Prayer is not always going to give you what you want, but somehow it will touch you and change you. That you can handle whatever it is that has come and placed on your shoulders.”


    With the afternoon tour completed, the next visit would come about nine hours later, just before midnight, to photograph the Sisters in prayer late into the evening.


    At precisely 11:40pm I was met at the door by Sister Antona Schedlo. She greeted me with a warm and friendly smile, and led me through a darkened hallway to the private Adoration Chapel. The room was warm and extremely quiet. In the Chapel two sisters were kneeling deep in prayer. At the front of the Chapel was an impressive white altar. A prominently displayed mantle clock chimed on the quarter hour. In the stillness, you could almost hear the ticking gears in the clock as it counted the passing seconds. As the clock struck midnight, the Sisters in unison recited a prayer aloud. On each subsequent hour, a new group of Sisters would enter the Chapel to begin their own round of prayer.


    The scene was impressively serene and peaceful. It was an incredibly moving scene- these Sisters praying for thousands of people who they will most likely would never meet. At 1:00am, the clock chimed once again and another group of Sister’s entered the Chapel. This time one of the Sisters was wearing a colorful sleeping robe. The prayers continued.


    As we left the Chapel, Sister Antona took a few minutes to talk about her life. She came to the Convent back in 1952. She described her experience of continued prayer as “relaxing in the presence of God…very powerful and peaceful.” She spoke of the importance of taking care of the homeless. “It is sad these people have no place to go. Living in the wintertime. It shouldn’t be. It just doesn’t seem right. It is something we all can work for.”


    She reflected on the Newton, Connecticut tragedy saying, “Words cannot describe how I am feeling as I keep hearing of the tragedy. How can someone do this to innocent children and adults? I beg God that He will hold them and comfort them…I pray for the community, school, parents, siblings and all those suffering from this that they will not let hate or revenge stay in their hearts. God be merciful to the one who did this to them.”


    As with each of the Sisters who pray here, they bear the weight of the pain of others, and try to provide guidance and comfort in prayer. The prayer continued through the evening as it has for so many years before.


    As I left the Convent Sister Antona greeted me at the door and waved goodbye. The outside air was damp and cold for this early December morning. For a moment, I wondered how the homeless were surviving tonight. I looked at my watch- it was 2:00am. I packed my camera gear into the car and briefly reflected on what I had experienced. I drove pass the Convent heading home, and there standing in the door entrance was Sister Anonta- making sure I was safely on my way.

    Back in the Chapel the Sisters continued to pray hoping to provide comfort and hope in the world. Certainly these Franciscan Sisters are truly the Sisters of compassion and prayer.

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