A Mission of Joy- Sister Bridget hails "human spirit"

Sr Bridget HaaseSr Bridget HaaseSr. Bridget Haase is a gifted storyteller, which becomes clearly evident within minutes of meeting her.

And that gift has accompanied her around the world and back to the states, where she currently serves as the coordinator of the spirituality program for The Boston Home in Dorchester, helping residents with multiple sclerosis and other degenerative neurological diseases to share their faith.

For Sister Bridget, a 67-year-old Ursuline nun, working with the residents at the Boston Home is a mission of joy, the power of the human spirit that she celebrates. "Illness can change possibly the way you live, but it’s not the end of your living," she says. "There is much more to us than our bodies. It’s the power of the spirit. You cannot define another human being by their physical limitations. I have seen such courage here, and hope, laughter, and faith."

Many of the 96 residents, whose average age is 54, are almost completely paralyzed from illness. "But they all have a reason to get up every morning," Sister Bridget says.

Founded in 1881, The Boston Home serves adults with advanced multiple sclerosis and other progressive neurological diseases in a residential setting. Guided by staff and assistive technology, residents are able to be more independent. Programs include activities such as art and field trips as well as wellness and spirituality programs. The site also provides programs for outpatients.

Having been a nun for 50 years, Sr. Bridget has found inspiration throughout her travels. "I have a pair of shoes with laces untied. When God says put on your shoes and get going, I take to the path and make the journey," she says.

She joined the Ursuline Order in 1959 at the age of 17. She had been a senior attending Ursuline Academy in New Orleans when she participated in a weekend retreat. "Girls being girls, we were having fun and not taking the retreat too seriously," she says. At one point, the priest leading the retreat drew their attention to a large crucifix in the room.

"Now, girls,’ he said to get our attention. ‘Look at that man. I ask you, what have you done for him; what are you doing for him; and what will you do for him?’ " Says Sister Bridget, "When I asked these questions of myself, I thought ‘not much.’ And when I asked myself, ‘what will you do for him,’ I thought I will become a nun."

The oldest child born to Rita and Buster Haase, she has 4 siblings. As a young girl she had dreamed of getting married and having 12 children. But the calling to the convent won her over.

"One day I asked myself, ‘why not?’ and so here I am 50 years later," she says "My mother said, ‘Dutchess – that was what my family called me – Sugar, always do what God asks you to do.’ And so it was a blessing that I received."

At that time, service in the convent was very restrictive. "I only saw my parents once a year for one to two days," she says. "There were no phone calls. You could only write at certain times. You accepted a very cloistered life in those days."

Sister Bridget spent her early days at a convent in Crystal City, Missouri, then finished her training and made her vows in 1962. She earned a degree at the College of New Rochelle in New York and then returned to St. Louis where she taught first grade to a classroom full of 40 children.

From there she took on teaching positions in Illinois and then Appalachia for five years. Additional studies at Maryknoll followed, then travel to Sudan, Rome, Senegal, England, and back to the states in Texas and Massachusetts.

Throughout her travels, she collected stories of her life and faith, which she continues to share with others. She has also served countless children in many countries as a teacher, famine worker, and spiritual guide.

"I always wanted twelve children. God multiplied this by so many twelves," she says. "It just seems like yesterday [that I joined the order.] I cannot believe that God gave me this present and called me to the religious life. It’s a special gift."

And part of that gift is her storytelling, which she has nurtured throughout her life. They came together in a book that was published last year by Paraclete Press. The funds raised from the sale of "Generous Faith" are used to support elderly Ursuline sisters.

In her book, she wanted to share the stories of people she had met and events that taught special lessons. Like the one about her neighbor, Bird Bradley, in Appalachia ,who became a spiritual mentor.

One day, as he sat for hours chewing tobacco sitting on a chair beside a creek near his house, she asked him if he ever got lonesome living alone in the mountains. He replied, “When a man’s got a creek and a stout chair and the wind is ablowin’ and he has good chewing tobacco and knows God is on his side, how can a man ever be lonely?"

Or about the time she went on a mission to the famine-plagued Sudan in Africa to help feed refugees.

It was one of her greatest challenges, working in a feeding center where there were more than 12,000 starving people during the Ethiopian famine of the late 1980s. People were living in tents and there was no water. The heat was intense.

"I was totally depressed when I first got there and was immobilized for 2-1/2 days," she says today. "Then a doctor came in the tent to see me. She had been there a few months and I asked her, ‘How have you done it for so long?’ She said, ‘If you think of all of the children, you’ll never do it. Just focus on the child in front of you and feed that child. One on one is how it’s done,’ she quoted Mother Teresa. That gave me courage. That piece of advice has lasted my whole life."
And she never forgets her experiences.

"I always live with the children I fed on my shoulder," Sister Bridget says. "As I continue my journey in life I am always aware that I fed starving children. I ask God to keep them on my shoulder and keep my life in perspective."

What many people may not be aware of is that famine continues today in parts of Africa, she says. "Famine continues in northern Kenya. Imagine every day, begging God for water and for food."

She also hopes the book will give fellow travelers food for thought on their own journey. "You don’t have to look for the abundant life, it’s all under your feet," Sister Bridget says. "I believe in living in the moment, trusting in divine care and seeing God everywhere."

When she returned to the states, she was stationed at the northeast province home of the Ursuline Order in Dedham, Mass. The order also has a base in Lewiston, Maine where she once took a position caring for children in an H.I.V./AIDS daycare program in the area.

From 1998 to 2003, Sister Bridget taught at the learning center at St. Brendan’s School in Dorchester, helping students who needed extra help as well as advanced students. At he same time, she began volunteering at the Boston Home, work that became permanent in 2003.

"My work here is two-pronged and involves presence and prayer," she says, "whether it’s listening or one-on-one visiting. I pray with the residents and hold prayer groups. If I am present to one person with prayer and hope, then at the end of the day, that’s enough."

Many people may not realize the depth of their contributions to others, whether they are volunteering to read to a resident or helping them move their arm to wipe a sneeze.

"If we wait for the big moments in life, they’ll never come,” says Sister Bridget. “We are ordinary people, holy because God lives in us. Everything we do matters because it’s done with God. Every single person is a God-bearer.”

Mass is held twice a month for the residents and other services. And Sister Bridget participates in these activities.

While she loves her work at the Boston Home, she is also involved in spreading the word of faith in other projects.

For the last two years, she and her brother Albert, a Franciscan priest based in Chicago, have had a monthly one-hour radio show that airs on a Catholic radio station called Relevant Radio. The show is called Morning Air with Sean Herriott and is heard largely in the Midwest and through the South.

Based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Relevant Radio has programs airing on more than a dozen radio stations in Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas and Wisconsin.

"We take a book and share the spirituality of the book," she says. The show, which is on from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. in Chicago, is not broadcast over local airwaves in the Northeast but it can be downloaded on the computer and heard online.

Now the brother-sister duo, who participate in the show using telephone and other remote technology, are preparing for a new weekly program called "Spirit and Life" that is expected to launch in March after being recorded in February.

"It’s going to be about experiencing God’s presence everywhere and the implications for that in living everyday life," she says. The weekly show brings a new commitment and she and her brother are already working on content for the first broadcast, which will involve 25 minutes of air time with no breaks, she says.

The show will probably run on weekends and Relevant Radio hopes to expand the listening area to other Catholic stations and perhaps to satellite transmission, she says.

"I was 13 when Albert was born. Who would have thought all these years later we would be on the radio together," Sister Bridget, who is always looking ahead at new projects.

In addition to the radio show, she hopes to launch a pre-K storytelling program at St. Brendan’s. Calling herself Sister Storyteller, she is putting together a series complete with special stuffed animal characters to work with her.

Her upcoming ventures will help her use her gifts to reach new audiences.

That’s Sister Bridget Haase, embracing all of her endeavors with an enthusiasm to serve God and a desire to tell a story.