Alphonsian tradition alive and well today

The bronze sculpture of Sr. Theresa Maxis was created by Sr. Cor Immaculatum Heffernan, IHM. Photo credit IHM Communications Department.

Jill Troiano

Staff Writer

November 10 is an important day for the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. No, we at Marywood don’t get a day off, but what happened on this day in 1845 continues to impact this university. The founders of the IHM Congregation, Theresa Maxis Duchemin and Father Louis Gillet, laid the path for the Congregation to develop into three branches and establish three universities. Thus, we would not be here at Marywood today without the IHM Congregation and their founders.

Theresa Maxis Duchmin was the trailblazing foundress of the IHM Congregation in Monroe, Michigan in 1845. She was the first U.S. born African American woman to become a vowed religious sister. She was well educated and in 1829 was a founding member of the Oblates Sisters of Providence in Baltimore. Soon after, she accepted an invitation by Fr. Louis Gillet to establish a new religious community in Michigan. Fr. Gillet was a Redemptorist priest whose community preached the unconditional love of God to all.

In 1858, the Sisters of IHM opened a mission in Pennsylvania, and in 1871 established a Motherhouse in the diocese of Scranton. The Sisters were now divided into three separate groups in the dioceses of Detroit, Philadelphia and Scranton. Theresa worked tirelessly to bring unity to the Congregation although often the hierarchy was working against her. Theresa believed the Redemptorist tradition was essential to the spirituality of the IHM Congregation.

Even though he is not a direct founder of the Congregation, St. Alphonsus may be the most important founder, in spirit, of the Sisters of IHM. When one looks into the history of Theresa Maxis or Fr. Gillet, one cannot help but be directed back to St. Alphonsus. St. Alphonsus Liguori founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer in 1732, of which Father Gillet was a member.

Father Gillet co-founded the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who have sponsored Marywood University since 1915 and continue to honor the spirit and teachings of St. Alphonsus. That sounds like a complicated lineage, yet he is a significant saint in the present day. Believe it or not, there is a statue of St. Alphonsus near the Memorial Commons. Go check it out sometime.

St. Alphonsus had a lifelong focus to bring the Good News of God’s love to the spiritually abandoned poor.
He ministered where the church in the 18th century did not go and worked to change structures of oppression and injustice that maintained poverty. Pope John Paul II described him as, “a close friend of people, a missionary who went in search of the most abandoned souls.” He gave people hope and optimism, amidst their chaotic and uncertain lives. This redemptive mission is integrated into the mission and core values of the IHM Congregation and those of Marywood.

Several of the Marywood core values mirror those of the IHM Sisters. In particular, take note of the values of service, empowerment and justice to stand with and defend those who are denied full human dignity. Students at Marywood can carry out these core values through volunteering and in their future careers.
Campus Ministry has a group of 20 Maxis-Gillet Service Scholars who take leadership roles in community service projects on campus and in the Scranton area. This is my third year as a Maxis-Gillet leader. We participate in training to reflect on our strengths and talents, and are encouraged to use them in our leadership responsibilities.

Over the past three years, I have learned a great deal about poverty in our local community and in the nation. Most of this learning did not take place in a classroom. I have participated in five service trips and led several outreach programs through Campus Ministry.

One population I have felt compelled to serve is the homeless. They are often stereotyped yet have great life experiences to share. All a student can do is lend an ear and be a symbol of hope, a light. It is through these experiences that I have shared Jesus’ redeeming love with the people I meet and serve.

The missionary spirit and faith of St. Alphonsus is can be easily embraced by college students who are discerning their own life’s work and beliefs about God and the Church. Although he was a lawyer and wrote 111 books, St. Alphonsus spoke and prayed in simple language, so that people would understand how much God loved them. He encouraged them to talk to God as they would a friend, which young adults would feel comfortable doing as well.

The spirit and charism of St. Alphonsus, Theresa Maxis and Fr. Gillet continue to further the mission of the Sisters of IHM and Marywood University. You don’t need to go to a foreign place to minister to the poor and abandoned in the spirit of St. Alphonsus. Come to Campus Ministry and learn about many service opportunities on campus and in Scranton to honor the founders of the Sisters of IHM.