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Editor’s Note: Sr. Cathy Cahill, OSF, shares how receiving her letter of assignment in the summer of 1966 forced her to offer up her fear and move forward in obedience. 

In the summer of 1966 I was attending summer school at St Bonaventure University and staying at our Motherhouse nearby. One day after lunch I noticed a newspaper article on the bulletin board outside the refectory. It told of a fire bombing of a school that our Sisters staffed in Carthage, Mississippi.

The fire, which destroyed the school, happened on the night that James Meredith was shot while taking part in a peaceful civil rights march through the state. Anger and fear were driving people to lash out at places in sympathy with the push for civil rights. As I read about the fire I felt relief that our Sisters were away at the time and a very deep sadness that this could happen in our country. And I was also glad that I was not stationed there!

A few weeks later when summer school ended we all gathered in the Motherhouse chapel for the annual ritual of receiving out letters of assignment for the coming year. Since I had been change from Pennsauken, NJ to Pensacola, FL the previous year I went to the chapel quite confident that I would not be changed. Wrong! The letter that was passed down the row to me said: For the coming year you are assigned to St Anne Mission in Carthage, Mississippi. There were probably some encouraging words of blessing, but I don’t recall them. Carthage! They just burned the school down!

Sister Cathy with students in front of church 1970

                                                                                              Sister Cathy with students in front of church 1970

The words “Fear not, I am with you,” never meant so much to me. Of course I was young and filled with enthusiasm, but there was fear. Another firebomb was thrown while I was there, but no damage was done. Over and over again I reflected on those words: Fear not, I am with you.

The seven years I spent in Mississippi formed me in ways I could never have imagined. The greatest lesson was that God is with me wherever I am. God is incarnate in the person of Jesus – and in the many persons who walked with me in the Mississippi journey.

The kids with Sr. Cathy in habit on the left

                                                                                                      The kids with Sr. Cathy in habit on the left

Those simple, good, and courageous people taught me to “fear not” as well as to act in spite of fear. God is with us! Good news, indeed.

Reflection Questions: When have you acted in spite of fear? Who are some of the people who inspired you to act?

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Sister Cathy Cahill, OSF has served on the Board of FMS since 2011. She is a Franciscan Sister of Allegany and ministers as a retreat leader and spiritual director.