Sister Madge Karecki is a dear friend to me and many others. Madge knows how to make and enjoy deep friendships like few people that I have met in the last several years. Sadly, at least for her scores of friends here in Chicago, Madge was called to be the president of the only Catholic college in the nation of South Africa. At the end of November she left Chicago for her new appointment. (The photo below was taken at a Midwest Missions Fellowship meeting where I spoke the day before Madge left for South Africa!)
Madge Karecki, OSC, is a Franciscan Sister (Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis) who was born in Chicago, Illinois. She has degrees in both spirituality and missiology from St. Bonaventure University in New York and The University of South Africa. She was a missionary in South Africa for 21 years. Before returning to the USA in her response to the continued call to Christian mission, she was an Associate Professor of Missiology and Christian Spirituality at the University of South Africa. In 2004 she won the university’s prize for teaching excellence. She also taught liturgy and missiology at St. John Vianney Seminary in Pretoria, South Africa. She has written several articles and essays on St. Clare and other Franciscan topics. She has published articles in The Cord, Missionalia, and The South African Journal of Higher Education and Development. She belongs to the International Leadership Association, the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), the Society of Pentecostal Studies (SPS) and the World Future Society (WFS). She is a magnificent teacher who is possessed with incredible gifts in missional-ecumenism and leadership.
Sister Madge wrote several years ago, in one of her wonderful papers on spirituality and mission, the following:
When I began my studies in missiology under the tutelage of the late Professor David Bosch some members of the Department of Missiology at the University of South Africa (UNISA) defined mission in terms of activism. As someone whose spiritual director had introduced her to contemplative prayer early on, I often questioned this definition of mission. David Bosch’s thinking complemented the activist perspective. He wrote:
Our mission does not have a life of its own: only in the hands of the sending God can it truly be called mission. Not least since the missionary initiative comes from God alone (1991:390).
Fortunately, Professor Bosch, and later Professor Kritzinger, were both open to the approach I was taking in my research. When I was invited to teach at the University of South Africa I was able to give expression to my perspective of mission in the study texts I was asked to write. In each of the three, I included sections on the relationship of spirituality and mission. So for years I have been pondering the relationship between what I call the inner and outer dimensions of mission.
With this academic and personal background in mind I developed the thesis of this presentation in the following statement: if we are going to participate in Christ’s mission in the world we must know the Lord intimately, become more and more like him and allow ourselves to be filled with Christ’s love for the world. The questions before us then are: How do we open ourselves to the mystery of communion with the Risen Lord? And, what is in essence the relationship between contemplation and mission?
Madge and I often discussed this very subject–the relationship of deep spirituality to the increasingly popular theology of missional church. Her influence upon me is profound. I miss her already, only a month after she departed for her new leadership post at St. Augustine College.
St. Augustine began as a college for postgraduate studies in Johannesburg, focusing on philosophy, education and theology. The intention of the earliest postgraduate courses was to give people who had some graduate studies the opportunity to do postgraduate studies in education, philosophy and theology, even when they did not have an undergraduate degree in any of these areas of specialization. These Masters programs were all M. Phil. degrees in education, theology and philosophy. In 2009, the first undergraduate degrees in Theology and Commerce were launched. In 2010 a Bachelor of Arts was added to the degrees offered. The aim of these courses and the postgraduate studies was to offer excellence in education in South Africa, by giving students the individual academic support they needed in order to realize their full potential.
St. Augustine is one of the over 190 universities which form part of the International Federation of Catholic Universities. On a regular basis, members from these different universities come to St Augustine to monitor the progress and standards of the College and our membership of this federation is only renewed if we meet their requirements of academic excellence.
St. Augustine was started by a group of academics and business people with a vision for academic excellence in South Africa which would address the particular needs of the country. While St. Augustine is rooted in a Catholic tradition of academic enquiry, the College welcomes staff and students from all religious and cultural backgrounds.
St. Augustine is faced with some major problems regarding its future. Madge was called, at age 65, to serve as president in order to see if this institution can be turned around. In a country where there are so few Catholics the challenge is very great. I pray for Madge daily that she will have wisdom and strength to impact the future of this much-needed institution. She has the skills to do this job but the mountain that must be climbed is great. Personally, I cannot imagine taking on this challenge. I will be 65 on March 1 and if I was called upon to leave Chicago and take on such a challenge I would feel helpless and destitute in almost every way. This is, in fact, how Madge feels I know so your prayers for her would be a great blessing to a dear sister in Christ.
Last week I received Sister Madge’s Christmas Letter. It contains a simple, yet deeply moving, story and reflection. I share part of it to seek your prayer support for my dear friend.
In the evening before going to bed on Gaudete (Rejoicing) Sunday I read Pope Francis’ Angelus message. He talked about joy in the life of a Christian. He wrote:
Christian joy, like hope, is founded on the faithfulness of God, in the certainty that God always keeps his promises. We need to trust in the faithfulness of the Lord because his salvation will not delay in breaking into our lives. Those who trust in God experience peacefulness in their hearts that nothing and no one can take away.
I was struck by the Pope’s words because I have struggled to keep believing this in the midst of my new situation here in South Africa. St. Augustine College is on the brink of collapse and I am trying to save it from this fate. It is an issue of mismanagement and inaction on the part of the Board of Directors. It is a very serious situation. I need your prayerful support. The call to trust is my daily prayer.
Nevertheless, here I am again in South Africa and what a momentous time it is! The last several days have been dominated by the death of Nelson Mandela. I am convinced that he saved the country from a blood bath in 1993. He was an extraordinary person of great integrity and selflessness. All the news reports talk about the legacy that he has left the country, but I sense deep divisions because of a lack of real leadership. Government services in health care and education are in particularly bad shape. There is a sense that nothing happens without bribes as I experienced when I tried to register the car I got through the generosity of my congregation; so there is a long way to go in realizing Mandela’s dream of a country where justice flourishes.
Pray for Sister Madge and for St. Augustine College. She is faced with a major budget crisis and the immediate need to get this college back on track! She has had to make cuts that are painful for the institution and, more importantly, for real people. In the midst of these painful decisions my beloved Sister Madge is calling her people to renewed spiritual formation. (What a fantastic model for truly Christian leadership!)
Pray also for South Africa, a nation still grieving over the loss of its founder yet a nation that seems to be lacking in the kind of leadership that can sustain its promising future at this moment. Pray also for Pope Francis, whose words give hope to Madge and me. And pray for me personally as I continue to build friendships in Chicago within the Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox communities of Christian faith.