BY MELISSA CEDILLO
Every August, the Loretto Community hosts a week long retreat at the ‘Motherhouse’. The Motherhouse is located in rural Kentucky, among tall stalks of corn. The bright green leaves and stillness of the creek give the farmland a sense of peace. This year I was there, marking the beginning of my year of service as a Loretto Volunteer.
But halfway through the retreat, the "real" world interrupted. My phone lit up. From the headline “Sexual Abuse” and “Catholic Church” jumped out at me.
I could feel my chest and stomach getting tighter as each of us poured over the details of the revelations of sexual assault in Pennsylvania. The peace I had felt upon arrival had vanished.
Here I was, about to commit a year of my life as a Catholic Volunteer, while the Catholic Church was making headlines for sexual assault cases. To add to the irony, my volunteer placement is at a feminist non-profit that accompanies women who are healing from sexual trauma.
Looking for hope and guidance, I looked to members of the Loretto Community. Each of the sisters I met had committed over 50 years of their life to the Church. In 2002, these women had witnessed similar headlines; I was only 6 years old. I did not convert to Catholicism until 2014. Yet, here they were still committed to Loretto and the Church. How did they do it?
Outside, a dark and loud summer thunderstorm shook the trees as we, Loretto Volunteers, and a group of Loretto Community Members snacked on chocolate chip cookies around a table in the large dining room.
In the middle of Kentucky, I began to learn from women who have committed to institutions that sometimes fail and to causes that seem sometimes impossible. The sisters and co-members did not give us a clear-cut solution on how to deal with the sex abuse crisis within the Church nor did they give us a rulebook on how to become perfect advocates against sexual assault. Instead, they taught me how to sustain myself.
Social justice, community, simple living, and spirituality. These are the four values I now know I need to use to keep going.
I leaned in as Lorettos described the various sit-ins and hunger strikes they participated in over the years going back to the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and the United Farm Workers movement. Marching, shouting, and fasting they put their faith into action. Many sisters had been arrested for standing their ground at nuclear testing sites.
Sitting across from me were tangible examples of lifelong women peacemakers. They had reclaimed how the body, the female body, could be used for. Instead of being the grounds for trauma and insult, they taught me a that women’s body can become grounds for resistance.
By living in intentional community, the Loretto community members created a constant support network. Some of the Lorettos in the room had been roommates for decades. This circle of women had given each one courage to face injustice after injustice.
This volunteer year I fear more allegations of sexual assault within the Church, our government, and the people we are working with will surface. I hope my intentional community will be looking towards our home as a place of renewal and hope for each of us.
There was beauty in the way the sisters and co-members were present to each other through acts of composting and recycling. They took care of the Earth in a way that reminded me to treat other human bodies more delicately. The ways in which the community members live simply prepare them to face topics like sexual assault decade after decade.
They have expanded what I originally saw as a purely financial concept into something much more. Simple living challenges me to hold my thoughts and desires lightly. Can my desires create less waste? Can buying used items help the environment? Simplicity should create a space for me to ask these questions.
The community members explained they nurture themselves through spirituality. In the middle of the tall grass we sat in a circle. The sun was setting and bugs were buzzing. The last bit of sunlight reflected on the water nearby. In this setting Loretto women taught us how to be still. How to use this stillness as a way to pray and to reflect. For the Sisters and co-members, their resilience came from a strong relationship with the Spirit.
By imitating these Loretto women, I want to use spirituality as a way to strengthen myself. I hope to use this practice of stillness as way to ground myself. When I am grounded, I am on track to be the most resilient version of myself.
Social justice, community, simple living, and spirituality. These are the four values I am trying to keep at the forefront of mind and. As more news of sexual assault allegations in the political sphere lights up my phone, I am brought back to the lessons I learned from the Sisters of Loretto during my time in Kentucky at the motherhouse.
Melissa Cedillo was born and raised a Southern Californian native. She studied Theological studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Melissa is passionate about the intersectionality of domestic violence awareness, immigration rights, and education. She enjoy reading, hiking, traveling, and road trips.
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.