About Julia Walsh

Originally from Northeast Iowa, Sister Julia is a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, based in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Her love for God and God's good world is manifested in her attempts to be an educator, a youth empower-er, an earth lover, and a peacemaker. She ministers in the Midwest.

you’re invited to a church family reunion

Church is tough.  We are like a big dysfunctional family regularly squabbling and bickering about bizarre things.  Sometimes we try to divorce each other or run away from home. But, we can’t, really.  The Christian church family is the only family that. . .  (continued at Messy Jesus Business)

in God’s time

We can’t really know what God is up to.

But we can wonder, and we do.  Wondering about what God is doing makes me feel like I am the size of an ant in an expansive universe.   Actually, I am, in a way.

Somehow, though, I am part of it all.

Paradigms of planet, church, religion and humanity are shifting all around us.  Sometimes, these shifts are gradual and gentle, like water flowing silently downstream.  Other times, though, the societal changes are so shocking we almost feel damaged.  We collapse on crosswalks and sprint down the streets of tomorrow while the statues of our ancestors laugh at our blindness.  Can we see the beauty that surrounds us today?

As we listen to the news and hold it up to what we’re working for, we can become discouraged and worried.  What’s happening to our democracy? What’s going on in Christianity? Passions and power quake the church and government and we wonder what to have faith in.

Since I am a young woman religious I keep finding myself on the edge of great movements. Feeling the movements on the edges help me gain confidence in the goodness of God’s guidance.

Over a week ago I was a participant in a wonderfully strange conference.  Giving Voice, a national organization for young women religious, sponsored an inter-generational conference in Chicago to discuss what is happening in this life of ours, religious life.  We came with a sense that God is up to something new and different.  Together we wondered what that was.  The wondering was strange because we were talking about something that we didn’t know.

In Madeleine L’Engle‘s book  A Wrinkle in Time, Mrs. Whatsit sighs and tries to answer the questions of children.  “Explanations are not easy when they are about things for which your civilization still has no words.”  I desire to explain what I’ve experienced and sensed, but what is emerging seems to be beyond anything we have ever known.

I know it though, God is up to something. Paradigms are shifting; the world is changing right under our feet.  When the earth moves, it can feel dangerous.  We don’t know what will break around us.  We grip to reactions based in fear and power and doubt survival.  We crash and forget what we most need to move on: each other.  As tumultuous as all the crashing and changing may feel, we can trust God and have hope.  God is in control and shifts can be good.

At the “young nun” conference we sought to contemplate the goodness that vibrates through the groans.  The process was deep and profound.  We listened, prayed, shared, played, questioned, connected and organized.  We learned too.  We were blessed to be with Sandra Schneiders, who is a great historian and theologian.  She’s pretty much the expert on religious life and what is has been, is, and could be.  In other words, Schneiders is a woman who can speak quite well about how God has worked with people throughout time.

We pondered what it means to be religious women in this time of unknowing.  We leaned in, all 150 women religious seemingly stuck in 2011. We felt connected to the deep roots of our ancient tradition and movements toward the future.  In these moments, I pondered how our human minds limit understanding what time really is.  Science agrees with what my spirit senses, too.  Time, as we know it, is an illusion.

So, we’re a part of this illusive time and God needs us to work.  Schneiders’ analysis of this Kairos was based in her insights that the signs of these times are globalization, secularization, pluralization, and de-traditionalization.  We are called to respond to what’s going on and how it impacts spirituality, politics, service and poverty.  We really need to be involved.

I keep wondering.  How are we supposed to respond to God’s call?  If the needs of this time are so great- and they are- then how are we supposed to be present to the suffering and bring life to the future?  What actions do we need to take to birth a new paradigm and way of being?

As we ponder the power of Now, we get to listen to the whispers of the Spirit who always compels us to grow and change.  At the end of the conference, consciousness brought forth the art of poetry.  In peace, we walked through the shift and blessed the words of wonder.  There was silence as we gazed at what the time had emerged.

In art there are answers.  We need not worry about how to bring forth a new paradigm, after all.  We can just focus on living the reign of God.  After we do this for some time, then we’ll be able to look around and be awed that God has used us to help create something new.  Thanks be to God!

Originally from Northeast Iowa, Sister Julia is a  Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, based in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  Her love for God and God’s good world is manifested in her attempts to be an educator, a youth empower-er, an earth lover, and a peacemaker.  She ministers at an inner-city Catholic high school in Chicago.
Sister Julia also blogs at http://messyjesusbusiness.wordpress.com/. 

A version of this post was previously posted on the Messy Jesus Business blog.

A young nun’s response to “For These Young Nuns, Habits Are The New Radical”

I am fascinated by how the season of Advent/Christmas tends to be a time when the secular media tells stories about how people live their faith. Sometimes it makes me sigh out, “Hey! We don’t just do this faith thing on holidays!  How about some Truth during ordinary times?”

Nonetheless, I appreciate the attention, especially when the stories focus on how our generation keeps the good faith.  Yesterday I was able to catch a story on NPR’s “All Things Considered” called “For These Young Nuns, Habits Are The Radical.” The story gives nine minutes of good attention to a lively congregation, the Nashville Dominicans, who have many new, young members.  Please listen to the story, and tell me what you think.  It’s a conversation worth having for all of us who desire to discern how we are each called to live the gospel radically in our own ways.

I really loved the story.  Everything that was described and stated resonated with my own reasons for becoming a young nun.

My only disappointment is that the story failed to mention that communities like mine are still receiving new young members.  Although we don’t come in as crowds, we count.

While I was discerning the sisterhood in college, some of my friends recommended the Nashville Dominicans to me.   I remember requesting materials and considering them. I also remember being attracted to some things about their life, like how many new young members they have.  I don’t remember why for sure, but I decided to eliminate them from my list of possible communities.  Afterwards, I joined my community.

Today I have no doubts that God called me directly to my community, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.  I am very confident that I am right where I need to be and living the way that God needs me to.  I am grateful and honored to be a member of a holy community of praying, steadfast women of social justice and service.  I am inspired by the wisdom of my elder sisters and the actions of my peers.  I believe that the light that comes out of the adoration chapel in our motherhouse energizes the globe with peace and healing.  We don’t look too traditional, but our motto, “modern lives, sacred traditions”, rings true.

I believe I belong with the FSPA because I fit in, and they support all that I am about. Without having met the Nashville Dominicans I can’t really be sure, but I suspect that they are more concerned with being faithful to the magisterium and upholding church doctrine than I am.  I can’t say that I am not concerned with those things; I believe that it is the call of some parts of the church to do that work.

I have never felt called to dissent against the church.  I do feel called to challenge, however.

As I challenge, I am inspired by the courage and the approach of some of my favorite church reformers: St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, and Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA.  With great reverence and deep connection to God, all four of these holy disciples stood before church authority and asked for changes.  They pointed to the gospel of inclusivity and stirred the hearts of the powerful.  They stood for and with the powerless.  They prayed, and the changes began.

The reformers of the past have taught me that it is important to ask questions.  We are a church defined by conscience, so we must always offer safe spaces to authentically discern the ways that the Spirit uniquely tugs at our hearts.  As we keep our faith let’s remember that the reign of God in its fullness is unlike anything we have ever seen or experienced before, it’s much better.  I am pretty sure that God’s dreams for us will only come true if we remain open.

I love the diversity within our church.  I am grateful for the witness of the Nashville Dominicans and communities like theirs.  Nonetheless, I don’t think my own gospel witness is any less valid.  The division in our church is very painful and slows us from showing our love.  I scramble for more ways to commune with all types of Catholics, and I want to build bridges.  I believe we need to be diverse because it enriches us, and I pray that we can love and listen to each other through our differences.

I celebrate Christian diversity as Christmas comes closer.  As I sing songs of hope, I am moved to make a proclamation:

Dear journalists who love stories about young nuns,  I hope you’ll notice me too.  I am 29 and I am also a young nun.  I don’t wear a habit and I don’t go to mass at 5:30 in the morning, but I go as often as I can.  I love the pope and I love my gay brothers and sisters.  I pray a lot and I serve the poor. I witness the gospel through my ministries of teaching and writing.  I love Jesus and I proclaim the Truth.  There’s other sisters like me too, and we are also radical. Thank you.  God bless you, Sister Julia

Originally from Northeast Iowa, Sister Julia is a  Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, based in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  Her love for God and God’s good world is manifested in her attempts to be an educator, a youth empower-er, an earth lover, and a peacemaker.  She ministers at an inner-city Catholic high school in Chicago.
Sister Julia blogs at http://messyjesusbusiness.wordpress.com/ and https://youngadultcatholics-blog.com/.

working and praying with the privilege of poverty

Santa Chiara Praying

pregnant with poverty

she stands up boldly

holding Truth

with “always” piercing her lips

the pure Truth-Light

shields and embraces

her back

covered with brown like earth

she beckons

community to

the table

breaking open Bread

of union

and dialogue with difference

the lesson she teaches

challenges and encourages

us today

we can still seek

to understand

the power

the privilege of poverty

— S. Julia Walsh, FSPA 8/11/10

I work at an inner-city high school who seeks to serve one of the most vulnerable populations in our society today: African-American teenage boys.  The school has Franciscan roots- it was founded by Franciscan friars in the 60’s before the passage of civil rights and still keeps Franciscan as a part of its name- although the friars no longer lead the school.  I have worked at the school for a year now.  Through my entire relationship with the school I have been continually challenged with the living tension between privilege and poverty. 

I am a Franciscan sister and that makes me one of the few people in the school community who has studied Franciscan history and seeks to live the spirituality daily.  I pray over the stories of how Francis and Clare turned away from their own material riches for a deep spiritual and material poverty.  Seeking to follow Jesus more authentically, the founding parents of our Franciscan family contemplated the meaning of our God Jesus being a poor man and then let their contemplations change them.  In extreme simplicity and generosity they brought their contemplation to the largest communities and inspired others to follow The Way.  Francis and Clare countered their own pasts, their families, misunderstandings, popes, crusades, and the generally violent and greedy ways of the world to persistently stand up for the privilege of poverty.  Clare took the holy resistance to her death bed and grave, literally. While she was dying Pope Innocent III finally approved her rule (which allowed her Poor Ladies to live without owning anything) and then she was buried with it.  

Father Francis and Mother Clare, I beg you, help me understand: why struggle so greatly to live and die with poverty?  At this Franciscan High School, privilege and poverty seem to be polar opposites tensely tugging at our life together and our efforts to help young boys grow into men.  Yesterday another parent of one of my students told me that she wasn’t sure if her son could stay at the high school because of the expensive tuition.  Enrollment has decreased drastically this school year and many of my colleagues now must join the ranks of the unemployed.  As I prepare for the first day of school, I feel overwhelmed with the fact that I do not have enough proper desks for my students and a classroom computer with consistent internet access.  I am unsure what school supplies I can justly require my students to provide for themselves.  I want so desperately for my students to have the same opportunities as teenagers who study in secure, stable, and privileged institutions.  It would be a dream to hear my students squabble about where to go for their band trip instead of the fact that the computers in their lab don’t work.  On that note, it would be amazing if the school had a band!  From this experience, St. Clare, it seems ridiculous that you brought a fight with the papacy over- as you called it- “the privilege of poverty” to your death bed. 

What is the privilege?  Are we set free from something if we give all away?  Does it allow us to know something different?  What type of enlightenment and union with God comes from owning nothing?  I struggle.  How can one serve and care for others adequately if they have nothing material to offer, but instead are totally relying on the generosity of others and the goodness of God?  How can we be respected and accepted enough to be listened to if we have less, little, and/or appear to be the least?  I don’t know- it’s a mystery to me. Yet, I have observed and experienced some of the indescribable answers in my lifetime so far, so my faith and following continues.

In my life I have been blessed to have danced with some of the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor, both.  I have slept on a dirt floor at a crowded orphanage in Soweto, South Africa with over 20 children who had never slept in a bed.  On the other end, I have slept in the presidential suite at the Hotel Bel Aire.  While studying in South Africa, I remember one day that brought me to an elegant evening sipping wine with the upper-class after a day of prison-ministry and assisting run-away teenage girls with their homework at a shelter.  Naturally, after such opposite experiences, one of my greatest passions is economic justice and building bridges between the classes.

Yet, I must promote Franciscan values.  I love telling the stories of Francis and Clare and how they gained such great liberty from embracing the poor Christ.  I love teaching about systemic injustice and how we can respond and help build the reign of God.  It is a joy and honor to introduce my students to people who are homeless around Chicago and encourage them to donate to organizations like Catholic Relief Services and Heifer International.  It is a blessing to pray with the young men to the poor Christ for the strength to be peacemakers in God’s good world.

Is it fair to try to teach young men who are growing up in housing projects that poverty is a spiritual mystery?  How can I possibly promote- or even accept- that it is a joy to have nothing or little when our society defines success by materials and security? What if I know that my students would be enriched by having more?  Or, would they?


If poverty is a privilege, then I hope and pray that this school year God’s holy poverty enables the school to have all it needs.  May we be set free from the values of our culture and be continually converted to The Way.  May we be open to learn all that we need to, and trust that we have all that we need in order to learn.  Through it all, may my students become who God made them to be, people living in the tension of privilege and poverty building the reign of God. St. Clare, pray for us. St. Francis, pray for us. St. Alexander of Hales, pray for us. Amen.

Originally from Northeast Iowa, Sister Julia is a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, based in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Her love for God and God’s good world is manifested in her attempts to be an educator, a youth empower-er, an earth lover, and a peacemaker. She ministers at an inner-city Catholic high school in Chicago.

resistance gardening

By Julia Walsh, FSPA and Amy Nee

In a land of concrete and cold stone, restlessness for New Life stirs and shakes.

We fumble through work in an urban landscape. We speak to the oppressed and vulnerable, saying they are empowered to free others; they are powerful and rich beyond measure; they need to contribute to the betterment of the world. Yet, how can this sink in or resonate when they are overwhelmed by their own needs and struggles? We don’t have an answer, yet our voices ache from trying to obey the Spirit, to share convictions, to offer hope and healing.

This paradox mirrors what bruises the world: we who decry it are a part of the system of oppression. We are oppressed by our own participation in the torture, in the violence, in the poverty and discrimination. We are seeped in the things that we despise because we are a part of this world.

Yet we resist. We stutter and whisper “peace” while the world cheers “Fight! Fight!” The chant is global and it’s in the microcosms of high school hallways. We are conflicted by conviction, shadowed by shame. We have been socialized to believe that we are the best, or at least better than those who are different than us. We walk forward and proclaim that we believe in equality and justice in the ways that God has dreamed. Then, haunted by hypocrisy, we cry in confessionals with the realization of our own racist tendencies.

And, we look for cracks in the concrete; in the system, in ourselves, in the land that surrounds a school, broken like a battlefield. We don’t wait for permission and we find our own ways to be generous to the earth and people who we love. We drive through violent neighborhoods and buy seeds at Home Depot, stir up sick soil and pray over the life we try to plant.

Then, we step back and trust that God will guide the seeds to life. God will shed the Light and shower the water. We’ll have the strength to weed and pull out garbage that blows in. Along the way we are awed and surprised with the transformation and affirmation. Others shall be supportive, generous, and we’ll find Jesus hidden under tarps around corners that seem abandoned.

This is the story of the Genesis of the Hales Franciscan High School garden. It is also part of the larger story of the Truth of this earth that has God placed us on together.

(Cross-posted to: http://kairoschicago.blogspot.com/ )

Originally from Northeast Iowa, Sister Julia is a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, based in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Her love for God and God’s good world is manifested in her attempts to be an educator, a youth empower-er, an earth lover, and a peacemaker. She ministers at an inner-city Catholic high school in Chicago.

Amy Nee is a Catholic Worker, a gardener, a volunteer, a care-giver and Sister Julia’s friend.

evangelism: not a dirty word, an important one

The other day I had one of those beautiful moments in my classroom when I had to step back and let God do the teaching. I was trying to help my students understand mortal sin and in my explanation it suddenly seemed very important to emphasize the mercy of God and forgiveness more than death. I told my students how although some people in history have clearly committed sins that may seem to be considered deadly the Church has never declared that anyone is in hell. (Wise move, Church!)

“We can’t fully know,” I told my students, “the power of God’s love. God loves us all so much it’s beyond our comprehension. Think of someone who loves you no matter what you do, and who will always forgive you. If you can’t think of anyone, think of me. I’ll always love you no matter what. Consider that the love that that person has for you is only a sliver, a tiny fraction, like 1/1000th of how amazing and big God’s love is for you.”

My students stared at me in disbelief. The implications of that love started to sink in. And then, like many teenage boys would, they mixed silly with serious, from their worldview. For my students, their worldview is a Chicago south side African-American male worldview. “Would you take a bullet for me, Sister?” “Yes! Of course I would!” Then the devil snuck in and whispered one of his lies about love into their ear. “Would you shoot someone else for me, Sister?” “No, because love never kills.”

At the end of the day, when I reflected on the moment, I realized that I am totally an evangelist, 2010 style. I am so happy that I get to preach about God’s love and share God’s love through my witness. It’s a joy to be an evangelist. And, although preaching to a classroom full of boys that are trying to pass religion class may not be as glamorous as street preaching like St. Francis of Assisi and his brothers did back in the day, it is probably just as valuable.

As a Franciscan, I’m supposed to be living an Evangelical life. That means I am trying to live a Gospel life, a life that shares the Good News. Technically us Franciscans are neither apostolic nor contemplative in the model of religious life that we live, but we live a 3rd type of religious life that is a combination of the two. We’re evangelicals, and it’s fabulous.

Today, in 2010, I still think that us Christians have a lot of evangelizing to do. We really ought to share the Good News in all the ways we can. Let’s convince people of God’s love, and their dignity and that they are needed to help build the reign of God. Let’s help people convert away from greed, violence, and lies about God and Love. Let’s give people what they need to be people of generosity, peace and Truth.

I have to admit, sometimes part of me wants to grab a megaphone and hit the streets in order to holler about Justice and Forgiveness. I just am not sure that it is the most effective way to share the Good News today. Pope Benedict had a great suggestion this week about how to reach the masses with the Good News. Come on Christians, use ye Blogs and Facebooks and Twitters. Let the world know: God loves everybody!

Originally from Northeast Iowa, Sister Julia is a  Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, based in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  Her love for God and God’s good world is manifested in her attempts to be an educator, a youth empower-er, an earth lover, and a peacemaker.  She ministers at an inner-city Catholic high school in Chicago.