Anniversary of Elizabeth Prout

Today is the anniversary of the death of Elizabeth Prout, the foundress of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion. I have been thinking about her quite a lot lately. So, here are some random reflections

A few days ago everyone in the community received a letter from Sister Maria Angélica our Congregational Leader. This part, in particular moved me.

To-day, “moved by the Holy Spirit” we are called as sisters, associates, members of the Passionist Family, to discover the presence of that Child in the frailty of history, in the frailty of the Church, in the frailty of the Congregation and, like Anna, begin to talk about a God who is already at work in the little and insignificant, in the same way as He acted and revealed Himself in the littleness and weakness of the Child in Bethlehem.

I suggest that we begin to prepare to celebrate Mother Mary Joseph and ask her to work a miracle in us, curing our blindness, in order to “see” the Saviour and experiment his salvation in those places and situations where many see “the dregs of society”, those who are “useless”, those who are “nothing”, and there, like Anna, begin to talk of a God who appeared in the midst of history and changed everything.

You can read the whole letter here at: http://www.passionistsisters.org/Whats_New/Entries/2008/12/28_Feast_of_the_Holy_Family.html

Interestingly, the word frail is often used to describe Elizabeth Prout. She was frail in body, physically small and she had tuberculosis, but she had a strong and courageous spirit. I think about that very often when I am walking. She had to walk quite a distance everyday from where she lived to where she worked through poor congested neighborhoods in all kinds of weather, often in pain.  These days I do the same thing. Union City, New Jersey, where I live, is the most densely populated city in the United States, with a density of 52,977.8 per square mile – roughly twice as dense as New York City. The Brookings Institute studies rank Union City among the 92 most economically depressed localities in the United States, with 18.1% of the population and 27.5% of the children falling below the poverty line. People are “stacked” in the tenements. Several families live in apartments, from attics to cellars, in spaces meant for far fewer. I walk a lot in Union City, especially since I got rid of the car. I walk to the grocery store, the bank, the phamacy, to get a coffee or to get my hair cut. I’m getting to know the neighbors. They are hard working, friendly people with close families who are trying to make better lives for their children. Mostly, I walk to the bus stop to go to New York City to the United Nations, where I hope my work will make the world a better place for everyone, including my neighbors. The courageous spirit of Elizabeth Prout inspires me and keeps me going forward. She proves that frailty is not an obstacle, but an opening for God to enter in and change everything.

Last night I was doing some genealogy research and found my way into the UK census records. After following up some leads on one of my great-grandfathers I decided to look for Elizabeth Prout. Here is the census  record from 1841. You can see Elizabeth living with her parents and grandmother. (Click on the image to see a larger version.) This simple record reminds me that even future saints start out in small ordinary places.

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