The art of listening: the two-sentence rule

By Reba J. McMellon, M.S., LPC
A wise man is silent till the right time comes, but a boasting fool ignores the proper time. Ecclesiastes: 20:6

Have you ever walked away from a conversation feeling ignored or brushed aside? It usually happens when we tell someone something about ourselves that is either exciting, sad or upsetting. You share something big only to find yourself on a completely different subject about the other person moments later. Have you ever wondered how or why this happens?

Reba J. McMellon, M.S.,LPC

It’s happens when information you are sharing triggers a thought in the listener about themselves. That is normal enough and even to be expected. However, it can prevent opportunities to truly listen to one another. Immediately changing the subject is an ineffective form of communication.

In training to be a counselor, I was taught listening skills. There are entire textbooks devoted to listening skills. I doubt any of us would want to ‘listen’ to all that. I think it can be reduced to what I refer to as: the two-sentence rule.

• When somebody shares something about themselves, ask at least two sentences that has to do with what they just said. Ask them before moving on to what that reminds you of – namely, yourself. Try asking questions beginning with who, what, where, when or how; but never why. For example: When did it start? How did it go? Who else was there? What got you interested in that? Or, where were you? Those are called open ended questions.

• Starting a sentence with ‘why’ puts the other person on the defensive. Most of us don’t know why it happened, why it made us so upset or excited or sad. ‘Why’ often shuts down the conversation.

• Remember, a conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. When people interrupt too quickly with, “Well I…” – the subject is about to shift. A conversation is an exchange of thoughts, feelings, or ideas between two or more people – a two-way street.

• The two-sentence rule is easy to remember and a good way to catch yourself. Any more than two sentences could seem like probing. Any less than two sentences could seem uninterested. Pay attention to how many times you start a sentence with, “Well, I …” If a horn honked every time you start a sentence with “I,” would it sound like a car alarm was going off? I … I … I … I

• If you don’t care to listen, don’t ask the person a question.

The two-sentence rule is not meant to be complicated or rigid. In fact, you can skip the two-sentence rule if you check your mindfulness. Check and see if you are listening and genuinely care. If so, slow down thoughts of yourself enough to be mindful of the other person, at least for two sentences.

Wonder who, what, where or how they are feeling, when they come away from a conversation with you. We can all learn more from truly listening rather than simply hearing.

(Reba J. McMellon, M.S. is a licensed professional counselor with 35 years of experience. She worked in the field of child sexual abuse and adult survivors of sexual abuse for over 25 years. She continues to work as a mental health consultant, public speaker and freelance writer in Jackson, Mississippi. Reba can be reached at

A ‘twisties’ take over?

From the hermitage
By sister alies therese
Must say I am grateful that my prayers do not take as much time to reach the ear of God as the post takes to travel from Jackson to my hermitage less than two hours away! Somehow even the post has been attacked by ‘the twisties.’
I read plenty this summer and was filled with great excitement, mystery, several sides of politics, spiritual action and joy. I also spent time drafting short stories – my favorite format. For recreation I took in some Olympics (both). The sheer determination, perseverance and desire of athletes outweighed any gold, silver or bronze medal.

The bravery of Simone Biles, a Black Catholic, to come forth despite ‘the twisties’ was impressive and showed real Olympic gold, despite her bronze. She and others admitted the truth (i.e., human with limitations) and reminded me that expectations of others can also be set aside in favor of a deeper truth.

Sister alies therese

I re-read, The Fifth Agreement by Don Miguel Ruiz and Don José Ruiz. At the end of the second chapter, they state: “What is real we cannot change, and it doesn’t matter what we believe.” Quite powerful, especially with the political and church discourses currently in flow. They explained it this way: “The truth does not need you to believe it; the truth simply is, and it survives whether you believe it or not. Lies need you to believe them. If you don’t believe lies, they don’t survive your skepticism, and they simply disappear.” (page 99)

With ‘the twisties’ a gymnast cannot tell up from down. Other than being in the air, there is no truth for them and that causes the danger. Body, mind and soul are muddled and no matter where the athlete thinks is up … it may not be so.

September is a glorious month, on the edge of summer and fall, contributing to weather changes. Each season, though not always as dramatic in one place as in another, was set to help us, to nourish us, to provide for all of Creation. We can see the drastic interruption of seasons both by the long-term picture of normal global development, and the constant contribution to climate change by our (my) unwillingness to cut back, change plans, see the truth, and stop calling it something else. The twisties prevail.

A U.N. report gives us a ‘red card’ for irresponsible, unsafe behavior. Normal global development is well authenticated over millions of years … once we were under ice, a volcano sits deep under Jackson Stadium, and various aspects of nature seemed to disappear of their own accord. Today, however, we are also aware that portions of God’s marvelous Creation are exterminated, eliminated, and endangered because of our (my) failure to look at the truth and act. COVID asks us (me) to move from ‘me’ to ‘we.’ If vaccinations are necessary to protect others, get one. If masks are helpful to mitigate symptoms and decrease the power of the virus, wear one. No brainer. Do not let ‘the twisties’ get you.
Part of the dilemma might be – how do I know the truth? How do I find out? One way, not unlike our gymnastic friends … is to step away from all our flying about, sit quietly and consider.

Pray. There are plentiful definitions of prayer in the Catechism and Compendium. As the gymnasts want to freely fly in the air all the time; we want to always pray and act for the common good. Like this definition in the Compendium:
“576. Praying is always possible because the time of the Christian is the time of the risen Christ who remains ‘with you always.’ (Matthew 28:20)

Prayer and Christian life are therefore inseparable: ‘It is possible to offer frequent and fervent prayer even at the marketplace or strolling alone. It is possible also in your place of business, while buying or selling, or even while cooking.’ St. John Chrysostom.”

The truth is unmasked by the actual things we do, think or say. With God’s help, we can work our way out of a twistie if we find ourselves entrapped. Others might choose to complain and create spinning stories that unfortunately affect more people than we would like to believe. What was once just an idea over a cold drink became something with legs that ran downhill, full of twisties. And people died. (Consider January 6, 2021.)

Do we use the phrase ‘practicing our faith’ with ease? Does it need more attention? Ask a gymnast or any athlete (or musician), what ‘practicing’ means. And what is the cost? If you run into ‘the twisties’ step back, breathe and pray. It is indeed the ‘truth’ that sets us free.

(Sister alies therese is a canonically vowed hermit with days formed around prayer and writing.)

Book seeks to correct record on church’s role in key historical period

By Daniel S. Mulhall (CNS)
“The Church and the Middle Ages (1000-1378): Cathedrals, Crusades and the Papacy in Exile” by Steve Weidenkopf. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Indiana, 2020). 192 pp., $17.95.

There are many ways to write about history. Some authors present a chronological progression of events while others offer the “great man” approach in which they tell how specific actors shaped the world.

Some wish to tell a coherent story, to show that because of this string of events a climactic outcome was destined to occur, while others present just the facts allowing the reader to make her or his own decisions about the significance of events.

Steve Weidenkopf in “The Church and the Middle Ages” presents a mostly chronological look at the Catholic Church’s role in shaping the years between 1000 and 1378, through the lens of the men and women who played key roles. Because the major emphasis is on the role of the church, the focus is primarily on Western European events.

This is the book cover of “The Church and the Middle Ages (1000-1378): Cathedrals, Crusades and the Papacy in Exile,” by Steve Weidenkopf. The book is reviewed by Daniel S. Mulhall. (CNS photo/courtesy Ave Maria Press)

Although he has written a short book, Weidenkopf covers a great many important events, including a brief overview of life and worldview of people living during the period covered, the reform of the papacy, the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western branches of Catholicism, the Crusades and the Inquisition.

As books have been written on each of these topics separately, telling their combined stories well in under 200 pages is a challenge that the author meets, often very well.

This book is part of the publisher’s Reclaiming Catholic History series, which aims to “bring church history to life, debunking the myths one era at a time,” according to its introduction.

Thus, Weidenkopf includes a “You Be the Judge” feature in each chapter that seeks to clarify the motive for various events. Also included in each chapter is a longer feature on one person who played a significant role. As one might expect from a series that seeks to correct the record, there is a pro-church bias in how events are portrayed. The Inquisition is even portrayed in a positive light and justified.

A danger in covering so much ground in so few pages is that some topics get little attention or comments are left unexplained.

For example, while the creation of the great Catholic universities is mentioned, little is said about the almost explosive development of thought that occurs during this period that led to the amazing flourishing that was the Renaissance. Another example appears on page 60 when the author writes about “a grueling four-month death march” without explanation.

This is an amazing period in the history of the world in which the Catholic Church played a major part. The foundations of the modern world were laid during this period, so to understand what is happening today it is vital to understand what happened then, warts and all.

For those seeking an introduction to the history of the medieval period, this book provides an “engaging primer,” as the front-cover blurb asserts.

Analysis of church’s diplomatic efforts should be a must-read for many

By Stephen M. Colecchi (CNS)
“God’s Diplomats: Pope Francis, Vatican Diplomacy and America’s Armageddon” by Victor Gaetan. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (Lanham, Maryland, 2021). 476 pp., $49.

Catholic social teaching has often been called the church’s best-kept secret.

In “God’s Diplomats,” Victor Gaetan illuminates its active application in the church’s international diplomacy and humanitarian work, unveiling another well-kept secret. He argues that the church’s dialogic approach to diplomacy contrasts sharply at many points with our nation’s more power-based and militaristic responses to international crises.
But his critique of U.S. foreign policy applies to many other nations and national leaders.

In Part 1, Gaetan contrasts U.S. and Vatican diplomacy. For me, the most poignant indictment of U.S. policy was the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, which occurred under St. John Paul II. The Holy See had warned that an invasion would stoke the fires of extremism, fan the flames of sectarian strife, contribute to regional instability and endanger the presence of Christians and other minorities in the region. All of this came to pass.

He goes on to describe the church’s diplomatic network, its mission for both the church and the common good of all and the education of formal Vatican diplomats. Gaetan explores the unique nature of the Catholic Church as a “sovereign” entity, describes its historical basis and then outlines its operating principles.

This is the book cover of “God’s Diplomats: Pope Francis, Vatican Diplomacy and America’s Armageddon” by Victor Gaetan. The book is reviewed by Stephen M. Colecchi. (CNS photo/courtesy Rowman & Littlefield Publishers)

Although his focus is often on formal diplomats and seems at times clerical, it is clear from his accounts that the term “diplomats” includes many beyond the Vatican diplomatic corps and hierarchy. Men and women religious, lay men and women and numerous Catholic organizations and institutions are part of the church’s diplomatic network.

Unlike many commentators, Gaetan points out continuities among Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul. Each has unique gifts and styles, but the long history of the Holy See’s diplomatic engagement is a thread that runs through their papacies. Gaetan’s love of the church, embrace of its teachings and respect for its leaders comes through clearly, even when he points out failures.

Gaetan makes a case for the effectiveness of what he calls the political “neutrality” of the church or what I might call its nonpartisan and nonaligned stances. He lifts up the church’s long-term patience, an unrelenting commitment to dialogue and a commitment to serving the common good.

His writing style captures complex diplomatic principles in accessible language. A good example is his diplomatic rules of thumb: 1) “Avoid creating winners and losers”; 2) “Remain impartial in the face of conflict”; 3) “Refrain from partisan conflict”; 4) “Pursue dialogue … with everyone”; and 5) “Walk the talk: Show faith through charity.”

The book’s second part explores specific international crises of recent years. Gaetan devotes a chapter each to Ukraine, Cuba, Kenya, Colombia, the Middle East, China and South Sudan.
I do not entirely agree with his understanding of the roles of Russia in Ukraine and the Middle East, but he is spot-on regarding the church’s various actors. Each international situation is well documented, giving credence to his analysis. I found the chapter on South Sudan particularly moving.

Gaetan has written a sympathetic and sweeping primer on the church’s diplomatic efforts. The author’s journalistic research is reflected in over 100 pages of footnotes that offer supplementary insights and anecdotes, lending credibility to his analysis. His extensive acknowledgments is a “who’s who” of key church diplomats.

“God’s Diplomats” will appeal to many audiences. It is a must read for secular diplomats and church leaders at every level engaged with the church’s diplomatic efforts. It should also be required reading for trained diplomats. In-the-pew Catholics and other people of goodwill will find it affirming of the positive role that religion can play in the public square.

Colecchi served as director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2004 to 2018. In that role, he frequently engaged diplomats at every level of the church in many regions of the world.

Peaceful, prayerful, effective 40 Days for Life campaign coming to Jackson “on site gives insight”

JACKSON – “40 Days for Life, the nation’s most innovative, peaceful prayer outreach, is coming to Jackson,” said Laura Duran, who is coordinating the local campaign. “We are eager to join together with people of faith and conscience from over 600 cities from coast to coast, and beyond, to pray for an end to abortion.” 40 Days for Life begins Sept. 22 to Oct. 31. “Abortion takes a tremendous toll in our city,” said Laura Duran, “but many people aren’t even aware of it. We will share the facts with as many people as possible during the 40-day campaign,” she said.

The campaign will feature a peaceful 40-day prayer vigil in the public right-of-way outside Jackson Women’s Health Organization at 2903 North State Street, in Jackson. All prayer vigil participants are asked to sign a statement of peace, pledging to conduct themselves in a Christ-like manner at all times. 40 Days for Life is a peaceful, highly-focused, non-denominational initiative that focuses on 40 days of prayer and fasting, peaceful vigil at abortion facilities, and grassroots educational outreach. The 40-day time frame is drawn from examples throughout Biblical history.

“40 Days for Life has consistently generated proven life-saving results,” said Shawn Carney, 40 Days for Life’s president. “During 26 internationally coordinated campaigns, over 8,000 communities have taken part. The efforts of over 1,000,000 people of faith helped have made a tremendous difference.”

Carney said numerous cities reported a significant drop in abortions. “Over 110 abortion facilities have closed following 40 Days for Life efforts,” he said. “Churches across denominational lines have worked together to work for an end to abortion in their cities. Many post-abortive women begin programs to heal from the pain caused by previous abortion experiences. And more than 18,000 babies – and their mothers – have been spared from the tragedy of abortion.”

“We’ve seen what 40 Days for Life has accomplished elsewhere,” said Laura Duran. “We can’t wait to begin. It is our prayer that this campaign will help mark the end of abortion in Jackson.”

For information about 40 Days for Life in Jackson, visit: For assistance or for more information, please contact Laura Duran at or 601-956-8636 ext. 1.

JACKSON – Participants gather and pray at “40 Days for Life” outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in 2017. This year, the event will take place from Sept. 22 to Oct. 31. (Photo from archives)


CHICAGO (CNS) – Father Andrew Liaugminas of the Archdiocese of Chicago, has been appointed to serve as an official for the doctrinal section of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The 37-year-old priest will serve with the congregation for five years and will support the congregation’s work promoting the church’s teachings on faith and morals. The oldest of the Roman Curia’s nine congregations, the CDF was founded in 1542 by Pope Paul III to promote and safeguard the church’s teachings throughout the world. Today, the CDF is responsible for fostering a greater understanding of the faith, aiding bishops in their role as teachers of the faith and answering difficult questions that arise on faith and morals.

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick pleaded not guilty Sept. 3 in a Massachusetts court, where he is facing three counts of sexually assaulting a teenager in the 1970s. He was not taken under custody but was ordered to post $5,000 bail and have no contact with the alleged victim or children. The former high-ranking, globe-trotting church official also was ordered not to leave the country and surrendered his passport. His next court appearance is Oct. 28. The day before the arraignment, a former employee and a former priest of the Archdiocese of Newark filed lawsuits alleging unpermitted sexual contact by McCarrick for incidents in 1991. The Massachusetts case is the first time, however, that McCarrick has faced criminal charges for assault of a minor, which is alleged to first have taken place at a wedding reception in 1974 and continued over the years in different states.

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The “present ills of our economy” invite Catholics to reflect on ways to propose new and creative responses to vital human needs in a post-pandemic world, said Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in the U.S. bishops’ annual Labor Day statement. Acknowledging that the economy is showing signs of recovery despite the continuing pandemic, Archbishop Coakley said the current time presents an opportunity to “build a consensus around human dignity and the common good.” But despite signs of an economic recovery, he said in the statement released Sept. 2, millions of Americans continue to struggle financially because of unemployment, poverty and hunger made worse by the coronavirus pandemic. “There are still many uncertainties around this pandemic; however, we do know that our society and our world will never be the same,” the archbishop said. Archbishop Coakley credited and thanked the many workers “who have kept our country functioning during these trying times and worked under difficult and often underappreciated conditions.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – While financial reforms in the Vatican are progressing steadily, cases involving corruption and malfeasance in the Eternal City are “a disease that we relapse into,” Pope Francis said. In a wide-ranging interview broadcast Sept. 1 by COPE, the Spanish radio station owned by the Spanish bishops’ conference, Pope Francis said changes made in the Vatican’s financial laws have allowed prosecutors to “become more independent” in their investigations. “Let’s hope that these steps we are taking … will help to make these events happen less and less,” he said. During the interview, the pope was asked about the Vatican trial against 10 individuals and entities, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, former prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, on charges ranging from embezzlement to money laundering and abuse of office. The charges stemmed from a Vatican investigation into how the Secretariat of State used $200 million to finance a property development project in London’s posh Chelsea district and incurred millions of dollars in debt. At the time, then-Archbishop Becciu served as “sostituto,” the No. 3 position in the Vatican Secretariat of State. Cardinal Becciu was forced to offer his resignation to the pope in September 2020, after he was accused of embezzling an estimated 100,000 euros of Vatican funds and redirecting them to Spes, a Caritas organization run by his brother, Tonino Becciu, in his home Diocese of Ozieri, Sardinia.

Father Andrew Liaugminas, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, is seen in this undated photo. He has been appointed to serve as an official for the doctrinal section of the Holy See’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (CNS photo/Handout, courtesy Chicago Catholic)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis offered prayers to the victims and families affected by Hurricane Ida, which devastated the southern and northeastern United States. Pope Francis also offered prayers for countless refugees fleeing Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s Aug. 15 takeover of Kabul and expressed his hope that “many countries will welcome and protect those seeking a new life.” “I assure my prayers for the people of the United States of America who have been hit by a strong hurricane in recent days,” the pope told pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square Sept. 5 during his Sunday Angelus address. The Category 4 hurricane made landfall Sept. 1, carrying 150-mph winds in Louisiana and knocking out power, water and cellphone service. The remnants of Hurricane Ida later struck the northeastern United States, causing an estimated 41 deaths and flooding roads in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut. Speaking about Afghanistan, Pope Francis said he prayer “for the internally displaced persons and that they may receive assistance and the necessary protection,” he said. “May young Afghans receive education, an essential good for human development. And may all Afghans, whether at home, in transit, or in host countries, live with dignity, in peace and fraternity with their neighbors.”

BERLIN (CNS) – German bishops are concerned that a decision guaranteeing German health insurers will pay for pregnant women’s blood tests to detect Down syndrome will lead to abortion. Matthias Kopp, spokesman for the German bishops, said that already about 90% of cases in which an embryo has an extra chromosome result in termination of pregnancy, reported the German church news agency KNA. He expressed concern that the prenatal test eventually would be applied on a routine basis. “We as a church are observing with concern that the new, noninvasive prenatal diagnostical test procedure very often does not follow therapeutic aims,” Kopp said. “On the contrary, in the view of the church, these tests promote an alarming trend in the direction of a regular selection.” What was needed was early information, counseling and support in which the issue of termination of pregnancy was not the focal point, he said. A joint federal parliamentary committee gave the approval for the change, which is expected to take effect in the spring of 2022, KNA reported.

LAGOS, Nigeria (CNS) – The Catholic bishops of Nigeria have called on the priests and the lay faithful to make the Eucharist central to the life of the church rather than placing a premium on money or other transient things. In a statement at the end of their weeklong plenary meeting, they also advised priests to always ensure that “monetary matters do not distract the faithful or detract from the solemnity of the celebration.” Priests are to “celebrate the Eucharist as ‘servants’ of the mystery and not ‘masters’ of it,” the bishops said. In their Aug. 27 statement, the bishops also condemned the increasing insecurity and violence in Nigeria and called on the government to show respect for the sanctity of human life with a more strategic commitment to the fight against insecurity. The bishops urged government officials to take full responsibility for the prevailing culture of violence and impunity in Nigeria. “We recognize the efforts being made by government to fight insecurity in the land,” they added, appealing to the citizens to be law-abiding, vigilant, live by sound moral principles and shun violence and crime.

SEOUL, South Korea (CNS) – The mortal remains of the first three Korean Catholic martyrs have been recovered more than two centuries after their deaths, announced the Diocese of Jeonju. reported that following historical research and DNA tests, it has been confirmed that the remains are of Paul Yun Ji-chung and James Kwon Sang-yeon, both beheaded in 1791, and Yun’s brother, Francis Yun Ji-heon, who was martyred in 1801. Bishop John Kim Son-tae of Jeonju made the announcement during a news conference Sept. 1. During his visit to South Korea in 2014, Pope Francis beatified the three along with 121 other martyrs persecuted and killed during the rule of the Joseon dynasty in Korea. Bishop Kim said the remains were recovered in March in Wanju, on the outskirts of Jeonju, near the burial ground of family members of another beatified person that was being converted to a shrine. “The discovery of the remains is a truly amazing and monumental event,” the bishop said, according to Yonhap News Agency.

A painting depicts 103 Korean martyrs canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1984, seen in this Aug. 19, 2008, photo. The remains of the first three of 124 other Korean martyrs, beatified in 2014, were recently identified. (CNS photo/courtesy Archdiocese of Seoul)

New York fire chaplain says there are days when 9/11 ‘feels like yesterday’

Of God, Creator of the universe, you extend your paternal concern over every creature and guide the events of history to the goal of salvation. We acknowledge your fatherly love in a world torn by strife and discord, when you make us ready for reconciliation. Renew for us the wonders of your mercy; send forth your holy wisdom that it may work in the intimacy of our hearts; that enemies may begin to dialogue; that adversaries may shake hands and people may encounter one another in harmony. May all commit themselves to the sincere search for true peace which will extinguish all violence.
Lord, make us instruments of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let us sow charity;
Where there is injury, let us sow pardon;
Where there is error, let us sow truth;
Where there is doubt, let us sow faith;
Where there is despair, let us sow hope;
Where there is darkness, let us sow light; and
Where there is sadness, let us sow joy.
O’ Divine Master,
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying to ourselves that we are born to eternal life.

(Bishop Joseph Latino delivered this prayer during a memorial service for the 10th anniversary of 9/11)

By Gregory A. Shemitz
BLUE POINT, N.Y. – Father Kevin M. Smith, a veteran fire chaplain, trauma counselor and loyal friend to scores of active and retired firefighters in the New York metropolitan area, receives more phone calls in early September than any other time of the year.

Most of the calls are from firefighters who served amid the carnage and chaos in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

A fire chaplain with 30 years of service, Father Smith, 60, is commissioned by Nassau County, New York, to minister to members of the county’s 71 volunteer fire departments, many of whom work full time with the New York Fire Department.

He also is a member of the county’s Critical Incident Stress Management team, which provides support to firefighters and emergency medical services workers who are dealing with trauma associated with their duties as first responders.

Father Smith’s cellphone starts ringing and dinging with calls and texts from firefighters in the days leading up to and including the 9/11 anniversary. They come from front-line heroes who have been emotionally and, in many cases, physically affected by the cataclysmic event.

Father Smith – pastor of Our Lady of the Snow Church in Blue Point in the Diocese of Rockville Centre – can empathize with the callers. He, too, was a first responder at ground zero, arriving near the scene as the World Trade Center’s North Tower was collapsing, completing the total destruction of the two 110-story buildings and resulting in a mountain of crushed concrete, twisted steel and pulverized debris.

In an interview with Catholic News Service to mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, Father Smith spoke about his role as a chaplain on and after 9/11.

“I can’t believe it was 20 years ago,” he remarked. “There are days when it feels like yesterday.”

For Father Smith, Sept. 11, 2001, began at St. Rose of Lima Church in Massapequa, some 40 miles east of the city. An associate pastor at the time, he had been preparing to celebrate morning Mass when a parish secretary told him to turn on the television where he witnessed the second of two hijacked jetliners crash into the World Trade Center.

Several minutes later, his fire pager chirped, alerting him about the mass casualty incident.

After notifying his pastor that he was responding to the call, Father Smith jumped into his black Chevy Trailblazer – a vehicle with emergency lights and sirens – and headed toward the city. Along the way he picked up his younger brother, Patrick Smith, an off-duty New York City firefighter, and dropped him off at his firehouse in the Bronx.

When he eventually arrived in lower Manhattan, Father Smith encountered a surreal scene. The devastation was overwhelming.

Father Kevin M. Smith, pastor of Our Lady of the Snow Parish in Blue Point, N.Y., is seen in his office Aug. 25, 2021. Father Smith, a Nassau County, N.Y., fire chaplain, served as a 9/11 first responder in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. He is holding a cross crafted from steel found among the rubble of the World Trade Center. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“The whole place was filled with smoke,” he recalled. “There was a lot of stuff coming out of the air. Fire trucks and Emergency Service Unit vehicles were catching fire from the falling debris and exploding.”

Throughout the day and into the early hours the following day, Father Smith offered prayers, emotional support and assistance to firefighters and other emergency personnel. A trained firefighter, he also helped search for victims.
As shaken first responders went about their business amid the mayhem, many asked Father Smith to hear their confessions.

“They wanted absolution before heading down to ‘the pile’ because you didn’t know what was going to explode next, what was going to fall down,” he said.

In addition to ministering to the firefighters, the priest blessed the bodies of many of the FDNY’s 343 fallen heroes, including Franciscan Father Mychal Judge, the beloved FDNY chaplain and first certified casualty of 9/11.

For several months following 9/11, Father Smith would commute almost daily from his parish to ground zero, where he continued to offer support to the firefighters.

He said his faith helped sustain him through the difficult work and grueling schedule. “Prayer, adrenaline and the Holy Spirit,” were the emboldening forces, he said, adding: “I had a sense that God was with me.”

Referring to his vocation as “a ministry of presence,” he said he spent time with the firefighters when they were working at ground zero and during their meals and rest breaks.

Father Smith was also present to the bereaved members of the fallen firefighters’ families. He estimates that he concelebrated 30 to 40 funeral Masses of firefighters, sometimes two or three in a single day.

“I knew a lot of the guys,” he said.

He also had been friendly with a number of people who worked inside the towers. One of his former parishes, St. Mary Church in Manhasset, lost 22 parishioners and alumni from its elementary and secondary schools, the majority of whom Father Smith had known personally. He concelebrated several of those funeral liturgies.

“I remember a year or two after 9/11 looking at a list of victims to see how many people I actually knew,” Father Smith said. “It was about 60. Sixty friends that I had contact with and knew their families. They were firefighters, guys from Cantor Fitzgerald and the other financial groups at the Trade Center.”

Like many emergency responders who served at the World Trade Center site on 9/11 and post-9/11, Father Smith developed health issues related to the toxic conditions of the environment.

“I have chronic sinusitis. I have sleep apnea. I’ve had some skin cancer,” he said. “All have been certified as 9/11-related.”

His brother Patrick, meanwhile, was forced to retire from the FDNY in 2006 with a 9/11-related illness.

Father Smith said he has proactively addressed the emotional scars that he bears from his time at ground zero. “I go to counseling,” he said. “It helps, especially on the (9/11) anniversaries. If you’re going to do trauma counseling, it’s not a bad thing to check in with somebody from time to time.

“The first couple of years, I’d have nightmares, flashbacks, a lot of that stuff.”

Father Smith’s 9/11 recollections also include positive memories of a time when people expressed their appreciation for the firefighters, police officers, construction workers and others who pitched in at ground zero.

“At night, when you left the Trade Center, there would be people on the streets with big signs saying: ‘Thank You.’ They’d hand you a bottle of water or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made by a school kid.”

Father Smith fondly remembers strangers chatting with and helping one another, a byproduct of the collective pain people shared and their desire for healing in the wake of the catastrophe.

He said he misses the post-9/11 period that was marked by a heightened degree of charity and fellowship, along with intense national pride and unity.

“You wish that some of the lessons we learned from 9/11 would have been passed on, like reaching out to one another, forgiving one another, being a little more patient with one another.”

The most important lesson, he said: “Cherish every single day.”

Sisters celebrate Jubilees

Sister Angela Susalla, OP – 70 years
ADRIAN, Mich. – The Adrian Dominican Congregation celebrates the dedication and commitment of 44 Sisters who in 2021 mark their Jubilees, their milestone years of service and dedication to the church and the congregation. The 2021 Jubilee class includes one sister celebrating 80 years, 11 sisters celebrating 75 years; 14 sisters celebrating 70 years; 17 sisters celebrating 60 years; and one sister celebrating 25 years.

One Jubilarian, Sister Angela Susalla, OP, has connections to the Diocese of Jackson. Formerly known as Sister David Mary, she is celebrating 70 years of religious life.

A native of Detroit, Sister Angela served for more than 30 years at Catholic Social Services in Tunica, an agency of the Sacred Heart Southern Missions. She graduated from Rochester High School in Rochester, Michigan, in 1951 and entered the Adrian Dominican Congregation on June 24 of that year. She professed her first vows on December 27, 1952 and her perpetual vows on December 27, 1957.

Sister Angela earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1963 and a master’s degree in mixed science in 1970, both from Siena Heights College (now University) in Adrian.

After teaching in Detroit and Aiken, South Carolina, Sister Angela taught second grade at St. Mary in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, from 1961 to 1963 and eighth and ninth grade at Blessed Sacrament in Tallahassee from 1964 to 1965. From there, she moved on to teach in Grafton, West Virginia and West Palm Beach, Florida, until 1976.
That year, Sister Angela switched gears to pastoral ministry, serving as a pastoral worker and catechist at a parish in Eleuthera, Bahamas, for one year and as a pastoral worker for the Diocese of Memphis for five years.

After studying at Regis College in Toronto, Sister Angela began her long-time service in Catholic Social Services in Tunica, Mississippi, an agency of the Sacred Heart Southern Missions. As a pastoral minister at Catholic Social Services, she particularly remembers visiting an elderly man who was living alone in a dilapidated house. When, at her request, she read Psalm 51 to him, she remembers that both of them were in tears. “I will never forget praying with him and feeling the presence of God,” she said. “He died the next day. I’m sure God welcomed him.”

Retired since 2014, Sister Angela resides at the Dominican Life Center in Adrian and is involved in the ministry of prayer and presence.

“During my 70 years, I believe I have grown both professionally and spiritually because of being an Adrian Dominican Sister,” Sister Angela said. “The decision I made as a senior in high school was a blessing then and continues to be a blessing for me every day as I can still pray and serve our Sisters whenever I can.”

Sister Helen Strohman (M. Maurice) – 70 Years
DAVENPORT, Iowa – A native of Keswick, Iowa, Sister Helen Strohman was born in 1932, entered the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in 1951 and made her first vows in 1954.

Sister Helen received a BA in elementary education from Marycrest College in Davenport, Iowa. She also attended St. Ambrose University in Davenport and Drake University in Des Moines.

Sister Helen’s ministry of teaching found her in Iowa at St. Alphonsus in in Davenport, St. Mary in Marshalltown, St. Mary and St. Patrick in Ottumwa, St. Donatus in St. Donatus, Assumption Grade School in Granger, Christ the King, St. Anthony and Holy Trinity in Des Moines. She also taught at St. Austin in Minneapolis and Sacred Heart in Camden, Mississippi. She was the director of the YES Program in Canton, Mississippi (1990) and a pastoral minister at St. Joseph Church in North English, Iowa. She was teacher and then director of the Rainbow Literacy Center (1994-2002) and worked for the MadCAAP educational program (2002-03) in Canton. Sister Helen taught in the Madison County Jail in Mississippi and helped create the volunteer program Seeds of Hope in Des Moines, Iowa.

Sister Helen currently lives in Canton and is on call for a storage facility. Her parish, Sacred Heart, is the home of two retired Irish priests where they celebrate the Eucharist together each day.

Sister Lael Niblick – 50 years
A native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, Sister Lael Niblick first professed vows in 1971 for the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes, a community that promotes justice and builds community.

Sister Lael received a BS in education with minors in theology and science from Marian College in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. She also attended St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, receiving a Masters degree in religious education and youth ministry, graduating Magna Cum Laude.

In addition to her degrees, Sister Lael has received over 20 certifications. These include certifications and workshops in religious education, advanced scripture, alcohol and drug intervention for teens, prevention of child sexual abuse, satanic cult awareness, parish management, racism, prison reality, fundraising and even clown ministry.

Additionally, she spent time in Boliva on a Spanish immersion trip with the Maryknoll Institute in 1992; as well as spending time completing various spiritual and educational workshops in Honduras from 1993-1995 and Nicaragua from 1995-2009.

Sister Lael has served many ministries since 1967, including those in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin; Bensenville, Illinois; La Ceiba, Honduras; and Bluefields, Nicaragua before serving in the Diocese of Jackson as a Lay Ecclesial Minister for St. Helen parish in Amory, Mississippi.

What affirms Sister Lael’s lifelong commitment as a vowed religious is living life as a journey. “Sometimes it is rocky, sometimes filled with wonder. Walking with others sharing the Gospel affirms my own call,” said Sister Lael. “Each day presents a new story and recommitment.”

She approaches each person with the gifts she has to share and believes the mission of Jesus is living the Gospel. “Sharing means both giving and receiving,” says Sister Lael. “Be open to the richness of diversity and build the Kingdom of God with the whole world and creation.”

In memorium: Sister Betty Tranell

NORTHFIELD, Ill. – Sister Betty, Elizabeth R. Tranel, SSpS; Sept. 27, 1926 – Aug. 19, 2021.

Sister Betty, from East Dubuque was a Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters for 74 years and an educator. For 25 years she ministered in the Diocese of Jackson, and for 20 years in Sacred Heart Parish (Winnetka, Illinois) and St. Elizabeth Parish, Chicago. She was a zealous missionary ready to learn in order to communicate God’s redemptive love.

She was preceded in death by her parents and seven of her siblings. Condolences to her three brothers (Richard, Roger and Bert), her two sisters (Marge and Sister Jean, OP) and her many nieces and nephews. Services were held at Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit.

For the Life of the World: Dominican Sisters launch first-ever podcast series on congregation’s 148th anniversary

By Sister Beth Murphy, OP
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The new Springfield Dominican Sisters’ podcast series, F.L.O.W.cast, is streaming now at You can also visit to subscribe and receive each new episode in your inbox every Thursday.

F.L.O.W.cast is meant to be welcoming to a younger audience that appreciates intergenerational conversation and an eclectic mix of inspiring stories about the sisters’ lives and ministry.

Each week, one-to-one conversations and roundtable discussions with Springfield Dominican Sisters, coworkers and associates are meant to acquaint listeners with the lives and ministry of the sisters and share stories about how they are changing lives in hopeful ways.

“From the day our first sisters landed in Jacksonville (Illinois), on August 19, 1873, they fostered relationships with those they served as an expression of their desire to bring the compassion of the Gospel to people on the margins of society,” said Sister Beth Murphy, series producer and the communications director for the sisters. “Launching F.L.O.W.cast today is a way of honoring their vision, courage, and commitment.”

The F.L.O.W.cast format was inspired by the relationships host Jeremiah Washington began building with the sisters when he began working at Sacred Heart Convent five years ago. “I didn’t know anything about the sisters when I started working at the convent,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know them and learning about their dedication to their ministry. They’ve inspired me a lot. I’m happy to be able to share that with the world.”

The inaugural episode was “Sister Bernie has a Fan Club.” Washington chose to launch his podcasting career with Sister Bernadette Marie McGuire because he was aware of her reputation for humor at Rosary High School in Aurora where she was previously the librarian. “Sister Bernie has a quirky sense of humor. That helped me escape the nervousness I was feeling as we recorded that first episode,” he explained.

New episodes of F.L.O.W.cast are available every Thursday throughout the estimated 6-month podcast season.
Aaron Tebrinke, the project manager for the sisters, doubles as the podcast editor and sound engineer. He recognized the gifts Washington could bring to the project. “I noticed the respect he has for the sisters, his curiosity about their lives of ministry, and his comfortable way of relating with others, and thought he could share those gifts with a broader audience of young people like himself,” Tebrinke said of Washington, who is on loan to the F.L.O.W.cast team from the Sacred Heart Convent housekeeping department.

The podcast name, F.L.O.W.cast, is an acronym for the phrase – For the Life of the World, which appears in John’s Gospel and is used by the sisters to summarize their response to God’s mission.

Completing the F.L.O.W.cast production team is Veronica Brown, the communications and advancement specialist for the Dominican Sisters, who designs the graphics and manages the distribution platforms.

Search for F.L.O.W.cast on your favorite podcast app, or visit: and subscribe to receive the podcast in your inbox.

(Sister Beth Murphy, OP, is the communication director for the Dominican Sisters of Springfield and lives at Cor Unum House, where the Dominicans accompany young adult women on their spiritual journey.)

JACKSON – The second episode of F.L.O.W.cast featured Sister Kelly Moline, OP, a chaplain at St. Dominic Hospital.