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Sunday, 26 August 2012

Vocation Story: Continuing the Gift: Sister Madonna Joseph, O.C.D.

Continuing the Gift:  Sister Madonna Joseph, O.C.D.

Sister Madonna Joseph was born in Los Angeles, California. At age nine, her family moved to the San Fernando Valley where she lived until entering Carmel.  She is the second of four children born to Marlen and Margaret Seltzer, and her home resounded with deep faith, abiding joy and laughter.  By their example, both parents taught their children about the love of God – often using nature’s beauty to illustrate His goodness.  The family prayed the rosary and attended Mass together, and the children learned to pray morning and night prayers at an early age.

Sister Madonna Joseph’s father, a mechanic, was also an amateur ventriloquist with a fantastic sense of humor, often entertaining friends and family.  Hearts lightened when the two entered the room to entertain. Her mother, a teacher, filled the family home with the beauty of music through the many piano pieces she played – all the way  from classical to gospel.   Margaret Seltzer also served as a docent for the Santa Clarita Historical Society as well as for the Archives of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  Through these activities, she imparted her magnificent love of history to her children.  It is not surprising that the seeds of a religious vocation flourished in such a family.

During a school career day during junior high school years, the students were each asked what career they felt less inclined to choose. When it was her turn, Sister Madonna Joseph responded that her least preference would be careers in healthcare – indeed, not to work with any type of medical equipment. God must have been smiling knowing what the future held in store for her. A graduate of Immaculate Heart College located  in Hollywood, California, she subsequently met some of the same sister-teachers who had taught her mother there as worked towards her degree in mathematics.  

Sister thought about religious life during the years after her graduation from college. However with the instability in so many religious communities during the 1970s, she decided to go into the civil service at a Veteran’s Hospital. She learned much about compassion as she observed Vietnam veterans returning home with great physical and emotional wounds from an unpopular war. Even though she enjoyed working at the Veteran’s Hospital, she felt drawn toward a deeper dimension in service to the Church, and the gentle call of God to serve Him in a religious vocation persisted. Sister Madonna Joseph remembers vividly the first time she came to Santa Teresita Hospital to ask Mother Margarita Maria for admittance into the community. She saw the sisters working together and witnessed the special presence they brought to the hospital. She knew that this was the dimension that was missing in her life.  She relates, “Mother Margarita Maria asked if I thought I was called to the religious life. When I responded affirmatively, she said, ‘Are you willing to sacrifice for Christ?’  This challenge resonated in my heart.”

On September 21, 1980, Sister Madonna Joseph took up the challenge and entered Carmel. Growing up in a close-knit family where three generations had lived in the same household, respecting, appreciating and learning from another, made her transition to Carmel an easy one. She felt at home right away in Carmel where she lived with her Carmelite sisters from various generations.
After making her first profession of vows, she was assigned to Santa Teresita. For the next five years, she worked closely with, and learned from, Mother Margarita Maria.  Sister Madonna Joseph recalls that Mother Margarita resembled Saint Teresa of Avila with her “holy impatience” when it came to the construction of new buildings. She remembered when she accompanied Mother Margarita Maria to one of the new building sites where the men were digging the basement. She asked them excitedly, “When can we move in?”  Sister Madonna Joseph learned from Mother Margarita Maria the intricacies of administering a healthcare facility while at the same time being interested in, and concerned for, the needs of each person.  Continuing her education, she obtained her degree in Health Care Administration.  Eight years to the day of Sister Madonna Joseph’s entrance into Carmel, God called Mother Margarita Maria home to Himself.
In June 2005, Sister Madonna Joseph became the Chief Executive Officer of Santa Teresita. The third Carmelite Sister to follow in the footsteps of Mother Margarita Maria, she continues today the legacy of care which has always characterized Santa Teresita.  In April 2006, Sister Madonna Joseph became the Vicar General, the assistant to Mother Regina Marie, Superior General of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. Because our original sisters, now advanced in age, live at Santa Teresita, Sister Madonna Joseph relates that one of her greatest blessings is to talk to them. They tell story after story of the early days when they worked alongside our Mother Foundress and Mother Margarita Maria. She says how appreciative she is of being able to listen and learn from them about the beginnings of our community, especially the high cost of the birth of our Congregation.

When asked about her vision for Santa Teresita,
Sister Madonna Joseph answered:
“Our mission at Santa Teresita is to be ‘At the Service of the Family For Life.’ This is part of the legacy given to us by Mother Margarita Maria who, like our Mother Foundress, was completely at the service of her sisters, the patients, their families, our co-workers, the volunteers and the physicians. Cardinal Timothy Manning referred to Mother Margarita Maria as the woman who found the treasure in a field and sold all that she had to purchase it.  It is with this same zeal that we carry this mission into new fields of healthcare, dedicating ourselves completely to it and passing it on to future generations.”
The name “Madonna” means “my gift” in Italian.  For Sister Madonna Joseph, it serves as a reminder that her vocation is a gift in which she gives herself and her talents to the Lord to use as He wishes in the vineyards of Carmel.  For those of us who are privileged to know Sister Madonna Joseph, it is a reminder of the gift that she is to our Community and to those she serves. Her name is also a remembrance of the gift of a cherished legacy of loving Carmelite care at the service of the family for life ~ a gift to be passed on to generations yet to come.

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