Loretto Celebrates Newest Co-Member Allison Grace Lemons
Celebrations of an individual’s acceptance into the Loretto Community as a Loretto co-member are always a moving reminder of the deep values and cherished community to which many of us have been called. Our most recent one was no exception.
On Wednesday, Sept. 21, the Loretto Community members who were gathered in Santa Fe, NM, were invited to celebrate the co-membership commitment of Allison Lemons. What made this celebration special was that it was held in the historic Loretto Chapel. (See painting by Allison’s daughter-in-law Martá Gyeviki for the cover of the program.)
Eleanor Craig opened the ceremony with a lighting of the candle brought from the Loretto Motherhouse “to call the light of Loretto back into the Chapel.” Then Maria Visse, in her beautiful soprano voice, sang “Peace I Ask of Thee, O River,” adding to the tone of reverence in the sacred Loretto Chapel.
As co-membership coordinator, I welcomed the attendees, including Allison’s family and friends, Loretto members and friends, and guests from New Mexico. Allison’s contact person (the Loretto member who helps guide the candidate through the co-membership process), Sharon Palma, was unable to attend due to illness. The talk she had prepared was given instead by Mary Jean Friel, a member of the Loretto Peace Committee on which Allison had interned during her co-membership process and on which she now serves as a member.
Sharon’s talk gave some of Allison’s history with Loretto, having found a loving and welcoming community through her longtime relationship with Elaine Prevallet. “That loving connection nourished the decision to become a member of the Loretto Community… Having made the decision to apply for Loretto co-membership, Allison jumped right in, visiting several Loretto community groups and committees…” and learning about Loretto’s deep roots in Loretto’s constitution, I Am the Way, which includes the following: “The basic desire to be united in love with God and with one another, with all people, and with all creation shapes this community of faith.”
Sharon’s words expressed her deep gratitude for her time as Allison’s contact person. “Allison, you are a very loving and giving person with a desire to grow in faith and to live the Gospel fully, and to stand for peace and to work for justice.” Sharon acknowledged Allison’s deep and authentic sense of love of the world and God’s people, and her deep devotion to her service for peace, inspired by the lives of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Karel Disponett next spoke representing the Peace Committee. She said that Allison has interned with the committee over the past year, and shared all that Allison meant to that committee, adding, “Allison has been our eyes and ears to Los Alamos because of her years of dedication to nuclear disarmament. For that, we are very grateful.”
Allison then began her commitment statement by giving thanks to all the Loretto members and family members who had supported her through the co-membership process, and who had contributed their time and talent to the program. She then shared the story of her journey to co-membership “through five doors.”
The first door was with Sr. Elaine Prevallet almost 20 years ago. “Elaine is still my gentle guide. Her words, works, and manner of living promote understanding and peace. My gratitude to her is boundless…”
The second door opened almost three years ago when Elaine prompted Allison to meet more Loretto members living in Santa Fe, where Allison and her husband had recently moved. “Although I felt like an intruder, they welcomed me like an old friend. I was awed by the lives these women had led; they had lived in third-world countries, and on Native American Reservations; they had been, or still were, teachers, nurses, social workers, and social activists. They exemplified the Loretto motto, ‘We work for justice and act for peace.’ These were values dear to my heart.”
The third door Allison entered was in 2019 at a Loretto Retreat at Snowmass, Colo., “on a topic of great concern to me — global warming. Moreover, I was eager to go to Snowmass, having heard of it over the years from Elaine as a place of spiritual strength and tranquility. “It was there that she decided to become a co-member.
She spent the next year attending Loretto events, retreats, and presentations and met as many Loretto members as she could.
In 2020, entering the co-membership process was the fourth door through which Allison walked. “I joined innumerable Zooms on topics from Loretto history to sustainable agriculture. Last fall my husband and I visited the Motherhouse in Kentucky. In every encounter with Loretto, virtual or actual, I found fellowship, prayers, or words of wisdom that nourished my soul. Throughout the co-membership process, I have received the affirmation that, as is said in the Constitutions of the Sisters of Loretto, ‘the greatest asset of the Community is the life of every member.’”
“As I now enter through the fifth door, I commit to the following as a co-member of Loretto: to give emotional support and encouragement to members of the Loretto Community; provide financial support to Loretto; to show generosity and hospitality to Loretto Community members; to participate on a Loretto Committee and in events of the New Mexico Loretto group; to work for justice and act for peace; to grow in love and service wherever I am able. Thank you.”
The applause was immediate, hearty, and enthusiastic as those gathered rose to their feet! There were several of us wiping away tears, deeply moved by Allison’s words.
Mary Margaret Murphy, Loretto’s vice president then stepped to the podium to receive Allison’s commitment on behalf of Loretto President Barbara Nicholas and the Loretto Community. She read Barbara’s letter:
I’ve asked Sr. Mary Margaret Murphy, Loretto’s vice president, to stand in for me to represent all Sisters of Loretto and co-members of Loretto as we celebrate you being one of us. What a historical setting for this celebration, Allison; the first of its kind in Santa Fe. These days have provided you with an immersion experience into the Santa Fe chapter of Loretto life. In the early days, just think, there was no concept of Loretto’s co-membership. And yet, like a continuous living and lifegiving thread, we became the “something unknown” that Charles Nerinckx wondered about in his message to the sisters, relying on, as always, on Divine Providence: “What will become of you, I cannot say.”
Today, celebrating you, we continue to become the Loretto Community. In your statement, Allison, that you so beautifully just expressed and committed to us, you wrote these profound and loving words, “I agree to give emotional support and encouragement to members of the Loretto Community, to show generosity and hospitality to Loretto Community members, to work for justice and act for peace, to provide financial support to Loretto, to participate in the Loretto Peace Committee and in the events of the New Mexico Loretto folks.”
In the words of I Am the Way, we acknowledge what you acknowledged: “The greatest asset of the Community is the life of every member.” We thank you, Allison, and celebrate you, Loretto’s newest co-member. You are a treasured asset.
With love, Sr. Barbara Nicholas, S.L.
Mary Margaret ended with her own words, as the designated Loretto representative: “I proclaim what you just heard: We wholeheartedly rejoice with you and because of you, Allison. As we mutually learn from and support each other, and deepen our faith and spiritual commitment, we are mindful of God’s love, a love that calls us to accompany and stretch each other, to respond with compassionate action as we listen to the cry of the poor and of the Earth, of the climate crisis, and as we work for peace and act for justice. Allison, this is truly a day that God has made. May our applause once again be a sign of how much we rejoice and are glad to welcome you into the Loretto Community as a Loretto co-member!” Again the audience rose to their feet and heartily applauded Allison and the historic step that had just taken place.
The program was completed with “For the Beauty of the Earth” led by Maria Visse and a closing prayer read by Karen Knoll. The congregation enthusiastically sang together “Simple Gifts,” again led by Maria Visse, and there were handshakes, hugs, photos and an endless sea of smiling, grateful participants in a beautiful and deeply meaningful co-membership celebration.