; Cwyn's Death By Tea: February 2024 ;

Monday, February 26, 2024

Letter to a Provincial

 November 3, 2023

Dear [Provincial]

What a wonderful lunch we had on Sunday, I appreciate very much the time I spent with you and the others at the table. I hope such an event will not be the last; indeed, I have this thought each time I visit even if the next thought to myself is that I cannot count on it.

Small point of business: I find myself still thinking of the question you asked about the dishes. Since you have something in writing, be it your own notes or a letter of mine, or from [my former nun cousin], I am compelled to clear this up. I do not know what D. may have borrowed, but [our family] can take care of this. As I said, I am fairly certain I bought a simple 4-piece Corelle-ware set from KMart. I see that a similar 4-piece set of Corelle-ware in Winter White sells for $37.92 at Home Depot. With 5.5% sales tax the total retail will be $40. I enclose a check herewith. 

Yesterday I had a lovely 82 minute phone conversation with [motherhouse archivist]. She indicated to me that [your sibling] spoke with her. Please thank your sister for me…and tell her that if she feels inclined to finish her busy career in adjudication, I will be happy to come on down and we can start a jazz band...

Ah, I did not have a chance to visit with Sister S., nor even ask the state of her health. I never viewed her woodwork as a “hobby,” but rather an extension of her efforts to restore to rural Wisconsin parishes the loss of their liturgical heritage when Vatican II took so much away and did not replace that with enough better. She worked hard starting with St. Joseph’s [my home parish], but her efforts required 500 more of herself and we just didn’t have the people to help. She knew this. Wood was her way to literally and figuratively “rebuild the church” for disappointed white rural Catholics, and reach as many as she could. That is your Franciscan, right there. 

Sister S's efforts lingered in my mind when your sister and I discussed the reliquary at St. Rose, while examining the archives. [Your sister] expressed the fear that what I would call “disappointed white Catholics” might wish to scoop up the relics. I am glad she sees what I see. Indeed, a few of these disappointed Catholics might wish for the demise of the [the order], at least going by what I see online. (Some call themselves Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, and one doesn’t need to look too deeply to see where they are. For example, check out the adult parish education video series used by the Ashland Parish Cluster in the past year, including at [the tribal parish]. Check who publishes that video series, then check the parent company which will take you to evangelical Protestant political donors.) But why not give bits of the reliquary to these people who might treasure it? We missed an opportunity when Sister S. could have embedded them into artwork, rebuild the Church. 

(I read somewhere that two monasteries in Europe each claim to have Jesus’ foreskin. Well now, that is a problem of another magnitude!)

I am unable to find anyone with any working familiarity with the WPA Project [FDR 1936-1940] contents. In it, I found evidence of pressure (gas lighting) on traditional beliefs in Sister M.'s edits (for example, changing phrases like “Indian Beliefs” to “Superstitions”) and this is after 1909 when such pressure to give up traditional beliefs was deemed no longer the policy of the Indian Bureau, and a directive against such pressure was issued. I saw evidence of shielding on the part of the tribal staff, such as in Chief Scott’s essay on drumming as a way to defend against whites.

I feel an urgency of history here in favor of the future, and I will be around awhile. The Ojibwe are re-establishing their seat at La Pointe on Madeline Island, something I never thought I would see in my lifetime! My family [lived] in the Chaquamegon Bay area in the 1970s, and my father built the marina in Washburn with a couple of investors, as well as blocks of condominiums. [My family] saw the poverty of most locals, it was like stepping back 10 years in time from the rest of society. [My family] saw the impact of tourists, and felt a sad resignation thinking the area’s ecology will be lost to overbuilding and tourism pollution some day if the locals do not have the strength to fight it. 

But now I am encouraged, rather than discouraged. People need to work together to responsibly administer the Lake Superior Watershed, a unique ecosystem. We cannot stress enough how important the Lake Superior Watershed is not only to the people there, but to the entire system of water in the state of Wisconsin. I am aware that if not for the Ojibwe wild rice beds, we may have lost the Bay watershed. I read somewhere that Lake Superior requires 500 years to entirely replace the water it holds. Every drop will be there for a very long time. 

Oh Sister, you were the best ombudsman I have ever known, and I have known many at the state level. I do not have a problem saying that we had Sisters at Odanah who may have had a personality problem, a mental health problem, and/or a drinking problem, we can’t determine which, and wielded the stick of corporal punishment beyond the norm of the time, rising to the level of child abuse. I see no future value whatsoever in defending personal visions of heroic education and conversion of savages in the name of so-called Franciscan ideals that we know today were wrong, just so I can die a personally contented (former) nun. The Watershed is far more important. 

Rather, I will say accept the full story of the school, as well as acknowledging the disappointed white Catholics amongst whom Sister M. had a culture of fundraising which amplified tensions between the peoples, a tension that lingers today. I remember all too well the first day I arrived in St. Joseph’s in [P]: that first day, locals told me the [P.] town sign (population 100 or whatever it was) sat exactly on the Menominee Reservation line, and that locals and Indians still had occasional shoot-outs on that line. This was in the late 1980s! The people in [P.] were of French descent, and had been there many generations. 

My point is, we need to preserve the Watershed. I fear if I can no longer find the lady slipper flower where I used to find it, then we might feel that old feeling of doom for the area once more. Wisconsin needs a strong Ojibwe and strong locals. 

I promise you that I will not burden frail sisters at [the motherhouse] with my views any further. I had my meeting of due diligence and am grateful to you and [your sibling], as well as Sister T. [my classmate], and for your forbearance. I will never stop missing you all deeply.


November 17 - 2023

Dear [Cwyn],

I received your letter in early November, as well as a check for $40.

I don't recall that I questioned you about dishes or that I received any letter from you or from [your cousin] about dishes. Therefore, I am returning the the check. You or [your cousin] do not owe us anything. Consider the issue closed.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I hope that you and all of us can discover the goodness of our lives and be grateful.


S. [former Provincial]