Mother General Angela Marie Mazzeo: I stopped running and embraced the truth
Sr. Angela Marie Mazzeo, General Superior of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth/ PolskiFR/TS
“While I continued my 6 years of studies in pharmacy, I struggled to know if religious life was my path or not. I was living like an average college student. Then I started to date someone and eventually got engaged. At that point, I assumed that my earlier ideas about becoming a Sister were a mistake. However, the truth was that I was doing all that I could to run from God’s voice. I was following the path of my own choosing. But God was persistent and very patient.Eventually, I stopped running and embraced the truth that religious life was my path. I then broke my engagement” – said Mother General Angela Marie Mazzeo to the readers of the site polskifr.fr in the interview. She is Superior General of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
Could you tell the readers of our portal: polskfr.fr, the story of your own vocation?
Each vocation story is unique. God leads each of us along a different path, and in my case it wasn’t always a straight road. My first consideration of religious life came during my last year of high school at the age of 17.Even though I attended a Diocesan high school where there were a variety of Sisters who taught us, I really didn’t know much about religious life. It hadn’t even really registered that the Sisters were from different congregations.
After I graduated high school and began my studies, I met up with one Sister who had taught me during my 2ndyear in high school and I asked to talk with her. She was a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth. This was the first time I shared with anyone my sense that God was calling me to religious life. And thus started a rather long period of discernment.
While I continued my 6 years of studies in pharmacy, I struggled to know if religious life was my path or not. I was living like an average college student. Then I started to date someone and eventually got engaged. At that point, I assumed that my earlier ideas about becoming a Sister were a mistake. However, the truth was that I was doing all that I could to run from God’s voice. I was following the path of my own choosing. But God was persistent and very patient.Eventually, I stopped running and embraced the truth that religious life was my path. I then broke my engagement.
The Sister with whom I had first shared my desire had patiently helped me to discern throughout this tumultuous time. She had prayed with me, introduced me to other Sisters, shared about the congregation’s charism, and invited me to the convent for various events. So this was a place that already felt like “home” to me. It seemed that God had directed me to this specific Congregation, so I didn’t spend time seeking out any others.
Therefore,in 1990, after finishing university, I requested to be accepted into the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA). Since then the Lord has continued to lead me along a unique, challenging, adventurous and joyful path!
In Christ’s Gospel we read: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few: pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Lk 10, 2) – what words of encouragement would you give to young women who would like to pursue their life calling in the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth?
To use the words of St. John Paul II, “Do not be afraid.” As Jesus has told us, God’s desires to bring us to fullness of life. Therefore, if the Lord is leading a young woman to religious life, it is meant for her good.
I recognize that young women today have many possibilities that they can pursue, and sometimes there is a hesitancy to commit to one thing, especially when that “thing” involves vows of chastity, poverty and obedience! However, there is much truth to the saying that God is never outdone in generosity. He asks for everything, so that we can be truly free and able to receive all of God’s gifts with open hands and heart.
The Mission Statement of our Congregation states, “Mindful that it is in an environment of love that persons come to the fullness of life, we witness a family spirit among ourselves, and are dedicated to the moral and religious renewal of family life. We are committed to creating communities of love and hope which celebrate the oneness of the human family.” With a mission that remains so relevant in our times and so needed by the world, I would greatly encourage any young woman who feels called not to hesitate to join us in carrying forward this mission!
Where in the world are your Congregation’s establishments and what is the uniqueness of the religious work of the Nazareth Sisters, both in the United States and in Europe?
The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth are located in 14 countries: Australia, Belarus, England, France, Ghana, Israel, Kazakhstan, Italy, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Spain, Ukraine and United States.
In our Mission Statement, we again read, “Sharing in Jesus’ mission of spreading the Kingdom of God’s love, we engage in a variety of ministries with and in the Church.” Therefore, our apostolates can take many practical forms: education, healthcare, catechesis, childcare, parish work, social services, family centers, etc. However, the uniqueness of our ministries is our focus on the family. In each type of work we focus not only on the individuals but on the entire family. This is true in Europe, in the United States, and in each of the countries where we serve, even though each place has its own specific “flavor”.
What are the conditions for admission to the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth? What is the course of the spiritual formation of the candidates?
There are some slight differences in the admission requirements in different countries. In general, however, to be accepted to the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, a woman needs to be anunmarried practicing Catholic who wishes to offer her life to God in service to others and live in community. Generally, we do not have an age limit. But in the case of older candidates, decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
The process of spiritual formation of a candidate involves the stages of:
- Aspirancy which lasts between a few months to a year
- Postulancy which lasts between 6 months and 2 years
- Novitiate which is a 2 year period
- Temporary Profession (Juniorate) which usually lasts 5 or 6 years (minimum is 3 years and maximum is 9 years)
The long period of time given to initial formation is meant to allow for a true discernment and is adjusted according to the needs of each candidate. Initial formation is also a time of increased self-knowledge and personal growth. Movement from one stage to the next is an opportunity for the candidate to deepen both their knowledge and lived experience of religious life in the spirit and charism of the Congregation.
The word: “crisis” – Has this reached your Congregation? So what are the hopes of the Nazareth Sisters for the modern world and the person lost in it?
The world today is faced with a number of different “crises”. The pandemic of the last year has brought about or intensified a variety of crises including an on-going financial crisis. We can seefamilies in crisis and signs of a crisis of faith. And many congregations are experiencing a “vocation crisis”.
Our Congregation is not exempt from the realities facing the rest of the world. However, I have come to see that a crisis can indeed be a blessing in disguise because the crisis becomes a catalyst for change. It can help us to see what we need to do differently. It can be a call from God to be renewed and to seek anew His will for us in this time and place.
This then is our desire, that we as a Congregation can embrace this call with hope and trust, cooperating with God’s grace to help ”spread His Kingdom of Love”. In this way, we can be authentic witnesses leading others to put their faith in God and be instruments for unity in our divided world.
The Sisters in religious houses remain at prayer at Jesus’ feet, what do your apostolates and concern for those in need of help, for emigrants and those who are lost in this world look like?
Jesus tells us that “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for Me.” (Mt 25:40) Therefore, many of our apostolates attempt to care for God’s “little ones”, those most in need. Some examples from across the Congregationinclude: running a soup kitchen for the poorand a feeding program for malnourished children; running homes for unwed mothers and children; offering after school programs for children from poor or troubled families; working in centers helping immigrants and teaching them English; caring for immigrant children who have been separated from their families; running nursing homes that care for the mentally disabled, and making education accessible to those who otherwise could not attend school.
Can a religious sister be happy – can we call her a successful woman?
A religious Sister can absolutely be happy! I think it can even be considered a part of the “job description,” because joy is a sign of the presence of God. So to be an authentic witness of Christ is to be joyful. It is a deeper happiness that remains even in the midst of difficulties or struggles.
With regard to the question of being “successful”, this of course depends on your definition of success. There are Sisters who are principals of schools, directors of institutions, university professors, accomplished authors, etc. Even by the world’s standards you could certainly say they are successful. However, as religious, we are called to judge “success” differently. It’s not about titles, or climbing career ladders. It’s rather about fully using whatever gifts we have been given to bring about good for others. If at the end of the day, we can positively answer the question, “Did I love today?” Then I believe we have been successful.
* based on nazarethfamily.org: “Sister Angela Marie Mazzeo was born in 1966 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. She entered the Congregation in 1992, after having received her Bachelor’s Degree in Pharmacy from Temple University. After first profession, Sister began her ministry at Nazareth Hospital. In subsequent years, Sr. Angela returned to school to obtain a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. Over her 15 years of hospital ministry, Sister served as a staff Pharmacist, Pharmacy Supervisor and eventually Director of Pharmacy. Sister served as a General Councilor from 2010 to 2019. During the General Chapter in 2019, she was elected the Superior General”
* based on nazarethfamily.org: The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth are an international apostolic Congregation of vowed women religious. In the tradition of our Foundress, Blessed Mary of Jesus the Good Shepherd, we strive to be women committed to a deep prayer life, one which gives meaning and direction to our engagement with the Church and society.