By Tim Johnson
HUNTINGTON — A pastoral visit with the Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters and praying at the tomb of a bishop predecessor brought Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades to Huntington on July 30. Bishop Rhoades celebrated a memorial Mass for Archbishop John F. Noll, fifth bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne and the bishop responsible for funding the Victory Noll Sisters catechetical congregation in Huntington. Archbishop Noll’s death was July 31, 1956.
The sisters’ founder, Father John Sigstein, had a strong desire to provide religious education, social services and health care among the poor in the Southwestern U.S. The congregation began in 1922. Growth of the congregation was advanced when Bishop Noll promoted the congregation’s work through Our Sunday Visitor, the newspaper which he founded, and located the motherhouse in Huntington at Victory Noll — a name that combines Our Lady of Victory and Bishop Noll.
In his homily at the memorial Mass, Bishop Rhoades spoke how the work of Archbishop Noll, Father Sigstein and the Victory Noll Sisters intertwined with the Gospel of the day from Matthew 13. In the Gospel, Jesus is rejected in the synagogue of his hometown of Nazareth.
“The people knew Jesus and would not accept or believe that the source of His wisdom and mighty deeds is God,” Bishop Rhoades said. “Perhaps understandable — what we call ‘the prejudice of familiarity.’ They thought they already knew all there was know about Jesus. They knew his family. They knew he was the carpenter’s son. So they dismissed Him.
“But their knowledge of Jesus was superficial. Their prejudice blinded them from recognizing the true identity of Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world,” Bishop Rhoades continued.
Bishop Rhoades related this must have hurt Jesus, and because of their unbelief, “our Lord did not work many mighty deeds there.”
Bishop Rhoades spoke of the prophet Jeremiah from the first reading of the day, Jer. 26:1-9. Bishop Rhoades related, “Christian tradition sees Jeremiah as being a figure of Jesus Christ. St. Jerome wrote: ‘All of the churches believe that what is said of Jeremiah refers also to the person of Jesus.’ Both were faithful to their mission and this faithfulness led to misunderstanding and persecution. …”
Possibly Jesus was thinking of Jeremiah when He said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.”
Still both Jeremiah and Jesus were ready to risk their lives in order to be faithful to their mission. Jesus’ fidelity led to His crucifixion.
“The Church continues the mission of Jesus and has a prophetic task in the world,” Bishop Rhoades said. “When we are faithful to our mission, the spread of the Gospel, we too can expect rejection, misunderstanding and persecution. We need the courage of Jesus and Jeremiah today. Notice that neither Jeremiah nor Jesus backed down. The Lord gave Jeremiah the strength to stay true to His calling. The Lord gives us strength as well, the strength of the Holy Spirit.”
Bishop Rhoades recounted how through reading the history of the Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters, Archbishop Noll and Father Sigstein, “I have been impressed by their strength and their fidelity to their holy mission. Let us pray that we may receive strength to be faithful to our mission and our vocation today, even when we encounter opposition.”
After Mass, a luncheon included special guests, Sister Geraldine Kirkessner and Sister Joan Arnold, who are from Bishop Rhoades’ hometown, Lebanon, Pa.
Bishop Rhoades then toured Victory Noll with Sister Beatrice Haines, president, and Sister Lucille Martinez, vice president. He greeted the sisters in the specialized care, including Sister Mary Karl, who at 103, was very pleased to have a visit from Bishop Rhoades. The sisters robustly joined in singing the hymn “Our Lady of Victory,” and the tour continued.
Bishop Rhoades visited the graves of Archbishop Noll and Father Sigstein and the early catechist sisters whose ministries led them from the motherhouse in Huntington to the southwestern United States. Today, the Victory Noll sisters serve in more than a dozen state across the country in places such as Fort Wayne, San Bernadino, Calif., Fort Collins, Colo., Tucson, Ariz., and Columbia, Ky.
Bishop Rhoades visited the Victory Noll Center, a ministry of Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters which is dedicated to fostering spiritual growth, personal development and social justice education in an ecumenical and multicultural environment, before a final stop to the administrative building including the Our Lady of Victory Chapel.
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