Up Front and Personal

A Faith Vocation Grows in Brooklyn

by Sister Marie Mackey, CSJ

A novel that was required reading for students beginning in the 1940s was “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith.

In it the character, Francie, loves her neighborhood and refers to a tree that is growing out of the concrete as the Tree of Heaven. As I celebrate my 25th jubilee as a Sister of St. Joseph of Brentwood, I reflect on my blessings in this unique and wonderful Diocese of Brooklyn where my congregation was first planted on Sept. 1, 1856, at St. Mary’s on Maujer Street. 

My life in faith is a testament to my parents who raised me with a love for God and neighbor and the parish community of Nativity BVM and the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk who reinforced Gospel values and encouraged me in all of my endeavors. My Catholic education continued at The Mary Louis Academy and St. Joseph’s University (Brooklyn) where the Sisters of St. Joseph gave witness to a life of academic integrity, radical inclusivity, social justice, and a practical yet deep spiritual life. The seeds were planted and took root. 

Central to all of this was St. Paul’s Center, a diocesan-sponsored retreat house that focused on the Christian Awakening programs for high school students and young adults as well as the English-speaking Cursillo program. Following my Christian Awakening retreat, I was invited to be on Team and thus began a long-term engagement in mentoring young people in a life of faith. Even today, I credit my St. Paul’s community for helping me “keep the faith” for more than four decades. 

My roots in faith are deep. I have been nurtured, pruned, watered, and bathed in sunlight by countless mentors, colleagues, friends, and members of my CSJ community. Like a tree, I have weathered the seasons. Sometimes I am parched due to the heat of ministry, sometimes my leaves are falling off the branches. Yet, at other times, newness is budding and I am in full flower. Sometimes I feel strangled by obstacles that constrain me and at other times the obstacle is the way and I rise and push myself through the concrete sidewalk. 

Dramatic change has happened during these past 25 years, yet I stand and continue to grow alongside others in faith and service in the midst of this concrete jungle. 

In January 2021 my congregation supplied “seed money” to plant a new ministry for young adults to live and grow together in faith, service, and community. 

My “Tree of Heaven” has been the diocese and all those I have been privileged to minister with as colleagues, friends, family, and religious community. As for my vocation, I think St. Thérèse of Lisieux says it best: “As I was surrounded by such good examples, I naturally wished to imitate them.” 

Sister Marie Mackey, CSJ, serves as Director of CSJ Young Adult Ministry and adjunct faculty member in the Religious Studies Department at St. Joseph’s University.