By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator  

One year ago, Rob Tasman, executive director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, was scheduled to speak at a gathering of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baton Rouge, when his life took a near-fatal turn. The day before the event, Tasman was traveling on Jefferson Highway in Baton Rouge when his car was rear-ended by a truck.  

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Rob Tasman, executive director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks at a gathering of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baton Rouge. Tasman spoke about the ministry of St. Joseph and shared his personal favorite artwork of St. Joseph holding the infant Jesus.  Photo by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator 

 

The impact sent his vehicle across the yellow lines and into the path of an oncoming car. The head-on collision left Tasman with four broken ribs, two spinal fractures and damage to his right ear and a realization that God was calling on him to do more.  

Now, one year later, Tasman, again the guest speaker for “A Morning of Reflection” for the congregation of sisters and lay associates, was able to talk about that journey and his own reflection of lessons learned along the way.  

“I remember waking up on the passenger side (of my car),” Tasman recalled with an emotional quiver in his voice and tears in his eyes. “I heard a voice, an ethereal voice, and it said, ‘Wake up!’ And, what followed was a simple vision of (my wife) Katie and my four boys. I share that with you all because I think we’re all called to wake up.”  

Tasman said when he was in the emergency room, Bishop Michael G. Duca and Bishop Emeritus Robert W. Muench came to anoint him. Also, two priests came to visit and a sister with the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady joined his wife to be by his side during that harrowing time. And he also recalled how he knew the Sisters of St. Joseph were praying for him and credits that for a smooth recovery.  

In his discussions about the charisms of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Tasman began with the history of the order and its connection to St. Joseph, who was contemplative, trusting and kind. He said those characteristics, along with simplicity, allowed St. Joseph to “answer the call that he is given,” which is to assist in raising the child Jesus.  

“In the question of who Joseph is, is reflected very much in the charism of the sisters,” said Tasman. “The spirit of kindness also offsets meanness, violence and self-centeredness. So kindness can be a very important tool for us in the way that we approach individuals in our local communities and beyond.”  

Tasman also touched on “other major players” in the history of the sisters, including the order of the Jesuits and the order of the Salesians. He added the order moves “with the foundation of love of God and love of the dear neighbor.”  

“The ‘dear neighbor’ in the French context means ‘the next one,’ ” said Tasman. “ ’The next one’ dramatically expands our notion of who our neighbor is, even beyond the boundaries we sometimes put up.”  

He explained the importance of conversation in learning about others’ lives and challenges they might deal with daily and how that affects the person and communities as a whole, which “highlights the profound Catholic teaching of subsidiarity.”  

Charism comes from a Greek term that means “gift given for the sake of others,” Tasman stated. He said the charism for the Sisters of St. Joseph was not confined to the founders but continues to live in the congregation, defining who they are. 

“It is the lens through which you look through, but I would say it’s also the North Star which guides you and it’s the spirit and the ethos that flows forth from you within your own persona,” Tasman said. “Because of that, a charism literally speaks to individuals. And it can speak in very clear and nonverbal ways.”  

He then spoke of the legacy and history of the Sisters of St. Joseph since they arrived in Baton Rouge in 1868, taking over an orphanage, establishing a school, helping the poor and ministering to the incarcerated. Even now, he said the sisters continue their work by speaking out on immigration issues, human trafficking and advocating repeal of the death penalty.  

He recalled last year’s hearing by a legislative special committee on the death penalty with testimony from victims’ families and the Sisters of St. Joseph sitting silently during the heartbreaking stories. Tasman also shared how his young son, Joseph, sat with him and held his hand for 45 minutes after he returned from the hospital following the accident.  

“The sacrament of sacred presence is something that shouldn’t be diminished and is something that should be considered as something that is active and alive in one’s charism,” said Tasman.  

Following the talk, small breakout groups led to discussion on charism, what it means and how it applies to daily life. Tasman said the educational gathering was “invaluable” for lay associates because the sisters have recognized “lay individuals need to be able to carry on the things they have put forth.”  

“I loved his focus on the ministry of presence,” said Cherry Riggs, a lay associate and organizer of the workshop. “I think so often we don’t know what that means, and yet we all have opportunities to be present to someone who is hurting or confused or broken.”  

Sister Anna Schellhaas CSJ, who retired after 45 years of ministry at Terrebonne General Hospital in Houma, said the talk gave her a new perspective on how she can help others.  

“I haven’t been active like some of the other sisters in teaching and other things, and he really made me feel good because I can be present to people,” she said.  

“I really liked his focus on the fact that it’s relational, that it’s through relationships and building relationships that we really make a difference,” said Marilyn Dietz, a lay associate. 

“I think one of the incredible stories of the sisters is how they (minister) in very quiet ways, whether it’s supporting something, whether it’s being present for something that’s important that’s being discussed and because of their recognizability, it means something,” said Tasman. “People see them and it means something.”