On December 8, 2020, we celebrated 100 years since the first women joined the Schoenstatt Movement. The website 100 Years of Women in Schoenstatt was created to celebrate this milestone by publishing interviews with a hundred women from different nations, ages, and walks of life. In this article, we want to share with you the interview of Sister Francine-Marie Cooper. Sister Francine-Marie was born in 1981 in Manchester, England. She joined our community in 2002, and is currently stationed in Schoenstatt, Germany, where she studied to become a communications designer.
What experiences have shaped you as a woman?
I was born as the fourth girl in a family with five children and thus grew up with first-hand experience of girls and women.
I am very familiar with the “roller coaster of emotions” that girls go through at different stages. But perhaps this is precisely what has shaped me as a woman: dealing with the feelings, longings, fears, joys and expectations of others. This is often ascribed to women as an attribute: Empathy, a sense for atmospheric conditions, but also the ability to create atmosphere through her being.
I also grew up surrounded by art. Both of my parents are artists, my grandfather was an artist and all three of my sisters later studied art. Art was omnipresent in my life and with it the search for beauty, for expression and realization of great thoughts and goals.
Not only women have a sense for beauty. And yet beauty has something typically feminine about it. That means, it has a mysterious character and often something delicate, almost fragile about it. Beauty awakens awe and amazement and makes one wonder, it can even awaken a feeling of love, coherence and harmony. This search for the “beautiful” has already strongly influenced me. And it continues.
In my vocation as a Schoenstatt Sister of Mary, I discovered a very special beauty, namely the beauty that lies in a deep relationship with God. God himself: Beauty in person.
Where in your life have you experienced God?
I meet God every day anew, the world is so full of God!
Especially as a creative person, who is constantly developing and implementing new ideas, I experience God as the “Creator”, as a creator who is always busy creating and structuring – also in my soul! And this with a sovereign peace and security. I also see him in the hearts of those whom he has created: in people. I marvel at so much originality, so much divine ingenuity, that I encounter every day.
Above all, God has come very close to me in difficult times. I have experienced it myself: suffering makes the soul receptive to God, because suddenly everything else is seen from a different perspective and often cannot help. In those moments when only God could give me an answer, when my soul was really bleeding, I was allowed to experience that he gave me graces and insights I had never known before. Thus I can confirm what Gertrud von le Fort so aptly describes: “Not only the light of day, but also the night has its wonders. There are flowers that thrive only in the wilderness, stars that appear only on the horizon of the desert. There are experiences of divine love, which are given to us only in the utmost abandonment, even on the verge of despair.” (Gertrude von le Fort, Our way through the night)
My experience is: I can experience God everywhere. I only have to open my eyes for him.
What do you see as the challenge for women today?
In general, I see the challenge for young people today, whether men or women, to be able to be in harmony with themselves, indeed, to recognize their God-given identity and to be able to develop it. It may be that it is a greater challenge for women because they often have to fight for their rights in society.
I notice that many of them do not know what they want to do with their lives. There are so many possibilities and everything is so wonderfully promoted. So there is always the urge to try something new, in the hope that maybe this is the right thing to do, which brings me happiness. It struck me very much during my studies that there were a number of fellow students who didn’t really want to study, who were not interested in the subject and who somehow just dragged themselves through their studies.
Today, many of them want to study by hook or by crook. Social pressure? Personal pressure?
I think the biggest challenge is that the self-image we have of ourselves really corresponds to the truth of what we are inside. That the pressure from the outside, how a woman, or even a successful, happy young person should be, does not disfigure the actual beauty and originality of that person.
To shift the focus from the outside world with its opinions and guidelines, to the inner world of one’s own soul with its needs, but also with its resources – I find that a great challenge. And at the same time it is the only way for a woman to find herself and her true calling.
What do you want to change through your life in this world?
There is a saying by Father Kentenich that means a lot to me, namely, “Those who radiate the divine life that they carry within themselves are the most effective people today.”
And this is exactly where I see our task as Christians and also my personal task. I want as many people as possible to be allowed to experience that they are endlessly loved by God. And since baptism, God has been dwelling in my soul, i.e. I am a living little church, or as the Bible says: a temple of God. So for me there are two things I want to do to change the world in a positive way: first, to cultivate and deepen my relationship with God; second, to see every person I come in contact with as a unique Masterpiece made by God and, as far as I can, to make them aware of it.
This becomes very concrete in my direct apostolate. In my job I work a lot with social media (Youtube, Instagram, Facebook). In this Global Village of the Internet, I want to reach people with the message of God’s personal love and give testimony that a life in union with God makes one very happy.