By Sister Michele Morek
Sister Angela Fitzpatrick, the Sister with whom I live, and I both received Ancestry DNA kits as gifts for Christmas. (That’s the kit that lets you spit in a collection tube and send it off to learn more about your family history by analyzing your DNA.) We are anxious to get our results; speaking for myself, I hope to discover some Neanderthal genes in my European ancestors!
I have been puzzling over a phrase that we Ursulines and Ursuline Associates throw around casually — that we have “Angela Merici’s DNA.” Since we just celebrated her feast day on January 27 with some big events to initiate the celebration of the 150th anniversary of our rural Kentucky branch of the Ursuline family tree, I have enjoyed thinking about what it means to have Angela’s DNA.
Your biological DNA is a chemical molecule that contains the “blueprints” that describe all your inherited characteristics, and the instructions for making the proteins that carry out or embody its instructions — in other words, your genes.
But how can we describe spiritual DNA? Surely if there is such a thing as “spiritual DNA” (and why not?) there is some way to inherit it from our spiritual ancestors.
When I taught Genetics many years ago, I enjoyed challenging the students to imagine themselves inventing a chemical molecule that could act as the gene, the carrier of heredity. What kind of features would it have to have?
- It would have to be stable — capable of being passed through the centuries with all its important information unchanged. Most of our human DNA has changed very little from that of those tiny little ancestral mammals who scampered around under the dinosaurs’ feet. In fact, some of our genes that control basic functions we share in common with yeast!
Our spiritual DNA has been passed along for over 500 years, from a holy woman in Italy all the way to us.
- Yet the genetic molecule we are designing would have to be able to change, to allow for “mutations” that give flexibility and adaption and different expressions — while remaining basically the same. (Alas! We know about how flu and COVID viruses are able to mutate!)
Let’s see, that sounds like something Angela said about changing with the times? Ursulines and Ursuline Associates in Africa, Australia, the British Isles, Canada, Europe, South America, the United States …
- It would have to have the potential to store lots of information, to direct the manufacture of many different kinds of proteins, so it can manifest in wildly different forms, from elephants to hummingbirds. Now think of all the manifestations of Ursuline life and ministry — active, contemplative and everything in between; vowed members and Associates; ministries in education, spiritual direction, parish ministry, social justice, healing, cooking, child care …
Check. Check. And Check. As a genetics teacher emerita, I decree that Angela’s charism meets the requirements for Spiritual DNA. I imagine that most of us are motivated, inspired, and guided by our Angela DNA.
Have you experienced some way that Angela’s genes are active in your life?