Sisters

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

April 27, 2003

 

            The median age in the room was about 70. But you could never tell it from their energy and their laughter. There were a few hearing aides and canes in the room, but nothing seemed to impede their quickness.

            I was standing in front of was a room full of nuns; about 80 of them.

They had invited me celebrate the mass in honor of four jubilarians celebrating the 50th anniversary of their profession as sisters of the Holy Cross.

            Sister Judy McKenna, who had been at our parish for five years, had invited me. Along with the three other jubilarians; Sisters Geraldine Liquore, Elizabeth Rossetti, and Camilla Fitzgerald, they had collectively given more than 200 years of service to the Church and society.

            In many ways this sunny chapel filled with elderly nuns was an intimidating group. These sisters are achievers. Most have advanced degrees. They have been teachers, principals, professors, nurses, doctors, hospital administrators, social workers, and counselors. They have worked with children and adults, rich and poor, sick and well. Even in retirement they are busy. Nearly all of them still go out each day to volunteer, visiting the sick, teaching the young, and helping the dying.

            Standing before this room of elderly women I had vision. I described it to them. 

            I saw the thousands of children they had taught. The minds they had opened to the wonders of learning and the consolation of faith.

            I saw the thousands of poor people they had helped both materially and spiritually.

            I saw the thousands of souls, rank upon rank of them, whom they had brought to God. I saw many more reaffirmed in their faith and given courage to persevere by the witness of these good women. Legions of lives saved by their words and deeds.

            I also saw one other thing. In that room, I was certainly the least in holiness and charity.

            How blessed we are in the Catholic Church to have been given the gift of these lives of so many good women. How little we thank them for it. 

            These women had sought to do something noble and daring. They had sought not just to serve the world. After all, other social workers, teachers, and healers do that. They had also sought to create real Christ centered community. The kind of community described in the Acts of the Apostles when it says the early church was of one mind and one heart, united in love and witness to the risen Jesus.

            Despite all the joy and enthusiasm that jubilee day, there was an edge of sadness.

There is no escaping the sense that this noble way of life is coming to end, at least in North America and Europe. There were no sisters in the room under 50. There is no one in formation.

 How sad, I thought, that future generations might not know their self-less witness.

Of course we shouldn’t despair. Doubtless the Holy Spirit will be midwife to some new kind of religious life. Something will be born to serve the Church and draw people together in a community of love for future ages.

Nevertheless, I think we should mourn the decline of these great communities. These women have done something of eternal importance with their lives. They heard the call of God and placed their gifts at the service of the church and each other. They did it with joy.  

Despite their gray heads, those sisters in the chapel were still full of youthful enthusiasm. Because of that those women seated in the chapel were, in the vision in my mind, forever young.