Anne-Marie Brogan, pastoral administrator of St. Mary Parish, Rochester, did us all a great service recently in commemorating 175 years of the presence and ministry of women religious in this region.
With the collaboration of the religious congregations that have served here over the years, they developed a fascinating display that highlighted the remarkable achievements of these women. What our sisters have done in health care, education, child care, pastoral ministry, advocacy for the poor, direct human services, faith formation, retreat and prayer ministry, and outreach to new immigrants has been — and still is — an incalculably rich contribution to the health and well being of our diocese.
As I enjoyed photos, stories, videos and timelines that comprised the display, I was aware that, good as it is, any such effort could capture only a part of the story. Timelines and major moments in any such story are important, of course, but rarely can they capture the fullness of it. That is particularly true, I think, when the story is as rich and deep as the one that our sisters have for 175 years written with their lives.
This is a story of faith, sacrifice, selfless service and devotion to the people of God — especially to the vulnerable, the sick, the poor, aliens, widows and orphans. Our sisters are always there, ready to walk with and serve those who might otherwise be forgotten.
I met my first sister, Sister Mary Clare, CSJ, when I started high school in September 1951. She taught me a prayer I say to this day. For all of my years of high school, the sisters taught me great lessons — by word and deed — that I have never forgotten and for which I shall always be grateful. In the years since, I have known many sisters who have had no less an impact in my life.
In the years of my priesthood, which began during Vatican Council II, I have drawn considerable strength and encouragement from the faithful and generous ways in which our sisters have responded to theological insights and pastoral directions of that assembly.
They were asked to go back to the roots of their respective communities in order to rediscover and re-express in today’s world the gifts, energies and purposes that led to their foundation. Not an easy task. But they did it with great courage; and, as so often happens in changing times, were criticized for some of those decisions by people who did not understand the origin of them.
When our sisters were asked by Pope John XXIII to help in South America they responded immediately and generously to that request. The history of our Sisters of Mercy in Chile and of our Sisters of St. Joseph in Brazil is a proud one that has, in effect, extended the borders of our local church and at the same time taught us much about our deep communion with other local churches and the Holy See.
There are many other ways in which our sisters have continually enriched our lives. I can name a lot more but I don’t think any one of us, however well-informed we may be, could name them all. Of some realities only God has full knowledge.
I ask you please to pray for our sisters, thank God for the good they have done, ask God to strengthen them in their continuing journeys and pray that women, who might be drawn to it, would pursue a vocation to religious life.
Peace to all.