Two women profess first vows as Sisters of Mercy - Catholic Courier

Two women profess first vows as Sisters of Mercy

Sister Jennifer Lang would have loved to profess her first vows as a Sister of Mercy in her native Buffalo.

But just as Mercy Sisters from Buffalo and Rochester came together earlier this year as part of a new regional community, Sister Lang and longtime Ithaca resident Sister Madeline Rockwell came together at the motherhouse in Brighton Sept. 6 to profess their temporary vows.

“There was a sense of moving into the future,” Sister Lang said. “We are no longer separate entities, but we are one community.”

In January, the local Sisters of Mercy congregation officially joined with congregations in Buffalo, Pittsburgh, the Philippines and Erie, Pa., to form the New York, Pennsylvania and Pacific West Community of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.

With the regional community there is strength in numbers, and there also is strength in numbers with women seeking to become permanent members of the congregation, Sister Rockwell observed.

“I think it was a very powerful witness to Mercy and a call to religious life that there were two of us professing,” Sister Rockwell said.

Sister Lang

Now the faith-formation director at Holy Apostles Parish in Rochester, Sister Lang said she grew up in Sisters of Mercy territory in south Buffalo.

“The Sisters of Mercy ministered to Irish immigrants who worked in grain mills,” Sister Lang said. “It was almost in my blood and in my history.”

During elementary school, she first thought about becoming a sister when two Sisters of Mercy who worked in a mobile medical ministry on the Philippine Islands spoke to her class and left a lasting impression.

“I began to make up stories and pictures of myself on a mobile medical van,” Sister Lang said. “I was sick as a child and was in and out of hospitals, so I was used to the doctors and nurses.”

The possibility of becoming a sister never left her, but in high school and in college, when she studied journalism and communications, Sister Lang never considered it to be a viable option because she only was aware of sisters that were much older than she was.

“I knew I didn’t have to be a sister to live a life of service,” Sister Lang said.

Instead, she worked at a Boston, Mass., homeless shelter as part of the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry, taught third- and fourth-graders at St. John’s Indian School on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Arizona, and taught third grade at a Harlem Catholic school in New York City.

After three years in the Big Apple, Sister Lang moved to rural Plano, Ill., to work at LaSalle Manor Retreat Center for teenagers. She said in order to teach kids how to pray and have a relationship with God, she found she had to do the same.

“It was really powerful seeing how God was working and how relationships were headed,” Sister Lang said. “Some of the kids gained new confidence in themselves, and that was a gift.”

At this point, she made her first contact with a Sisters of Mercy vocations minister. She also got a job with a mobile migrant ministry, teaching migrant children who traveled between schools in Ohio and Florida. After this school closed, she moved back to Buffalo.

She entered the Sisters of Mercy as a candidate in 2002, and began teaching seventh- and eighth-grade English at a school that has been founded by the Sisters of Mercy. She became a novice in 2004, and completed her canonical year in Laredo, Texas, working with Mercy ministries there.

Sister Lang left the community for a year to discern her call and wound up getting a job at St. Columban Center in Derby, Erie County. The center needed help setting up a publicity department.

“Every time I need to deepen my relationship with God, he leads me to a retreat center,” Sister Lang said.

About a year later, God led Sister Lang back to the Sisters of Mercy to continue her trek to becoming a sister. Last year, she developed and taught a new course at Brighton’s Our Lady of Mercy High School on the history and spirituality of the Sisters of Mercy and the order’s founder, Catherine McAuley. She said she identifies with the challenges initial sisters faced getting things started, because she has spent much of her varied career starting up programs.

“That’s what I like about Catherine McAuley,” Sister Lang said. “She was attuned to the needs of her day, getting things started and then handing them over to other people.”

Sister Rockwell

Sister Rockwell said her contact with several sisters of Mercy, including a few who were older grandmothers, showed her that it might be possible for her to become a sister even though she has three grown children. The example of the Sisters of Mercy at her parish in Ithaca, Immaculate Conception, also was very influential, she said.

“There was this feeling that I was being called to something deeper as my children were moving out of the house,” Sister Rockwell said.

She said she was inspired when she learned about the order’s founder, Catherine McAuley, and the fourth vow Sisters of Mercy take to serve others.

“It is a directive that we are being led to hear, and we should always be looking at what we are doing and being called to do,” Sister Rockwell said.

Sister Rockwell, a Binghamton native, ran a child-care business for about 14 years and worked in the Ithaca Central School District. She worked as a full-time teacher’s aide at Brighton’s Seton Catholic School after moving from Ithaca to the Rochester area to pursue the path to becoming a Sister of Mercy.

During the majority of her novitiate, Sister Rockwell was in Laredo, Texas, where she served as a extraordinary minister of holy Communion at a local hospital. She said she requested to return to Laredo as a newly professed sister, and she now works there as child advocate in the Casa de Misericordia, or the House of Mercy, a women’s shelter and education center for those fleeing domestic violence.

“As a child advocate, it enables me to still be in contact and work with children and work with moms in a different capacity,” Sister Rockwell said.

She helps families who leave behind everything from clothing to school supplies as they flee. The shelter and education center’s staff also ensure students’ and parents’ needs are met through tutoring, educational programming, counseling and social activities. Legal advocates also meet with the women; non-U.S. residents who are victims of domestic violence may qualify for some services, Sister Rockwell said.

Even after women exit the shelter, they are able to use some of the educational center’s services, which range from English as a second language classes to computer services to fitness training.

“There’s a real respect and value for one another, and it shows in the number of volunteers who are ex-residents of the shelter and the education center,” Sister Rockwell said. “There’s a real sense of community here.”

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