Photo: Dan Valenti
The Sisters of Life were part of Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend on Eden Hill. Shown here, from left, are novices Sr. Joan Marie, Sr. Bethany Madonna, Sr. Amata Filia, Sr. Mariae Agnus Dei, Sr. Maria Anne Michela, Sr. Fiat Marie, and Sr. Mary Rose, vicar general.
By Dan Valenti (Apr 19, 2009)
Twenty-five angels danced on the crest of Eden Hill yesterday. Still bathing in the aura, the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy jumped with LIFE today.
Five and twenty they came: six postulants, 15 novices, and four professed sisters.
In their humility, the Sisters of Life would quibble with the "angelic" descriptor, but to look at these women from the outside provides support for the word. The Sisters, who are based in the New York City metropolitan area, attended the Divine Mercy conference Saturday morning in Great Barrington, Mass., then made the five-minute drive to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy on Eden Hill in Stockbridge for the Sunday Vigil Mass.
The nuns' distinctive white-and-blue habits served as billboards of happiness and holiness, while their beaming, joyful countenances outdid the sun.
'Joyful in the Lord'
"They are beautiful women," said Paula Valenti. "You can tell that they are joyful in the Lord. I'm so glad to see them here."
"I'm inspired by them," said Fr. Joe Roesch, MIC, a Rome-based member of the General Counsel of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. "It seems to me that God has inspired them in answer to a prayer. God knew there would be a time when life would come under attack. The Sisters are great defenders of life through their work with women. Mercy is the only answer for our world."
"Angels" — Are you okay with that description? Granted, they aren't angels in the sense of traditional Christian art, which depicts angels dressed in long white robes and sprouting wings. The Sisters of Life don't have wings — no "flying nuns" in this congregation — but the white robes? Check. Moreover, if we define an angel as a spiritual being who acts as an intercessory or agent of God, the word fits beautifully.
As their name suggests, the Sisters are about one thing: L-I-F-E.
Many know the story of the revival of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, how in 1909 Blessed George Matulewicz-Matulaitis saved the Congregation from extinction. The Sisters of Life share a humble beginning.
God planted the seed for the Sisters of Life when then-Bishop-elect John O'Connor visited the notorious Dachau concentration camp. He stood before the redbrick crematoria in silence. He then put his hands inside one of the ovens and felt what he later described as "the intermingled ashes of Jew and Christian, rabbi, priest, and minister."
Overwhelming sadness touched his heart.
"Good God," he said, "how could human beings do this to other human beings?"
At that moment, God shot a lighting bolt of grace into O'Connor's heart. He decided on the spot that for the remainder of his days he would fight with all his might to protect the sacredness of life, especially the lives of the most vulnerable.
A few years later, O'Connor — who was now John Cardinal O'Connor, Archbishop of New York — wrote a column in the archdiocesan newspaper titled: "Help Wanted: Sisters of Life." He had no idea who, if anyone, would reply.
Hundreds of women inquired, and from that group, eight entered the new community on June 1, 1991. The initial octet of sisters included Mother Agnes Mary, who became (and still is) the congregation's first superior general.
The order grew, and in 2002, Edward Cardinal Egan — Cardinal O'Connor's successor — asked the Sisters of Life to direct and staff the Archdiocesan Family Life/Respect Life Office. That work continues to this day.
'Healing Comes from Him'
Their mission is to protect and defend life from cradle to grave, working especially with unwed pregnant women, young mothers, and women dealing with post-abortive trauma. This charism has inspired many young women to climb aboard.
"We are blessed with the presence of our postulants and novices, who bring with them a holy zeal," said Sr. Mary Rose, vicar general of the order. "There is so much suffering that follows an abortion, so much hurt that needs healing. We share God's mercy with these women. Divine Mercy is a sign from God that no matter what we've done or how gravely we have sinned, God's mercy is greater than any sin."
Sister Hossana Christie, a Sisters of Life novice, spoke of the transformation that takes place when a person comes to accept God's love: "To know we are forgiven provides such comfort and relieves such burden. Women damaged by abortion are victims. We only act as agents of God. Healing comes from Him. It's all done through grace. We're merely instruments. We can share mercy because we have experienced mercy."
The Process of Healing
"We empty ourselves so God can fill us with His love," said postulant Anne Marie. We need to live as witnesses of Christ in this world, so that people will see mercy through our actions. When women see how much we [as Sisters of Life] love one another and how much we love God, we hope it inspires them to do the same."
Novice Catherine Peters put it simply when she said, "We trust in God. God knows more than we will ever know."
To those who mourn an abortion, the Sisters offer comfort and hope. To those who have been damaged by abortion, the Sisters provide places for healing. To those who are unwed and pregnant, the Sisters provide support and love. The Sisters of Life deeply understand mercy.
As one of the Sisters' pamphlets puts it to women, "[H]ealing from abortion isn't about who you are or what you've done. It is about who He is and what He's done."
Not even an angel could word it better.
For more information on the Sisters of Life, to access their services, or to volunteer yours, call them toll-free at 1-866-575-0075 or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of "Dan Valenti's journal" at thedivinemercy.org.