Encouraging vocations “means reaching out to young women and saying, ‘This life could be for you,’” says St. Joseph Sister of Philadelphia Pat McGinley, seen here with Lauren Borowick from Lawrenceville’s Center for FaithJustice. Courtesy photo
Encouraging vocations “means reaching out to young women and saying, ‘This life could be for you,’” says St. Joseph Sister of Philadelphia Pat McGinley, seen here with Lauren Borowick from Lawrenceville’s Center for FaithJustice. Courtesy photo
Living and serving among Catholic faithful has brought joy and fulfillment to religious sisters who are marking special anniversaries of their ministry this year – Marianite Sister of Holy Cross Margaret Cronley and St. Joseph Sister of Philadelphia Pat McGinley among them.

Taken together, they have devoted 135 years to their vocations.

“I think of two quotes,” Sister Pat said. “One from St. Catharine of Siena: ‘Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire,’ and another from St. Francis de Sales, ‘Be who you are, and be that well.’

When you are in ministry,” following those examples “highlights the fullness in life,” she said.

‘All About Relationships’

Sister Margaret and St. Pat have served for decades in the Trenton Diocese – their ministries impacting lives in parishes, schools and hospitals. Sister Margaret is celebrating her 75th anniversary this year; it’s the 60th anniversary for Sister Pat.

Sister Margaret retired from active ministry after decades as a teacher, principal and provincial superior, as well as working in the diocesan Office of Vocations and as a sacramental secretary in St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville. Both sisters said they were attracted to their religious orders by personal witness as young women.

Moved by their “example and authenticity” in serving others, Sister Margaret entered the Marianites in New Orleans after observing them working in a hospital in her native Manhattan in 1945 – during World War II. Words are not adequate, she said, to “express what it means to be a Marianite of Holy Cross. I loved my life. It was unpredictable, ever-changing, constantly challenging.”

Sister Pat, who has devoted the past six years of her ministry to serving as pastoral associate of the Lawrenceville parish, sees the highlights of religious life as being “all about relationships with God and others as you share the journey of faith along the way.”

She has served in a variety of ministries, including teaching, administration and pastoral leadership, and remembers her time in each as an opportunity to “share the faith the way it is meant to be shared.” It’s an overall vision, she said, inspired by “the beautiful document ‘Lumen Gentium,’” the central document of the Second Vatican Council that teaches how the call to holiness is not limited to any one state in life but is universal, embracing all baptized Christians.

And religious life is the holy ground “where we meet each other and help each other in our relationship with God,” Sister Pat said.

Sister Pat entered the Sisters of St. Joseph right out of high school at the end of senior year. “They were women generously serving others. They knew Jesus, they were full of joy. I could tell it was very real.”

In answering the call to vocation, she said, “It’s all about people and the variety of ministries. It’s always new. It’s always a challenge.”

She and Sister Margaret expect that will be especially true for religious today, as the Church continues to meet the needs stemming from the coronavirus. “It takes courage to step into new places every time we are called, to be creative, to focus on how we respond in the way God wants us to respond,” Sister Pat said.

Sister Margaret looks to modern technology to help with keeping communities connected during COVID-19. Every Thursday, sisters in New Orleans and New Jersey get together online “and talk,” she said. “We reflect and say what we find challenging and sit and listen. It’s a way of communicating. It keeps us in touch.”

“Did I ever imagine such a thing? No,” she said.

Abundant Hope

When the National Religious Vocation Conference published its 2020 Study on Recent Vocations to Religious Life earlier this year, it did so with conviction that the “endless call” to serve God will be answered, even during today’s unsettled times.

It found that women and men continue to respond to the call to religious life and that they are drawn by prayer, spirituality, charism, community life and mission. Culturally diverse, they embrace intercultural, intergenerational living, are committed to living simply and in solidarity with the poor and perhaps, most importantly, that they are filled with abundant hope for religious life amid changing demographics.

Both sisters are hopeful that the “endless call to serve God” will indeed be answered, and they encourage faithful to lend their prayers and their support to make this happen. Sister Margaret advises Holy Hours for vocations and support for vocations in the home.

“Vocations come from prayer, family life,” she said, as well as the example and authenticity of the religious in the diocese.

Pondering the coronavirus, Sister Pat said she is unsure whether the pandemic will bring about a surge of vocations as disasters have in the past. However, she touted the importance of vocation directors in all communities.

“As difficult as life is, we need to see beyond the present. It means reaching out to young women and saying, ‘This life could be for you.’ When we come back [from the coronavirus] we need new ideas.”