It is not often that I am surrounded by the experience of pure joy. My visit to the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Life in Suffern, New York, this past Saturday was such an occasion.
Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, SV, Superior General, invited me late last year to celebrate Mass for her Sisters of Life during which four of the Sisters would renew their vows. The special attraction of her invitation was the opportunity to celebrate Mass for the Sisters on the altar I gave them from the chapel of the Bishop’s Mansion in Trenton along with a tabernacle for reservation of the Blessed Sacrament.
Driving into the property on a long and winding road, I was struck by how the buildings were tucked away in a rather secluded wooded area. I was greeted by several Sisters as they led me and my priest secretary, Father Michael Wallack, into the main red-brick building to meet Mother Agnes Mary. I had met her many times over the years and felt very warmly welcomed by her and her assistant. We went into the refectory (dining room) for a cup of coffee and some conversation about mutual friends, past assignments and our own vocation stories. It was a delightful chat. Sisters came in and out of the room, greeting us and smiling from ear to ear.
As we processed into the chapel where 90 Sisters had gathered for Mass from their religious houses all around the region, you could feel the joy that truly characterized this community. What amazed me most was the youth of the Sisters! It was incredible to see at a time when women’s religious orders all over are struggling to attract new members. It didn’t take long to realize their secret: joy! The joy that comes with loving the Lord Jesus and giving your life to him.
I must confess that I felt somewhat inadequate and humbled preaching to this community whose lives and presence there together were a more powerful, beautiful, joyful sermon than I could ever give. And their young, smiling faces and lovely singing immediately captured my heart! I found myself wishing and praying that more young women could experience what I felt among these Sisters! I wanted to bring them all back to the Diocese with me!
The Sisters of Life were founded in 1991 by the late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York, one of his greatest accomplishments. Their mission is the protection and enhancement of the sacredness of every human life. I would encourage you to read about them on their website www.sistersoflife.org to become acquainted with them.
After the Mass and renewal of vows, I joined Mother Agnes and the Sisters for a lunch they prepared. Father Wallack graciously offered to celebrate Mass for some Sisters who missed Mass due to Manhattan traffic and then they all joined in the festivities.
I sat with Mother, the Sisters who renewed their vows at Mass and two Sisters who were my students at Catholic University. We told stories and laughed continuously for over an hour but not to be outdone by the other tables! I can’t think of any other, better way to describe the day than “pure joy.”
As Father Wallack and I headed for our car, the entire community of Sisters gathered around us on the front steps of the Motherhouse. As I said my goodbyes, one of the Sisters whispered to me, “We loved your carpool karaoke!” How funny! I just hoped I could bring some of their joy home with me ... and spread it around. God bless and increase the Sisters of Life and all religious communities of women.