It began years ago with a call for sisters to join a new religious community, a “Help Wanted” advertisement. So, it was fitting that the 25th anniversary for the Sisters of Life would also begin with an invitation—this one for people to join the sisters in celebration. This time the words read, “All Are Welcome.”
That very well could be the motto for the Sisters of Life who have been dedicated to protecting human life in all its stages since Cardinal John O’Connor formally established them in 1991. The contemplative/active community based in the archdiocese celebrated its 25th jubilee with a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on June 1.
Cardinal Dolan was the principal celebrant and homilist. In the sanctuary, a large portrait of Cardinal O’Connor was set in remembrance.
During his homily, Cardinal Dolan said, “As the very proud archbishop of this local Church that is home to our beloved Sisters of Life and that most benefits from their celebrated apostolate; as the unworthy successor of a true confessor of the faith, Cardinal John O’Connor, whose inspiration sparked this providential charism of life, I happily accept the imperative of St. Paul the Apostle this jubilee morning, and thank God for our Sisters of Life.”
The formation of the Sisters of Life marked the first time that a religious congregation was established by an Archbishop of New York.
The Sisters of Life began with eight postulants. The congregation has since expanded to nearly 100 members. Together they sat in the packed cathedral wearing their familiar blue and white habits, with joyful smiles on their faces.
The sisters serve in the archdiocese, and in Denver, Washington, D.C., Bridgeport, Conn., and Toronto. They assist women in crisis pregnancies, new mothers and those who have experienced an abortion; they provide retreats for women and serve as respect life coordinators and in family life and pro-life ministries.
“The sisters will insist that to God alone goes the glory,” Cardinal Dolan said. “It is clear to all of us that their loving service of life has indeed helped the Lord,” in a “still new and fresh religious institute.”
“Thanks to all of our sisters as we share your joy and gratitude today,” he said. “How very much we love admire and appreciate you, dear Sisters of Life.
“Not only do we appreciate you sisters for your service on behalf of life, but for the renewal—the renewal you have given consecrated religious life in the Church,” the cardinal said.
Mother Agnes Mary, S.V., superior general, spoke at the end of Mass thanking all those who assisted in supervising the congregation’s formation, especially the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate. She also thanked the priests who have served the sisters. She especially thanked the priests for being “friends in the Lord, bringing Jesus to us each day in the Eucharist, the source of our strength and our joy.”
She went on to thank the parents of the sisters, saying, “You have made a great sacrifice,” and also thanked the women to whom they minister. “You have revealed to us the tender love and mercy of God,” she said.
She expressed her trust in the Lord for the congregation’s ministry and service, saying, “In his hands, we place the next 25 years.”
The future indeed looks bright for the Sisters of Life, as the congregation continues to grow, the cardinal said in his homily.
Brooke Fowler, 23, of Highland, Ind., and Julie Martin, 21, of Dallas, Tex., attended the Mass with their friend Abby Marchesseault, 23, a New Yorker with whom they were staying. Abby is a parishioner of St. Malachy’s-The Actor’s Chapel in Manhattan. Brooke and Julie were in town for a discernment weekend with the Sisters of Life and decided to extend their trip to attend the anniversary Mass.
“What attracts me the most is that they have so much joy for life,” Brooke said. “They really celebrate it.” She first heard about the Sisters of Life on a “Nun Run,” a tour of 11 religious congregations from Indiana to New York.
Julie said, “The Sisters of Life have the eyes to see every human being and the heart to love them.” In the current “castaway” culture, she said, “Every human life is worthy of love and dignity and has beauty and they see it where it is often overlooked.”
In a culture that places priority on attaining “money, sex and power…the sisters take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience,” Julie said.
“It seems contrary, but there is greater happiness to be found,” she said. “The sisters show that.”
Abby said, “They are remarkable women. I feel grateful that the order is here and any chance we have to recognize and celebrate them, we should.”
Wills Rooney, 21, from the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., who recently graduated from Duke University, first met the Sisters of Life while attending a Tertio Millennio seminar in Krakow, Poland, led by George Weigel. Wills, who was involved in Catholic Campus Ministry at Duke, invited the sisters to visit, which they did last March. “Their visit was magnificent,” he said, using words such as “vibrant” and “relatable” to describe them.
“The sisters, through their radiant joy, their charism of life and their ministry, show us the truth: that we are made for an infinite love and should settle for nothing less.
“I’m a huge fan,” he said. They work they do for women, for the Church is everything our society needs today.”
The sisters also know how to celebrate. After the Mass, which was attended by about 1,000 people, a block party was held on 51st Street between 9th and 10th Avenues. That placed it right between the congregation’s Holy Respite Mission and Sacred Heart Church.
The scene was complete with a fire truck for children to explore, face painting, lawn games, hot dogs, pizza, ice cream and popcorn. There was a special photo booth unlike any other—with a setup that included a halo and items to create a ‘saintly’ prayer card instead of a regular portrait. The Peace Industry Band performed songs including gospel, spiritual and pop.
Tamar Chicavich from Flushing, Queens, attended the block party with her two children, Peter, 3, and Madeleine, 1. She talked to CNY as her son played on the fire truck. She said she wanted to attend “because the sisters accompanied me through a lot of difficult stages of my life and I wanted to say thank you.”
A friend of the sisters for eight years, she said she most appreciates their joyous nature and the fact that they are real and approachable. The sisters have provided her with spiritual direction, and she has attended retreats and pilgrimages with them. She added, “One got me to go to confession.”
Another bonus, she said, is that her young children “are very comfortable around them...They are growing up around this community,” she said.