When Cardinal John O’Connor wrote “Help Wanted: Sisters of Life” as the headline for his regular Catholic New York column on Nov. 2, 1989, the responses came in by the hundreds.
Enough, in fact, for him to sponsor a religious community of women who shared his passionate dedication to the sacredness of human life at every stage and were ready to commit to his vision of a life of prayer, of service to those troubled by a pregnancy or harmed by abortion and of promoting the Church’s pro-life agenda.
On June 1, 1991, eight women entered the newly formed Sisters of Life, beginning a remarkably successful apostolate that has grown to more than 90 women—including fully professed active and contemplative sisters, novices and postulants—and scores of volunteers to carry out that mission over the last quarter-century.
We join the thousands of New Yorkers whose lives have been touched by the sisters’ ministry in congratulating them on their milestone 25th anniversary, which will be marked at a Foundation Day Mass June 1 celebrated by Cardinal Dolan in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
As we have followed the Sisters of Life in these pages over the years, and observed them personally at events in the archdiocese and elsewhere, two things about them stand out: They work very hard and they carry out their calling in a spirit of joyfulness and love that is the fruit of prayer.
With their distinctive habits, the Sisters of Life are a familiar presence on the local Catholic landscape. Go to a pro-life Mass in St. Patrick’s, for instance, and you’ll see rows of them seated together in front pews, demonstrating for all to see their fidelity to the cause of life.
Elsewhere, you’ll see them at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., helping various groups from the archdiocese navigate the crowded event, always with a gentle tone and a smile no matter how hectic the scene. Or traveling to the Church’s World Youth Day festivals to reach young people around the globe, even going as far as Sydney, Australia, in 2008.
They’re also respect life coordinators for the archdiocesan Family Life/Respect Life Office; they host retreats at their Villa Maria Guadalupe Retreat Center in Stamford, Conn., and offer day and weekend healing retreats for anyone who has suffered from an abortion, and they founded and run the Dr. Joseph Stanton Human Life Issues Library as a resource center for scholars, students and others engaged in pro-life work.
Then there’s the daily hands-on ministry at their Visitation Center in a former convent in Manhattan, where they offer material, emotional and spiritual outreach to more than 900 pregnant women in crisis each year, and at their Holy Respite Residence, also in a former Manhattan convent, which has hosted 140 mothers and babies since opening 17 years ago.
“Cardinal O’Connor often said every person reveals one facet of God that no one else will, and the loss of even one human life is incomparable,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth, S.V., the congregation’s vicar general.
“One of the reasons for the joy in the community is we believe each person has some beautiful, unique goodness and we have the joy of discovering that in them and reflecting it back so she has the experience of her own dignity, goodness and strength. That person becomes a gift to us in our recognizing her for who she is.”
In that same way, these dedicated women are a gift to us. We celebrate who they are, what they’ve done and what they will do in the years to come.
A very happy anniversary to the Sisters of Life.