For the last three years I have had the great gift of celebrating Mass every Monday morning for the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal. For the first two years I would go to Our Lady of Guadalupe convent in the Bronx and the last year Our Lady Queen of Angels convent in Harlem once the sisters moved there. The convent is located at the end of a cul-de-sac and sadly, because of its isolated location, the street has been a central location for gang activities and drug deals. A few months ago Mother Clare, C.F.R., who is the superior of the sisters, decided that something needed to be done to counter the troubling situation that was happening right outside the door of the convent. She and the sisters she lives with began a mission they entitled, “take back the cul-de-sac.” They decided that they were going to be a consistent presence on the street outside and through prayer and spending time with the people in the neighborhood the gang activities might stop and the drug deals could be hindered. The effects of what this has accomplished in just the last few months has been nothing short of remarkable.
The sisters have made their presence known in a variety of ways. It could be something as typical as a few of them on the street playing a game of frisbee to their evening Rosary, which has seen people from the neighborhood join in the prayers. Mother told me that it has been incredible to witness what is happening. The sisters will be outside praying or enjoying recreation and a luxury car will turn down their street, see the sisters, make a u-turn and leave. In a poor, struggling area where the sisters are, luxury cars are not a common sight and when they do appear it is usually not for a good or virtuous reason. The simple presence of the sisters is turning away drug dealers and making the neighborhood a better and safer place.
Recently, the sisters were approved to re-open the church of Our Lady Queen of Angels, which is next door to the convent and was closed 15 years ago. They will be using it on a limited basis and it will only be open on Saturdays from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. for adoration and prayer. The church has special significance to the sisters because Blessed Solanus Casey would have offered Mass in the church and spent time in prayer there when he lived in the house next to the convent, which is now used for the postulants. There is a little alcove in the church that will one day be dedicated to Blessed Solanus.
The opening was on Aug. 22 and I had the great blessing of presiding at exposition. People from the neighborhood turned out in large numbers to pray, go to confession and just spend time with the Lord. Many of them have lived there for years and were overjoyed to enter the church for the first time in over a decade. More than a few cried tears of joy. One middle age man spoke with me outside and said, “Father, this is what this neighborhood needs! I’m not a Catholic, but opening the church is going to turn things around. We’re bringing God back here.” All of this is happening because the sisters saw the situation and did something about it.
Bringing people before the Lord and letting Him transform hearts is at the center of what the priesthood is all about. Neighborhoods can be transformed and cultures can be uplifted if we allow the Lord to work in those we encounter. It is so important that men discerning a vocation and aspiring to priesthood realize that through the sacramental life of the Church and the gift of our ministry this type of transformation is possible. We do not always see the results as dramatically as what is happening at the cul-de-sac but it shows that the Lord is alive and active in His Church and in those who are dedicated to Him.