June 13, 2016

Sisters of Life hold up dignity of single moms in 25-year-old ministry

By Beth Griffin Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) — On a drizzly gray morning in early May, the bright kitchen at Visitation Mission on Manhattan’s East Side was filled with the sound of laughter and the inviting aromas of fresh-cut vegetables and baking cookies as postulants and novices of the Sisters of Life prepared food for themselves and their anticipated guests.

Visitation is the nerve center for the Sisters of Life’s material, emotional and spiritual outreach to pregnant women in crisis. The sisters help more than 900 women at the former convent each year, said Sister Magdalene, the congregation’s local superior.

The serious work of fulfilling the order’s vow to “protect and enhance the sacredness of human life” in all its messy contemporary circumstances is leavened by a joyful attitude nourished through communal prayer throughout the day.

The Sisters of Life is a contemplative and active religious community founded in 1991 by the late Cardinal John J. O’Connor. The original group of eight women has grown to more than 90, and includes 30 postulants and novices in a two-year formation program.

“At the heart of our charism is a focus on the sacredness of all human life and a profound sense of reverence for every human person,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth, the order’s vicar general.

“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,” she said.

“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,” Sister Mary Elizabeth said. “That person becomes a gift to us in our recognizing her for who she is. She reveals to us the splendor and beauty of God.”

Pregnant women hear about Visitation Mission from friends, former clients, parish priests, pregnancy care centers and other religious orders. The Sisters of Life do not advertise.

On a typical day, Sister Magdalene said, members of the order respond to phone messages, emails and texts, conduct three or four intake interviews with pregnant women, and make scores of supportive phone calls from quiet cubicles on the mission’s upper floors.

“Almost all of us are on the phones all day. We really believe each woman is sent to us by God to guide her. He has an amazing plan for them and we’re supposed to be the instruments to bring them home to God,” Sister Magdalene said.

In the calls and interviews the sisters try to create an atmosphere to let women “empty their bucket, describe their hopes and dreams and move from a place of chaos to inner peace,” she said.

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