In March, we celebrate Women’s History Month, International Women’s Day, and Catholic Sisters Week. During this week, we commemorate those big and small contributions women religious make to our Church and world. By the example of their lives, Catholic Sisters continue to live out Matthew 25. They feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, clothe the naked, care for the sick, educate children, fight for what is right, protect our common home, and treat others like Christ himself commanded.
Several famous women religious have made significant and lasting impacts on our society, such as Mother Teresa, Elizabeth Ann Seton, and Katherine Drexel. However, various other sisters have made outstanding contributions to humanity that don’t get as much recognition. Sister Wendy Beckett wrote dozens of art books inviting thousands into deeper prayer. Her work on praying with artwork was beneficial to me during my 30-day retreat particularly as I prayed with the image of Jesus’s baptism. Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke were martyred in El Salvador, and their witness continues to inspire many. Sister Sandra Schneiders, a prolific writer on religious life, has helped many religious, including me, grow in their understanding of the vowed life.
How many more sisters out there are silently serving in simple yet extraordinary ways every day? How many countless women religious act selflessly, yet their actions are overlooked across the globe as they fight for what is right, care for the less fortunate, and make great sacrifices for others? Catholic Sisters often work behind the scenes for the kingdom’s sake.
Growing up, Sister Johnice, the principal of my modest Catholic grade school, taught me what it means to be a good Christian. She instilled in me the foundations of the faith that made me who I am today. I remember how much mercy and patience she showed me when I got in trouble at school. She inspired me to show that same mercy and patience to students I work with now. She taught me the divisibility rule for nine in the third grade, and she always comes to mind when I use it while tutoring students in math at Loyola Academy in Saint Louis. Every morning on the school announcements, she would remind us that we are like tiny pebbles tossed into a pond that make ripples that spread throughout the whole body of water. Although our lives may seem insignificant, they can make big splashes in our communities. I still carry that image with me today when working in subtle ways in my own ministry. She formed me with care and patience, like how God continues to mold me.
Sister Faustina taught me what it means to courageously go to the margins and accompany the abandoned. The first day I met her at Rutgers University, she invited me to minister at the Essex County jail alongside her and her team. She was quite the saleswoman! I was diffident every time I went, but I would watch in awe as she marched into that jail and talked at length with the young men. Soon these guys would be in tears as they spoke with her, and she helped them find healing through their conversation. She lived in the neighborhood they came from, and she knew their families and friends. Once the inmates were released, she would help them get a job, find support, and belong to a loving community. She taught me what it means to love and care for those on the periphery, those society has discarded, and to treat them with dignity. She loved them as God loves them.
More recently, Sister Ann taught me what it means to serve joyfully like Jesus, to put others and their needs ahead of my own with a smile. I worked with her in Scranton at Friends of the Poor, a local social services nonprofit in February 2020. She always served with a smile and had a fun time doing it! Once my time with her was over, I left Scranton to begin an indefinite quarantine period due to COVID-19. Despite the country’s lockdown, she continued to go into the food pantry every day and ensure that everyone in the community got what they needed. While I was safely isolated in the novitiate, she was out there serving. This may seem insignificant now, but at that time, before masks and vaccines, no one felt safe going out. Due to her age, Sister Ann risked her life by going out to feed people in this time when people needed ministry most. She, like Christ, never gave up on those people and put her own life at stake so that other people could eat.
Although the sisters I mentioned are not famous like others, they have made significant impressions on their pocket-sized corner of the planet. Their influence may seem minuscule, but the effects of their actions ripple throughout the community and beyond, like a pebble cast into a pond. So many sisters teach, serve, and heal every day unnoticed, and these little ripples culminate to create tidal waves of good.
Has there been a sister in your life that has formed you, inspired you, fed you, or healed you? Has there been a sister who has shown you what God’s love is like in your life? Pray for them this week especially. Show your appreciation to them with words of thanks. Better yet, we can follow their example by acting in small, caring ways for others in our midst. We can be like these small pebbles that make waves of grace in the world.