Beautiful. Merciful. Inspiring. Do these words describe the Catholic response to abortion? If you hesitate to say yes, you probably have not met the Sisters of Life. Far from the caricatures of culture warriors, these Sisters embody the tender heart of the Church reaching out to those struggling with crisis pregnancies or suffering the effects of abortion.
The Sisters of Life are a contemplative/active religious community of women founded in 1991 by John Cardinal O’Connor. They take the three traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and a fourth vow to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.
By God’s goodness, one of these Sisters sits next to me in Latin class: Sr. Mary Rose, SV. She entered the Sisters of Life in February 1995, and professed final vows in 2002. She has served in Yonkers, NY, and Toronto, ON, and is currently the local superior of the House of Studies in Wheaton, MD. She graciously agreed to the following written interview.
What is the Catholic response to abortion?
The Catholic response is to proclaim the truth, beauty, goodness and sacredness of human life. Each human person is a unique and unrepeatable gift, made in the image and likeness of God, the Author of life.
The Church also reaches out to those who have suffered from abortion. She does not condemn those who have suffered abortion, but wholeheartedly desires their healing, inviting them to the fountain of mercy poured out in Reconciliation. You can read more about this healing in Bl. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, no. 99.
What role do the Sisters of Life play in this response?
The Sisters work to reveal to those we serve the goodness and beauty of their own lives. For instance, when a pregnant woman comes to the Sisters, she often feels abandoned and overwhelmed. She really needs to know that she is loved and supported. Only then can she love and nurture the child growing within her. We aim to build up the Culture of Life—one heart at a time.
Who are the people served by the Sisters? What does the service look like?
The Sisters of Life serve the needs of many different kinds of people. We welcome pregnant guests to live with us in the Holy Respite of one of our convents. We also assist pregnant women in need of practical assistance through our Visitation Mission. We host retreats at Villa Maria Guadalupe Retreat Center. We invite those who have suffered abortion to hope and healing through day and weekend Entering Canaan Retreats.
The Sisters do not work alone. We have a network of volunteers we call Co-Workers, who serve pregnant women through different ways. Some provide friendship and mentoring, others open their homes as Holy Respites, and others give of their professional skills. Co-Workers include a range of people: women and men, married and single, lay and professional.
Sisters and Co-workers work closely together throughout a woman’s pregnancy, and many times, the relationships between the Co-Workers and the woman continue long after the child is born.
Do you have any stories or testimonials you can share?
Here is the testimonial of a woman named Racquel from the our newsletter, Called to Greatness, Spring 2007:
I had a good job but I got sick during my pregnancy and was in and out of the hospital so I couldn’t work. My mother was in Trinidad at the time when my money ran out. She had been a social worker in New York and had the Sisters of Life in her Rolodex. Finally, I broke down and called the convent because I was too proud to go on welfare. They invited me to come over and talk with one of the Sisters—she had the gentlest eyes I’ve ever seen. It was great to talk with her. She made me feel good and strong in the decision I had made to have this baby. I was doing the right thing.
The Sisters open their doors to a bunch of women in very difficult circumstances and basically say, “We love you. We care about you. We’re here for you.” At first you think they were crazy, then you begin to relax, eat, sleep, and come up with a plan for the future. By the end you see that it’s a beautiful expression of what it means to be a woman on the deepest level. Women who didn’t know me could look at me and say, “Come and stay with us,” and ask, “What do you need? I’m here for you.” They clothed me, fed me, held my hand, and gave me a hug when I needed someone. I thought, “If they could do that for me, a grown woman; I can do it for my child.” My sacrifice is nothing in comparison with gift of my son. He’s not only my child; he’s a child of God.
Pregnant women can call the Sisters at 877.777.1277 (US) or 877.543.3380 (Canada), or visit their website: www.sistersoflife.org.
Women who have suffered abortion can reach their Hope and Healing Mission at 866.575.0075 or the website.
Those who would like to donate items can contact the Visitation Mission at 212.737.0221, or make financial donations via their website.
Young women interested in joining the Sisters can call their vocations director, Sr. Antoniana Maria, at 718.863.2264.
Image: Sisters of Life