On a continent where some longtime religious communities are suffering a decline in numbers, at least one congregation is truly flourishing.
The Sisters of Life in New York State have just welcomed eight new fully professed sisters, eight postulants, and seven novices.
“It was a source of great joy and hope for our community and for the Church universal,” said Sister Antoniana Maria Macapagal, SV. “It says to the world: God is real, his love is enough for me, and it’s worth laying down our lives so that others may live.”
The Sisters of Life, founded in 1991, profess the usual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, along with an extra fourth pledge to promote and protect human life. Their ministry is geared toward serving pregnant women in crisis, women suffering after an abortion, single moms, and women who need to be reminded that God loves them.
“We’ve been blessed with many vocations,” said Sister Macapagal.
Eight women made their final vows Aug. 6, setting a record for the congregation and prompting a standing ovation from at least 1,000 guests at the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist in Stamford, CT.
The vibrant group of sisters is also young; the median age of all 106 sisters is 34 years old. Of those sisters, three are from B.C., and one just made her final, lifelong commitment this summer.
“We joke that my vocation was outrageously unexpected,” said Sister Monica Marie Currie, SV, who grew up in Anmore and Port Coquitlam, B.C.
When she was a member of Port Coquitlam’s Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, Sister Currie would imagine herself as a mom with a house full of sons and hockey gear. She didn’t know any religious sisters, and certainly didn’t think she would become one.
A life-changing moment in a Mexican orphanage drastically changed those dreams.
Sister Currie was 17 years old when she flew south for a volunteer trip in Mexico. One afternoon, she found herself assigned with the task of comforting orphans with AIDS who were very ill or dying.
She picked up Andrea, a six-month-old girl who was “absolutely perfect,” said Sister Currie. She had big brown eyes, earrings, and on first glance, didn’t seem as sick as she really was.
“As I was holding her that afternoon, there was a moment where all the lies of the world came to me. What was the purpose of her life if she was only born to die? What is the meaning of suffering? I felt inundated with them,” she said.
“But within the depths of my soul, there was this conviction that came out of nowhere that it was good that she was there. I couldn’t make sense of the suffering, but I knew without a doubt that it was only the goodness and love of God that had willed her into being, that sustained her, and that no matter the dramatic or horrific the circumstances of her life, they would never define her. Only the reality of God’s love could.”
She was deeply moved by this new revelation, but unsure what to do about it. Her best answer was to study nursing.
Discovering a calling
Sister Currie was studying at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, NS, when she realized she might be called to religious life.
“I found myself before the Blessed Sacrament one night, dark, the only thing you could see was the tabernacle lamp” in the school’s chapel.
“I prayed one of the first real prayers in my heart: ‘Lord, I have no idea what you’re doing with me, I have no idea what you’re calling me to, and I have no idea how to get there, but I surrender.’ As soon as I said those words, this instantaneous peace filled my heart.”
She had met a Sister of Life before the Mexico trip, and the brief encounter had reduced her to tears. Wondering if that meeting had meant more than she realized at the time, she sought out the counsel of a religious sister in Antigonish.
She began researching congregations and even considered applying with the Sisters of Life, but Sister Currie chose to finish her degree before making any life-changing decisions.
She became a registered nurse, got a job working night shifts in a post-surgical unit, and moved back home to save money while paying off student loans. During breaks at work, Sister Currie would read The Better Part, a book on prayer and Scripture by a Michigan priest.
“I met the Lord quietly in prayer,” she said.
A trip to Taize, France, also helped her realize the importance of Scripture and a true relationship with God in her life. After much prayer, Scripture reading, and going to daily Mass, “I began to meet him and know him.”
Finally, Sister Currie built up the courage to apply to join the Sisters of Life, and entered in September 2010. The B.C. woman spent eight years in formation, made her final vows, and now serves in the Visitation Mission in New York City, a centre where sisters provide emotional, spiritual, and material support to pregnant women in crisis.
“What exactly happened with Andrea in that room, when I was a little 17-year-old, is still that mystery I am living in right now,” she said. “I get to be the voice, hands, and warm welcome that reveals love to them.”
Serving the vulnerable
The Sisters of Life serve as many as 900 pregnant women in crisis every year. They also offer women’s retreats, support for women grieving after an abortion, a crisis hotline, and other missions.
In all, since 1991, 15 Canadian women have moved to New York State to become Sisters of Life.
“Human life is not respected and valued for the inherent dignity that it has,” said Sister Macapagal, who is originally from Vancouver and made her final vows as a Sister of Life in 2010.
“God is responding to the desperate need of the time and putting it on the hearts of young women, who are answering that call.”
The Sisters of Life also coordinate a network of 10,000 “co-workers” from all over, who support the sisters by doing anything from making donations, delivering goods, baking cookies, or arriving at a moment’s notice to help a woman in crisis move to a safe home or to stand by her in a delivery room.
“Women come to us because they’re alone and suffering,” said Sister Currie. “Ultimately all of them are there because they have been rejected in some way. They are totally afraid. They don’t know how to be mothers; many haven’t been mothered themselves.”
She’s been in the delivery room when previously abortion-minded women have held their babies for the first time, and seen the incredible joy and love in their eyes.
“That’s what we are trying to do: give these women permission to allow this eternal love that’s in them to flourish, blossom, and be given.”