VANCOUVER—Pregnant moms in New York State have a place to turn if they are poor, abused, or otherwise vulnerable: the Sisters of Life.
The fresh, new congregation of sisters, only established in 1991, runs homes for pregnant women, moms with young children, or women suffering after abortion, giving them material, emotional, and spiritual support.
It’s this community that Vancouver-raised Sister Avelina Joseph Lagalot felt called to join five years ago.
Mission of love
“Our founder is Cardinal (John) O’Connor. He was once asked: what is the reason for having the Sisters of Life?” Sister Lagalot told The B.C. Catholic on the phone after professing her first vows this August.
“He just said, the Sisters of Life? Primarily they will love, they will love, they will love.”
Sister Lagalot, 24, lives in the Visitation Convent in New York, where she and 11 other Sisters of Life serve as many as 800 pregnant women in crisis situations each year.
“We meet with them, we speak with them, we love them. It’s all about love.”
Twelve sisters serve in the convent: 10 work directly with the women, and two coordinate those whom the sisters call “co-workers” – lay people including doctors, psychologists, college students, and other volunteers who support the cause.
“Our charism is primarily to love the human person. We begin that first and foremost by loving those around us, our own sisters,” she said. “The charism very much applies to every single person that we meet.”
It was that emphasis on love for others that drew Sister Lagalot to the community.
Hearing the call
Born in the Philippines and raised in Surrey, Sister Lagalot
was on her way toward a bachelor's degree in biology and ecology from Simon
Fraser University before she saw her life taking an unexpected turn.
“In the first years of university, I became involved in Catholic Christian Outreach,” she said. Sister Lagalot, who was a member of St. Matthew’s Parish but attended public schools and never went to catechism class, became more and more drawn to her Catholic faith.
“I just really began to grow in faith because I discovered and encountered the love Christ had for me, particularly in the Crucifixion,” she said.
“When I began to fall in love with Christ, when I encountered his love for me, my heart was drawn to make a gift of love of myself back to him. I didn’t know what that meant first. I thought: ‘I will pray more. I will go to more Bible studies.’”
The fog lifted during a retreat in 2011. The young student realized “my heart is not satisfied just to give a part of myself. He’s actually asking for my entire life to be given as a gift.”
She began looking for religious communities to answer to her desire to give herself totally to God. At the time, she was going to school to become a science teacher, so she looked up teaching orders.
From teaching to serving
After a few visits and a year and a half of thinking she would become a teaching nun, she changed her mind, realizing there was no peace in that decision. Then, some friends told her about the Sisters of Life.
“I went to visit them in New York. The first day I was with them, while I was praying, I really got the sense I could put down roots here. It was a sense of belonging.”
She visited two more times in a span of about 18 months before deciding to enter the community. After three years of formation, she said her first vows Aug. 3.
“It was very beautiful,” she said. “What I received from prayer was: ‘You look a little more like me now. A little more poor, a little more chaste, and a little more obedient. With time, you will look a little more like me.’”
Every single human person is made in the image and likeness of God.
Sister Lagalot was the youngest of 10 women to say their vows that day. She enjoys being the little sister; as the youngest of her parents’ three children, it’s a designation she’s used to.
“I personally love being the youngest! A lot of my sisters are always looking out for me. If they see I have a lot on my plate, even without asking they will jump in and help. If I have questions, there is no reason not to ask the questions, just the great freedom of knowing that because I am the youngest I don’t have as much life experience.”
She said her community at St. Matthew’s Parish in Surrey helped her discern her vocation.
“I had a lot of friends who were open to discerning. We could talk about it, support each other,” she said. “In a sense, it normalized the discernment process, that this was good, that this was God’s will, and how beautiful it is to have friends who are in the same boat as you.” Some went on to enter the seminary.
Sister Avelina Joseph Lagalot is the third Sister of Life from Vancouver. She joins:
Sister Antoniana Maria Macapagal
Immaculate Conception Parish, Delta
Sister Monica Marie Therese Currie
Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, Port Coquitlam
Like many other religious people, Sister Lagalot took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. But as a Sister of Life, she added a fourth vow: to protect human life.
“Every single human person is made in the image and likeness of God,” she said. The Sisters of Life are a contemplative-active community, spending half their time in prayer and the other half serving vulnerable women and children in their neighbourhoods.
Sister Lagalot will have a chance to make final vows in five years.