It is a sign of the strength of the pro-life movement that there is an order of sisters completely dedicated to creating a culture of life, and bringing an end to abortion and other assaults on the dignity of human life. The Sisters of Life were founded by the late Cardinal John J. O’Connor of New York in 1991. In the order’s founding document, he wrote, “Over the course of the centuries Almighty God has inevitably seemed to raise up religious communities to meet the special needs of the day. ... My reading of the ‘signs of the times’ ... impels me to believe that the Holy Spirit, ‘brooding over the bent world,’ wants to inspire a religious community whose charism would be uniquely the protection and advancement of human life itself.”
Living the call for life
The Sisters of Life unquestionably live this charism. “Our primary apostolate is to pray for a restoration of a sense of the sacredness of human life in society,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth, vicar general of the Sisters of Life. “Each Sister of Life is consecrated to Almighty God through the profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, obedience, and a special fourth vow to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.”
According to Sister Mary Elizabeth, the Sisters of Life serve about 1,000 pregnant women every year. They walk with women one on one through “the journey of healing and new life found in Christ’s mercy and forgiveness.”
The Sisters also do a great deal of evangelization work on college campuses. “We find that there is a tremendous thirst in people to know and understand their own dignity as children of God,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth. The community currently consists of 108 women, including 8 postulants and 19 novices, at convents in New York, Connecticut, Philadelphia, Denver, Toronto and Washington, D.C.
Revealing beauty to others
Sister Jordan Rose is in formation with the Sisters of Life, having first encountered them at World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011. They were the only religious order that she directly encountered. “Coming from the Pacific Northwest, I was shocked when I arrived in Madrid to see so many young religious, so joyful and in love with the Lord,” she said. Upon returning home, she learned more about the order’s mission, which deeply resonated with her.
“I was a teacher at the time, and had always envisioned myself in the classroom or at home as a wife and mother, pouring out my heart for the most vulnerable — the little ones entrusted to my care,” she said. “When I realized these Sisters literally laid down their lives that others might live, my heart resounded ‘yes!’”
Sister Jordan Rose is proud of the work the Sisters of Life do, “revealing to those we serve the inherent goodness and beauty of their own lives, so that each person may see and experience the truth that they are an unrepeatable creation of the Master,” she said.
While she cannot choose just one work of the order as a favorite, she is particularly proud of several, including Hope and Healing, in which the sisters work with those who have suffered abortion, whether through phone calls, individual meetings, or retreats.
Offerings for life
The Sisters lead Days of Prayer and Healing, where women who have suffered through abortion do such things as share their personal stories, name their child, adore the Blessed Sacrament, participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and more. There are also monthly gatherings to address specific post-abortion issues, such as grief, forgiveness, shame and denial.
Additionally, the sisters host Hope and Healing Weekends, which delve “more deeply into the wounds of shame, grief, anxiety, self-hatred, anger, and other post-abortion manifestations,” according to Sister Mary Teresa. These weekends also, as always, incorporate adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Reconciliation, and the Mass.
There are also special one-day retreats offered at times that can be particularly painful for those who have lost a child through abortion, such as Advent and Mother’s Day. There is a biweekly Catholic study group hosted by the Sisters called ENDOW (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women), which they have found to be very fruitful. “It really helps the women to integrate the emotional and intellectual parts of their lives,” Sister Mary Teresa said. “It also provides support and fellowship.”
“I have been truly blessed to work in this beautiful mission of Mercy!” said Sister Mary Teresa. “The greatest blessing is to see up close the unfathomable Mercy of God, to see the women blossom and flower into the women they were created to be.”
“There is great hope in the young,” Sister Mary Elizabeth said. “They know firsthand the dreadful effects that abortion has had on families and our society as a whole. ... I believe the pro-life cause will not be advanced by clever arguments, but by saints. Those who dare to love again and again and again.”
Paul Senz writes from Oregon.