Say the words “priest” or “woman religious,” and many people will think of a parish pastor or a cloistered nun, a school teacher or perhaps a nurse. 

While those occupations define many people in ordained or consecrated life, there are some who, with their superiors, discern a call to work in fields not normally associated with religious or ordained life. Among these are journalists, bioethicists, artists, and more.  

On the following pages, meet three people — a diocesan priest and two women religious — who have out-of-the-norm occupations.

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.

Nun prays for good results in hospital lab

Sister Mary Anita Bienia marked two anniversaries in 2010. One was her 50-year golden jubilee in the Felician Franciscan order, and the other was her 10-year mark working in medical technology at Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg, Pa. 

By day, she has a ministry at St. Anne Home, where she lives with the Felician sisters who run the nursing home. Come the afternoon shift, she’s at the hospital preparing blood and other samples for analysis in the clinical lab. 

“I pray for the patients as I process test results,” she said. “I remember them in prayer because I offer all I do for God.” 

Sister Mary Anita prays especially when she sees abnormal results. She prays when she hears an ambulance arriving, or when a Code Blue signals that a patient in trouble needs immediate response. 

Her prayer is simple. 

“I say the holy name of Jesus and I unite myself in all the Masses throughout the world,” she said. 

Before her shifts and during breaks, Sister Mary Anita prays before the tabernacle and a statue of Mary in the hospital chapel. Sometimes she finds someone crying and prays with them. It’s a moment, she said, when God is calling her to do the spirituality of her work. 

She feels blessed, she said, to be able to help doctors diagnose their patients and to be in a hospital where she can pray for people who are right there and in need. In that work, she finds joy. 

Sister Mary Anita, 69, graduated from Oklahoma University, began her health care career as an X-ray technologist in Pittsburgh, trained in lab technology in Oklahoma and also worked in Florida hospitals. 

At Excela Westmoreland, she presses the “G” button to get to the lab. Everyone else thinks that it stands for the ground floor, she joked. 

“But I call it God’s floor,” Sister Mary Anita said, “because I’m doing what God called me to do.”

Chicago priest is acclaimed jazz guitarist

Father John Moulder has an impressive resumé as a guitarist, composer, recording artist, performer, lecturer, teacher and director of the annual weeklong Chi-Town Jazz Festival in Chicago that raises money for hunger. His name is prominent in jazz circles nationally and around the world. 

He also is the arts chaplain for the Archdiocese of Chicago, because another part of his biography is that of a diocesan priest. 

Father Moulder, 50, takes to heart Pope John Paul II’s “Letter to Artists.” 

“He wrote that ‘the divine breath of Creator Spirit reaches out to human genius and stirs its creative power,’” he said. “In his very elegant treatise is the whole idea that music can mirror God’s beauty and bring people into a deeper appreciation of it.” 

Father Moulder has a master’s degree in music from Northwestern University, where he is on faculty. He teaches at Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill., and has taught master classes and held clinics in a number of educational settings. 

Father Moulder, who has been a musician since the sixth grade, was ordained in 1990. 

“I had a pastoral interest in working with people and I thought that being a priest would be a way of sharing my gift in as a complete way as I could imagine,” he said. 

In 2002, the archdiocese added arts chaplain to its list of chaplaincies. 

“This is an outreach to a more specific community, and the Church historically has had strong ties with the arts,” he told Our Sunday Visitor. 

Unexpected things happen when he is “on their turf.” 

“People begin to want to share their faith, share their questions and share personal issues that they might have,” he said. “These things happen spontaneously because of my accessibility in the world. The outreach opens a connection with them to the Church that otherwise might not be there.” 

Father Moulder also is in the artists-in-residence program at St. Gregory the Great parish in Chicago. 

“The arts make accessible to us deeper feelings and realities, and things on the level of the spirit that otherwise would not be accessible to us,” Father Moulder said. “I think that is the greatest gift that musicians and artists can bring.” 

Among his many original compositions is a concert called “Trinity,” which features music and three readings for each person of the Holy Trinity.

Sister ‘meets Jesus every day’ in prison

On Thursdays, Holy Cross Sister Linda Songy teaches “Scripture From Scratch” at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel, La. On Fridays, it’s “What Catholics Believe and Why,” and on Saturdays, she arranges for priest to come for reconciliation and Mass. 

She has been the Catholic prison chaplain since 2007. But her deep love for ministering to “the least of his people” began years ago when she corresponded with a prisoner, then grew from 1986 to 1994 when she taught a high school class in morality and took students inside prisons. A later retreat behind bars led to an offer for the chaplaincy. 

“I believe that this is where I need to be,” she said. “Jesus made it clear that he came to release the oppressed, and the prison is filled with people that society shrugs off and stereotypes.” 

Sister Lin, 70, became aware of social justice when as a youngster she wondered why the white woman in the cafeteria was “Mrs.” while the black woman was called by her first name. She also was disturbed by photos of starving people in her father’s Knights of Columbus magazines. 

She entered Holy Cross Convent in Merrill, Wis., in 1960, professed her vows in 1962 and graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee. 

“I liked parish work, I liked teaching and I liked formation work, and I am a massage therapist,” Sister Lin said. “But I don’t know if any of those changed me or touched me like this has.” 

The prison holds 1,100 women from teens to in their 80s who “all got caught up in something.” She visits some in lockdown and two on death row. 

“There’s no such thing as a typical inmate,” she said. “They look like you. They look like me. They look like your family members. They are uneducated and they have master’s degrees.” 

One thing they have in common, she said, is that “they are bringing Jesus to me. I meet Jesus in these women every day.” 

One woman asked if Sister Lin saw the movie, “The Passion of The Christ.” She hadn’t. “I told her ‘The Jesus that suffers today is in you, that’s the passion of Christ I believe in,’” she said. “I told her that I would rather visit her than see the movie. That brought tears to her eyes.”