Sisters of Life: Protecting Life in All its Forms
CINCINNATI—The Sisters of Life are presently a community of 64 women who combine their multilayered duties with meditative quiet—sometimes interrupted by the raucous squeals of babies. Their dedication to the cause of life traces its roots to a 20th-century symbol of death: the preserved remnants of the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau where thousands died. From that place of destruction and dehumanization came the idea for an order of women who would defend, promote and cherish life in all its forms.
The story of this remarkable order is the subject of January’s cover article entitled, “Sisters of Life,” by Peter Feuerherd. After December 22, the article will be posted at: http://www.AmericanCatholic.org.
It was at Dachau that the late Cardinal John J. O’Connor put his hands inside the brick crematorium oven and asked the question: “How could human beings do this to other human beings?” In 1991, his question led to the formation of the Sisters of Life. The vision forged ahead after the cardinal wrote about it in Catholic New York, his archdiocesan newspaper, in 1990.
The column was simply titled: “Help Wanted: Sisters of Life.” It sketched out his ideas as he sought out women who would be interested in answering a call to pray, assist those harmed by abortion and promote the Church’s pro-life agenda.
The Sisters of Life pursue their apostolate through their Holy Respite Mission in Manhattan, a sanctuary for women and their children, born and unborn. The convent opened 10 years ago. In that time 150 women and their babies have lived with the sisters, joining in community life and preparing themselves to reenter the world. The community also operates a retreat center in Stamford, Connecticut, that offers reflection weekends for women who have experienced abortion; provides leadership for the New York Archdiocese’s Respect Life/Family Life Office; and maintains a library dedicated to pro-life issues.
They are also fixtures at pro-life events, such as the March for Life in Washington each January. The sisters also provided an outreach to young people at the 2008 World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, which they will repeat at the 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid.
The Sisters of Life are renewed by the presence of novices who are attracted by their ideals and want to commit themselves to service and prayer. Novices undergo a rigorous formation, including studies on the writings of Cardinal O’Connor, medical ethics and theology. The sisters take the usual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They also take a special fourth vow: to protect and defend the sacredness of human life.
“That’s what gets us up in the morning,” says Mother Agnes Donovan, superior for the sisters. “It colors everything a Sister of Life does. It’s the way we are called to love.”
It is a demanding life: The needs are overwhelming in the midst of a society where more than a million abortions are performed each year. The work is never done. That can be frustrating. And none of the work could be done without God.
“We’re simply instruments of God,” Mother Donovan says. “There’s no way 64 women could do this alone. The need is like a tidal wave. We stand before a tidal wave of grief, a tsunami of brokenness.”
Permission is granted to reprint this release.
The other article posted will be “God’s Great Reversal: Key to the Gospel of Luke,” by John R. Barker, O.F.M.