A Summer with the Sisters of Life

When asked about my summer, the quick explanation is that I was interning for the Archdiocese of New York. I lived in midtown Manhattan, saw some Broadway shows, and only got lost on the subway a half dozen or so times.

The longer, more complete story is that that I lived, prayed, and worked with the Sisters of Life that run the Respect Life office at Sacred Heart Convent in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan. The Convent doubles as a Holy Respite, where expectant and parenting moms live with the sisters and can grow in their identity as a mother and a woman. The seven weeks I was there were some of the most stretching of my life – Manhattan is not my home town, to say the least – but they have also been some of the most joyful and soul-filling weeks I never even knew to ask for.

The Sisters of Life, founded in 1991 by John Joseph Cardinal O’Connor in the Archdiocese of New York, are a contemplative-active order that take the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They also take a fourth vow: to protect and enhance the sacredness of every human life. This fourth vow means that everything they do––prayer, evangelization, mission––finds its heart in building a culture of life. They serve women in crisis pregnancies at Visitation Missions. They help women to find pre-natal care or abortion alternatives, provide parenting support, make adoption plans, or come to grips with difficult diagnoses. They live with pregnant and parenting women, loving them as daughters and loving their children as their own. They advocate for political  and cultural change that recognizes and upholds the dignity of all human life. And this summer, they have shown me what it is to be pro-life, and taught me what it is to live in and for the Love of God. 

At our Mass before the March for Life this past January, Fr. Jenkins preached: “The heart of the pro-life movement is love,” he said, “for the unborn, for their mothers, and even for those who oppose us.” I loved those words then, and I carried them with me this summer, as I’ve seen that the heart of all the Sisters do is love: for the unborn, for their mothers, for those who oppose us, and it is love for Love Himself. They lay down their lives constantly in self-sacrificial love, and they do that because they know Who first did that for them. They live love so radically, because they are in love with the Love Who invites us to give over our entire selves. John Cardinal O’Connor spoke of the Sister’s charism, their gift, in this way:

“We have the Sisters of Life dominantly to love. They will engage in many apostolic activities, but primarily, they will love, they will love, they will love. They will love with their own lives, with their own hearts, with their own prayers, with their own thoughts. They will never look at anyone except through the eyes of love.”

The heart of the pro-life movement is love. And when we know Love, we can better live out joyful sacrifice for the mothers, fathers, children, and people who need us most. When we know Love, the work we do in evangelization, prayer, service, advocacy, and education all helps other people to come to know Him too – all becomes done out of, for, and with Love.

To the women, my Sisters in Christ, who have helped me to see and to come to know Love more and more this summer: words can never express my gratitude. Thank you for the witness of your joy, love, and life in service of this pro-life movement and the Lord. Thank you for welcoming me into your home for meals, adventures, tea times, dance parties, work, and prayer. And thank you for sending me back refilled, renewed, and recommitted to bringing Love into my own heart, life, and work.

I was challenged this summer, more than I could have ever planned for. I felt overwhelmed and out of place, and I struggled to find hope when it seemed like all of New York, and all of our world, is fostering a culture of death, rather than one of life. But day after day a bell rang in the late afternoon, and I found myself in a familiar pew in a (mercifully) chilly chapel, sitting with the Eucharistic Christ who is Love. There He has, ever so quietly and always so gently, invited me into his Sacred Heart who is Love Himself. It is there that I have been filled, and it is from there that He sends me forth.

Now, after over a month back at Notre Dame, I’ve been surprised by the ways relationships have shifted, conversations have changed, and my need to “come away by [myself] to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mk 6:31) has deepened. I’ve argued with God about this whole Transfiguration thing because, honestly, pitching tents doesn’t sound half bad when the alternative is midterm exams, club obligations, and research papers. But each day, if I let Him, the same God who was and is in that chilly chapel on W 51st meets me here, calls me down the mountain, and shows me that He is giving me enough. If I let myself be loved, if I take the time to be present in a new, just-as-chilly chapel, He continues to invite me in, and to fill and stretch my heart. 

There we are filled, and from there we are sent forth.

Maggie Garnett is a sophomore studying Theology and Constitutional Studies. Join her for a cup of Barry’s Irish Tea at mgarnet2@nd.edu, and learn more about the work of the Sisters of Life at sistersoflife.org.