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Holding steady during the pandemic

posted in: North America, spirituality

Sister in convent during pandemic
More than 200 sisters and staff at the motherhouse in Notre Dame, Indiana, received their first COVID-19 vaccinations in January 2021. The community of sisters in Marian Convent were all lined up and ready to receive their first dose. From left are Holy Cross Sisters Joan Carusillo, Kathleen Reilly, Ann Shaw, M. Veronica (Kerwin) and Joanne Bauer.

Sisters at the motherhouse cling to values honed and practiced

Four Core Values define life as a Sister of the Holy Cross: compassion, faith, prayer and community. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, sisters around the world found themselves expressing these values in new and unexpected ways. This has been no less true at the motherhouse in Notre Dame, Indiana, where the community did not escape notice of a predatory virus. There, sisters—along with the entire world—faced the frightening and pervasive threat of infection, a months-long lockdown, isolation, fear, uncertainty, grief and loss. And like so many affected by this adversity, their defining values have helped sustain them.

Sister Judith Anne Prindiville, CSC, drew from her experience of caring for her mother to address the pressing isolation of the pandemic. When some sisters could move between floors in their convent home last summer, she picked up her practice of “pushing sisters around,” she says. She took sisters in wheelchairs to the first-floor fireplace, or to a window with a bird feeder, or for walks outside around the fountain. “Getting out means a lot to them, and doing this has become very important to me, too. Doing things together, this is how I’m connecting in community.”

Sister Judith aid sisters
When some movement was allowed in Saint Mary’s Convent, Sister Judith Anne, center, escorted sisters to other areas in the building and outdoors, offering them a welcome change of environment. Seated from left are Holy Cross Sisters M. John Anthony (Linton) and Yvonne Arcand, who are holding notes of encouragement sent by Holy Cross sisters living in the western U.S.

As the pandemic wore on, sisters and staff continued to seek consolation and support in one another. Grief groups emerged, as well as sharing opportunities for staff. And kindnesses sprung up daily: notes exchanged with Saint Mary’s College students, other sisters and volunteers, special activities and efforts carried out by staff, connections with Holy Cross associates—all reminders of a loving community within and well beyond the convent walls.

The needs of the world and all suffering from the pandemic were held in the sisters’ prayers. The sisters prayed for the vulnerable and suffering, for those who lost lives, lands, homes, jobs, for those giving medical care and offering comfort, for nations and peoples in grave need of vaccines.

When sisters could not worship or partake in the Eucharist together, a way was opened to them. Video Masses were streamed into their rooms, and the sacraments brought to their doors. Sequestering opened space for contemplation and reflection. “The ministry of prayer for all of us is so important, and we’re so aware of it. And because sisters around the world have had to minister in place, they have found other ways to connect,” says Sister Joan Marie Steadman, CSC, Area of North America coordinator. “It’s calling us to a different way of being.”

Christmas day, rose in bloom
While walking on Christmas day 2020, Sister Ellen Mary (Taylor), CSC, came upon a rose in bloom, amid the cold of winter.

Pandemic a catalyst for change

For Sister Patricia Gantz, CSC, the pandemic has allowed her a look at life from another vantage point. “Life is something like climbing a mountain,” she says. “After reaching the top, you can stop to enjoy the beauty—a wider, expanded view of space. In the same way, lockdown during the pandemic was a challenge, but it also provided a new space to view life from a broader scope.”

In some ways, she believes, the pandemic has served as a catalyst to bring change to the world, offering the human family opportunities for awareness and compassion. For many, including the sisters, the last 16 months have certainly yielded a sharpened perspective—moments are ever vibrant, the mundane made precious, and gratitude is an interminable gift and offering.

Throughout this unsteadying season, those four Core Values have served the sisters well, acting as anchors that steady and guide them and hold them fast to their God, their community, and the world.

“While there are still many challenges,” says Congregation President Sister M. Veronique Wiedower, CSC, “we continue to experience God’s blessings and the generosity of so many people from around the globe. These graces, too, keep us motivated to continue serving as the hands and heart of Christ.”

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This story also appeared in inSpirit magazine. To receive the magazine or the Annual Giving Report, use the button below and fill out our online request form. You can also sign up to receive the online newsletter from the Congregation’s Development Office.