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Sisters cling to faith, prayer during disasters

posted in: Holy Cross, United States
2018 Ventura California wildfires
The Thomas fire can be seen over the tops of houses in Ventura, California, about a mile from Saint Catherine by the Sea Convent. Photo courtesy of Kevin and Bonnie Ryan.

by Sister M. Jean Ann (Smith), CSC

In early June 2017, North America was reminded of a biblical verse we come across in the Advent cycle:

“A voice heard in Ramah, 
sobbing and loudly lamenting:
it was Rachel, weeping for her children
because they were no more.”
 —Matthew 17:18

Last year, hurricanes, floods, fires, storms and unprecedented natural disasters “named themselves,” starting with Hurricane Harvey in Texas, which engulfed numerous southern states and island nations of Puerto Rico, Haiti and others.

We watched in horror as lives and lands were lost; we were buoyed up as volunteer help and equipment from neighboring states rolled in and began the work of healing; our patience waxed and waned as we looked at all that needed to be accomplished versus the time it took for things to happen, and the lives lost in waiting. Onlookers, we prayed.

In the Western United States, forest fires claimed lives and limbs. Tortuous flames scarred thousands of miles of homes, forests, farm acres and orchards. Again, lives were lost before their time. Again, we prayed.

Sisters at Saint Catherine by the Sea Convent in Ventura, California, were called out of their “safe space of prayer” on December 4, 2017, early in the Advent season. Already ensconced in prayer as forest fires depleted land and homes around them, no doubt our sisters had long been imploring glorious St. Michael for help and perseverance.

When they received the call from local firefighters, the sisters secured their earthquake bags kept under each bed, in case of emergencies just like this. Packed with clean clothes, a flashlight, toothbrush, toothpaste and soap, they were willing comrades on the Holy Cross Way. So armed, and still praying to St. Michael, their cars, too, were in readiness for transport to a nearby nursing home. Guided by the lights of helicopters above, they arrived at their destination, only to hear the common expression of the biblical season, “we have no more room.”

Before anyone could utter, “Glorious St. Michael, what are we to do?” a gentleman named Michael, unknown by anyone there, said he knew of a place the sisters could go. Following in the light of faith, they found themselves in a quiet space, sheltered from the weather, and equipped with battery operated lanterns. Gratefully thanked by the sisters, Michael took leave of them.

Returning home the next day, still touting the goodness of St. Michael, the elevator in the convent went out. At last a repairman arrived.

Michael was his name, too. He was not the usual fellow sent out to Saint Catherine. But again, a Michael saved the day.

Could it be that yet another mysterious visit by a Michael could be in order? Sister Madeleine Marie (Clayton) said, “Yes!” This came in the form of a piece of artwork delivered to the sisters from yet another unknown Michael in their midst!

Such a mystical motif of Michaels. Would Saint Catherine’s ever have its own four-legged St. Michael as a member of the household, Sister Madeleine Marie was asked. There was a long, long pause…before a short, short, “No.” But I think I heard a wink.

Note: In the following days numerous mudslides took lives and homes in surrounding areas. Rachel still weeps for her children.