In this year’s Lenten reflection series, seven sisters offer their personal stories and insights on each of the Corporal Works of Mercy and how acts of mercy can have a profound impact on the lives of our sisters and brothers. Accompanying these reflections are line drawings by Sister Mary Clare Agnew, a contemporary of Catherine McAuley, which illustrate the Sisters of Mercy in ministry in 1830s Ireland. The reflection series also includes reflections for Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Easter.
By Sisters Corrine Connelly and Johneen Owens
“Remark the words of our Blessed Lord…: ‘Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least ones, you did it to me.’ Oh! What an ineffable consolation to serve Christ Himself, in the person of the poor, and to walk in the very same path which he trod!” – Familiar Instructions of Catherine McAuley
In December of 2018, one of our sisters, Sister Kathleen Erickson, who was visiting women incarcerated in our local jail awaiting sentencing, asked for volunteers to help the families of these women at Christmastime. This invitation pulled us totally out of our comfort zone. We decided that we would do this. We wanted a family who spoke English, because neither of us spoke fluent Spanish. We arranged to meet the family who were staying with their uncle. The mother’s absence left the 17-year-old daughter to care for her two younger brothers ages 10 and 6 and two younger sisters ages 4 and almost 2. As we left the house after visiting with them, we knew that wishing a “Merry Christmas” and leaving a few simple Christmas gifts was not enough for us. We knew that the Lord was asking for more.
The two of us gathered our thoughts and knew deep inside the Lord was asking us to do something we had never done before. That sense of mercy and compassion stirred in our very beings. We met again with the 17-year-old to discuss the best ways to work with her, not just financially, but to help her become aware of the various social services for which she was eligible due to her circumstances. With generous donations and lots of blood, sweat, and tears, we have been able to continue to work with this family. The 17-year-old was pregnant at the time, but was initially afraid that, if we knew, we would no longer be involved. We were so involved that we planned a baby shower for her. She was unable to attend, because that very day she delivered her little girl.
We frequently purchase food, pay utility bills, help with their rent and whatever else is needed. Before school starts each fall, we take the children shopping for new school clothes and shoes. We also plan special parties for the children on their birthdays. What started as an invitation to assist at Christmas is still going on today.
We have learned so much these past few years. We, as Sisters of Mercy, are so very blessed. We are truly grateful for what we have, and until you have seen how others live, you really don’t know what it means to be poor.
Through these three-plus years we have experienced our share of successes as well as failures. We refused to give up and had a sense of determination to persevere in this work of Mercy. We both have a love of education and have tried to instill that love in the family. We know education is the key to success for them. We both feel that our greatest accomplishment is the fact that the three older youngsters are in school and love it.
As with so many, COVID has not been kind to us. We have not been able to visit as much we would like, but that is changing as those who are able are being vaccinated.
That invitation in December 2018 really changed our lives. It made us realize that almsgiving never takes a vacation, nor is it a word we stress only during the Lenten season. It is totally a giving of one’s self. We have never regretted responding to that request with a “Yes” or refused the special graces the Lord continues to shower on us each day.
We have had adventures that many Sisters of Mercy have yet to experience. Each time we visit, we hear the cries of “Grandma, Grandma,” as the two younger girls call to us as we drive up to their house, or the many hugs we receive as they tell us how much they love us! There are so many families out there just like ours in need of assistance. If you get an invitation, please say, “Yes.”