With new blood comes new ideas for any organization.
For the Sisters of the Holy Family, candidate Ernestine Bard and aspirant Damekia Jerry, both converts from the Baptist faith, wanted to do something in addition to praying alone for the success of the conclave of cardinals who will soon select a new pope. They devised an “Adopt a Cardinal” campaign, whereby each Sister of the Holy Family would randomly pick a cardinal and pray for him to discern well as he chooses the successor to Pope Benedict XVI.
When they first presented their idea to their formation director, Sister of the Holy Family John Mary Jackson, and congregational leader, Sister Eva Regina Martin, they both wholeheartedly supported them.
“I thought it was a beautiful idea,” Sister Eva Regina said. “For them to come to us meant they are aware of what’s going on in the church. I am grateful they came up with this idea so we will continue to pray for the cardinals.”
From there, Bard and Jerry researched the 115 cardinals and made slips of paper with pertinent information about each one such as his name, country, country flag, the year he was born, his age and the diocese he represents.
During breakfast on March 7 at the motherhouse in New Orleans East, the duo shared their project with congregation members.
“We’re going to adopt a cardinal,” Bard told the sisters. “We’re not going to adopt a cardinal to be pope. We’re going to adopt a cardinal so he can choose a worthy successor to Pope Benedict.”
Each nun then selected a folded piece of paper with a cardinal’s information from a basket.
“We want you to pray today and every other day until three days after the conclave so he will be at peace with his decision,” Bard said. “I feel there is nothing more important than praying for someone by name.”
Sister Eva Regina is impressed with the progress Bard and Jerry are making while in formation. They are getting to know the Sisters of the Holy Family community, their foundress Mother Henriette Delille and the order’s charisms and spirituality.
Bard, who has an outgoing personality, was urged to pursue a religious vocation at age 41 from her pastor, Father Carol McCarthy. She narrowed orders to three and had lived with another religious community – the Glenmary sisters from her home state of Kentucky – for four months but didn’t really gel with them.
She had visited the Sisters of the Holy Family and received a call from one of them who mentioned the sisters were praying for her and saying a Mass for her just as she was deliberating whether or not to switch from the first order.
Bard saw that as God’s sign to her, and she called to see if the Sisters of the Holy Family would still consider her as a candidate. She has found a better fit with the Sisters of the Holy Family, and was especially intrigued when she learned that their founder, Henriette Delille, founded a religious order as an African-American woman.
“The sisters here have acknowledged who I am,” Bard said. “I’m an African-American woman, and I will always be an African-American woman, and they embraced that.”
She said she had never known of African-American nuns before. The Sisters of the Holy Family embrace African-American women worldwide but especially in the Catholic Church.
Bard will become a novice for two years this August. The next level will come when she professes vows.
Jerry, 24, is from Covington and found a mentor in Sister Theresa Berlin, a hermit nun in Covington who conducts classes for all ages from her “Blue Stand.” Sister Berlin led Jerry to the Sisters of the Holy Family through volunteer work. From there, Jerry said she felt comfortable around the sisters.
“They were just like normal people we know,” she said.
“Dee loves to pray,” Sister John Mary said of Jerry. “She is a very spiritual person.”
Bard believes that all the Sisters of the Holy Family are prayer warriors. In fact, a group of six nuns has that moniker and prays daily for vocations and for the Sisters of the Holy Family’s work, Sister John Mary said.
Sisters of the Holy Family who teach at St. Mary’s Academy and those working in the nearby nursing home – 102 sisters in all – were also asked to select cardinals’ names. Family and friends will pray for the remaining cardinals.
“Their research has proven beneficial to them and to us as well, and maybe it will encourage you to research,” Sister Eva Regina said to her fellow sisters. “It’s a beautiful communal act for the sisters to pray together.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at email@example.com.