By Beth Donze
Religious sisters in the Archdiocese of New Orleans are continually turning the stereotype of “the quiet and aging nun” on its head with their enthusiastic involvement in ministries ranging from health care to housing to education.
On March 10, women ages 18 and older can get a firsthand look at what women religious are made of at “Sisters in the City: NOLA Style,” a Saturday morning of service at various sites throughout the city.
The service settings will include work at a community garden, emergency outreach locations and Hotel Hope, a residence in Broadmoor operated by the Presentation Sisters that provides homeless mothers and their children with short-term lodging and intensive case management with goals of helping them find stable housing and employment.
Conversations flow easily
“One of the things we find in our work with young adults is service, done side by side with our religious sisters, is where they begin to ask the deeper life questions like, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ and ‘What is my vocation?’” noted Sister of Charity Monica Gundler, a former campus minister whose current ministries include serving at the House of Charity – a place where volunteer groups can reside and share fellowship while serving in the New Orleans area.
“Many young adults, because we’re not teaching them in the numbers that we used to, may not even have met a sister before,” Sister Monica observed. “Or maybe they haven’t met a sister in a context that’s comfortable. Well, there’s nothing like painting a fence together to get people talking and asking questions like, ‘So when did you become a sister?’ This service event is a way of helping them connect the dots on who we are and what we do.”
The participating sisters and other volunteers will gather at the House of Charity, 2718 Cambronne St., in New Orleans at 9 a.m. for a continental breakfast and prayer. At 9:30 a.m., the volunteers will be deployed to the service sites and complete three hours of work with sisters from various communities. All will reconvene at the House of Charity at 12:30 p.m. for lunch and a group reflection ending around 1 p.m.
Raising sisters’ profile
The timing of the service event was deliberate: It will coincide with National Catholic Sisters Week, celebrated annually from March 8-14 to raise awareness that despite declining numbers, religious sisters still exist and are working in ministries similar to the ones that motivated them to come to the United States in the first place: to bring Christ to all, through each community’s unique charism.
Presentation Sister Mary Lou Specha, executive director of Hotel Hope, said that the New Orleans’ year-long Tricentennial observance provides the perfect backdrop for putting religious sisters back on the city’s radar and acquainting both Catholics and non-Catholics with the unique and common identities of the 40 orders of women religious currently serving in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
“The first Catholic sisters landed here in New Orleans in 1727 – the Ursuline Sisters, who came to teach young girls in French Louisiana,” Sister Mary Lou said. “Today, we want people to know that religious sisters are called to the Corporal Works of Mercy as a way of life, as they did from the very beginning.”
“Though religious sisters are aging, there are groups of women religious who are vibrant and who believe in their future,” Sister Mary Lou added. “We’re here to say we are alive and well, the church in the world needs us, and we want the people to join us in our good works and in our mission to live out the Gospel.”
In addition to the March 10 event, the sisters will organize three other Saturday service gatherings in 2018: June 9; Sept. 8; and Dec. 8 (times and locations to be announced).
Sister of Charity Vicki Lichtenauer, one of the event’s organizers, summed up the goal of the March 10 kickoff event: “We want to deepen the relationships that we have and form new ones,” she said.
Meals, beverages and transportation to the service sites will be provided. Participants are asked to wear comfortable attire that can “get dirty” and closed-toe shoes. Please RSVP by March 8.
For more information, call Sister Vicki Lichtenauer at (816) 718-2660 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on National Catholic Sisters Week, visit nationalcatholicsistersweek.org.