Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
The following five interesting stories religious sisters have shared with me about their backgrounds.
Sister Mary Eucharista, Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church in Spokane, Washington
Sister was once a member of the Religious Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen (Congregatio Mariae Reginae Immaculate – CMRI) and lived in community at Mount St. Michael (“the Mount”) in Spokane. The CMRIs were initially founded with approval of Church authorities, but went on to embrace sedevacantism and separate from the Church. As sedevacantists, they do not accept the legitimacy of any of the popes since the close of the Second Vatican Council.
Sister and 14 others in her community left the Mount and returned to full communion with the Church. They were told in 2007 by CMRI superior, Bishop Mark Pivarunas, to leave the Mount because of their views. Most stayed in religious life; some began new communities under different Catholic bishops in the U.S.
Sister Mary Eucharista recalled the day Bishop Pivarunas told her and the 14 others to leave the Mount: “We were laughing in relief. We knew we needed to go. But, it wasn’t easy. We had to leave the other sisters and a home we loved; a place many of us had been part of since we were kids. In the minds of the sisters we had left behind, we had become part of the ‘enemy’ Church.”
Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God, O.S.B. is founder of Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel’s Hope in Tulsa, Oklahoma
After Mother Miriam and her brother, David Moss, converted to Christianity from Judaism, they weren’t allowed into their parents’ home, nor would their parents visit their homes. Mother explained, “In their mindset, there are two kinds of people, Jews and non-Jews. To leave the Jewish faith was considered not only to betray but to diminish the people of Israel.”
Both her parents and her younger sister, Susan, would later convert to Christianity. However, her extended family was not pleased. She said, “When others in the family found out about my parents’ conversion, they took away their burial plots. To this day, my siblings and I are not allowed into the homes of some of our relatives. The name of Christ is not allowed to be spoken in such homes … I cannot get over the fact that I believe, that I see, when so many others do not. Faith is a gift.”
Mother Mary Augustine, O.Praem., mother superior of the Norbertine Canonesses of the Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph near Tehachapi, California
Although a founding sister and mother superior of her traditional community founded in 1997, Mother “had no religious formation” and did not convert until age 42. She is French and grew up in New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific. She later came to Southern California and met the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey, and was asked to take on a leadership role with the new community for women they founded.
Once she converted, she said, “From that point on, there was no going back, and it became whatever God's will would be for my life. Like Jesus, my food became to do the Father's Will. Over time, and through many trials, it became clear that God wanted me to have an undivided heart for Him alone. It was through time and events that His plan unfolded for me, bringing me first to the Catholic Church, then religious life, and then specifically, at the request of the Norbertine Fathers, to become the foundress of this community.”
Sister Anna Joseph Duong, Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother of the Church in Baltic, Connecticut
Sister is from Vietnam, and, as a girl, while attempting to escape the country after the 1975 fall of Saigon, she was nearly gunned down by North Vietnamese forces.
Sister, her grandmother and an uncle were making their way to the coast. The plan was to board boats in hopes of reaching U.S. Navy vessels out at sea. Many other refugees had the same idea, and North Vietnamese troops were sent to block their escape. Before they could reach the coast, troops opened fire. At age 5, sister remembers sitting on her grandmother’s shoulders as she raced into the jungle, leaping over dead bodies along the way. At one point they hid behind sandbags left behind by the U.S. military. She said, “My uncle would scream to me, ‘Keep your head down!’”
Sister had to endure a harsh life growing up in Da Nang under communist rule, but was finally able to leave the country at age 17. She came to the U.S. and joined the Sisters of Charity. She said, “I’m very happy to be in the U.S. I could not fulfill my calling in Vietnam. I’m grateful for the freedom to be able to proudly proclaim that I am a sister, and not have to worry about our convent being shut down.”
Sister Alicia Damien Lau, Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities (the name of the community today which was founded by St. Marianne Cope) in Hawaii
Sr. Alicia first came to the Hawaiian island of Molokai in 1965, when it still had nearly 200 lepers (or those afflicted with Hansen’s disease) under quarantine there and forbidden to leave. The quarantine was lifted in 1969, and only a few patients remain today by choice.
In 1965, when sister first visited the leper settlement at Kalaupapa on Molokai, she recalls the patients bringing out instruments to play and sing for her. She said, “This was in keeping with the wishes of Mother Marianne, who wanted Kalaupapa to be a joyful place. She encouraged the patients to make music and dance the hula.”
She recalled that there were no children living at the settlement, as when children were born they were taken away from the mothers, least they catch Hansen’s disease themselves. She does remember many pets, however, particularly dogs. She said, “I think the pets were their substitute for children.