BROOKLYN, N.Y. — At a Brooklyn Mass where six Little Sisters of the Poor made their first vows, Cardinal Timothy Dolan emphasized all the good that the order does for elderly poor around the world.
“Our six soon-to-be professed Little Sisters of the Poor, what a joy you are, what a gift you are, what an inspiration you are, what a sign of hope you are,” the archbishop of New York said June 1, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“I unite with my brother priests who are here in such impressive number today, with your Sisters, with your families and friends, in thanking God that you, like Mary, said yes to the invitation of God to follow him as a consecrated woman religious.”
The Little Sisters of the poor take the three typical vows of religious, chastity, poverty and obedience, and add a special fourth vow of hospitality. Their charism is to care for the elderly poor. They operate homes throughout the world, 30 of them in the U.S.
The Mass took place at Saint Ann’s Novitiate in Queens, in the Diocese of Brooklyn. Six women finished their novitiate with the order and took their first vows. Three are from the U.S., two are from Tonga, in the south Pacific, and one is from Ireland.
They are Sister Mairéad Regina, Sister Malia Cecilia, Sister Malia Makalita, Sister Mary Gerard of the Cross, Sister Sharon of the Sacred Heart, and Sister Elizabeth Mary.
“Since we’re an international congregation, for them to experience that from the very beginning is really enriching,” Sister Mary Richard Morris, who is responsible for formation at St. Ann’s, explained to CNA June 13.
The sisters made their profession after completing a two year novitiate and a nine month postulancy.
Sister Morris explained that formation with the Little Sisters can begin “even before they enter,” as they encourage women to volunteer at or even live in their homes “to really get to know us.” As novices, the sisters learned about theology, scripture, music and even French, “because they all go to France to prepare for their final vows.”
The novices also learn much about the constitutions of the Little Sisters, and everything is “interspersed with prayer and practical experience,” serving the elderly.
“Once a year they go out for six weeks to one of our home to really work with a Little Sister and to really experience community life, and try to put into practice what they’ve learned so far,” Sr. Morris added.
During his homily at the Mass, Cardinal Dolan thanked all the Little Sisters present for “the beautiful gift that you are to the Church. Thank you for keeping so strong, so durable, so alive, the charism and the spirit of St. Jeanne Jugan,” who founded the order in France in the early 1800s.
Focusing on the fact that the profession was occurring on the feast of the Sacred Heart, he said: “We have a God who has a heart, the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And that ... dear soon to be first-professed Sisters, is your charism, to be the heartbeat of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. You do it well.”
“Any of us who have watched you in action, any of us who have seen how you care so tenderly and lovingly for our aged, for our poor, know that you do it well.”
Sister Morris reported that the Little Sisters believe this was the first time that the Archbishop of New York has presided at one of their professions “since 1901,” when it was Archbishop Michael Corrigan.
“We try to invite different bishops every year, sometimes it’s our own ordinary, but we try to invite different bishops, from places where the novices are from or where we have homes, or someone who’s interested in the congregation.”
She explained that the newly-professed sisters will probably have five more years of formation before they take their final vows.
The novice house in Queens will have a weekend of prayer, catechesis and service for young women during World Youth Day next month. Those unable to make it to Rio will be able to follow World Youth Day’s key moments by telecast, while spending time with the Little Sisters and their novices.
Cardinal Dolan presided at the profession because he has a personal connection with one of the newly-professed sisters: they are from the same home parish, in Baldwin, Missouri.
“We each went to Holy Infant Grade School,” Cardinal Dolan explained at the end of Mass. He said that when he was at the grade school, “a few years before you, Sr. Elizabeth Mary ... one of the things we did every morning is pray that one day there would be a priest and one day there would be a Sister from Holy Infant School and Holy Infant Parish.”
After Cardinal Dolan’s ordination as a priest in 1976, he said, “now God, who always takes his time, but ultimately comes through, answered that second prayer that we’d have a Sister from that parish as well.”
Cardinal Dolan added that the occasion was a “special honor and joy” for him, because he’s known the Little Sisters since he was a seminarian in Rome.
While studying in Rome, he had apostolic work at their house there, “and all the places I’ve been assigned as a priest — in my home archdiocese of St. Louis, and in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore and Milwaukee, and now here in New York — the Little Sisters of the Poor have been there. So they’ve had my admiration, my affection and my appreciation for a long time.”
Cardinal Dolan added: “And I’m on the waiting list to be in one of your homes.”