NEWARK, Ohio — Two religious sisters living in relative seclusion on 102 acres about 60 miles from Columbus, Ohio, would not seem to be in a position to change the world. Yet that is what Sister Margaret Mary and Sister Karen, members of a new religious association called the Children of Mary, have set out to do. They live a simple, contemplative life centered on prayer, work and Eucharistic adoration.
By some accounts, the small community has already begun to change the world.
“I was a fallen-away Catholic, and Sister Margaret Mary brought me back,” said Mary Cohagen, 63, who prays a weekly holy hour in the Eucharistic chapel that is the heart of the community. “The Lord kept putting Sister Margaret Mary in front of me, and people were telling me I should go to talk to her. When I did, it made all the difference in my life. She really does want to bring everyone home to the Lord.”
Francis Boysko, who was “down-sized” into an early retirement after 36 years with a public utility, has found new life as a “full-time volunteer” for the Children of Mary. He tends the grounds, maintains the convent and the chapel, and works with the town of Newark to get the 102 acres rezoned for a religious community. His payment, he says, is spending hours each day in the Eucharistic chapel.
“After being retired in 1995, I always prayed to the Lord that I would find some way to utilize my skills in his service, and this is a perfect fit,” he said. “Sister Margaret Mary's charism is to promote our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and that is my devotion. We have to realize that this is the true body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus.”
Boysko also developed the logo for the Children of Mary, which shows a crucifix and the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance connected by the letters of Mary's name. The theme is that Mary gave birth to Jesus, who was crucified and now is present in the world through the Eucharist.
“It came to me one day when I was praying alone in the chapel,” Boysko explained. “I had the urge to get a paper and pencil and draw it out.”
When Pope John Paul II instituted the Year of the Eucharist, which continues through October 2005, the two sisters of the Children of Mary saw it as a confirmation of the focus of their new community. Sister Margaret Mary, who previously lived as a hermit and took first religious vows in January 2002 and second vows earlier this year, says the world will be converted once people see that Jesus on the cross and Jesus in the Eucharist are one and the same. Her nascent community is dedicated to spreading that message through distribution of prayer cards, a CD of sacred chant and a website, www.childrenofmary.net.
Bishop James Griffin of Columbus, who received Sister Margaret Mary's vows, has provided episcopal guidance for the new community, which, in Church law, currently is a public association of the faithful.
“Sister Margaret Mary has started a contemplative community, which has a particular focus on adoration of the Eucharist,” Bishop Griffin said in a statement for the Register. “Because the Eucharist is the source and summit of our life as Catholics, I am happy to support and approve her efforts. The ministry of the Children of Mary community calls those who come to know them to contemplate the mysteries of the Eucharist more deeply and to better appreciate the role of the Eucharist in Catholic life.”
Beginning a religious community with only two women and no formal recruiting efforts or postulant program does not appear promising, in worldly terms. Yet Sister Margaret Mary, who is 57, says the smallness of her efforts allows the strength of Christ in the Eucharist to shine forth.
“We cannot pretend to do anything of our own, since everything, our very lives, comes from God,” she said. “I decided at the beginning that we would rely totally on God's providence for donations, for food, for everything. We just tend to the apostolate of making the Eucharist more known and adored, and he will attend to our needs.”
The seeds of the community were planted some 15 years ago when Mary Jane Goffena gave up teaching in the Columbus public-school system, sold her home and used the money to purchase 102 acres in rural Newark. After living as a lay hermit for a number of years, her spiritual director suggested she try communal monastic life. Though her heart yearned for solitude with God, she took the step into a monastery and later took the name Sister Margaret Mary. She says God then led her to found her own community with Sister Karen, who is 26 years old.
Already, the sisters have sent out 50,000 Eucharistic prayer cards to those who have requested them by mail or through the website. Advertising the prayer cards, the website declares, “When God-with-us, Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, is adored by mankind, the head of Satan will be crushed.”
“Right now, there is a terrible indifference to the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament; that is what we are addressing in everything we do,” said Sister Margaret Mary. “We witness to his presence by what we say, how we act. But the way so many of us act toward the Blessed Sacrament today, it's no wonder that belief is so low.”
She said the “first lifting” of Christ came in the crucifixion, for the salvation of the world. “The second lifting, we must do,” she said. “We must lift him up in the Blessed Sacrament and come before him to adore. Only then will the promise of Christ come to fulfillment, when sin and death will be overcome.”
Stephen Vincent writes from Wallingford, Connecticut.