The gospel of life is being lived out, and preached, in unexpected and yet beautiful ways by the Gospel of Life Disciples + Dwellings (GOLD; GospelofLifeDisciples.org). GOLD was founded by Sister Maria of the Trinity of the Little Sisters of the Poor and joyfully welcomes the elderly who want to come and live out their last days in dignity and love.
Speaking this fall to the Register, Sister Maria explained: “Gospel of Life Dwellings are not facilities, nor are they nursing homes. They are little domestic churches, in the sense of the early Christians, where life is shared as a pilgrim journey, eating together and praying together, in the mutuality of daily life.”
Each dwelling is funded solely on donations. All the staff are volunteers, and for residents, the costs are largely met by GOLD. “We welcome, accompany and care for homeless persons who are terminally ill and for frail elders who are in need due to lack of family or finances,” said Sister Maria.
Three Gold Stars
There are now three such GOLDs in the west-central region of the United States occupied by Oklahoma and Texas. The first is St. James, which opened in Oklahoma City in 2013. It was followed soon after by St. Adelaide in Grand Prairie, Texas. In 2018 the latest dwelling, dedicated to St. John Paul II, opened in Moore, Oklahoma. The patronal dedication of the dwelling in Moore is not without significance, as it was following the inspiration of St. John Paul II’s Novo Millennio Ineunte (2001). As she explained it, Sister Maria wanted “each dwelling to strive to be a place of communion and compassion as well as a school of prayer.”
The Gospel of Life Disciples is an emerging community of consecrated religious, laymen and laywomen striving for holiness while serving the gospel of life through prayer and this particular ministry. “We live a deeply contemplative life in authentic and active service to the poor who are at the end of their life’s journey due to age or illness,” said Sister Maria. “Our call to missionary discipleship is lived as a Gospel family, exercising the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in humble ways through a true ministry of presence to the dying, caring for them with love on every step of their journey home to God.”
And Sister Maria has never been more convinced of the need of this work. “God’s initiative for these GOLD communities is conceived ‘for a time such as this’ (the Book of Esther), in which assisted suicide and euthanasia are promoted as ‘merciful’ and the culture of death is being imposed on the most vulnerable,” she said.
Sister Maria sees each Gospel of Life Dwelling, by contrast, as upholding “the dignity of each person so as to accompany the old and dying with the love of Jesus.” She added, “We are stewards of the life God has given us, and each person’s life is treasured until God calls them home at their natural death.”
The residents and disciples of GOLD have the opportunity for daily Eucharistic adoration as well as partaking in the sacraments, especially Holy Mass and confession. By these means Sister Maria and everyone in the dwellings “encounter the love and mercy of Christ.” In turn, she said, “we meet him again and again in the mission that is ours to serve him in our oldest and weakest brothers and sisters. It is the Gospel in daily life: From the ordinary sharing of a meal to the sacred passage from this life to eternal life, Christ is present, and we are blessed incredibly by his amazing grace.”
GOLD’s witness to the gospel of life is not confined simply to end-of-life matters. “We pray the Rosary daily at an abortion center, which opened near our first dwelling in Oklahoma City,” explained Sister Maria, “and by so doing we foster collaboration with pro-life ministries in the local churches and neighborhoods” that are located near GOLD.
It is in this spirit that Sister Maria has established a Gospel of Life School (GOLS). It is here that she intends to build “a new generation of pro-life disciples through the Gospel of Life School (GOLS), which is an intentional time of service, prayer, formation and fellowship for young men and women ages 18-30.”
But such an age range is more a guide than a restriction, as Sister Maria is open to talk to anyone of any age and background who feels called to come and spend time at a GOLD as a “LifeGuard.”
The Gospel of Life Disciples + Dwellings (GOLD) was received by Sister Maria as a call within a call. Having grown up in Minnesota and earned a degree in philosophy at the University of Dallas, Sister Maria spent a year volunteering in Europe and Africa.
It was during this time, discerning God’s will for her life, that she began deepening her relationship with Christ. “During that year, God called me to give my life to him as a consecrated religious,” she said. For the next 25 years Sister Maria lived as a Little Sister of the Poor, with 15 of these years spent away from the United States living in community in France. Sister Maria recalls her time there fondly: “I was blessed to share in the rich history of the ‘eldest daughter of the Church [France].’” But it was during this time that she also felt “challenged by the deep need for the New Evangelization.”
“Pope John Paul II influenced me greatly while studying in Rome,” she said. “His encyclical Evangelium Vitae, which has its 25th anniversary next spring on the feast of the Annunciation, remains a foundation and catalyst for my ongoing response to God’s call.”
Sister Maria was not looking for a new calling, however, when what she describes as “two pivotal spiritual experiences, one in 1999 and one in 2009” occurred and brought a new and unexpected clarity regarding “this call within my call and the specific mission of GOLD.” She said, “Our Lady of Guadalupe and my maternal grandmother were God’s instruments in what was a long and careful discernment process surrounding GOLD.” By 2013 that discernment process had turned into a concrete reality with the first GOLD established.
The Gospel of Life Disciples + Dwellings are inspired and protected by a number of saintly patrons. Sister Maria points to “St. Francis of Assisi, in his radical and intimate love for Christ and his life of joy and simplicity, and St. Jeanne Jugan, through her humility, her love of the elderly and dying. St. Pope John Paul II and St. Mother Teresa are also foundational in our mission to serve the poorest as we foster a culture of life and a civilization of love.”
GOLD also has a special affection for the recently pronounced Blessed Stanley Rother, who grew up not far from the first dwelling in Oklahoma. Sister Maria described the American missionary priest-martyr as “a true friend and intercessor as we seek holiness and fidelity in the circumstances and challenges of everyday life.”
Above all, GOLD remains under the protection of Our Lady. Sister Maria makes it clear that all the work and witness of Sister Maria and her fellow disciples is “confided to the example and intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron and Mother of each of our Gospel of Life Dwellings.” For Sister Maria it is Our Lady’s witness as she “stood in faith at the foot of the cross, remained in hope of the Resurrection and welcomed in love the outpouring of the Holy Spirit,” that is her and GOLD’s “example.”
Like her Heavenly Mother, Sister Maria simply wants to “to be faithful through obedience, trusting in his plan and purpose.” But, as well as an intercessor for GOLD, Sister Maria also prays that, for herself and all who come to live and witness at the Gospel of Life Dwellings, Our Lady will be the “Gate of Heaven.”
K.V. Turley is the Register’s