by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
During my recent trip to Rome, in addition to spending time with our North American College seminarians and meeting with their formators, I also took advantage of the opportunity to visit the convents of three of the women religious communities who serve in our archdiocese.
The Servants of Mary, Ministers to the Sick, more popularly known in Kansas as the Sisters, Servants of Mary, have their international headquarters in Rome. The charism of the Sisters, Servants of Mary, is to go at night into the homes of the seriously ill to provide spiritual comfort and nursing care for the sick, while at the same time allowing their family caregivers the opportunity for some much needed rest. The Sisters, Servants are truly angels of mercy who bring the love and the hope of the risen Lord to the dying and their families.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the Sisters, Servants of Mary, in Kansas City, Kansas. I wanted to visit their generalate, their international headquarters, to express in person my profound gratitude for the Sisters, Servants amazing ministry in the archdiocese for the past century. Before there was such a thing as hospice care, the Sisters, Servants of Mary, have been accompanying those near death with love, compassion, joy and hope.
I also was able to celebrate Mass and vespers with the Apostles of the Interior Life. The Apostles of the Interior Life only have houses in Rome; College Station, Texas; and Lawrence and Overland Park. There are several young Americans in formation with the Apostles in Rome who study at the pontifical universities.
I was able to thank personally their founder, Father Salvatore Scorza, who is a retired diocesan priest of Rome. Father Scorza is 90 years old and will celebrate the 65th anniversary of his priestly ordination this year. Father Scorza quipped that the Sisters are making a big deal out of his 65th because they do not think he will be around for his 70th.
Father Scorza, as a parish priest, had the wisdom to realize that if he was able to inspire his parishioners to desire holiness alone, he could not possibly adequately mentor his people. He envisioned a group of well-trained religious women who could serve as spiritual directors as well as do evangelization in the secular society, particularly at universities.
The Apostles of the Interior Life, in addition to providing spiritual direction for students at KU as well as several adult leaders in the archdiocese, are also forming spiritual mentors who are being equipped to assist others to develop a stronger and more vibrant life of prayer. They also conduct parish missions, assist with the formation of our permanent deacons and provide formation for laypeople who are striving to adapt the charism of the Apostles to the circumstances of their lives as laity.
It is always a joy to pray and share a meal with the Apostles of the Interior Life. Their passion for holiness and the joy of the Gospel they exude is both refreshing and contagious.
Recently, while attending a bishops’ meeting in Washington, D.C., I was approached by another archbishop asking my assistance in convincing the Apostles to bring the spiritual mentorship program to the East Coast. There are many other American bishops who would love to have the Apostles of the Interior Life serving in their dioceses.
During my days in Rome, I also had the opportunity to have lunch at the convent of the Little Sisters of the Lamb. While the Little Sisters were helping me run some errands, I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the personal friendships they have with many of the poor beggars on the streets of Rome. Unlike many, the Little Sisters do not see the poor as pests to be avoided, but as icons of Jesus to be reverenced and cherished.
It was in Rome that Father Anthony Ouellette, at the time a student at the North American College, introduced me to the Community of the Lamb. For me, it was love at first sight. I was immediately captivated by the purity with which they strive to live the Gospel by their simplicity of life and their complete dependence on divine providence. I was also enthralled by the beauty of their liturgical prayer.
Before departing for Rome, the Little Sisters in Kansas City gave me a photo of their chapel at the Lumen Christi Monastery on Boeke Street, just off Central Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas. The back of the photo contained a handwritten note to Pope Francis assuring him of their prayers for him and his ministry. I presented the photo to Pope Francis when I had the opportunity to greet him at his general audience on Wednesday, March 15.
Pope Francis, when he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires, invited the Little Sisters of the Lamb to establish a monastery in Argentina. Pope Francis has a great affinity, affection and admiration for the Community of the Lamb. He was delighted to receive the photo and note from our Little Sisters in Kansas.
The Archdiocese is blessed to have several other communities of religious women serving in our local church. Each religious community brings special gifts to the Archdiocese. Religious life, when it is lived well, enlivens the entire church with the beauty and purity with which religious Sisters attempt to live the Gospel.
In many ways, it is more countercultural for a young woman to discern a call to religious life than for a young man to discern a call to priesthood. All of us need to encourage young women to consider the possibility of a call to religious life. There is a group exploring the possibility of opening up a house for young adult women who are discerning a call to religious life. Please contact Father Scott Wallisch if you are interested in helping with this endeavor.
Our Archdiocese is extraordinarily blessed with the many religious women who serve our local church with such dedication. If you are looking for something positive to do as part of your Lenten observance, I encourage you to write a note to a religious Sister thanking her for the gift of her vocation. Please pray for an increase of vocations to religious communities, particularly those serving in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. As St. Thérèse of Lisieux once described her own vocation, religious women are love in the heart of the church.