Sisters, Servants of Mary provide comfort as well as care
by Jill Ragar Esfeld
Special to the Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “It is not just us that will go to the homes of the sick,” said Sister Lucero Garcia of the Sisters, Servants of Mary. “Wherever any of the Sisters go, all the people supporting us are going to be there, too.
“They are not present physically — but they’re with us.”
Sister Lucero resides at the Sisters, Servants of Mary motherhouse in Kansas City, Kan., along with 29 other Sisters.
Their mission is to care for the sick and dying, and they’ve been serving in the area since 1917.
“We do it free of charge and without any deference to race, religion or illness,” said Mother Superior Sister Alicia Hermosillo. “Our mission is mostly at night.”
Because the Sisters provide free medical services, they rely on divine providence and the generosity of others for their support — and sometimes even transportation to and from their patients’ homes.
In anticipation of their main fundraiser, the biennial Serving from the Heart Gala (see sidebar), Leaven photographer Elaina Cochran spent a day with the Sisters, many of whom she recognized from an extended stay for a special issue on the Sisters five years ago.
“I just love them,” she said of the experience. “They’re full of joy and full of kindness.”
Cochran accompanied Sister Lucero on day visits as she brought the Eucharist to four patients.
“In every place we went, there were prevalent crosses,” she said. “And so my eye always gravitated toward them; we were there because of a shared faith.
“I tried to relate that visually — shared compassion around faith.”
The first patient they visited, recalled Cochran, suffered from severe depression.
“Sister [Lucero] was a listening ear, showing that someone cares,” she said. “The woman didn’t speak English, so I couldn’t understand what they were saying.
“But I could tell by the mood of it how comforted she was, and how important it was for her to receive the Eucharist.”
Next, they visited a retired priest suffering from dementia. Cochran was touched by Sister Lucero’s tender interaction with him.
“Then we visited his sister who lived in another home,” said Cochran. “And she said, ‘You came to bring me Jesus!’”
The last patient visited that day was in her 90s and lived alone. Her air conditioner had been recently replaced, but she was frustrated that its edges were not properly sealed against the heat outside.
No sooner had the elderly patient expressed her complaint than Sister Lucero was solving the problem.
“We helped get duct tape around her air conditioner,” said Cochran. “A little thing like that really makes a difference. “So the Sisters kind of wear whatever hat they need to.”
Cochran also observed the overwhelming gratitude people showed during the visits.
“The central theme in most conversations was how grateful [the patients] were,” she said. “They would talk about their faith and how God is bringing the Sisters to them.”
She was also struck by the cheerful nature Sister Lucero brought to each home.
“They are just such a sweet, happy group of women,” she said. “They’re surrounded by sickness and death and yet there is such a lightness to what they do, and so much joy and kindness and peace.”
The Sisters, Servants of Mary believe that when God calls them, he gives them the grace to live the virtues of their order, which call for them to be humble and single-hearted, charitable, service-oriented, and joyful.
“And, of course, joy is the biggest one,” said Sister Alicia. “I believe it is a gift from God.”
Because the Sisters, Servants are semi-cloistered and spend much of their day in silence, they have a deep and rich prayer life, which also adds to their joy.
“Silence is for recollection,” explained Sister Cristela MacKinnon. “And recollection helps your prayer life.”
Their joy, observers say, is actually palpable — when the Sisters are not silent, they are laughing.
“It’s really wonderful,” said Cochran. “They play sports together — still in their habits and everything — so I photographed them playing volleyball, which was awesome.”
“We like a well-balanced life,” said Sister Catherine Bussen. “So we have to take care of ourselves in every aspect — spiritually, physically, emotionally.
“To keep that balance to our life we have periods of recreation during the day.”
For the Sisters, it is a rich and rewarding life.
“We are happy at home in our community,” explained Sister Alice Restrepo. “That happiness that we have? We cannot contain it when we go out.
“God is with us. We know that God is with us. So we have to give it to everybody.”
Assisting the dying on their final journey is the greatest source of the Sisters’ joy.
“We’ve always been taught that the night of a Servant of Mary should be a night of prayer,” said Sister Cristela. “That doesn’t mean she’s praying all night, but she sees Christ in the sick; they’re suffering like he did on the cross.
“And in that way our night is a night of prayer. Our joy comes from that, too.”
Sister Catherine agreed and added that the joy also stems from their knowledge of death as a new beginning.
“For us, with our Catholic faith, we know that dying is not the end,” she said. “There’s something beyond that, and so we help other people see that, too. And ultimately that is joy.”
“That’s true,” said Sister Lucero. “Death is not an end; rather, it is a passage into eternity.”
Though Cochran tried to capture the Sisters’ compassion and joy in her photographs, she highly recommends attending their annual gala to witness it in person.
“Take any opportunity you have to go to their fundraiser,” she said. “It’s a worthwhile experience to see people who just embody joy!”