by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — How do you say “thank you” to the Sisters who were by your side during the sickness and death of a loved one?
Ed and Jeri Vogrin found a way in the chapel of the Servants of Mary Ministers of the Sick Provincial House in Kansas City, Kansas, during a special event on Jan. 25.
On that day, the Vogrins and five others stood before Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and made promises to become members of the Lay Fraternity of the Sons and Daughters of St. Maria Soledad.
They are the first lay associates in the history of the Sisters within the United States.
“This fraternity shares in our charism (spiritual gift and ability), spirituality and apostolate with the sick and dying in their own homes,” said Sister Lucero Garcia, local superior.
Ed Vogrin learned about the Sisters (commonly known as the Sisters, Servants of Mary) growing up in the Cathedral of St. Peter Parish in Kansas City, Kansas.
These were the women religious who came to the homes of the sick and dying — regardless of faith — and nursed them there at no charge. His grandfather helped the Sisters get established in their first house when they arrived in this area in 1917, and his father would drive the Sisters to the homes of their patients.
“About 20 years ago, both of my parents became sick,” said Ed, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Shawnee. “The Sisters got involved in their care . . . and we saw firsthand their spirituality and charism. As they cared for my parents, they cared for us, as family.”
Within a few short months in 2000, his wife Jeri’s older brother died, and both Ed’s mother and father died.
“I can say without a doubt that had it not been for the Sisters ministering to each one of us, it would have been very difficult,” said Ed.
The rite of admission in the chapel came after a year of discernment and spiritual formation. Ten longtime volunteers who assisted the Sisters with transportation and fundraising were invited to become lay associates. Seven completed the process, and three remain in formation.
The laypeople made their promises after a Mass celebrating the 50th anniversary of the canonization of the order’s foundress, St. Maria Soledad.
The first group of lay associates in the history of the order was formed in Argentina in 1997. Other groups were founded in several countries in the following years.
The first group in the Sisters’ Province of the United States (which includes Mexico and Canada) was formed in Puebla, Mexico, in 2006. The Kansas City, Kansas, group is the first group in the United States.
The lay associates were invited from among the guild volunteers who help the Sisters, said Sister Bernadette Proctor, who directed their formation.
“It’s a vocation, it’s a call,” she added. “You know when it’s the right time.
“The lay people . . . are called to give themselves more. They commit themselves more to fulfill their baptismal promises to be a Christian, work in the world and to strive for holiness.”
Michelle Hersh, a member of St. John Paul II Parish in Olathe, was introduced to the Sisters while her daughter was involved with the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas.
“Because of this love for [the Sisters] that has developed over the years, I have been to every one of their convents in the United States — three in California, one in New York and one in New Orleans,” said Hersh. “I’ve been to the convent in Rome, in Cuba . . . [and two] in Spain.”
She became a volunteer 10 years ago, but, five years ago, felt a call to become a lay associate.
The yearlong formation consisted of learning more about St. Maria Soledad and the spirit and charism of the Sisters; a study of the sacraments; a deep dive into Scripture and various types of prayer (lectio divina, meditation and contemplation); and training in how to help and care for the sick and their families.
The lay associates participate according to their ability and availability. Some of the seven new lay associates are retired nurses or certified nursing assistants and can perform personal care.
Those without any medical training can provide prayer and presence, and offer a respite to family members who need to rest or take care of other responsibilities.
Barbara and Larry Yoksh, members of Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood, are also among those who learned of the Sisters when they cared for a sick relative — Larry’s parents.
“We both have an affinity for helping the elderly and sick, people who need help,” said Barbara. “And the charism of the Sisters just spoke to our hearts.
“We got involved in their guild, which does fundraisers, and a year ago . . . they asked Larry and me if we’d go through a year of formation and become the first members of the lay association.”
Becoming lay associates has deepened their prayer and spiritual life, as well as strengthened their marriage.
“If you want to be in the presence of extremely humble and giving, caring and loving people . . . [seek out] the Sisters,” said Barbara.
“We were just completely drawn to them,” she continued. “Their charism is so beautiful and they live it so humbly.”
Although the first seven lay associates finished a year of formation before making their promises, they also have ongoing formation. This consists of weekly meetings and monthly retreats. Additionally, they engage in other spiritual activities and disciplines, including daily Mass with the Sisters or at their parish, prayer with the Sisters, the rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours.