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Column: Mother’s illness renewed son’s appreciation of consecrated life


by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

During the last week of Advent, our vocation office offered a retreat for young men who are considering a priestly vocation.

Most of our seminarians assist with the retreat. For the past several years, I have Mass with our seminarians and those making the retreat at the cathedral. We then go to the chapel of the provincial house of the Sisters, Servants of Mary, Ministers to the Sick for a Holy Hour and adoration. Afterwards, the Sisters, Servants always provide a wonderful lunch.

After the Holy Hour, I was thanking Sister Blanca, who served as our sacristan, for her hospitality. I thanked her even more for all that she and the other Sisters, Servants do to assist families in their care for a loved one who is very sick, often near death.

Sister Blanca responded by acknowledging the blessings she and the other Sisters receive by caring for those approaching death. She said: “It reminds us every day about what is truly important. At the end, nothing matters but the person and God, the person and their relationship with God. The amount of money in their bank account, their fame or prestige in the community, even their relationship with their family and friends, in the end, none of this matters. What matters is the person and God. What matters is their friendship with Jesus, their friendship with God. This reminds us what is important for us. This is a great blessing for us.”

I thought of her words a few days later as I was calling the Sisters, Servants of Mary from the emergency room of St. Joseph Hospital. My mother experienced a mini-stroke while visiting me over the Christmas holidays. She had some numbness and weakness on the right side of her body along with some balance issues. Mom had fallen a couple times earlier in the day.

I was not certain if the hospital was going to keep my mother overnight. The emergency room team had determined that my mom had an infection that could explain most of the symptoms she was exhibiting. I was not very confident of my competency to care for my mother at my residence.

I asked Mother Carmela, the provincial, and Mother Alicia, the local superior, if there was a Sisters, Servant of Mary available to spend the night with Mom if the hospital discharged her into my care. They responded by graciously sending Sister Alicia to the hospital who would stay the night with my mother whether she remained in the hospital or went home with me.

My mother spent one night in the hospital and then two nights at my residence before I took her back to St. Louis the day after Christmas. For those three days, my mother had Sister Alicia at her side throughout the night to assist her with whatever she needed.

It is impossible to express adequately my gratitude to the Sisters, Servants of Mary for their kindness to my mother. Sister Alicia had a joyful confidence about her that was reassuring both to my mother and me. Sister Alicia turned a very frightening situation for my mother into a moment of grace and hope.

My mother realized she was not able to go back to her independent living apartment when she returned to St. Louis. I called Sister Christine Crowder, FSGM, the administrator of Mother of Good Counsel Home, a skilled nursing facility in St. Louis operated by the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George, to ask if they could accommodate my mother.

My grandmother had been a resident and my mother a volunteer at Mother of Good Counsel Home. My mother had twice previously — for short periods of time — resided at Mother of Good Counsel while receiving physical therapy. Sister Christine assured me that they would be happy to welcome my mother. Mom is doing well with her therapy and is determined to regain her strength so that she can return to her independent living apartment.

This was a quite different Christmas season than the one I had envisioned. It gave me new reasons to be grateful for the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and for Jesus giving birth to his church. I am so grateful to be Catholic.

So many people had been incredibly kind and helpful to me and my mother. My doctor had come to the emergency room to see my mother and visited her the next day in the hospital. The entire staff of St. Joseph Hospital cared for my mother with skill and compassion. My mother’s doctor in St. Louis came to examine her at Mother of Good Counsel. Many, many people were praying for my mother during these days.

Most of all, I was grateful to the Sisters, Servants of Mary and the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George for the amazing care they provided to my mother. It gave me a renewed gratitude for the gift that the consecrated life is to the church and world. During this year, when the entire church is praying for all those religious men and women who are living the consecrated life, I was given this very real illustration of the difference religious Sisters make in the life of the church.

I encourage you to pray for and to promote vocations to the consecrated life. The Sisters, Servants of Mary care for all of their patients with the same skill and love Sister Alicia provided to my mother. The only problem is that there are not enough Sisters, Servants of Mary to assist all the families who need their help. It is not just the excellent clinical care they provide, but it is the faith, hope and love they bring to the families they serve.

If you are a young woman, who wants to serve the Lord and to make a difference in the world, consider a vocation to the consecrated life. We need many more Sisters, Servants of Mary, Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George, Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Little Sisters of the Lamb, Fraternity of the Poor of Jesus Christ, Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, Apostles of the Interior Life, etc.

Thérèse of Lisieux, the great Carmelite saint, once described her vocation as being “love in the heart of the church.” Jesus and his church today need many young women who aspire to be “love in the heart of the church.”

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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