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Jerry Costello

Sisters of Life Celebrate 25th Anniversary

The Sisters of Life celebrated an anniversary last month. It was a 25th anniversary, not all that great shakes as anniversaries go. But in this case, with the Sisters of Life, it was huge. Their story began with one man who had an idea—a community of women what would be dedicated to the protection and enhancement of human life. Eight women originally answered his call. And now, 25 years later, in a time that many associate with a decline in religious life, the original eight have grown to nearly 100. Instead of just one convent they now staff 10, and they have a major impact not only in New York, site of their founding, but upon the entire Church.

                They said it couldn’t be done, but those in the know knew better. The man with the idea was John Cardinal O’Connor, the late Archbishop of New York, and anyone who knew him was familiar with his iron determination. His commitment to the cause of life was so strong that he all but willed to make it happen.

                It started off simply enough, with one of his regular columns in Catholic New York, the archdiocesan newspaper. He titled it “Help Wanted: Sisters of Life,” and from the start—often a phenomenon with his columns—it attracted lots of attention. The letters he received in response moved him to call a retreat, at which he told those who had written in:

                “I want to invite you to consider joining a non-existent religious community that I may or may not attempt to found. I am but a simple priest…If it is of the Holy Spirit, it will work. If it isn’t, it won’t.”

                Work it did, in a major way. Organizational help was acquired from established religious communities; classes in theology and philosophy were taught; Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, SV, was named superior. After Cardinal O’Connor’s death in 2000, the organization continued to grow; his successor in New York, the late Edward Cardinal Egan, established the Sisters of Life in 2004 as a religious institute of diocesan right. In 2012, with the help of the present Archbishop, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, a motherhouse in Suffern, New York, became the Sisters’ headquarters and home.

                Along the way, the Sisters acquired a handsome quarterly publication—Imprint, printed through the generosity of the Knights of Columbus, written and designed by the Sisters of Life—and it is from its pages that the story of the founding Sisters comes to life:

                “…Forward in trust they went—among them an editor, a nutritionist, a professor—all without a day of experience in religious life. And though there were more questions than answers, they clung to the mystery of grace filling their hearts, leaned on the strength of God, and together strived to realize God’s dream of a world of charism, and a community, of life.”         

                And Cardinal O’Connor, 70 years old when he founded the Sisters of Life, reflected on the experience four years later: “…What did I know about founding a community of religious women? I was depending on the Holy Spirit. But the one thing I told the Sisters then and I have tried to be faithful to ever since: I ask for your trust. I ask that we muddle through together to do the will of God, as God wants it to be done, and because He wants it to be done.”

                It now marks 25 fruitful years, still young and still trusting. And still growing.       



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