APRIL 18, 2012 | The Long Island Catholic VOL. 51, NO. 3 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY
Two very different events this past weekend marked the conclusion of Easter Week for me. Both involved consecrated women religious. While different, together they illustrated to me how the lives of consecrated women influence the life of our diocese on a daily basis. And for this we all must be grateful to God!
Most Catholics are unaware of the “constitution” of religious life and how religious communities govern themselves in accordance with the “recognition” or approval of the Church. For all consecrated women by virtue of their professed membership in a recognized religious institute are “women of the Church.” The majority of the congregations of men or women whom we know are “of pontifical rite.” That means that their constitutions and their way of life have been approved by the Holy See and their establishment falls under the direct oversight of the Holy Father through one of the offices of the Holy See. The Jesuits, the Marianists, The Sisters of Charity and the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary are examples of this in our diocese. However, in the Diocese of Rockville Centre there are three communities of women religious who are “of diocesan rite.” That means that, while their constitutions and their religious life are every bit as much “religious life of consecrated women” they have developed their institute on a diocesan basis and hence their “way of life” refers not to Rome but to the diocesan bishop.
Two of these are the most numerous groups of women religious on Long Island: the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood and the Dominican Sisters of Amityville. The third, the Congregation of the Infant Jesus or “The Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor,” formerly of Brooklyn, is much smaller in numbers but it is that group whom I visited last Saturday. Let me tell you why and let me share with you some of what I learned.
The why! Many years ago when I first came here I discovered that the two large groups, Sisters of St. Joseph and Dominican Sisters, were diocesan. At the same time, because the “Nursing Sisters” had their motherhouse in Rockville Centre and most of the sisters lived and fulfilled their apostolates here, Bishop Thomas Daily of Brooklyn suggested that I might be willing to accept a transfer of these sisters from the Brooklyn Diocese to our diocese. I was happy to do so if that was agreeable to the sisters, which it was. Then I started thinking “what is my responsibility toward these three groups of sisters?” The answer practically is not too much. But I was advised in Rome that it would be good for me to express a pastor’s support for and a willingness always to be at the disposal of the sisters. I readily agreed. And so we all agreed that once a year I would meet with the leadership of each of the three communities just to exchange information and make sure that we had looked at how things were going and see if there was anything I could do to be helpful or anything the sisters wanted to discuss with me. We have been doing this now for many years and it is a very good experience for me and I trust for them.
Now to the what! The Congregation of the Infant Jesus (CIJ) has never been a large community, never over 100 members at any one time in their 100 year history. Today they number 47, many of them “retired” officially but, as I discovered, not at all “retired” from praying, doing good, influencing the lives of others and being witnesses of Christ’s love in extraordinary ways. While most live at Villa St. Joseph, the motherhouse here in Rockville Centre, there is one sister living in Jamaica where she works and one who in her 80s is in Kentucky doing parish work, catechetics and working in the federal prison! Nursing was their original vocation. The sisters are the founders of Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre. Some of them are working at Mercy using nursing skills and pastoral gifts in a variety of ways. They may no longer be going to the homes of the poor in Brooklyn, but they are touching the hearts of people across this island.
Some of the “retired” sisters organize book clubs with both sisters and lay faithful taking part. Others have prayers groups that meet regularly for common prayer, intercessory prayer or the prayers of the Divine Office. Another sister opens up the prayer of contemplation through the works and witness of Thomas Merton. There are three dozen women and men, including a priest, who are “associates” to the sisters, sharing in their charism and deepening their own spiritual lives through a variety of spiritual exercises and shared prayer. One sister conducts a prayer group that opens their prayer toward building community. As Sister Dolores, their president told me, their lives are centered on God and they invite others to join in this vision that deepens faith, promotes community and brings great spiritual richness and pastoral help to untold numbers in our diocese and beyond.
Sunday at St. Rosalie in Hampton Bays we celebrated another milestone! The Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, who taught at St. Andrew’s in Sag Harbor from 1877 and continue to conduct the Cor Maria Retreat House there, have completed ten years of service to the Hispanic-speaking communities of Hampton Bays and other parts of the East End. The congregation itself underwrites their extraordinary service to the thousands of Latinos who live and work in Hampton Bays and the surrounding area. Two of their sisters along with a Sister of Charity maintain the Centro Corazon de Maria where they offer English as a second language, pre-natal care for expectant mothers, courses for parenting, assistance with doctors and hospitals for those with health needs, and a variety of outreach programs that make them truly the face of Christ for so many who are newly arrived and have need of help they can get only through the Church and through the commitment of these women religious.
All this is to say that our diocese is blessed with so many persons, consecrated women and men, lay faithful, people of every background and age, who volunteer their time or who have accepted to fulfill special apostolic work for the good of our neighbors.
We owe them all a debt of gratitude. And we thank God that these sisters and so many like them are living witnesses to the love of God expressed through prayer, community and pastoral witness that makes us all truly blessed and truly grateful.