When Sister Maristella Dunlavy retired from her educational ministry in 2006, she concluded 14 years as principal of Cathedral Grade School. As she prepared to move on, the prioress general of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield asked whether she would consent to serving as sacristan at Sacred Heart Convent. “Yes, I’d be honored to do that,” she replied. “But there is something else I’d like to do, too.”
That something else was a dream Sister Maristella had harbored for years. She wanted to begin a prayer card ministry, designing and distributing cards that came with a promise of prayer from the Dominican Sisters.
“I wanted to extend to as many people as possible the powerhouse of prayer we have at the motherhouse,” she said, referring to Sacred Heart Convent on West Monroe Street in Springfield, Ill., where she continues to serve as sacristan. “The cards are a tangible reminder to people that we are always praying for them.”
Fifteen years later, Sister Maristella says she can’t possibly count the number of cards she has distributed or measure the impact of the daily prayer our sisters offer for those who send and receive the cards. “It is considerable,” she said matter-of-factly.
Her original five designs—sympathy, get well, birthday, anniversary, and thank you cards—continue to be popular. She has also added new designs: sixteen blank notecards, now available to order at https://springfieldop.org/prayer-cards. They include some of her favorite scripture quotes and inspirational words.
She pairs a line from the book of Daniel—“Ice and snow bless the Lord!”—with an image of the convent bell tower hovering over icy tree branches. Another, with a stunning fire blazing in the dark, includes the words of the Dominican mystic St. Catherine of Siena: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
In addition to meeting the need of that rare breed of people—those who choose to communicate their care and concern through handwritten notes—Sister Maristella sees this ministry as a in important way to expand the ministry of prayer of the 90 or so sisters who live at the motherhouse. “As we age, we aren’t as busy as our sisters who are still ministering around the U.S. and in Peru,” she explained. “We have much more time to dedicate to prayer ‘for the life of the world’ as we say. It is meaningful to us to be able to share the life and energy of our relationship with God with so many around the world who count on prayer to sustain them in difficult times.”
Those who request cards are invited to make a donation to help cover costs and sustain the outreach that has given Sister Maristella such life and energy for such a long time. All donations are put right back into the ministry to cover the cost of printing and shipping the cards.
“Many of those requesting cards are our sisters, associates, family, and friends,” Sister Maristella explained. “I also hear from people I’ve never met. Recently a gentleman from New York made a request for cards.” She speculates that he either found his way on his own to the website or received a card from a friend and decided to order some of his own.
Quincy resident Jo Buckley, who for years worked in the diocesan office of education, is a dear friend of Sister Maristella’s and a frequent card customer. “Sister Maristela is a joy and I love her cards. She is good about getting them in the mail right away. They come in handy,” she said, especially the birthday and sympathy cards. “I send them to my friends and they love them.” When Jo’s husband died last fall she got a taste of what it means to be the recipient of a handwritten expression of care. “It was nice to get so many sympathy cards,” she said. “They meant so much. I am going to read them all again.”
And isn’t that the point? After fifteen years, Sister Maristella’s card ministry has surely provided that same kind of care and comfort for countless people.
If you’d like to join the circle of prayer Sister Maristella began with her prayer ministry fifteen years ago, visit https://springfieldop.org/prayer-cards.