About the photo: Sister Linda Hayes sews surgical masks at St. Rose Convent in Springfield.
You can't grasp hope
“Hope isn’t anything you can grasp,” Sister Kelly said, pausing for a thought then adding “It has to be received.” Then, as she stretched out her hands and looked at them, you could see the insight before it arrived. “To do that you have to let go of what you are holding,” she said.
The impact of Sister Kelly’s insight on her conversation companions was visible on their faces, even though they were stretched across the midsection of the nation, dotting a map that stretched from her convent in Jackson, Miss., to central Illinois, and Chicago, linked together on a now ubiquitous teleconference platform that’s becoming a staple in the lives of many.
This is just one way hope is revealing itself through the lives of Springfield Dominican Sisters. There are plenty of examples, as the sisters join three-fourths of humanity ordered to stay close to home under the influence of a viral pandemic that is changing the face of the world.
Steep learning curve
When Sister Pat Francis received her shelter-in-place orders she faced a steep learning curve, needing, in a hurry, to become familiar with the therapeutic teleconferencing software she’d need to keep appointments with the clients she sees at Central DuPage Pastoral Counseling Center in Carol Stream, Ill. She is in awe of the work done by the office support staff to help all the counselors in her practice transition to virtual counseling for their many clients who, already struggling with their mental and emotional health, now must cope with this unprecedented situation. A few weeks into the experience, there is still a learning curve, but in a different way, she says. “The insurance companies require different billing codes for telehealth appointments. That’s a bit of a challenge. I’m keeping up with a full caseload of my usual clients, and many of my colleagues are experiencing an influx of new clients. We are all keeping quite busy.”
"Discover Christ anew: in ourselves, in one another, in global needs, and in the creative world."
-Sister Rebecca Ann Gemma, OP
Sisters in educational settings had similar transitions, moving to teaching from comfortable classrooms to tiny spaces in their convents and homes.
No hoarding precious time
And many sisters, unwilling to hoard the precious time they’ve been given for prayer and contemplation, have shared their time and compassion in outreach, have engaged in countless small acts of charity.
Sister Mary Clare Fichtner, Sister Linda Hayes are among several sisters who are sewing simple surgical masks for any who might need them.
Many other sisters are reaching out by phone to vulnerable friends and relatives to keep them connected and to check on their needs. Others are assisting vulnerable elders with runs to the grocery store or pharmacy.
Sister Elyse Marie Ramirez, in a burst of energy early in the shelter-in-place, handwrote notes of prayer and solidarity and distributed them to the neighbors who live on blocks adjacent to St. Rose Convent on Springfield’s near westside. She promised them prayer and looked forward to the moment when the quarantine would end: “Many days myself or others of my sisters walk by your house on our daily walk. Hopefully, when this pandemic is behind us, we can stop and chat and wish each other well in person!”
"Many hands make light work"
Evoking sisters’ favorite mantra “many hands make light work” three local communities of sisters in Springfield shared cooking duties for a meal served at the winter warming center in Springfield. The shelter, which is normally open only in the winter months, has extended its operations to help assure a place for warm meals and safe harbor through the month of April.
And at Sacred Heart Convent, where 93 Springfield Dominican Sisters live, much has changed since the shelter-in-place began on March 17.
Sisters are making masks, serving food in the dining room, drying dishes, and checking in on one another. They are social distancing even in chapel, where they gather for Morning and Evening Prayer each day and for two hours of daily prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, praying for the needs of the world during this extraordinary time.
The sisters also have a unique opportunity to fulfill the Dominican Charism of study. Sister Mila Díaz Solano, who is a member of the General Council and a biblical scholar, is taking advantage of her unexpectedly clearer schedule to teach a course for the sisters on the Gospel of Matthew.
In a message she sent to the community Sister Rebecca Ann Gemma, the prioress general wrote: “We are bound together, by the invitation of Christ, to follow him, not just as individuals, but in the interdependent richness of community.” It is a time, she said for us to “discover Christ anew: in ourselves, in one another, in global needs, and in the creative world which is being given a pause from overuse into hope-filled revitalization.”