By Sister Kathleen Leary, S.S.J.
Special to The CS&T
Most people celebrate Jan. 1 as the beginning of their new year. For Sister Elaine Swan, A.S.S.P., a new year began Sept. 3.
On that date, Sister Elaine and eight other All Saints Sisters of the Poor, whose (Anglican) Provincial House is in Catonsville, Md., came into full communion in the Catholic Church.
After seven years of prayer and discernment, the Community of Anglican sisters and their chaplain, Rev. Warren Tanghe, an Episcopal priest, were received into the Church by Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien.
Now a parishioner of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, Sister Elaine has been attending liturgies at the Cathedral for a number of years. But it wasn’t until the Anglican Sisters professed their faith, received the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, reconciliation and holy Communion that she could participate fully in the Mass.
“Our profession of faith in the Roman Catholic Church was a long time coming,” she said. “For us (the community) that day was just the next move on the spiritual journey we have been traveling for the past seven years.”
Wearing a traditional full black habit and veil with a white wimple, the quiet, soft-spoken Sister Elaine was seen often at the 7:15 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral but didn’t approach the altar for the reception of the Eucharist.
“I’ve come a long way from the Canadian border in upstate New York to daily attendance and celebration of the Eucharist in the Cathedral Basilica,” she said.
Born and raised in Potsdam, N.Y., her mother had been baptized a Catholic but felt Elaine and her siblings should be raised in their father’s religion. Therefore, she wasn’t familiar with the Catholic Church.
“After finishing high school, I worked for several years as a teacher but realized I wanted to do more with my life. I researched various religious communities, and after reading about the All Saints Community, I applied to their Baltimore Province, entered the community in 1961 and professed my vows in 1964.”
“Though I never met (the late) Pope John Paul II, I feel greatly blessed by him as it was his invitation to the Anglican Church that resulted in our profession of faith.”
Sister Judith Kreipe, I.H.M., of the archdiocesan Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said she feels personally blessed that the Anglican sisters are coming into full communion with the Church.
“I sense a deep listening on (Sister Elaine’s) part to the Spirit’s leading. I believe the sisters’ desire to be in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church is an answer to Jesus’ prayer, ‘that all may be one.'”
“We studied Catholic teaching for two years prior to making the transition and underwent a process similar to what the Catholic Church calls the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) in preparation,” Sister Elaine said.
The American branch of the society of Anglican sisters founded in England, the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor came to Baltimore in 1872 and have been present in Philadelphia since 1890.
“At the present time I am alone, but now that we have officially come into the Catholic Church and have a presence in the Cathedral Parish we hope to have more of our sisters join me to continue our ministry here in the Archdiocese, where [it] is focused on hospitality,” she said.
“In addition to devoting our lives to a rigorous daily prayer regimen, we offer religious retreats, visit people in hospice care and maintain a scriptorium, where we design inspirational religious cards,” Sister Elaine said.
Sister Kathleen Leary,S.S.J., is the archdiocesan Coordinator for Vocations to Consecrated Life.