You can count on children to cut to the heart of the issue. Two preschoolers were overheard discussing their grandfather’s retirement: The older sister explained to her sibling, “Now Grandpa has time to play.” The younger child wondered aloud, “Does he know how to play?” The comment, while quite sweet, is also revealing. Commitment to a job or career often eclipses all areas of life to the point where we may forget what is truly important. But career satisfaction can be short lived with a shelf life of about 25 years. Retirement is the light at the end of the tunnel.
However, Sisters of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus (SHCJ), who are now in their “golden years,” are finding satisfaction not from retiring, but by continuing to actively live the Society’s maxim, “Actions Not Words.”
Recently four Holy Child Sisters were interviewed about their views on ministering and retirement. New York residents Rosemary Hayes, SHCJ, and Margaret Rogers, SHCJ, and Philadelphia’s Elizabeth Gehrman, SHCJ, and Mary Jane Hicks, SHCJ, all in their 80s, have spent their lives serving God through their service to others and they have no intention of stopping anytime soon. These women exhibit a joy and energy that is inspirational.
A Calling Is for Life
As their stories unfold, the Sisters’ journeys to religious life seem to be remarkably similar. At a very young age these women felt a strong desire to devote their lives to God. As their friends married after graduating from high school, these four women prepared themselves to answer the call from God to enter religious life.
For the most of us, the ubiquitous question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” can be difficult to answer. Some people meander through life and stumble into jobs and careers, lured by the salary, hours, location, benefits or other factors. The fortunate ones find professions and engage in work from which they derive personal satisfaction and are able to contribute to the greater good.
Holy Child Sisters who have answered the call may hold jobs, have careers or enter professions. But above all else, they are women of service and prayer who share a commitment to God a commitment to do God’s work and serve others.
Generous and Great Hearts Know No Bounds
The Society’s foundress, Cornelia Connelly, once said, “To do anything well we must do it with our hearts, with our mind and with our strength for the love of God, of ourselves and of our neighbors.” The sentiment aptly describes the Sisters’ calls to religious life. Although they have followed different paths in their work, they have exhibited the love and commitment of which Cornelia Connelly spoke.
Immediately following her profession of vows, Sister Margaret assumed her teaching duties in the United States. She was then assigned to Nigeria where she spent 22 years. Sister Rosemary’s path was similar. Starting as a teacher in the States, her next stop was Ghana, then Nigeria, then Lesotho. These remarkable women, upon returning to the United States, were eager to continue the missionary work they loved. Their commitment to the Society’s mission of helping others to believe that God lives and acts in them, and to rejoice in God’s presence, energized the Sisters as they assumed new responsibilities in the States. Eventually assigned to Dalton Center for Mission, Sisters Margaret and Rosemary continue to direct the center, which supports Holy Child Sisters who are serving in Africa, Chile and the Dominican Republic.
Although Dalton Center for Mission is based in New York, the Sisters crisscross the country speaking in parishes and classrooms about the Society’s work, underscoring the importance of missionary work. They are also responsible for coordinating mission appeals. Dalton Center for Mission provides a base for mission education across the country and is a hub for solicitation and distribution of funds for overseas ministries. In 2010, Sisters Rosemary and Margaret coordinated the schedules of 11 Sisters who visited 63 parishes in 11 states and spoke at 236 Masses, reminding many that they, too, are missionaries right where they are.
The Sisters’ strong belief in their service motivates them and they hope to continue to share their mission with others as long as they are able. Their desire is to increase awareness of the role that each and every one of us can play as missionaries. Through prayer and financial support it is possible for all of us to extend love to those in need throughout the world. It’s a message the Sisters live every day.
Taking God’s View
Sisters Elizabeth and Mary Jane have spent decades doing for others. As teachers and principals, they ministered to their students, their families and the community. As Sister Elizabeth observed, “I’m happiest when I’m doing for others.”
Sister Mary Jane echoes this sentiment. She experienced great joy as an educator. Years later, when she entered parish work, she found tremendous satisfaction responding to the diverse needs of the parish she served.
The joy derived from doing for others has permeated their lives and left them with a desire to continue their good works. Underlying their commitment to live as a Sister of the Holy Child Jesus is the principle of Actions Not Words, also the motto of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus.
Sister Mary Jane delivers meals to a vision-impaired homebound woman and visits with her daily. “The contact adds richness to her life and to mine,” she said. Several times a year, she attends a dinner for homeless families. “Speaking with these women and their children allows me to share God’s love with them and to listen to them with an open heart.” In addition to these activities, Sister Mary Jane is very active in assisting at the Rosemont School of the Holy Child by serving as a receptionist.
Sister Elizabeth’s life has been and continues to be defined by service to others and filling needs needs that present themselves at different levels. On the individual level, it may involve being a driving resource for Sisters who are no longer driving. On a larger scale, it involves being active in EcoSpirituality, a group that seeks to grow in light of new scientific findings about creation. Sister Elizabeth also volunteers in the Society’s American Province Offices by assisting in maintaining the health records of the Sisters.
Don’t Call Me Retired
The call to religious life is a lifetime commitment. The accountant can trade in her spreadsheets for a tennis racket; a carpenter can swap his tools for a prime spot on the beach. But the Sisters’ commitment is deeper and all-encompassing: It is a commitment to action and meeting the wants of the age. In whatever capacity a Sister of the Holy Child Jesus chooses to do this, the commitment remains for life. And this commitment changes the lives of those it touches.
Is Retirement in Their Future?
When asked what they will be doing in the next few years, the Sisters agreed, “Whatever…whatever the need.” Thankful for good health, they believe their vocation will afford them opportunities to be occupied, active and making a difference. They look to the future with confidence, certain they will discover ways God is calling them to meet the wants of the age. And because they are women of prayer, if there comes a time when they are unable to physically serve others, they will continue to play a viable role assisting others through their prayers.
Lessons for the Laity
Whether your retirement plans include travel, recreation, family time or volunteer work, the Sisters offer inspiration for a post-retirement lifestyle that nurtures body, mind and soul. Discovering a “calling” in retirement involves listening, seeing and believing: listening to those around you to discern how you can help; seeing the possibilities; and knowing that God’s path for you will allow you to make use of your talents to help others. A calling does not require a commitment to religious life, but it does require a commitment to the principle of doing for others.
In a time to build, CatholicPhilly.com connects people and communities
As society emerges from the loss and separation of the pandemic, CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you join in our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community.
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103