As the sisters prepared themselves for a life of prayer and ministry to the most vulnerable in society, Cardinal O'Connor also introduced the Sisters of Life to members of the pro-life movement, including Mother Teresa.
Today, the order is thriving, with more than 100 Sisters, whose average age is mid-30s.
Sr. Mary Elizabeth joined the Sisters of Life in 1993 after graduating from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, having heard the cardinal talk on campus during her junior year. Already involved in pro-life activism, Sr. Mary Elizabeth explained that she "wanted to be part of the solution, offering other options to women" who felt like they had no options and turned to abortion out of desperation.
A Life of Prayer
The foundation of the Sisters of Life ministry and daily life is prayer and contemplation, explained Sister Mary Elizabeth. "Our spirituality is Eucharistic-centered and Marian," she told CNA. In each of their convents, the Sisters participate in Mass and spend a Holy Hour in Eucharistic adoration daily. In addition, the sisters gather together to pray the Liturgy of the Hours throughout the day.
As part of the group's Marian focus, the Sisters of Life also pray a rosary together "to support the works of the pro-life movement in our country and throughout the world each day."
The Sisters of Life also draw upon the example of Mary in their spirituality, and from there, the way they engage other aspects of their lives: "A deep part of our spiritual life is living out a spiritual maternity, and so we take Mary as our model." Sister Mary Elizabeth said the sisters' goal is to carry Christ's presence with them and to echo Mary's "yes" to life and to Christ.
The Sisters of Life from The Sisters of Life on Vimeo.
One of the examples of Mary's maternity they seek to emulate is her decision to journey forth and visit her cousin, Elizabeth, after the Annunciation. "Just as at the Visitation the presence of Jesus in Mary radiated out" and filled her cousin with joy, Sr. Mary Elizabeth said, "so we can have the same life and power dwelling within us and radiating out from us to touch all those women that we encounter every day who are pregnant and in need and hopefully them with joy and with hope."
The sisters also seek to bring the example of Mary's receptivity and welcome into the way they treat people – by recognizing the unique dignity of every person. When sisters encounter someone, Sr. Mary Elizabeth said, "we're not in a rush, we're not in a hurry." This patience and attention, she continued, is "deeply rooted in our belief that every human person is created as a unique manifestation of God."
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"It's a way we live out our spiritual maternity," Sr. Mary Elizabeth noted.
As a contemplative and apostolic order, however, their prayer life does not stop at the sanctuary doors, but carries over into their ministry, too. "Our prayer kind of fuels our apostolic efforts, and then our apostolate brings us back to prayer," Sr. Mary Elizabeth noted. "We can bring all those people we are working with to the Lord throughout the day."
A Mission to Save Lives
The ministry of the Sisters of Life's apostolate is focused upon the defense of human life at all stages. Sisters in each of the convents participate in a range of missions, from ministry with women facing crisis pregnancies or regret after an abortion to study of bioethics and theology.
At the center of the Sisters of Life's apostolate is the Holy Respite Mission, a sanctuary in the Upper West Side of Manhattan for pregnant women in crisis situations to come and live with the sisters, join in the community and prayer life of the sisters, and stay until they are ready to go back into the world after the birth of their child. Women typically stay with the sisters between six months and a year.
Just a few blocks uptown lies the sisters' Visitation Mission, which offers "practical support and compassion to women who are pregnant and find themselves in a crisis," Sr. Mary Elizabeth explained. "Most of the women that come to us have been abandoned by everyone and are unsure of what they're going to do." The Sisters of Life serve around 1,000 women each year.