Catholic ‘Sisters Of Life’ Help Pregnant Women In Need

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The Sisters of Life is a small order of nuns celebrating their 20th anniversary this summer. They Roman Catholic sisters take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience but also “to protect and enhance the sacredness of of human life.”

They work in New York City, where 41% of pregnancies end in abortion. That rate is double the national rate. Among black women, the rate is even higher. The women work to help unwed mothers in need and are led by Agnes Mary Donovan, a professor of developmental psychology at Columbia and one of the order’s founders and its Mother Superior.

The order now has 70 members, with an average age much younger than most other orders. Their numbers include a variety of highly educated women, including a Yale Russian major who had hoped to join the CIA, a former nurse who worked in the Middle East and a former computer-manufacturing exec. They work with some 700 women a year:

According to the coordinator of the Visitation Mission, Sister Magdalene, some of the women seeking counsel have “all the means in the world” but feel that their social and professional lives, as well as their marriage prospects, would be over unless they abort. “But pregnancy is a wake-up call,” she explains. “It tends to stop them from doing what they might imagine they’d do without a second thought. We believe it’s a moment of grace.”

Half of those counseled by the Visitation Mission remain at home. Others are placed in private homes or in maternity facilities run by other religious orders. And then there are the women who move in with the nuns, in the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen.

There the women can stay as long as six months prior to giving birth and up to a year afterward, some holding down jobs, others studying. Meanwhile the sisters go about their lives of prayer, contemplation and occasional rollerblading. The nuns “rely on providence”—i.e., donations—for food, baby clothing and strollers. They excel at recruiting “Josephs” for heavier household chores. “Our motto is that no man leaves without doing us a favor,” says Sister Rita Marie, the local convent superior.

Some 150 babies have been born at the convent since 1998:

Guests have included the homeless, pregnant and undocumented Tanzanian who showed up sobbing on the lawn of the sisters’ retreat center in Stamford, Conn., and later likened the care at Sacred Heart to “angels planting a root and watering it every day.” Then there was the Trinidadian nanny, six months pregnant with twins, whose boyfriend was trying to induce a miscarriage by kicking her down the stairs. There was the Polish immigrant who studied for the MCAT exam while living at the convent, as well as the former network journalist whose boyfriend split when she got a Down Syndrome diagnosis, and whose friends could not believe she’d throw herself so far “off-track” to have the child.

The article ends with a note about another woman who had finished a graduate program, gotten pregnant, broken up with her boyfriend and in a horrible state of depression. Abortion seemed like the practical choice but she couldn’t do it. Her daughter was born, she reconciled with her boyfriend. He’s now her husband and they have three children. She’s now managing editor at a top magazine.

There are few women among us who can’t imagine having gotten pregnant in less-than-ideal circumstances. What a wonderful blessing that the women of Sisters of Life spend their life in service to pregnant women in need and the children they give birth to.