By Kathy Williams, Director of Communications, Ursuline Sisters of Louisville
Decades ago, the norm was for religious sisters to live together under one roof in a motherhouse or convent. Since Vatican II, many orders have chosen to live out in the communities that they serve, and, as they age, many sisters move to nursing facilities. So, the question arises: how do you walk together in grace and community with fellow sisters when you are in different life stages and living situations?
I recently was a witness to this when I accompanied Sister Paula Kleine-Kracht, a member of the Ursuline Louisville leadership team, on a visit to the Nazareth Home-Clifton in Louisville, where Sister Macrina Stermec, 95 years old, resides. Sister Paula explained that each one of the leadership team members serve as connectors, in that each sister gets assigned to one member of that team, with the option to change every year.
Sister Paula visited with Sister Macrina, and the main topic of their discussion was the Gennesaret Retreat in October, 2017 that she and Sister Rose Ann Muller were able to attend at the Abbey of Gethesmani. Gennesaret Retreats are for those who are living with chronic or life-threatening illnesses, as a way for them to be in community with others, and to help them understand that God is with them in their suffering, according to Gennesaret Ministries’ mission statement.*
Sister Paula and Sister Macrina greeted each other with genuine love and friendship. As Sister Macrina gave details about the retreat, Sister Paula actively listened to her, asking questions and was completely present to her. It was lovely to see — Sister Paula, who has quite a full schedule, creating this pause in her day to give the gift of listening to a friend.
Sister Macrina recalled that a lot of the talks centered on the cross and Jesus. They were asked: What do you think of when you look at the cross? When you look at the cross, you should see the LOVE He has for you, rather than the pain He went through. She said they discussed redemptive suffering; the idea that when we are suffering, we are asked to offer our suffering as a prayer to God. When we enter into redemptive suffering, we choose to suffer with Christ on the cross. She said this was a theme throughout the retreat.
Growing old, getting sick, and living with chronic illness are not desirable, particularly in our society today. We all want to look young, be healthy and live pain-free. And yet, to be a Christian, to be Catholic, means that we accept the paradox of Christ’s crucifixion—when He was at His weakest; when nearly all of His disciples had deserted Him; during the worst of His suffering; He was triumphing over death to eternal life. And so, when we offer our pain and illnesses in redemptive suffering, we are walking with Him in grace towards salvation.
The thought occurred to me that Sister Paula, with her visits to Macrina, and the other sisters, with their prayers for her, are walking with Sister Macrina in her redemptive suffering. They are walking together, in community, as sisters.