Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Heart speaks to heart!

The face of mercy: Our Religious Sisters

by John Fencik, for the Inland Register

(From the January 21, 2016 edition of the Inland Register)

John Fencik We speak of our nation as a “nation of immigrants.” Apart from our Native American nations, all others trace their ancestral roots to other parts of the world. These immigrants came here for many reasons – political, economic, and/or religious.

As the immigrants moved west, they encountered many hardships, often lacking access to some basic human needs. During the great wave of European immigration (1890-1920), many of those pilgrims were Catholic and that in turn brought suspicion and persecution from already established “Americans.” Two events helped assuage those suspicions and break down the walls of anti-Catholic prejudice. One was the distinguished military service of many Catholic men and women in two world wars. The other was the dedicated ministry of the women Religious orders who served the immigrant urban enclaves and rural communities throughout our nation, and especially in Washington State. These Religious women became the “face” of Catholicism – shining lights of Gospel mercy and compassion to many people, regardless of color, nationality, or religion – breaking down the fears of the “Catholic invasion.”

In this Year of Mercy we should again be grateful for the local communities that faithfully have served our diocese – marked by the charisms of compassion and mercy to all.

Prayer is at the heart of all ministries. What a blessing in having women Religious communities dedicated to contemplative and apostolic prayer! The Carmelite Sisters of Mary, the Poor Clare Nuns, the Sisters of the Cross (left in 1981) and the Sisters of St. Benedict (relocated to Idaho in 1909) have supported the pastoral work of the Gospel by their opus Dei.

Many communities established the first frontier hospitals, nursing schools, and homes for the elderly. The Sisters of Providence began working in Walla Walla in 1864 and that ministry to the sick continues in the Providence Health Care System. The Dominican Sisters provided those same ministries in the rural areas of Northeast Washington and became strong advocates for poor women and children.

The Sisters brought Catholic education to thousands in our diocese. Some of those communities were the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Sisters of the Good Shepherd (left in 1981), School Sisters of Notre Dame, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary and the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon (left in 1989). Some also have been very influential in the area of religious education, namely the Holy Spirit Community and the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church.

The Missionaries of Charity, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, and the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia have served in various charitable ministries: caring for the mentally ill, providing shelter for the homeless, working among migrant workers, and serving needy and neglected children by establishing orphanages. All of these Religious communities were the face and the heart of Jesus Christ in charitable outreach to all, reflecting the words of Pope Francis in his remarks on the 2015 World Day of Migrants and Refugees:

“The Church without frontiers, Mother to all, spreads throughout the world a culture of acceptance and solidarity, in which no one is seen as useless, out of place, or disposable.”

How fortunate is our diocese in having so many women Religious over the decades dedicated to touching lives through a ministry of Mercy!

(John Fencik is director of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services, Spokane.)

(John Fencik is director of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services of Spokane.)

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