We live an everyday life of mutual support and concern for our community members. Our core values are centered on Jesus and rooted in charity. Jesus invites us to discipleship! He leads us to a life of inclusiveness and equality where we respect and support each other.
As in other close families with a strong belief in God, our life is about compassion, acceptance, respect, listening, trust, and service to humanity. We spend quality time together, sharing talents and resources. We have a community rhythm which includes gathering in praise and worship. We are missioned by God to grow in our vocation and our spiritual life individually and as a community, all of which spills over to our connectedness to the world community of faith.
Community life is more than living together under the same roof. It’s about supporting each other’s chosen ministry. Though most of us live with other sisters, we also build community with our sisters who do not live near us by reading a book and sharing its meaning together in a conference call and keeping each other up to date by emails.
Relationship is expressed by sisters in local communities in a larger geographic cluster by gathering once a week to share faith and a meal. Our life is strengthened further when all our sisters in the United States gather twice a year to discuss our life and mission, celebrating when a sister has her jubilee and rejoicing in our common bond. To read our stories, is to enter into a relationship with us. Read on for a small hint of how we live.
Two of our sisters reflect on community life
Sr. Marie Lucille Summers
The sisters discover the gifts of living in community
August 2004 was a difficult time for Sr. Marie Lucille Summers. She had been recovering from a shoulder fracture since June and was getting physical therapy at home. When Hurricane Charley hit Port Charlotte where she had lived for nearly 18 years, all lines of communication were cut off. The house which she shares with Sr. Kathleen Moroney lost electricity and debris covering the yard damaged Sr. Kathleen’s car.
At times like these, the value of community becomes very clear. Sr. Marie Lucille didn’t have to figure out what to do alone. Bon Secours President Sr. Alice Talone had been attempting to get in touch from Baltimore, but all lines including cell phones were down, so she called Sr. Mary Catherine Rogers, a Bon Secours Sister who lives in Venice, FL. Sr. Elaine Davia, who was staying with Sr. Marie Lucille and Sr. Kathleen at the time, drove them to the hospital so they could get in touch with Sr. Alice and let her know they were safe. Sr. Mary Catherine picked them up and invited them to stay with her in her home for two weeks. Reflecting on that time, Sr. Marie Lucille now says: “I couldn’t do it alone. It has to be a shared life.”
A shared life is exactly what the Sisters of Bon Secours strive for. That life is shared not just with the other sisters who live near and far, but also with co-workers, neighbors, and parish friends. “In Bon Secours we have the greatest community anybody could ever have. People call us when we’re sick and check to see that we’re okay. True hospitality goes all through Bon Secours and that’s what makes us a community,” Sr. Marie Lucille says.
Sr. Mary Rita Nangle
“I have so much more”
Being part of a community has comforted Sr. Mary Rita Nangle many times during her years with the Sisters of Bon Secours. Whether living in the bush in Chad, Africa or inner city Baltimore, her needs have always been met.
“You know someone is always going to be there for you,” she says. “It’s something I take for granted. It’s when you run into a difficult situation you realize, ‘I have so much more than others.’”
That was brought home powerfully to Sr. Mary Rita while visiting a patient at Bon Secours Hospital in Baltimore where she ministers as a patient advocate. The woman, who is in her nineties, was distressed because she needed a nursing home. She had no family to care for her or to pass on her possessions to.
“As I walked out of the room I thought, ‘I never have to worry about something like that,’” Sr. Mary Rita says. If she’s not able to care for herself, she can go to live with other sisters at Marion Hall in Marriottsville, MD where older sisters reside. “I would be going back home again because wherever you hang your hat in community, that’s your home. So I’m always going to have a home and that is such a tremendous gift.”
A history of community
Community has been part of the Bon Secours way from our beginnings in Paris, France. Sr. Mary Rita, who worked in France for a while, lived in the same building where the first sisters lived. “It was a marvelous experience,” she recalls. “You take on their spirit.”
The spirit of the foundresses has been passed down through stories and their work. Sr. Mary Rita says it’s just like hearing stories about your family and understanding your roots better; it was the same thing when she was in France and learned more about the congregation’s originators.
Our connection to the wider community has continued to grow throughout our history. Some now live in houses and apartments in the neighborhoods we serve, providing a loving presence in our workplace and on our streets.
Being a community presence
Sr. Mary Rita lives in West Baltimore where she can walk to work. It’s an inner city neighborhood that has encountered problems with crime and drugs and Bon Secours Health System is working to help people who live here reclaim and revitalize the neighborhood. “I love the neighborhood and the people,” Sr. Mary Rita says. “I love it because when I walk down the street everyone knows me and we talk together.”
In Port Charlotte, staff members from St. Joseph’s Hospital live next door to Sr. Marie Lucille and Sr. Kathleen. They know their other neighbors as well. “We look out for one another,” Sr. Marie Lucille says. If someone is traveling, a neighbor will take in the newspaper or mail for them. “We’re surrounded by good people.”
Sr. Marie Lucille also enjoys being a part of her local church community. She is involved in the Emmaus and Peace and Justice groups and likes to attend parish functions like a recent dinner fundraiser for a teen program. “We love our parish. They’re just so open and fun,” she says.
Our community shares in the mission
Sr. Marie Lucille believes being part of her neighborhood, church, and community ministry is inherent in her calling as a Sister of Bon Secours. “We’re Bon Secours, we’re a community. We’re here to carry on the mission of Christ. How you carry on that mission is evident in how you live and treat other people.”
That’s especially true in the workplace where the sisters try to pass on our mission to our co-workers. Sr. Mary Rita says: “Our charism is compassion, healing and liberation. Passing that charism on to the people we work with at the hospital is a primary goal. And it’s amazing. We are able to achieve that goal.”
She sees it blossoming in the staff, most of whom live in the county but travel into the inner city to work because they want to give something of themselves, and they see their work as a mission. “They’re church-going people, involved in their own communities and own churches and they bring that experience with them. We’re like gifts to each other,” she says.
The patients are a gift also, she says, especially some of the older, African-American people who seem so close to God. “A lot of them are poor, but their spirits are very rich,” Sr. Mary Rita says. “They are so deeply spiritual it just spills out. It’s just this wonderful thing about them.”
Wherever we go, the sisters build community, welcoming others into the world of our community and benefiting from the insights, experiences and gifts of all those we meet. Sr. Marie Lucille says: “It’s all a matter of being a good listener. You welcome people; you tolerate some things and not others. It’s life itself.”
Laughter builds sisters’ community
A Sister of Bon Secours begins building her community when she enters the congregation. In the 1940s and 1950s, when many of today’s sisters joined, that usually meant living, studying, working and praying with other young women in their late teens and early twenties.
“You had a bunch of high school kids who entertained each other,” Sr. Mary Rita Nangle remembers. She entered the order in 1955. “It was fun.”
While Sr. Mary Rita remembers going to a summer house on the river with her friends, Sr. Marie Lucille Summers, who joined the order in 1948, recalls playing softball. The sisters wore long, cumbersome habits at that time. Sr. Marie Lucille laughs when she remembers “We had to learn how to go into the bases with dignity!”
The young sisters built community the same way anyone else might, sharing laughter as well as tears. That’s still true today. “I think that the whole feeling of community still comes alive a lot in our lives today,” Sr. Marie Lucille says. We keep up with sisters who live farther away through the monthly newsletter to which sisters can submit stories about what we are doing. We participate in a book club via conference calls every two months, as well as province meeting calls quarterly to keep updated on province news and issues. All the sisters meet twice a year at Marriottsville, Maryland for the Provincial General Assembly (PGA). We also communicate by e-mail.
There are also clusters of sisters who get together to celebrate holidays. Sr. Mary Rita and other local sisters gather together in Marriottsville frequently for celebrations, meals and prayer services. Sr. Marie Lucille and Sr. Kathleen hosted the Florida sisters at their house for a meal and prayer at Easter. They have also hosted the Bon Secours Associates and others who come to visit and need a place to stay.
An inclusive attitude helps build community
“Community is being inclusive and paying attention to the needs of others,” says Sr. Marie Lucille Summers. She and Sr. Kathleen Moroney have lived together in community, often with other sisters as well, for the last 10 years, and they have learned to make that relationship work.
It is important to share a life together in the community, while still allowing each member of the community to express herself in her own way. For example, Sr. Marie Lucille and Sr. Kathleen pray together, but, she explains, “We allow each other our own methods of prayer.” One of them might prefer something meditative while the other might turn to music or poetry.
They have gotten to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and divide chores accordingly. Sr. Kathleen, for example, likes to send birthday cards to the other sisters and the hospital staff, so she takes care of that for both of them. Sr. Marie Lucille is good with the budget so she handles money matters. But if they need to make a purchase for the house, they do it together.
They also have a great deal of fun together, going shopping, to the movies and the beach. They try to eat meals together, but are sure to let each other know if one of them can’t make it because of a schedule conflict.