Living Our Call
Sr. Mary Rita Nangle
Sister’s experiences lead to wholeness and holiness
“If I didn’t enter the community, would I be who I am today? Would I have all the gifts and talents I have?” reflects Sr. Mary Rita Nangle, who celebrated 50 years as a Sister of Bon Secours in November 2005. “I don’t know. But my strongest belief is that God puts you where he wants you.”
Where He wanted Sr. Mary Rita was in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Detroit and Boston. Then there was France, Chad and Ecuador, quite a list for someone who doesn’t like to travel.
Living and ministering in all of these places has presented Sr. Mary Rita with opportunities she would not have encountered if she were not a Sister of Bon Secours. Through these experiences, she’s learned God calls everyone to wholeness and holiness in different ways.
During her childhood, Sr. Mary Rita decided she was going to enter the convent. But it wasn’t until her senior year in high school that she voiced her intentions aloud. Growing up in an Irish Catholic family in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this didn’t seem like a revolutionary decision to her. But when she told her family, her mother exploded. “She couldn’t imagine why I was doing this to the family and upsetting the house,” Sr. Mary Rita remembers with a chuckle. “There was no way she wanted me to enter the convent.”
Nonetheless, Sr. Mary Rita sat with her friends and the names of three orders of religious women which were health care and missionary congregations. She hadn’t heard of these congregations before and some had names she couldn’t even pronounce. They played a childhood game, reciting “eeny meeny, miney, moe” until they chose the one for Mary Rita – the Sisters of Bon Secours. So she visited with the sisters, liked what she saw and heard, then she packed her bags and moved to Baltimore to enter the community.
Sisters fulfill the greatest need
She soon learned a Sister of Bon Secours is assigned to the area of greatest need. Like the other recent high school graduates in the novitiate, Sr. Mary Rita attended nursing school. After she passed her state boards, the sisters sent her for further training to become an X-ray technician because that’s where the hospital had an opening. Today, the Sisters of Bon Secours focus more on the skills a woman brings to the congregation and how to best use them through mutual discernment.
Using the skills she honed, Sr. Mary Rita worked in a number of different facilities with children, the elderly and hospital patients. She had what she describes as “four years of joy” when she went to work in Chad, Africa.
The hospital had been built in the bush by the Germans, then run by the government of Chad. “I was the only woman and the only white person on the staff,” Sr. Mary Rita remembers. The hospital didn’t have a night staff, so family members stayed to care for their loved ones, sleeping on the floor beside them. They even cooked for them because the hospital didn’t provide food.
Through her service in the pediatric section, she encountered babies who had been born in a remote area. Their umbilical chords were often cut with something that wasn’t sterile, leading to tetanus. She also saw diseases like malaria and hepatitis. Some children lived and some died. “You did your best,” she says.
Her ministry spurs growth
“I now look back and realize the Lord put me in places where He thought I would grow. The essential thing for all of us is becoming whole and holy. It’s an ongoing process,” she says.
That process is different for everyone. Sr. Mary Rita has seen that through her siblings, two sisters and a brother. “My sister is becoming whole and holy by having three daughters, raising grandchildren and taking care of them and her husband. That’s her way of doing it,” she says.
Sr. Mary Rita continues her journey today as a patient advocate at Bon Secours Hospital in Baltimore, the very place where she began her life with the community. It’s the place where her parents, now deceased, used to visit once or twice a year, her mother bringing a suitcase just in case she was ready to give up the idea of being a nun and go home. But Sr. Mary Rita remained, finding a home wherever God called her.
“I think everybody’s life is a vocation. That’s what God has either brought you to or has submitted you to fall into, however you want to look at it,” she says. “And I believe if God brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it. He brought you to it for a reason and the only reason I can see is to bring you to wholeness and holiness.”
Sr. Kathleen Moroney
A sister shares her love with all
Sr. Kathleen Moroney knew from such a young age she would be a sister that it’s difficult for her to think about what her life would have been otherwise. She is certain that as a Sister of Bon Secours she’s been able to use her instinct for maternal love in a different way and with far more people than she would have touched if she had chosen another life.
Sr. Kathleen grew up in Dublin, Ireland, the middle child in a family of three girls. She attended Catholic school and often saw Sisters of Bon Secours walking in her neighborhood where they did private nursing. Sometimes the Moroney family invited them in for tea and Kathleen discovered they weren’t what she imagined nuns to be. “They were so normal and human,” she remembers.
“I thought the Bon Secours Sisters were very maternal,” she adds. This was different than sisters from some other congregations that had to be strict in their role as classroom teachers.
Sr. Kathleen also admired their caring, which she sees as a natural part of the Irish Catholic culture. She grew up following the example of her parents and looking out for her neighbors who helped each other in good times and bad. During World War II, when food was scarce, Sr. Kathleen remembers when country relatives sent butter and tea to her family in the city. Her parents always shared with neighbors. “I love people and I love to help people, as a child I always did,” she says.
Entering the Sisters of Bon Secours allowed Sr. Kathleen to share that love with more people than she could have if she had married the boyfriend who professed his love for her when she was 17.
“It was good to have that experience before I entered,” Sr. Kathleen says of the boy who continued to ask her father about her after entering the convent. It showed her a part of life she wouldn’t experience as a sister. But it also helped her better understand the gift she had to share. “If I had married, I could give my love to only one person,” she says. “As a sister, I can give my unconditional love to everyone.”
She identifies that love as coming from a maternal instinct she put to work throughout her career as a nurse. She remembers one young friend and her husband who had been married for six years. They wanted to have children, but had a hard time getting pregnant. When her friend finally did become pregnant, Sr. Kathleen went through the entire pregnancy with her. She watched her grow, talked with her about how she felt and shared the anticipation of the upcoming birth. When the baby was stillborn, Sr. Kathleen says, “I nearly died, too.”
When the husband called and asked Sr. Kathleen for help, she went to her friend’s bedside. With time, the couple worked through their grief and adopted two children.
A call to care for the elderly
After 32 years of working in Irish hospitals as a staff nurse and a charge nurse, Sr. Kathleen felt called to work with the elderly. In 1988, she asked her provincial for an assignment in which she could serve geriatric patients. She went to Cobh then Edenburn to do that work and found she again felt like a mother. “That love and compassion was in me to be their mother,” she says.
She remembers one patient who felt unloved because he saw others receiving Christmas cards, yet he didn’t hear from family or friends. So Sr. Kathleen decided to send cards to him. She still remembers the way they lit up his face.
Destiny in U.S. includes all three sisters
Sr. Kathleen worked in Edenburn until 1993 when she shifted her career to chaplaincy. That call coincided with the desire to move to the United States where both of her much beloved sisters Mary and Nuala were living.
When Sr. Kathleen’s parents were very young, they had moved to the United States, where Mary was born. Her mother was three-months pregnant with her second child, Kathleen, when she had to return to Ireland because her father was sick. The boat ride to Ireland took six weeks and Sr. Kathleen’s mother was very ill.
“She told me years later that she was so sick and she prayed that if I was a girl I would be a nun, or if I was a boy I would be a priest. I never knew that all the time growing up because she didn’t want to influence me,” Sr. Kathleen says. “That was really something to me when I found out about it.”
Throughout her life with the Sisters of Bon Secours, Sr. Kathleen has remained very close to her family. When Nuala then Mary moved to the U.S., leaving Sr. Kathleen without the family she loved, she says “I thought I would die of a broken heart.” So when she had the opportunity as a Sister of Bon Scours to get pastoral education training in South Carolina, and later to work in Florida, she grabbed it. She says, “My sisters and I laugh and say we’re meant to be in America.”
Sr. Kathleen’s life today includes not only her Bon Secours family, but her sisters, nieces and nephews whom she likes to visit whenever she can. She says with confidence: “I would do what I’ve done all over again in a heartbeat.”
Whether at work in a hospital, singing in the church choir or talking with neighbors, Sr. Kathleen is hugging and smiling, fulfilling her mission as a sister by sharing her love with everyone she meets.