A Sisters Life
We are vowed Sisters of Bon Secours who have come to this call from many places. We would like to share some of our stories here with you.
Sister Anne Marie Mack
A community of strength and support
It was 1965: A time of unrest in the United States. A time after Vatican II when many religious throughout the world were leaving their communities because they felt freer to explore; a time when people were encouraged to question those tenants they didn’t understand.
Against that backdrop, Anne Marie Mack of Philadelphia, the eldest of eight children, decided to enter a religious order when so many others were leaving.
“There was no lightening bolt. No Ave Marias. No birds singing,” says Sister Anne Marie of her call to the Sisters of Bon Secours. “I entered because of the Sisters. I was attracted to them, their ministry, the way they acted with each other. As I stayed and learned more about our ministry and the Sisters, I felt more and more committed. I think you enter religious life for one reason and you stay for another.”
The fact that so many others were leaving after Vatican 11, an experience of many congregations during that time, when this 19-year-old decided to enter, “confirmed for me this was where I wanted to be,” says Sr. Anne Marie, who first met the Sisters when she was a Girl Scout and had gone to a nursing home to sing Christmas carols and bring gifts to the patients. “I was already interested in becoming a nurse and was intrigued by these Sisters who were working there. I observed their relationship with one another and the people they worked with. They were very down to earth.”
Intrigued and inspired, she worked there as a nurse’s aide for all of her four years of high school and upon graduation entered the community and began the formation process after which she began her nursing studies at the University of Delaware.
During her many years with the Sisters of Bon Secours, Sr. Anne Marie has enjoyed serving as a nurse and administrator and as the President of Bon Secours in the U.S., a challenging and rewarding opportunity to work with the leadership team to serve the community.
“It enabled me to support the Sisters in their lives and ministries in a very special way,” she says. Elected by the Sisters to this role for eight years, it was also a wonderful opportunity to visit the order’s Provinces in France, Ireland, Great Britain and Peru, as well as travel throughout the United States.
Having lived in Baltimore, Maryland; Grosse Pointe, Michigan; and at the Provincial House in Marriottsville, Maryland, Sr. Anne Marie is now living in Richmond, Virginia and serves at St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond, Virginia. In her position at St. Mary’s Hospital, Sr. Anne Marie is vice president of Mission, responsible for the integration of the Bon Secours mission and values within the hospital organization. She oversees the hospital’s mission programs which range from ethics committees to spiritual care to community outreach programs.
In September 2005, Sr. Anne Marie celebrated her 40th year with the order. “This has been a very affirming, rewarding life,” she says, acknowledging that there have been times of struggle. “But I never felt alone in those struggles. I’ve been with a community of women who have loved and supported and affirmed me and I’ve done the same for them. Together, we’ve been able to serve others in ways that have allowed us to use our gifts and talents. I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
Sister Mary Ellen Wagner
Playing new keys on her piano
Sister Mary Ellen Wagner was pondering her dilemma the evening before she was to set off on a family cruise to Hawaii. How was she going to mail her recuperating 84-year-old sister the angel food cake she had just baked?
“Lots of foam,” decided the former home economics teacher with a laugh. It was the least she could do for her older sister who wouldn’t be able to join her and her siblings and their spouses on the annual family outing they take to stay in touch.
This year they will take a cruise to four Hawaiian Islands. Last year? “We were piddlin’ around in the eastern Caribbean, I think,” says the 76-year-old retired nun from Grosse Pointe, Michigan. “I’ll have to check my t-shirts,” she says with another laugh, insisting that the only way she can remember where she’s been is from the t-shirts accumulated from her travels or the magnets on her fridge.
Sister Mary Ellen has always been one for adventure. Before joining the Sisters of Bon Secours in 1987, she had been a nun in another congregation since 1950, teaching for 25 years, 18 of those years as a high school home economics teacher. In 1971, however, she suffered a back injury in a car accident that would trouble her for years and be the impetus for a major change in her life.
A new ministry and a new community
While in the hospital, she found respite from her pain through prayer. She heard another patient suffering nearby who cried out in pain. Knowing the peace she herself had received through a chaplain’s visit, she experienced a call to hospital ministry. Five years passed as she discerned the validity of the call.
It meant the end of high school teaching and its activities as she began her Clinical Pastoral Education program in Omaha. Following the completion of that program, Sr. Mary Ellen became a certified chaplain, a ministry she performed from 1976 through 2002, when she retired. In that time, she also felt herself called to the charism of the Sisters of Bon Secours, and after much reflection, decided to change communities, a move she completed in 1987.
Retired now, but still very active—”You don’t stop,” she explains, “You just play new keys on your piano”—Sr. Mary Ellen says her greatest joy has been her work as chaplain, ministering to the elderly. “I’ve enjoyed having some influence in the way people treat the elderly and in making life better for them and their families,” says the lively woman who gardens, cooks and does needlework, as well as participates in a monthly book club conducted via teleconference with Bon Secours Sisters from around the province.
She lives in a townhouse in Grosse Pointe, Michigan close to a hospital formerly run by the Bon Secours Health System where she worked for many years. When Sister worked at the hospital she left a legacy behind having instituted a retreat for nursing home patients, taking them to a lakeside park. Her legacy includes the annual retreat she instituted for the nursing home patients, which takes them to a lakeside park to share morning prayer, workshops, a barbecue and mass of the anointing; and the Memorial Rose Garden in the courtyard of the facility. It began when one of the volunteer’s husbands died and she gave Sr. Mary Ellen a Chrysler Imperial rose bush to thank her for her support.
Over time, instead of the nursing home sending flowers to the funeral home when someone died, they would plant a rose bush in the garden at the nursing home. “Now that garden has 240 beautiful rose bushes,” says Sr. Mary Ellen.
Looking back on her life, Sister Mary Ellen would definitely recommend religious life to anyone contemplating it. “You have a commitment to a community to live out a charism with them. I think that’s exciting. We’re all here for one purpose: to be good help to anyone in need, in whatever way we’re needed.”