As Pope Francis' year dedicated to consecrated life concluded at the start of this year, one nun shared her thoughts on the how her religious garb serves as a “visible sign” that God exists and loves every person.
Though the official Year for Consecrated Life concluded
earlier this year, it's actually “the beginning of helping people get
reacquainted with religious life,” said Sr. Mary Christa of the Sisters
of Mercy of Alma.
She said that while there are those who have a general idea about
religious sisters, there's still a degree of uncertainty on the part of
many about what religious life looks like.
Right now, Sr. Mary Christa added, there's “confusion” – over
questions such as why some sisters wear habits and some don't – and her
hope is that this year marks the start of “a fruitful understanding of
religious life in the Church in its most authentic, visible witness.”
The Year for Consecrated Life, which began Nov. 30, 2014, concluded Feb. 2, 2016 on the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus.
Sr. Mary Christa, who also runs U.S. bishops' visitor's office in
Rome with several other Sisters of Mercy, called the habit of a
religious sister an important part of being a witness.
“The religious habit should say a number of things, both to the
sister herself, and to those who see her,” she said, recounting how she
is often approached by strangers asking for prayers, who automatically
trust her on account of her appearance.
“The habit is a visible sign of the love of God,” she said. “But it’s
also, I have found, a great responsibility and a reminder to me: the
responsibility to be what I show that I am.”
“It’s a sign of the love of God and that this life is not all there is: that God exists and loves them,” she said.
One of the distinguishing aspects of their habit – a dark veil and a
simple, pale blue frock in the summer, and a darker color for the winter
– is a simple black cross, overlaid by a smaller white cross, which is
worn around the neck.
“The black of the cross represents the misery of mankind that we find
in the world, and the white represents God’s mercy, which we are called
to bring into the world as Sisters of Mercy,” explained Sr. Mary
Michaela, who works at the visitor's office.
“There is a long tradition in religious life of wearing a habit as a
visible sign that we are consecrated to God and to the service of the
Church in a special way,” she said. “It’s also part of poverty,” she
added. “Our habit is simple, so we don’t buy a big wardrobe.”
Living in Rome, Sr. Mary Michaela noted how she too is approached by people asking for prayers on account of her habit.
“When they see the habit, they realize that there is something particular about our life,” she said.
“They recognize that we represent, in some way, God’s presence. We remind people of God’s presence here in the world.”
First established in Ireland in 1831 by venerable Catherine McAuley,
the Sisters of Mercy centered their work on education, catechesis,
healthcare. Spreading to the United States, the order was re-founded in
1973 in Alma, Michigan, where its motherhouse is currently located.
In addition to the three vows taken by all religious sisters, the
Sisters of Mercy take a fourth vow of service to the poor, sick, and
In Rome, the Sisters of Mercy offer orientation to U.S. Pilgrims –
obtaining tickets for papal events, answering their questions about the
city, and helping them with the pilgrimage aspect of their visit.
“This is one of the apostolic works that we do as a community,” said
Sr. Regina Marie, speaking on her work at the visitor's office.
Pilgrims “can come here and learn about the faith,” she said. “We
will often have a priest that will come at a certain time for a half
hour and give catechesis for anyone who wants to. We have catechetical
materials out for the pilgrims, (or) even just a place for them to sit
down for a few minutes.”
“Our charism is the mercy of God,” she said. “Our apostolates are
usually focused around the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which
can manifest themselves in many ways.”
Sr. Anna Marie, another sister at the office, adds that “the consecrated life is a sign of his presence on earth.”
“We live our vows so that when people see us, they think of God, and
they think of Jesus, and they think of the Church. That’s a tremendous
On how people will often ask her about her life as a religious, Sr. Anna Marie said she is excited to answer their questions.
“It’s a gift not only for me, but a gift for the whole Church and for the world,” she said.