“Every single person is made by God for love. Every single person is made for a great and beautiful purpose.” Since their founding in 1991, the Sisters of Life, a vibrant order of Catholic religious sisters, have been sharing this message with women experiencing unplanned pregnancies or suffering in the aftermath of an abortion.
What started out as a local ministry to women near their New York City convent spread over time to missions in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Toronto. Then, five years ago, they began bringing this good news to college campuses in Colorado. Live Action News spoke to Sr. Maris Stella, one of the sisters living at the Denver convent, about why they are called the Sisters of Life, what brought them to minister on college campuses, what a day in their life looks like, and how their work is building up a culture of life.
While all religious sisters take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the Sisters of Life take a fourth vow “to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.” Sr. Maris Stella said that this vow flows from their understanding that “every person is good and valuable, and their life has meaning.” While the sisters have been inviting pregnant and post-abortive women to accept this radical love for years, Sr. Maris Stella told Live Action News that she and her fellow sisters in Denver undertook “a mission of evangelization on college campuses because this population is most vulnerable to abortion. Oftentimes, a pregnant woman in college feels that the only way to preserve her dreams is to end the life of her child.”
The sisters in Denver aim to meet women in this place of overwhelming uncertainty and fear with another option: “You can make choices that will help your life flourish.” The Sisters have found that “when people experience being loved for who they are, they thrive, live in joy, and dream about their futures.”
Five school years ago, the sisters launched their ministry on three college campuses. Now, the Sisters minister monthly to six campuses, five in Colorado and one in North Dakota. They typically travel in teams of several sisters, and occasionally all six together, for three days at a time to each place. Their schedules usually include hosting a women’s night, composed of a dinner, a talk on some aspect of God’s plan for life and love (often as part of a semester-long series), and a holy hour of Adoration.
The sisters also engage in “tabling,” setting up a table and engaging students in high-traffic areas of each campus. Sr. Maris Stella shared a story from a recent project where the sisters passed out stickers with messages like, “Created by God: Irreplaceable.” One young woman walked by the group, head down, and a sister called out to her, offering her a sticker. The woman looked up with a hostile expression and refused. The sister said, “it just says ‘you’re irreplaceable.’” The woman stopped in her tracks and received the sticker.
In a completely different tone of voice, the young woman said, “Thank you. I needed to hear that because I have been feeling very replaceable lately.”
The sister said, “She left believing something different about herself and her identity.”
The sisters also spiritually mentor 150-180 young women each month. The goal listed on their website is “to accompany students in discovering their beauty, value, and uniqueness. We want you to know, deep down, that your life is a gift, full of meaning and purpose. We are here to walk with you as you come to discover your inner greatness and the gifts that you are destined to share with the world.” Sr. Maris Stella commented that this can serve “as a point of integration for all aspects of their lives.”
While the Sisters may not always speak directly to abortion-vulnerable women, through their evangelistic efforts they can reach the people these women are likely to turn to in times of crisis: their roommates and friends.
Overall, the Sisters’ most important “task” is to pray for four hours each day. All of their work flows from this primary relationship with Jesus Christ. Having first been loved by Him, they can then “bring a maternal presence” to the college campuses, a presence that includes a listening ear and a warm, open heart that accepts and welcomes the other person in. This unconditional love builds up a culture of life.
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