The Missionary Sisters of the Mother of God celebrated their 75th Anniversary on October 10, 2020 at their Motherhouse in Philadelphia.
On the Feast of the Patronage of the Mother of God, our Archeparchy, within the limitations placed by the pandemic, unassumingly and intimately, commemorated the anniversary of the founding of the Missionary Sisters. A Divine Liturgy of thanksgiving and a Panachyda for deceased members of the community was at the heart of the last week’s quiet and prayerful celebration.
Founded on the Feast of the Patronage of the Mother of God, by Metropolitan Constantine Bohachevsky and Auxiliary Bishop Ambrose Senyshyn, this tiny community of religious sisters —14 full-fledged members over the 75 years—had a noteworthy spiritual impact and continues quietly to inspire many people in our Archeparchy.
When one reflects on the rich legacy of their activities, it is a wonder how was it possible? The Sisters founded the Mother of God Academy in Stamford, Connecticut; organized and operated two nursery schools (Philadelphia and Stamford) and our Ukrainian Catholic grammar school in Perth Amboy; conducted summer schools and weekend religious and catechetical classes; published sacred art projects; embroidered beautiful vestments; embellished pysanky with studious detail and great tenderness: published books for children; and recorded liturgical singing for the community; all the while continuing supporting the bishops with meals and tending to their daily needs.
Our Missionary Sisters continue to fulfill their mission, generations of service for the spiritual enrichment of those they serve — forming youth on the basis of Christian principles in the Byzantine-Ukrainian rite. Joyous voices of the children they taught can still be heard echoing in their home on Franklin Street adjacent to the Ukrainian cathedral. Sadly, the house is now only half-full due to the absence of new vocations. The Sisters had to curtail many of their activities. However, with characteristic humor and deep faith the Sisters claim that now they are in perfect harmony: with 7 in the Heavenly Kingdom and 7 who continue to serve, witnessing to this Kingdom here on earth.
It is not clear what the fate of the Sister’s community will be. It is not clear if there will be a 100th anniversary. But maybe that is not essential in God’s plans. I was deeply encouraged by Archbishop Ambrose’s words that “even if the Sister’s community were to end in my lifetime, their efforts are impactful and worthwhile, since much has been accomplished”. I can say the same.
Upon reflection in the spiritual context what was accomplished? Praise of the Lord has been rendered, prayers and petitions answered. The primary goal of the newly created congregation in 1944 (the 75th anniversary is year-long commemoration), was “to seek the Glory of God through the sanctification of its members bound by the three vows and the observance of the constitution.” Without canonizing any one individual, but recognizing the Sister’s community as a whole, I wish to share what I have said at a Permanent Synod of our Church. One of the most uplifting experiences in my short and modest service in Philadelphia has been spending time with the Missionary Sisters, who pray with us daily and who, in this confusing time, with all their frailty and the scarcity in numbers, remain truly joyful in the Lord.
There were never many disciples around Jesus. As I have mentioned in my previous article, the first-century Churches to which Paul preached were the size of many of the parishes in our Archeparchy. Not much to write home about. The Kingdom of God is not about quantity but quality: the quality of living and believing together, and the quality of mutual support. It is the type of quality we see in our Missionary Sisters. Most recently we saw it when through the grace of God and patient nursing of her co- sisters Sister Evhenia rose up from her deathbed. In February Sister was given one month to live! The loving kindness of the community was the instrument the Lord used to revive her. It was not broadly broadcast by Fox News or written up in the New York Times. In the spirit of the Sisters, a quiet miracle occurred for those with eyes to see.
The Missionary Sisters gave up much of what our world values — power, fame, financial well-being. Everything they stand for, everything they do and manifest, is a sign of the sisters’ desire to live with Christ and give everything to Christ. For those of us who stand near them, their witness inspires. Consciously or not, every time we engage with them, we realize that through these religious women the Lord is speaking to us and to the world. Whether it is in the hidden service to frail sisters in their own home or by quietly sitting in the cathedral for hours waiting for the lonely person in need of spiritual counsel. The sisters render witness.
Reflecting upon the discrete service and rich history of the Missionary Sisters, I am filled with gratitude. We thank God for our Sisters’ vocation. Jesus called a young girl from Chicago, a few from Brazil, even one from Syracuse, my home town; a Ruthenian, a Ukrainian, an American, each one left everything, and became His follower — these amazing women heard Christ’s call.
Beloved Sisters, we thank you for your generous response.