Sister Mary Gerard of the Cross professes first vows
Sister Mary Gerard of the Cross, lsp, has taken a few detours on her journey to fulfillment, but she finally reached her final destination.
On June 1, at a Mass of Religious Profession at St. Ann’s Novitiate in Queens Village, N.Y., Sister Mary Gerard made her first vows as a Little Sister of the Poor. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, presided over the special Mass. She, along with five other women, professed vows of chastity, poverty, obedience and hospitality.
“I thought, ‘this is it — I am completely God’s — everything that I do, I am doing for God,’” recalled Sister Mary Gerard, former director of religious education and youth minister at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Liverpool.
St. Jeanne Jugan founded the Little Sisters of the Poor, an international congregation of women, in 1839 in France. Pope Benedict XVI canonized St. Jeanne in 2009. The order serves the elderly poor of 30 countries.
Sister Mary Gerard said she felt a calling to religious life when she was in kindergarten. “I always had a feeling that my life belonged to God,” she stated.
As a parishioner at St. John the Evangelist in Camden, she noticed an announcement in the church bulletin about exploring religious life when she was in eleventh grade. She called the church office with the intent to meet with the religious sister who had placed the announcement. “My family was against it and didn’t understand how I couldn’t see that I was throwing away my life,” remembered Sister Mary Gerard. “I met with the sister, and when I brought home some literature about it, my mom threw it in the garbage.”
Sister Mary Gerard said she felt torn between her desire to become a religious and her family’s wishes. For the next two years, she said, she was very depressed. She tried to put her desire aside. She avoided church and stopped praying. She occupied her time with such things as volunteering at her library, tutoring high school students and volunteering with the Girls Scouts of America.
After graduating from high school, Sister Mary Gerard enrolled at SUNY Geneseo with the intention of studying to become a teacher. She majored in Spanish and minored in theater.
“I always felt like something was missing,” commented Sister Mary Gerard as she reflected on that time in her life. However, she said that when she engaged in creative writing she felt fulfilled.
Sister Mary Gerard had an illuminating revelation about God’s presence during her first year of college. A friend had asked her to attend Mass with her. During the Mass, the priest quoted four lines from what she had written earlier that morning. “I realized then that it wasn’t me that was writing,” explained Sister Mary Gerard. “God was comforting me through this writing.”
Sister Mary Gerard then began to attend Mass daily and confession regularly. She found a spiritual director, trapist monk Father John Eudes, OCSO of the Abbey of the Genesee. “He helped me to center my life and to consider what God was asking of me,” she said. “It was freeing. I felt coddled — He was holding me and filling me so much with His love. A peace settled in my heart and I knew that God was always going to be there. I was overwhelmed by His love.”
At that point, Sister Mary Gerard decided to dedicate her life to God. “I said, ‘God, whatever you want, I want.’ I felt terrified but I still wanted to be completely committed to whatever God’s will might be.”
A change in direction
Sister Mary Gerard considered over 15 religious communities but was turned down by many because she has a chronic illness. After talking with her spiritual director, she decided that God didn’t want her to serve in a religious order.
In 2007, she assumed the role of director of religious education at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Liverpool. After one year, she then served for two years as the parish’s youth minister. “I really loved it,” Sister Mary Gerard remarked.
Her vocation took another turn when she took a group of young people to New York City to see the Holy Father. A religious sister standing next to her in the crowd asked her if she had ever considered working with the elderly. Sister Mary Gerard scheduled a three-week visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor’s home for the elderly in Latham, N.Y., the Our Lady of Hope Residence. When she visited the facility, she said she immediately felt at home and at peace. Sister Mary Gerard’s mother also visited the home and her attitude about her daughter entering religious life changed when she witnessed the sisters’ happy and joyful demeanor.
“The first week, I spent a lot of time in prayer,” Sister Mary Gerard said. “I told God about my issues and within one month, He eliminated every obstacle — things like my student loan, my contract with the diocese and my health.”
She entered the Little Sisters of the Poor in 2010. She completed her initial two-year novitiate at St. Ann’s Novitiate in Queens Village, N.Y. She said it was a time of prayer and formation, a time of getting to know God better.
A dream comes true
Sister Mary Gerard now serves as a young professed at the Jeanne Jugan Residence for the elderly poor in San Pedro, Calif.
“I love it,” she remarked, of her first assignment since taking her vows in June. “Making my profession is giving my gift to God. I know that I am able to be the witness to God’s life. The residents expect you to be the messenger of God’s love.”
She, along with nine other sisters, minister to 81 residents in the home. “They are so happy to see the sisters,” remarked Sister Mary Gerard. The Little Sisters of the Poor engage the residents in activities such as prayer services, music, arts and crafts and movies. They also accompany them on outings and interact with them during their meals. Sister Mary Gerard said she makes it a point to visit the residents before breakfast each day to let them know that the sisters are there for them. “They crave the feeling that someone really cares,” she said.
Sister Mary Gerard has no doubts about her decision to enter religious life. “This is where the Lord wants me,” she said. “My hope is that I can be a faithful witness to God’s love to the world.”