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Pandemic stories from an Ursuline “storycatcher” Part II

Posted August 17, 2021 in Articles
Author: Sister Dorothy Bondi


(Part I was published in the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland 2021 Spring News issue)

Being a “storycatcher” enables us to preserve the stories related to life during the COVID-19 virus. Here are more stories of sisters meeting the challenge and finding a way to serve in their ministries.

Teaching Religion and Sacraments in a Parish

The sisters working in parishes were confronted with challenges of interrupted religion classes, sacramental preparation, and limited contact with parents and children at Mass.

Sister Miriam Fidelis Pinchot found that communicating with families through notes and phone calls was a way to surface the needs of families and to reach the children who have “fallen through the cracks” in religious formation. As a result, she conducted classes for sacramental preparation for individuals at three parishes: Our Lady of Peace, St. Adelbert and Blessed Sacrament on Woodland.

Sister Marie Ellen Kuhel commented that teaching religion classes, without the use of chapel time, table discussions and art projects, was a different experience. She was grateful for the students who consistently “showed up” on her computer screen for their lesson. Regardless, she used every opportunity to remind the students that they are loved, chosen by God and forgiven.

At the request of Sister Rose Elizabeth, Sisters Joanne Therese, Linda Martin and Dorothy joined the staff of Urban Community School (via Zoom) for a retreat day on the feast of St. Angela (January 27). It was a time for prayer, reflection, sharing and learning more about the spirit of St. Angela.

Spiritual Direction

Ongoing spiritual direction and retreat ministry are listening professions whereby a director accompanies a person who desires to explore and deepen his or her relationship with God. The pandemic also impacted persons in this ministry. For Sister Peggy Duffy, “This meant not meeting personally with directees—a big disappointment. Trusting that God always provides other options, I decided to learn how to Zoom online and host individual meetings with my ongoing directees. I could also direct eight day silent retreats, meeting with individuals online each day for an hour. Several people who live out of state or the country or are quarantined in a healthcare center look for a way to use their time spiritually. Obstacles that often seem insurmountable are God’s way of showing us who is in charge — and bringing good things out of bad. I am grateful for this kind of semi-retirement.”

On the other hand, Sister Maureen McCarthy has found a different form of ministry: “I always believed that outside of formal classroom teaching, that directing retreats and giving presentations on Scripture and spiritual topics was my secondary way of teaching. Since I can no longer do any of that due to a severe hearing loss, I have turned to the written word. Every Friday I post a blog that relates to the Scripture readings for the coming Sunday.” See: www.angelafortoday.org.

Sr. Sheila Marie spent time overcoming her technology deficit and developing skills in using Zoom to explore some creative ways to minister. Over the past seven years she had been engaged in ministry to young adults by interacting with students at Case Western Reserve University in what is called Busy Student Retreats — a week of daily half-hour sharing times spent reflecting on Scripture and icons of faith, followed by monthly spiritual direction sessions.

Sister Sheila Marie excitedly remarked: “I was able to reconnect with those students, even with one who had returned to Peru. Spiritual direction via Zoom and phone was a new experience for me, but nothing limits the Spirit! It is a grace and privilege to accompany these young people, even in ways that are a new challenge for me.”

Hospice Care

Sr. Nancy Beckenhauer shares her story of entering this new ministry in the midst of the pandemic.

 “I began Brookdale Hospice chaplain ministry in June of 2020 where many of the COVID-19 restrictions were in place….

My role was to talk to the family of the resident on the phone instead of directly to the resident as is customary. I definitely had to adapt my experience as a hospital chaplain where I visited patients face to face, and now a phone ministry with families I could not see and did not know. I had to learn to “get to empathy” by listening attentively. For example, with a person who just made the most difficult decision because his or her mother or father was eligible for hospice care.

I’m still learning how to be of service to families from a distance, and to be right there in the family’s unique circumstances as they walk with their loved one through his or her end of life journey.”

What were the sisters doing while in quarantine during the yearlong pandemic of 2020-2021? This “storycatcher” will confirm that sisters were doing what they were called to do…i.e. they were responding to the needs of others albeit in a different sort of way….because…..they care!

 (Photo Top L-R Sister Nancy Beckenhauer, Sheila Marie, Maureen McCarthy, Marie Ellen. Bottom Left: Sister Miriam Fidelis, Bottom Right: Sister Peggy Duffy)