Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

‘The witness of women religious is a precious heritage’

By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published August 24, 2017  | En Español

People make for some of the best memories that any of us can ever enjoy. Parents, siblings, grandparents and, of course, your own spouses and children provide some of the happiest memories of all. During my vacation this month, I was able to conjure up some very wonderful memories of a few of the people who have graced my life.

I visited the motherhouse cemetery in Adrian, Michigan, where many of the wonderful Adrian Dominican sisters who taught me and my sisters are now resting in peace. I offered a little prayer of gratitude at each one of those gravesites to bless them and to praise God for the gift of those fine women religious who had spent so much of their lives in service to God’s people—and especially to me as a student and young man who eventually prepared to become a priest.

I was then able to visit Sister Marie Krippner, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee. She now lives at the Sacred Heart Retirement Center and remains a cherished friend, whom I initially met at my first assignment at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Glenview, Illinois. She and I have kept in touch over these many years. She epitomizes for me the many extraordinary women religious who have loved, shaped, enriched and encouraged me as the Lord’s priest. She is a very private person and is now probably very uncomfortable at even reading her name in this article.

I hope that many of you also have some similar memories of the remarkable nuns who have graced your own life as young people in Catholic schools, as teachers or colleagues in parish catechetical programs, or as nurses and caregivers in medical facilities. In whatever capacity these fine witnesses of faith have entered your life, you are now a much better person for their having been there in the past, as am I.

With the diminishing numbers of women religious engaged in an active apostolate, I regret that many of our young people may not readily have the grace of knowing a special “sister” in their lives—what a shame! The witness of women religious is a precious heritage in the Church and has inspired many Catholics over time.

As I drove from Atlanta to Adrian and eventually to Milwaukee before returning home, I thought about and prayed for all of the sisters that I have known throughout my life: each one has been a blessing. My thoughts turned to Sister Philippa Coogan, a college English professor who in the final years of her life helped me by proofreading my doctoral dissertation. Her corrections convinced me that I should have paid much closer attention to her classroom lectures. I recalled Sister Paulanne Held and Sister Joyce Ann Berkel who taught me about charity and professionalism—still lessons to be accomplished in my own life. More recently, Sisters Lourdes Sheehan and Valentina Sheridan introduced me to Southern gentility and experience—important lessons for a Northern-born cleric to know about the blessings to be found here in Georgia.

These are some of the nuns who have graced my life—and continue to do so. You have your own memories, and I hope that this column will encourage you to say a prayer for those who have already entered God’s kingdom or to write a note or give a phone call to the sisters who have played a significant role in your faith life. I assure you that they will be filled with joy to hear from you again and you will experience a happy memory in doing so.

Many of the sisters who now serve in the Archdiocese of Atlanta are providing such future memories for our people: the Nashville Dominicans in Kennesaw, the Missionaries of Charity in Atlanta, the Vietnamese Dominican sisters, the Mercy sisters at Saint Joseph’s Hospital and Mercy Care, the Sisters of Jesus of Kkottongnae Korea, the Hawthorne Dominicans who run Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home, and the wonderful African and Latina sisters who are life-giving for so many of our communities. I urge you to get to know some of these extraordinary women. It will do your heart (and theirs) much good.