Three of the 5 Sisters of Life who visited Edmonton speak to a training session at St. Joseph's College, University of Alberta, on Oct. 4.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

Three of the 5 Sisters of Life who visited Edmonton speak to a training session at St. Joseph's College, University of Alberta, on Oct. 4.

October 20, 2014
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

How can I be sure I'm pregnant? How should I tell my family? Can I keep my job? What about my finances? These are just a few questions that run through the mind of a woman with an unplanned pregnancy.

Sister Magdalene, with the Sisters of Life, said that by understanding the fears of a pregnant woman, one may better understand and sympathize with her predicament. The woman might feel all alone, and no one is supporting her. This is one of the most poignant hurts that a pregnant woman faces, she said.

The Sisters of Life is a contemplative religious community founded in 1991 by Cardinal John O'Connor of New York for the protection and enhancement of the sacredness of every human life.

The sisters serve pregnant women in need with the help of lay partners called the Co-Workers of Life, who offer friendship, counselling or other assistance.

People wishing to serve as a Co-Worker of Life took part in a training day Oct. 4 at St. Joseph's College at the University of Alberta.

Sister Magdalene said a pregnant woman might feel pressured, perhaps by her parents or friends, to have an abortion.

"Becoming pregnant outside of marriage can cause a crisis of identity for the woman. She often believes that if she carries this pregnancy to term, life as she knows it will be over for her," said Sister Magdalene.

"The common miscalculation is that abortion can make you un-pregnant, that it will restore who you were before the crisis."

The truth is that once she is pregnant, she is always a mother – whether she is parenting the baby, has placed the baby for adoption or has killed the baby.

A common argument is: My mom or sister or aunt had an abortion and said she is fine. However, studies show that many women go through a period of denial after abortion.

"What we know is that suffering such a trauma, a woman copes often by repressing the trauma and her feelings of shame and guilt," said Sister Magdalene.

SISTERS' TIPS

Carl Chandler, one of 60 people registered for the training, said, "I want to know what the Sisters of Life are doing and what tips they have for talking to people in crisis pregnancies."

He enjoyed the article by Paul Swope, "Abortion: A Failure to Communicate," that was shared at the conference.

The article outlined the importance of appropriate communication. For example, a typical pro-life slogan, "Abortion stops a beating heart," while an effective phrase among pro-lifers, might provoke anger in a young woman in crisis.

While the Sisters of Life are not active in the Edmonton Archdiocese, two women from Edmonton are in their formation program.

FIVE SISTERS

Sister John Mary, superior of the Visitation Mission of the Sisters of Life in Toronto, said it will be some time before they establish anything formally outside of Toronto and New York.

Five sisters came to Edmonton to share the work they have been doing for years in those cities.

"There is an active group of pro-lifers here in Edmonton, and we want to support their existing initiatives such as the Edmonton Pregnancy Crisis Centre and the Back Porch. I think the Knights of Columbus want to establish something more formal here," said Sister John Mary.

Like all religious communities, Sisters of Life take the three traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

"We take a fourth vow, which is the protection of human life. All of our prayer and all of our work that flows from our prayer go to witness the truth of the dignity of every human life," she said.

The Sisters of Life have long served pregnant women in New York, Toronto and beyond. They also set up a maternity home in New York where women can live with the sisters during and after their pregnancy. They have a retreat centre for pro-lifers to build up the culture of life.

PRACTICAL ATHEISM

Sister John Mary said today's world lives and behaves as though God does not exist.

"God is the author of life, and once you take God out of the horizon, then people don't really know the dignity of their own life. They don't know that they are made in his image and likeness," she said.

Abortions are all too common in larger cities. But she said where sin abounds, grace also abounds. The sisters are in places where people are searching for God without even realizing it.

The Co-Workers of Life come from all backgrounds. They might be older couples providing rides to medical appointments for a pregnant woman or university students handing out pregnancy crisis resources around campus. Sometimes they are medical professionals who offer their services free to women in need. Others give direction to pregnant women on how to access welfare, subsidized housing or other needs.

WANT TO CONTRIBUTE

Fred Holtslag and his wife heard about the Sisters of Life and their apostolate through the Family Life Conference at Lac Ste. Anne. Immediately they wanted to learn more.

"My wife and I are in the state of life where we are looking for ministries or apostolates that we can do together," said Holtslag.

"They talked about sharing times, talents and treasures. I always like to add the fourth T and that is sharing our tongues. If we don't spread the word, we won't be able to build the apostolate in the local area to the extent I believe it is required," he said.

SPIRITUAL SUPPORT

March for Life, 40 Days for Life, memorials for unborn children and other anti-abortion initiatives are complementary to what the Sisters of Life do.

Holtslag said, "However, the Sisters of Life is an apostolate that goes to the next necessary level and that is physically, mentally and spiritually providing support for a mother to keep her child."