A growing community of religious sisters with a zeal for the Gospel of Life and the New Evangelization will soon call Phoenix home.
The Sisters of Life, founded in New York in 1991 by Cardinal John O’Connor and eight women eager to serve the Gospel of Life, will send a contingent of four to six religious sisters next August to establish a foundation at the convent at St. Agnes Parish.
Sr. John Mary de Souza, Vicar of the Sisters of Life, said Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix has been inviting the community to expand to Phoenix for years.
“There’s such a vibrant landscape of the New Evangelization in Phoenix. Bishop Olmsted has fostered a real commitment to building a culture of life which is such a part of our charism,” Sr. John Mary said.
“Our primary mission will be pregnancy help — walking with women who are pregnant and vulnerable to abortion.” The Sisters of Life plan to serve in other ways, too, by encouraging lay people involved in the pro-life movement, consoling women who are grieving abortions, and reaching out to young adults and college students with a message of faith and hope in Christ.
Sr. John Mary and another sister visited Phoenix in May of 2019 to get the lay of the land. They met with Bishop Olmsted, local leaders of the pro-life pregnancy clinics and Sr. Anthony Mary Diago, RSM, director of Consecrated Life.
Sheila Riley, director of Life Choices Women’s Clinics in Phoenix, was impressed with the Sisters of Life even before meeting them. They called her to say one of the women the sisters were helping was relocating to Phoenix.
“They walk along with women through the crisis,” Riley said. “If I see 7,000 patients a year, I’m not walking with each one of them, but they work with women and it’s transforming.”
“They serve a high number of abortion-bound women,” Sr. John Mary said of Life Choices, Aid to Women Center and 1st Way Pregnancy Support Center. “We are eager to collaborate with them and work alongside experienced friends in the vineyard.”
Sr. John Mary said the sisters saw a need for their work in the Diocese of Phoenix. “There’s a very real demographic of those in need and vulnerable,” Sr. John Mary said. “There are definitely women in need of being supported and accompanied through crisis pregnancies.”
She also noted the plethora of college campuses in the diocese. “Our mission work is very much a tapestry. It’s like a mosaic, the different ways of building up the culture of life.”
We like to say our mission takes place over a cup of tea. It’s more like a family or the receiving of a woman into our hearts.
When the Sisters first arrive however, they will be focusing on one of their primary missions: accompanying women in crisis pregnancies.
“When we speak of our accompaniment of pregnant women, it’s very integrated, long-term accompaniment for as long as they need it and want it,” Sr. John Mary said. “It’s primarily inviting a woman to see her own goodness and then a whole world can open up before her.”
The work the Sisters do goes far beyond a pregnancy test and the moment of crisis.
“It’s walking with them to really see the adventure and the gift and the challenge of maternity,” Sr. John Mary said. “We like to say our mission takes place over a cup of tea. It’s more like a family or the receiving of a woman into our hearts.”
And just like their missions in other cities — New York, Philadelphia, Toronto and Denver — the Sisters hope to encourage lay people to join them in fostering a culture of life. From giving women a ride to the doctor, becoming a prayer guardian, assembling a crib or sharing hopefulness in the face of a difficult prenatal diagnosis, lay men and women are a vital part of the Sisters’ mission.
“It’s very much inspired by what St. John Paul II talked about in the Gospel of Life: We all have a role,” Sr. John Mary said.
“Having the Sisters of Life is actually going to be wonderful for the collaboration of those who are in pro-life ministry here in Phoenix which is already very active and life-giving,” Sr. Anthony Mary said. “That collaboration is going to be even more enhanced by the Sisters of Life being part of it.”
She noted that with the arrival of the Sisters of Life, the Phoenix Diocese will have about 45 different communities of women religious. “The diocese has a dynamism that is very inviting and welcoming and openly supportive of religious life,” Sr. Anthony Mary said.
Bishop Olmsted said he is “deeply grateful to God” that the Sisters of Life will serve in our diocese.
“This something for which I have been praying and hoping throughout my years of serving Christ here in Arizona. With their clear identity and mission as Women Religious consecrated to Christ for the sake of the Kingdom of God, they bear witness to the Gospel of Life and to the living Lord Jesus in beautiful and compelling ways. I am confident that the Lord will bring many good fruits from their faithful witness.”
Mike Phelan, director of the Office of Marriage and Respect Life for the diocese, called the Sisters of Life coming to the diocese a “gift from the Lord” and said it’s impossible to calculate the impact they will have.
It turns out that the cavalry for life in 2021 wears blue and white!
“But we know two things: First, we will be joined by consecrated women after God’s own heart, whose charism is to wade into all of the spiritual battle of protecting and serving life with deep prayer, creativity and joy,” Phelan said. “Second, it turns out that the cavalry for life in 2021 wears blue and white! Our local pro-life leaders could not be more excited.”
Founded in 1991 by the late Cardinal O’Connor after he visited the Dachau concentration camp in Germany and promised God he would do everything in his power to protect human life, there are 119 Sisters of Life.