The waiting is over: A flourishing community of religious sisters with a deep devotion to the Gospel of Life has arrived and is now serving in the Diocese of Phoenix.
The Sisters of Life, founded in 1991 by Cardinal John O’Connor and based in New York, will live in a convent presently being prepared at St. Agnes Parish. For now, they are staying with the Sisters of the Society of Our Lady of the Trinity at Most Holy Trinity Parish.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted has been inviting the Sisters of Life to establish a presence in the Diocese of Phoenix for several years and said the five consecrated women led by Sister Bethany Madonna, the local superior, will be a “great blessing” to the diocese.
“I think the Sisters of Life are a community that’s vitally needed in the Church and in the world today,” Bishop Olmsted said. “What they bring is a very direct and singular, beautiful focus on the Gospel of Life and the inherent dignity of every human being from the moment of conception.”
The sisters will be welcome and meet with women at their convent at St. Agnes. “We’ll be serving women who are pregnant and vulnerable,” Sr. Bethany said. They’ll also work alongside pregnancy centers like Aid to Women Center, Life Choices Women’s Clinics and First Way.
“We don’t just serve women when they find out that they’re pregnant or after the baby is born but we accompany women for as long as they desire.” Sr. Bethany said.
The Sisters of Life provide spiritual, emotional and temporal support to the women they serve.
The temporal support is provided through the generosity of benefactors and “the lay faithful who desire to join us in the upholding of these women as they make the courageous and heroic decision to say yes to life when the pressures are so immense and the temptations so great,” Sr. Bethany said.
A charism of life
The community’s charism is focused on the sacred dignity of every life.
“The Sisters of Life exist to be able to share what God wants every human heart to know — that they’re loved, precious, unique, unrepeatable, and irreplaceable,” Sr. Bethany said. “The charism of life is to uphold and to protect and to enhance the dignity of human life at every stage and to proclaim to the world that you are seen, you are deeply loved, you are necessary and God has a love for you that’s particular and a plan for you that is just as unique as your fingerprints.”
Mike Phelan, director of the Office of Marriage and Respect Life for the Diocese of Phoenix, said the local pro-life community is excited about the arrival of the Sisters of Life.
“If you hear one of them speak, you get the sense that all of their activity, which is considerable — especially just accompanying moms in need, accompanying women who are pregnant through their pregnancies — that it just comes from a deeply rich and Christian place,” Phelan said. “It’s not activism. It is a great activity that flows from their relationship with Jesus.”
In July, the Sisters of Life provided what they call Co-Workers of Life training to people in the diocese who wanted to learn more about how to accompany pregnant women in need.
“One thing that struck me is that they use the word ‘delight’ a lot,” Phelan said. “It’s so important to delight in the woman who is coming to them for help and just to find what’s remarkable about her and encourage her in that.”
Evangelizing on campus
The Sisters of Life will also have a presence on the campus of Arizona State University, though specifics of what they’ll be doing are still being worked out. Members of the community have been serving on campuses in Denver for the last few years and a similar outreach is planned for ASU.
In Denver, the Sisters of Life have had tables on campus and passed out holy cards as well as stickers that bear watercolor images the sisters have painted along with messages like “Loved by God unconditionally.”
“The desire is to create an openness and a conversation and also for women on campus to know there are sisters present to walk with them if they’re pregnant and to be a source of support to them as well,” Sr. Bethany said. “We’re available to everyone but we also want them to know that we can walk with them if they were to ever find themselves unexpectedly pregnant.”
Bishop Olmsted noted that evangelization is a major part of what the Sisters of Life will be doing in the Diocese of Phoenix.
“I’m really looking forward to the impact it will have on our Millennials and those in our colleges and universities,” Bishop Olmsted said. “I know in my conversations with them that they have found there’s a lot of confusion these days about identity of men and women.”
In Denver, Bishop Olmsted said, the sisters have been warmly received and approached by young people who notice their distinctive religious habits.
The campus outreach, Sr. Bethany said, has three components: Prayer, presence and program.
“The desire is to welcome the college students into our prayer on campus, to be present to them, to accompany them, to meet with them and then to have programs where they can be enriched, particularly women’s nights where women can learn about the beauty of femininity and God’s gift in calling them as women,” Sr. Bethany said.
The pro-life community in the diocese is enthusiastic about the presence of the Sisters of Life, Phelan said.
“People are just falling over themselves trying to be helpful and they can’t wait to meet the sisters. God willing, there will be countless stories over time of people in desperate, maybe even despairing, situations who encountered God through the sisters.”