Sr. Ancilla Maloney, IHM"Going where the life is"
My journey to the doors of the IHM Motherhouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania began at the end of my freshman year in St. Mary's High School, Manhasset, Long Island, New York. I attended St. Mary's Elementary School from first through 8th grade and was sitting in the back of a Biology class when all of a sudden it dawned on me... Sister Jamesine, the Sister/Bio teacher was a real person, just like me. It was the "just like me" part that jump-started my vocation. She had been a student once upon a time, and she had decided to give her life to God.
In the summer between my freshman and sophomore year, I attended the Summer School of Catholic Action at Fordham University. In one of the workshops on meditation I met a Jesuit priest who taught me how to pray and who became my spiritual guide.
Just before Christmas of my sophomore year, a terrible crisis struck my family. My father was rushed to the hospital and for three months was in intensive care clinging to life. It was the custom in my school for students to attend Mass each morning. During those times of prayer I promised God that I would listen to His voice within my heart if He would just spare my Dad's life. I did not promise I would enter the convent, but I promised that I would not shut out His voice. Each morning I prayed "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word." This was Mary's prayer at the Annunciation and I made it my own.
My Dad did live, and I did keep my promise. I made a couple of retreats and spent time in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel. I would stop off at the parish church before heading home at the end of a busy school day and after school activities. I think I just was quiet and in peace before the Lord - listening. I also talked to one of the Sisters about God's voice in my life.
My high school years were also filled with lots of fun - with both girl and guy friends. Lots of school activities, parties, dances, and dating filled my life. At the end of my senior year, I made my decision. I wanted to enter the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary whom I had grown to know and love and where I could continue my relationship with God in a permanent way. BUT, my parents both said, "No, you are too young for such a decision. We want you to go to college first."
So, I went and boarded at the College of New Rochelle near New York City. I lived with 12 other girls and an Ursuline Sister who was our house mother in a house called St. Ann's. It was a great year! I enjoyed the classes, and enjoyed a great social life. Almost every weekend I was going somewhere different - with different guys. To Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, to West Point, Yale, Fordham and Manhattan College and Seton Hall. My most memorable weekend was Winter Carnival at Dartmouth in New Hampshire. After a night of partying, while the whole campus slept, I slipped out of bed and headed for Mass at a nearby church. The world was very still, it was snowing - and God was very near. Throughout the year, I went to Mass almost every day and continued meditating and visiting the chapel. I loved to be in Jesus' presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
At the end of this wonderful year, I went back to my parents and again asked their permission to enter the convent. This time they consented and so the following September, I entered the IHM congregation with 48 other young women. After two and a half years of study about prayer, the Scriptures and religious life - what we call "formation," I made my first vows which were for three to five years. I was then sent to Cresco, Pennsylvania to teach second grade and live with a community of six Sisters.
Three years later I began what became the love of my life - my ministry as a high school teacher. At the same time as I began teaching in St. Patrick's High School in west Scranton, I also began a Masters Program in European History at the University of Notre Dame during the summer. In the summers after I graduated I began volunteering with the Christian Appalachian Project in eastern Kentucky. This was about the time of President Johnson's War on Poverty and the Medellin Inter-American Conference, which called for a commitment to the poor on the part of all Catholics. I realized that to be concerned for and work to alleviate poverty one must first come to know, personally, the poor. I invited some of my students at St. Dominic's, Oyster Bay, NY, to go to Appalachia. I began what turned out to be 24 years of summer and spring break time service projects accompanied by hundreds of high school and college student volunteers.
In Delran, NJ, at Holy Cross High School in the early nineties, along with teaching and some guidance counseling (by this time I also had a degree in Counseling), I began the Romero Peace and Justice Center in the school to raise the awareness of issues of peace and justice. We traveled to Washington DC and Philadelphia, PA to demonstrate against the Gulf War, for housing for the homeless and to raise funds for a small community in El Salvador. For four years, Sister Joan Quinn and Sister Donna Korba and I loaded up the school van each Saturday with paint, brushes, spackle and 10 to 12 students and headed for south Camden to work with the Heart of Camden renovating abandoned houses for homeless families. Over the years we provided four beautiful new homes for Hispanic and Vietnamese families.
Moving to Aquinas High School in the Bronx, NY, in 1994 introduced me to the wonderful world of multicultural students from all over Central America and the Caribbean, Africa and the Americas. I had begun to volunteer in North Carolina in 1990 organizing religious education classes for migrant children in the migrant camps sprawled all over eastern North Carolina. Together with several other Sisters, we went right into the camps, spread out our "classroom" (sheets) and tried to teach the Catholic faith to the children. After coming to Aquinas, I began to take five or six students with me because they were bi-lingual and could relate wonderfully with the children and their parents. They brought their gifts, their language and their energy to the children. During the school year I continue to educate for justice in my Seeds of Solidarity group and by directing a service program which involves the students in Neighborhood Community Centers and in two residences for homeless families.
Teaching high school students Religion is a challenge and a privilege. I have the opportunity to share my faith, drink more deeply of the gifts of God to me and the gifts of the Holy Spirit in my life as I work and pray to open the young women to the Mystery of God in their lives and in the world around them. I hope to also expand their world beyond the Bronx and New York City so they too will look upon all the people of the world as their brothers and sisters and desire to make the world a better place for all of us to share together.
Mother Theresa Maxis, the foundress of the IHM Congregation told her Sisters to "go where the life is." I live in community with six other IHM Sisters and a Dominican Sister. My life with them is enriching and a blessing; attending mass and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament each day plus spiritual reading brings me deep joy. Filled with God, filled to overflowing with the energizing and rewarding ministry of working with young people has been gift beyond measure, life "pressed down and running over."
Sister Ancilla currently serves as a pastoral minister in Sicuani, Peru.