Spiritual Reflections

A Global Sisterhood

Sister Judy O'Brien explores what a global sisterhood means to her.

We, vowed religious women, at our best selves, are the very embodiment of the word and meaning of sisterhood.  We experience it every day.  Our sisters, and there are thousands of them, from all walks of life across the globe, form, define, and gift us with the breadth and soul of sisterhood relationships.  Blessed with the sacredness of hope, peace, courage, joy and love, these gifts mandate that our love flow to our relationships with all people, regardless of gender, race, orientation, intellectual ability and to our responsibility to protect the integrity of all of God’s creation for the duration of our time in this beautiful yet deeply hurting and scarred world.

Sisterhood Origins 

From the moment of our birth, many of us are steeped in the rich gift of sisterhood.  For me, this journey began within the embrace of a close-knit family.  Guided by my maternal grandmother, who stood as the matriarch of the total clan, I witnessed and learned the value of belonging to this sisterhood.  The relationships among grandmother, mother, aunts and cousins, formed us as women, sisters, mothers, grandmothers and friends, and taught us the values of faith, kindness, compassion, loyalty, hard work and the importance of being rooted in sisterhood for a lifetime.

This familial foundation led me to a broader calling, to the ultimate sisterhood of the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. From many corners of the world including Asia, Eurasia, Europe, North America and South America, we come together as a global sisterhood, connected by shared values and a proud sense of belonging.

Surrounded by women who create community to further the mission of Jesus, we choose sisterhood each day.  Love, prayer, intentional purpose and meaningful relationships are our guides. Together, we are gifted with a treasure that enriches our lives and motivates our purpose.  

Sisterhood Spirituality and Ministry

Global sisterhood relationships are grounded in a profound commitment to contemplative prayer. These relationships connect us to the prayer life alive in our sisters world-wide.  Our collective contemplative practice, joined with our united social action become our means to transform the world.  Our individual relationships with the Divine meet the Divine dwelling in religious women across the global community.  This cohesive prayer force gives us the courage to confront violence, hatred and oppression in all of their forms.  Through the lens of justice, peace and the integrity of creation, we strive to create a more peaceful and perfect world.     

Over time, circles of sisterhood increase and expand across borders and cultures.  These connections are woven from shared experiences of inter-congregational living and international travel.  As we travel the globe, we encounter hundreds of other sisters, each on a similar path, a path marked by compassion and unwavering faith. In some of the poorest communities in our world, from the hollers of Appalachia, to the busy streets of Harlem, to the sun-soaked shores of Haiti and Jamaica, to the rugged landscapes of Peru, Chili, El Salvador, Guatemala, we meet our sisters.  These encounters are sacred intersections where hearts align and mission comes alive.

Our education and religious formation have called us into ministries that touch the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the incarcerated.  We stand with migrants seeking refuge, and children committed to the overwhelmed social system of foster care, all the while educating others to do likewise.

The women we have been privileged to be with in all of these ministries come from homelands throughout the globe. Together, we form a sisterhood of spirituality and ministry, a bond that has filled our lives with apostolic zeal, indescribable and irreplaceable experiences and relationships

Our IHM Sisterhood far outreaches our Scranton, Pennsylvania, roots and borders; it extends over the continents.  For example, while our foundress, Theresa Maxis, was born in the US, her mother, Betsy, was Haitian. That historical connection has led us to Haiti where we share our stories and resources with the Little Sisters of St. Therese. They minister in Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, under some of the most dangerous situations. Our sisters have traveled to Haiti, experiencing firsthand, the suffering of people and the commitment of the sisters who minister tirelessly to their people to improve lives and offer hope in what can seem to be a despairingly hopeless situation.  Theresa Maxis keeps us rooted in Haiti and connected with our Little Sisters of St. Therese.

 In our commitment to global education, the IHM congregation as well as Marywood College welcomed international women beginning at the turn of the 20th century. Some of these women were attracted to religious life and spent time in formation with the Sisters of IHM including the Maryknoll Sisters whose sisters serve in foreign missions, the Sisters of St. Casimir and the Sisters of Jesus Crucified, who were founded to serve Lituanian immigrants to the US, and the Sisters of Saints Cyril and Methodius, who were founded to serve Slovak immigrants to the US. So many of these sisters and hundreds of sisters from other communities were and continue to be educated at Marywood University for service to the church and world. We continue to celebrate these sacred friendships of sisterhood to this day.

Presently, three sisters from Vietnam and one sister from Kenya are pursuing studies at Marywood University. They are joined by nineteen other sisters from Pakistan, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania, Ghana, and Zambia who are living and ministering here in Scranton. Some of these sisters lovingly care for our fragile residents at St. Joseph’s Center. While ministering, they are learning valuable skills that they will take home to care for their fragile ones. There is always such mutuality in sisterhood.  Many international sisters reside at our IHM Center and enrich our lives as they share their stories, cultures and traditions.

In 1959, Pope John XXIII invoked the words of St. Augustine, summoning the universal church, including religious congregations, to “Extend your charity to the whole world if you want to love Christ, because the members of Christ’s body cover the whole world.” His call, found in Principis Pastorum,inspired ourIHM congregation, to reach out globally by serving in missions in Puerto Rico, Canada, and Peru. This commitment to global service continues to this day.    

The African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC) was established in 1999 by the leaders of four congregations of women religious in Pennsylvania and the presidents of the colleges and universities founded by their congregations. The purpose of ASEC is to provide educational opportunities for women religious in Africa. “Through its programs, ASEC has educated more than 5,000 sisters and students, and this number continues to grow” (ASEC, Strategic Plan, 2023). We Sisters of IHM with Marywood University proudly co-sponsor ASEC and support its mission.  

We have ministered alongside sisters around the world, including Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Mexico, Rome, and Peru.  Our journey has taken us onto the reservations of the Yakama and Choctaw Nations where we have lived and served with their people. Currently, we extend our ministry to McAllen, Texas, where we are assisting those at the US/Mexico border who are seeking safety and asylum and a new life. 

We continue to celebrate a long-standing covenant relationship with our Sisters of St. Casimir. As global sisters, we share with them a mission to serve God’s people and protect our earth. We share the spirit of their foundress, Mother Maria Kaupas, “Always more, always better, always with love.” 

Together as vowed women religious, we, Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, strive to make a difference. We continue to change our world, reaching out to needs, and enhancing lives throughout the globe with unwavering love, all in the name of our God, and through the unbreakable bond of a global sisterhood.  

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