Laypeople join religious order in 'ministry of presence' for terminally ill

Friday, Sep. 03, 2021
By Catholic News Service

NEW ORLEANS  — For more than 100 years in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, the Sisters Servants of Mary have kept overnight vigil with the terminally ill in their homes, a ministry of such abundant charity that families caring full time for a loved one can’t begin to express their gratitude.

There are nine Sisters Servants of Mary living at the congregation’s motherhouse in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans, but the demands for their service far exceed their ability to care for all of those who request their presence.

To expand the reach of their ministry, the Sisters Servants of Mary in early August invested five laypeople –four women and one man – into the Fraternity of the Lay Sons and Daughters of St. Maria Soledad, who founded the congregation in 1851 in Madrid, in keeping with the biblical imperative: “I was sick and you visited me.”

This is the second lay fraternity the Sisters Servants have established in the United States; the first was in Kansas. The order also has sisters in California.

Mother Lourdes Garcia said the five inaugural members in New Orleans have shown the desire in two years of prayer and formation to serve in the ministry of presence.

The new members went through spiritual formation and regular retreats, and they also learned some basic rules such as how to turn an immobile person in the bed. Most of all, they are there to sit with and pray for the person, giving respite to the main caretaker.

The new caregivers work with the sisters to tailor their schedule for the home visitations, including the length of time of each visit and whether they would go at day or night.

“They become our brothers and sisters and very, very close family,” Mother Lourdes said in the convent chapel after the investiture Mass Aug. 7.

“They are part of us because they are extending the mission. They are the bridge God is using to share our ministry and our charism,” she told the Clarion Herald, New Orleans’ archdiocesan newspaper.

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