This remarkable order of nuns has offices in my building, and barely a day goes by without my seeing one of the blue-habited Sisters of Life on the elevator or striding by on the street. Now the Wall Street Journal has done a piece on them, to mark the 20th anniversary of the order’s founding.
Safe, legal and rare” has long been the pro-choice mantra, but these days it applies less and less to the reality of abortion. In New York City, officials reported this year that 41% of pregnancies end in abortion—double the national rate. In the black community, the figure is 60%.
Numbers like these motivate the Sisters of Life, a small order of nuns celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer. The sisters take traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but they also take a fourth vow “to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.” According to Archbishop Timothy Dolan, once the sisters connect with unwed pregnant women in need, “the battle is half over.”
The order was the vision of the late John Cardinal O’Connor, whose Nov. 2, 1989, weekly column in the newspaper Catholic New York was titled “Help Wanted: Sisters of Life.”
One respondent was Agnes Mary Donovan, a professor of developmental psychology at Columbia University Teachers College. She became one of the order’s founders in 1991 and Mother Superior two years later.There are now 70 members, with an average age of 37. Like Mother Agnes, the women who have joined are educated and worldly. They include a Yale Russian major who aspired to join the CIA, a former nurse who worked in the Middle East, and a former computer-manufacturing executive.
The sisters help those suffering from the trauma of a past abortion and those who want to put their children up for adoption. But their most important work is their “Visitation Mission,” a spiritual call center where sisters have contact with about 700 women a year.
According to the coordinator of the Visitation Mission, Sister Magdalene, some of the women seeking counsel have “all the means in the world” but feel that their social and professional lives, as well as their marriage prospects, would be over unless they abort. “But pregnancy is a wake-up call,” she explains. “It tends to stop them from doing what they might imagine they’d do without a second thought. We believe it’s a moment of grace.”
And check out their website, too.