Last weekend our local community took a road trip to Albuquerque and Santa Fe for some fun in the mountains and time to explore our Sister of Charity history there. I’ve always loved the stories of our pioneer Sisters and I treasure my memories of ministry in Santa Fe for five years after first vows. The charism of our congregation came alive for me there and confirmed my calling as a Sister and a physician.
Coming over the last hill on I-25 North from Albuquerque to Santa Fe there is a rest area. We decided to make a quick stop since we were heading up to the Ski Basin for some hiking. There were several historical markers right in front where we parked the car. The middle one immediately caught my attention as the heading read: “Sisters of Charity”. It told of the pioneer SCs who came down the Santa Fe Trail in 1865 to create a hospital, schools and social services in the frontier town. On the back were the names of the first four, including Sister Catherine Mallon who was missioned to the West on the day after her first vows. She went on begging tours to raise funds for the hospitals in mining camps across the Rockies. The intrepid Sister Blandina who tended the wounds of one of Billy the Kid’s gang was mentioned along with Sister Mary de Sales Lehaney, the first woman licensed to practice medicine in the territory of New Mexico. It was a beautiful welcome to Santa Fe, our holy ground, the City of Holy Faith.
We spent some hours hiking and picnicking in the mountains before we went down to the city, stopping at Rosario Cemetery to visit the graves of the Sisters. We parked behind the Cathedral by the Villa Therese Clinic where Peggy and I had lived and ministered with Sister Pat Bernard. We found our Sisters represented in the history of the diocese portrayed on the bronze doors of the Cathedral and St. Elizabeth Seton next to St. Francis in the great retablo behind the altar. Everywhere we walked or drove we had stories- our own woven into the stories of the first generations of Charity in New Mexico.
On Sunday we were in Old Town Albuquerque where Sister Blandina Convent is now a museum for the parish church, San Felipe. Peggy had lived there and both Carol and I had visited often during our early years in community. We couldn’t go inside because the museum and gift shop were closed on Sundays, but we stood on the porch and remembered together: the Halloween parties, the sandwiches given at the kitchen door to those in need, the high-noon shoot-out in the street alongside the convent that startled many a visitor to Blandina! We shared the stories and shed some tears for dear Sister-friends who feel so close but now watch over us from Eternity.
As we sat in the plaza watching the Native American dancers, performing the steps and chanting the songs that have been handed down through generations, I knew myself as part of my own “people”, the Sisters of Charity. We share a long story that stretches back and back, through the lives of the Sisters who came West in covered wagons to serve those in need, through the lives of the Sisters who nursed on the battlefields of the Civil War, through the lives of the women who joined Elizabeth Seton to create a community of service for the needs of the new United States of America, and ultimately to the story of Jesus Christ . From generation to generation the love of Christ has impelled us to serve His mission “to bring good news to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind”. It is the long story that has gathered all our own and continues to gather in new stories as it stretches toward the future.
I am comforted when I can revisit the places where our Sisters poured out their lives in loving service. They had challenges not so different from our own: great needs, few resources, misunderstandings with Church and civil authorities, not enough hours in the day. So it is as important as ever to make “each day count”, to let my story tell the long story of God’s love and to be grateful each moment in the telling.