The Sisters of Life, founded in New York in 1991, have been in Toronto since 2007. Photo courtesy of the Sisters of Life

These Sisters have a devout love for life

  • October 7, 2023

An enduring trope in the culture wars is that pro-life advocates care only for the fetus and nothing for the women and children at the centre of abortion debates. Critics point fingers, often literally, alleging that political pro-life wrangling always trumps the physical and spiritual care of women.

For 32 years, the Sisters of Life have quietly acted as witnesses for the defense.

The religious community of consecrated women was founded in 1991 in New York City at the request of Cardinal John Joseph O’Connor, archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York from 1984 until his death in 2000.

According to the congregation’s website, O’Connor’s plea was inspired by the realisation that “his years of preaching, advocating and labouring with others to restore a sense of the dignity of human life yielded only a discouraging lack of results.”

O’Connor sensed that all pro-life action was ultimately for nought if unconnected to lives laid down in sacrificial love and prayer.

Eight women answered O’Connor’s initial call and the congregation now serves in eight (arch)dioceses in North America.

In 2007, at the invitation of Cardinal Thomas Collins, the only Sisters of Life convent outside of the United States was established in Toronto. The Sisters live in Leslieville and run a centre at St. Paul the Apostle Parish at Bloor and Bathurst.

Sr. Beata Victoria, SV is a Canadian who is presently serving in the Toronto mission.

In an interview with The Catholic Register, Sr. Beata explained that the primary work of the Sisters in Toronto is as a pregnancy help mission.

“We often are contacted by women who are pregnant and are in need of support in some way in order to be able to choose life for themselves and for their children.”

The particular charism, or gift of the Holy Spirit, that animates the Sisters of Life is a profound reverence or love for life.

In addition to the three traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, the Sisters take an additional fourth vow, “to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.”

“Before we talk about our missions, we always talk about what it means to be in love with life and to know that every life is good,” said Sr. Beata.

The Sisters focus and direct that love to the women they serve.

“We like to say a woman who knows that she’s loved can do anything,” said Sr. Beata.

“If a woman has become pregnant in a circumstance that perhaps she didn’t expect, she may be experiencing pressures from external factors, the father of the baby or family members to pursue abortion. And we want to tell those women that you’re not alone, and we’re here for you, and we’re here to support you and love you and be with you in this.”

Through their Hope and Healing Ministry, the Sisters of Life also provide ongoing spiritual accompaniment and retreats for women who are suffering after abortion.

Sr. Beata explains that the ministry seeks to accompany “women of all ages, often in their 40s, 50s and 60s, who have carried the sorrow of suffering after abortion for many years and are essentially seeking healing and hope in a place where perhaps they’ve lacked that hope in the past, they felt themselves to be unlovable in that place.”

Recognizing the essential role of the prayer for pro-life work, the Sisters of Life were founded as a community devoted to both action and contemplation.

“Our first mission is one of prayer, and that is the source from which we draw strength for our apostolic work,” said Sr. Beata.

Their communal life of prayer is as rigourous as in any contemplative congregation.

“Our daily schedule of prayer includes Mass, a Eucharistic Holy Hour, the rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours, which we pray at different points throughout the day. We do our ministry, serving those who are pregnant and in need and those suffering after abortion, Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. On Friday we spend a day in prayer and silence.”

That place of prayer is one where consecrated religious, clergy and laity can stand together.

Sr. Beata, acknowledging the deep desire of many lay people to join their efforts to those of the Sisters of Life, suggests that it is possible to unite these different labours of love.

“John Cardinal O’Connor founded our community because he felt that there was a strong need in our culture for women to lay down their lives in prayer and fasting for our culture of life. And so that’s not a call that’s just for religious, but all of us as Christians are called to live prayer and fasting. And so I think I would just encourage people to know that their offerings matter, and sometimes we may not see the results in this life, but I think that’s going to be one of the most glorious things to behold in Heaven, to see the graces that were won for us and to see the graces that we won for others through really, really simple things.”

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