What makes two women sisters?
Blood relationship, of course, makes one type of sisters. But
faith can also make women sisters.
Recently my parish took our catechumens and candidates on
retreat at a camp run by two nuns who remind me of how the
sisterhood of faith is a wonderful thing and a great gift to
the church and the world.
Our retreat was at Camp Maria, a youth camp at the water's
edge on Breton Bay along the wide part of the Potomac River,
just before it spills into the Chesapeake Bay. It is a
spectacular spot within an ancient Catholic country. That
area was settled by English Catholics in 1635.
Two Sisters of Charity of Nazareth run the camp, Sister Rose
Johnson and Sister Mary Angela Hicks. Their order was founded
by Mother Catherine Spalding, who was born nearby in 1793.
Sister Rose and Sister Angela are about as different as two
women could be. They are from different countries, cultures,
races, education and are of different ages. Yet they call
each other sister.
Sister Rose was born in 1962 in Belize, the only
English-speaking country in Central America. She was the
sixth of nine children in a family of African descent. She
speaks English with the pleasant lilt of the Caribbean. She
never knew winter in her tropical home.
Sister Rose went to New Jersey to go to college 20 years ago.
As a girl she had met nuns in Belize, a heavily Catholic
country. Although she was attracted to their life, she put
the idea out of her mind. But she says, "What you resist will
persist." The idea of becoming a nun never left her.
Nine years ago Sister Rose took her final vows as a Sister of
Charity of Nazareth.
Sister Angela took a zigzag path which brought her back to
where she began. She was born in 1936, just a few miles away
from where she works today.
At age 18, she entered the convent, but left after nine
years. She returned home to the tobacco fields and fishing
villages of Southern Maryland. She married a widower, James
Hicks, who already had seven children. At age 27, she was
wife and instant mother to seven. They had three more
To support 10 children, they farmed, fished and ran a bar.
For many years Mary Angela was the bartender. And like me,
she has heard a lot of confessions; she just couldn't give
At age 43, Mary Angela was widowed. She still had children at
home. When they were grown, she decided to go back to the
convent and took final vows in 1991 at the age of 55.
Her zigzagging was not done yet. When she was 64, she left to
be a missionary in Botswana in Africa where she stayed five
years. Now she has come full circle and back home to just a
few miles from where she was born and raised a family.
Isn't the imagination of God wonderful? Who else would have
paired these two in making a life and community together?
These two women from different countries, cultures, ages and
race form a religious community, a mini-family of faith. They
call each other "sister." I think it's wonderful.
What makes for strong bonds? Sister Rose and Sister Angela
know: It is faith.
In Matthew's Gospel Jesus asks, "Who is my mother? Who are my
brothers? ... Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is
my brother, and sister, and mother."
Faith makes us family. Sister Rose and Sister Angela are
living proof. We need more like them.