They call each other 'sister'

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 children.

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 absolution.

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.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009