Perhaps it’s not a well known fact but women who were once married sometimes also experience a call to become Sisters. Women who are divorced or widowed can enter a religious congregation as a member, even if they have children, provided their children are independent. These women, both Sisters and mothers are lovingly referred to as — Sister Moms.
Recognizing this growing trend, and a Sister Mom herself, SCN Bea Keller decided to start a support group for Sister Moms. Sister Bea founded the Sister Moms Organization, where women find support and a means to share with one another. There are many Sister Moms in communities around the country and the world. The informal Sister Moms Organization consists of 125 members, affiliated with 98 religious Congregations, located in five countries.
The concept of mothers choosing to enter religious life is not a new one. History shows many saints, who in addition to being wives and mothers, were also members, as well as founders, of religious congregations. Today, the idea of Sister Moms is experiencing resurgence with more religious congregations welcoming Sister Moms as members.
So why do some women choose this path after marriage and raising a family? The calling to congregational life for these mothers seems to match the reasons that most other women become a Sister. In a survey conducted by Sister Bea, most mothers who have entered religious life, stated they did so, because they experienced a calling from God. For some, a calling occurring after marriage and others, a return to a calling experienced before marriage. In the survey, the mothers found that their greatest difficulty in responding to and living out this calling is trying to balance between their family and the community. But it can be done and love and acceptance from their communities greatly contributes to fulfillment for Sister Moms. These Sisters also report receiving a positive response from their children about the decision to enter a religious community.
The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth have two Sister Moms: Sister Bea and Angela Hicks, SCN.
Sister Bea was an Associate with another congregation before coming to the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth 20 years ago. She experienced a connection to the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth because of her aunt, Joseph Beatrice Eyl, SCN, who introduced her to the congregation. On finding a balance between family and congregation, Sister Bea says, “My children always support me. They understand how well I fit in here. They see that the Sisters truly love me.”
Sister Angela admits that at first she struggled with her calling to return to community life. Sister Angela had left the community and during that time worked as a bartender, town cop, substitute teacher, in social services and as a librarian. She married a man with seven children and soon had three more. In 1989 she was widowed and had ten grown children. She began to experience her calling again. “Everyone in community had BAs and PhDs for everything. It seemed I felt I had nothing to offer.” says Sister Angela. “But the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth welcomed me back home.”
Sister Angela says she chose to return to the community — for community. Her children understand her decision and support her whole heartedly. “If mom is happy, the kids are happy,” she says.
Since returning to the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Sister Angela chose to go to Botswana as one of the founding Sisters launching an SCN ministry in that area. Among the ministries she was involved in, the day care center for children in the village of Lobatse, Botswana. The center cares for orphans and children in need, many who have been diagnosed with AIDS or the HIV virus. Now living back in Kentucky, at Nazareth, she continues to her outreach ministries, including a recent trip to New Orleans to help with rebuilding efforts.
Both Sisters Bea and Angela agree that every Sister Mom has a unique story to tell. They have a most interesting set of life experiences and a wealth of knowledge regarding relationships both with family and with God. And, they add, these women possess a special strength as they make this second journey in life.