Vocations of women religious
'It met the desire of my heart perfectly': Prayer and her commitment to the pro-life cause led Sister Mary Elizabeth Wusinich to join the Sisters of Life
Oct 30, 2019
The Perpetual Adoration chapel at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio is the place that played a pivotal role in Sister Mary Elizabeth Wusinich’s answer to a call to a religious vocation as a Sister of Life.
“It’s such a powerhouse of grace,” she said, remembering how she took a weekly hour in the middle of the night. “That chapel had a decisive role to play in my discovering and responding to God’s call.”
Today, in the convent of the Sisters of Life in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, D.C., where Sister Mary Elizabeth now lives, an Adoration chapel sits as the center of the home, a physical representation of the sisters’ dedication to prayer.
“The intimacy of prayer that Adoration fosters led me to grow in my relationship with Jesus,” Sister Mary Elizabeth said.
Growing up in a Catholic family in Philadelphia, Sister Mary Elizabeth said the possibility of religious life wasn’t foreign to her, since she attended a Catholic school, where some sisters taught.
Beginning her college education at the University of Pittsburgh, Sister Mary Elizabeth said she started sensing a desire to serve others through social work and other outlets. Surrounded by “vibrant, faith-filled Christians” at the University of Pittsburgh, many of whom were Protestant, she was encouraged to read Scripture. She started with the Gospel of Matthew and read one chapter each day.
“It had a really profound impact on me, I had never read Scripture outside of Mass,” she said. “I was getting to know Jesus more.”
Arriving on Franciscan University’s campus after transferring, Sister Mary Elizabeth found herself surrounded by religious sisters.
“The idea of a possibility of a vocation came into my mind,” she said.
On fire with a passion for the pro-life movement, Sister Mary Elizabeth began to discern dropping out of school entirely to work in the movement full-time. She joined a discernment group, not with the intention of discerning a religious vocation, but discerning possibly dropping out of school.
In that group, Sister Mary Elizabeth said, “I heard things that really hit me.”
Through the discernment group, she visited many religious communities, learning about their different charisms and apostolates, and the individual family spirit in each community.
With the advice of her spiritual director, she reached out to Cardinal John O’Connor, archbishop emeritus of New York, to learn more about the religious order he founded in 1991, the Sisters of Life. In turn, she was invited to one of their discernment retreats.
“I went and during one of those retreats, he (Cardinal O’Connor) laid out his vision for the Sisters of Life and the charism the Holy Spirit had given him,” Sister Mary Elizabeth said.
The work of the Sisters of Life comes from a meditation on the visitation of Mary to her cousin, Elizabeth, when they were both with child. Sister Mary Elizabeth said members of her order receive Jesus into themselves as Mary did, going out to the streets sharing Jesus with others. “The presence of light that went out and penetrated Elizabeth” goes with them, Sister Mary Elizabeth said.
“When we bring Jesus out onto the streets, that same power is radiating out from us into the hearts of pregnant women,” she said.
As she learned more about the mission of the Sisters of Life and the work that they do, Sister Mary Elizabeth said she felt more and more drawn to that religious community.
“That’s exactly what I want to do,” she said. “It met the desire of my heart perfectly.”
She said she felt the call not to religious life in general, but specifically to the Sisters for Life.
“This is what God made me for,” she said.
The Sisters of Life exists to “mother the mothers of the unborn; to mother the unborn; to mother all those who are frail, all of those who are vulnerable, all those who are ill, all of those who are in danger of being put to death, all those whose lives the world considers useless,” their founder, Cardinal John O’Connor said. They have convents and ministries in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Denver and Toronto.
Entering the Sisters of Life in 1993 after graduation from college, Sister Mary Elizabeth has worked in different apostolates of the Sisters for Life over the years. She currently studying for a master’s degree in theology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Washington.
“It is such a gift to study and read. I think for me it’s really a blessing, really fueling my prayer, too,” she said.
To women who might feel a pull toward religious life, Sister Mary Elizabeth encourages them to make time for prayer and find a place where they can find “silence, stillness in front of the Blessed Sacrament, all the better.”
“There’s so much hopelessness out there especially with young people, seeing them search for meaning,” she said. “Young people are in such need of encountering the person of Jesus and also the beauty of the Church… We are never alone, He is always with us, God dwells in you, you are never alone, always and everywhere turn to Him.”