Vocations of women religious
‘That’s the source of my vocation, serving children’: Daughter of Charity Sister Mary Bader leads St. Ann’s Center for Children, Youth and Families
Oct 30, 2019
A native and longtime resident of the Washington, D.C., area, Sister Mary Bader, who has been a Daughter of Charity for 28 years, said she still isn’t quite sure how her vocation came about.
“It certainly was a mystery,” Sister Mary said.
Attending Catholic school while growing up exposed her to many women religious as teachers, but Sister Mary said she didn’t pay much attention to the differences between the various orders.
“Each educational experience (I had) was very positive and meaningful and solid, in terms of education,” she said. “I wasn’t noting the different charisms.”
Sister Mary attended Ursuline Academy in Bethesda, Maryland, which is now The Woods Academy, Little Flower School in Bethesda, and Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington.
Surrounded by a faithfully Catholic family, she said from a young age she was aware of children who didn’t have the blessings that she received.
“From an early age,... I realized kids in my city… in my world, didn’t grow up with a home where they had no worries and a loving family,” Sister Mary said.
Around the age of eight, she remembers a specific memory where she was first learning about injustice and being particularly struck by hearing about kids who grew up without a family.
“I had it in my little, innocent head that there were kids who didn’t have what most people had and should have,” she said.
After graduating from Tufts University in Massachusetts, Sister Mary returned to the Washington area to get her master’s degree at The Catholic University of America. Through her program, she heard about an open teaching position at Our Lady Queen of Peace School in Washington, a school she was familiar with because they were often the recipients of many toy drives she participated in as a child.
“I wanted to teach and I wanted to work with kids that didn’t have what I had,” Sister Mary said. “That is the source of my vocation, serving children.”
While working part time at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Sister Mary met the Daughters of Charity.
‘When I got there, I saw them working and serving,” she said.
Knowing that the sisters ran St. Ann’s Infant and Maternity Home and that she had always wanted to get involved with the home, Sister Mary began to learn more about the charism of the Daughters of Charity, of service to the poor.
“I saw it every day in the sisters…” she said. “And the work was appealing to me. I had always aspired to serve others.”
Despite her attraction to the work of the Daughters of Charity, Sister Mary said it took her seven years to consider joining the order.
After joining the Daughters of Charity nearly three decades ago, her ministry sent her around the country to teach, eventually becoming the principal at Mother Seton Academy in Baltimore.
Today, Sister Mary is the CEO of St. Ann’s Center for Children, Youth and Families in Hyattsville, Maryland. While her current ministry is different from what she was used to as a teacher, she said she still gets to work with children.
“With the kids, that’s where my heart has been,” Sister Mary said.
St. Ann’s Center was founded 160 years ago as an orphanage and asylum for children without a home, as well as a home for pregnant women with nowhere else to go. Today the center offers programs for entire families, including transitional housing, support and childcare.
“We get to the root causes of homelessness and take care of those first,” Sister Mary said, adding that they also offer educational programs for mothers, with class offerings such as financial literacy, cooking, nutrition, clinical and social work.
“Our goal is to help women heal and then strengthen families to move on to be independent and equipped,” she said.
Many of the women who are able to move out of the home return to teach the classes. To see them return, Sister Mary said, is a blessing.
“Sometimes we don’t see until much later that a seed was planted,” she said. “We’re planting seeds, and hopefully those seeds are going to grow and take root. They mostly do.”
The center currently houses 28 families, with 33 children.
“Working with the family unit, … we’re able to help in a more complete way, by keeping the family together and strengthening them,” Sister Mary said.
While her day to day tasks have changed since working in administration, she said the place is still very much a “blessing.”
“It’s a reminder of what mission is all about and who we’re serving has always been there,” she said. “It’s been a blessing.”
The charism of the Daughters of Charity, Sister Mary said, is to “find God in who we serve.”
“I see that day in and day out,” she said.
Through the people the center serves, as well as the many donors who help support the center, Sister Mary said she has encountered God.
“It’s the people bringing God to me,” she said.
To women discerning religious life, Sister Mary said, “Be patient with yourself, look around and go meet and spend time with communities, they’re all different. A lot of women come and see and volunteer. Regardless of whether or not they came and entered, there’s something to be gained.
“We all have to listen, when you listen to how you feel to what energizes you… just because you look doesn’t mean you have to enter,” Sister Mary said.
“It’s a good life,” she added.