World Day of the Sick – February 11

Sister Rea McDonnell, SSND

Today is World Day of the Sick, celebrated on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Scripture scholar, the late John L. McKenzie reminds us that Mary is not the grand lady of the castle, but would more likely be found among the scullery maids. On this day to remember the sick, instead of a lady in white with hands folded, let us picture Mary in a more common ministry: Mary at the bedside, Mary the nurse. Picture Mary washing the sick, feeding the feeble elderly, changing putrid bandages, cleaning up vomit and feces. This is the help of the sick whom we honor today.There is nothing at all common about the nursing profession. In our “developed” world, nurses are essential to hospital and home care. In other countries, the women of the village deliver the babies, tend the sick, prepare the dead for burial and comfort the mourners. This is our “lady,” one among many in Nazareth, called on to minister to those taken ill.

This is the mother who continues to take us all into her embrace. Like her son, she attends in particular to the least in Jewish society of that time. Someone had to bring food to the outcast lepers. Men would be considered unclean if they touched a corpse or cleaned a running sore. Not so Mary.

Mary was at work in the midst of the Ebola outbreak; Mary cares deeply about the constant diseases that ravish Haiti. With the medics, Mary runs between bullets, trying to reach a wounded soldier, of any religion, nationality, political persuasion. Yes, Mary tends the Muslims who honor her more than many Christian denominations.

Around the world, Catholics pray the rosary as they try to identify with the pain Jesus endured. Many of those prayers arise from sick beds. Hopefully the sick also experience Mary as their attentive and tender nurse.

– Sister Rea McDonnell, SSND


Sister Rea McDonnell, SSND, holds a doctor of philosophy in biblical studies. She trained as a pastoral counselor at the Institute for Pastoral Psychology and for more than 30 years has used a pastoral approach to Scripture in preparing adults for priestly and lay ministry. In addition to working as an adjunct faculty member and leading workshops and retreats, she has authored or coauthored 15 books. Sister Rea resides in Maryland where she ministers as a spiritual director. For more information, visit the SSND web page with her books.