Sister Virginia Brien
|Sister Jane Clare Simon (left) and Sister Natividad Aponte (right) help Sister Virginia Brien pack boxes of frozen foods to be taken to women in a halfway house in Baltimore. The food provides makings of several evening meals for the women residents, who are in an addictions recovery program.|
Sister Virginia Brien exemplifies solidarity in action
Every two weeks or so, Sister Virginia Brien, SSND, heads upstairs to the kitchen of Villa Assumpta in Baltimore, delivery cart in tow, to “raid” the freezer. With a kitchen staffer supervising, she and another retired SSND will empty two shelves of the frozen packages of beef, fish, poultry, vegetables and casseroles – leftovers from the daily dining room meals that have been preserved by kitchen staff.
With cart loaded up, the sisters head downstairs to fill the back seat of a volunteer’s car with the boxes of food for the short trip to East Baltimore where they will drop them off at a residential facility for women in addiction recovery. The frozen leftovers will be the makings of several nights’ dinner for the 14 women living at the halfway house.
A couple weeks later, as soon as the freezer shelves fill again, Sister Virginia will get another call from the kitchen and the sisters will repeat their routine. The group has grown to include a half-dozen SSNDs, including regulars Sisters Jane Claire Simon, Natividad Aponte and Betty Rosser, all retired or semi-retired sisters who live at Villa Assumpta.
Besides food, the sisters’ biweekly donations to the house have expanded to include clothing, toiletries and occasional household goods collected from generous Villa Assumpta residents and their friends.
|Sister Jane Clare Simon (left) helps Sister Virginia Brien pack up frozen leftovers in the Villa Assumpta kitchen.|
The retired sisters’ home-grown ministry began in 2004, said Sister Virginia, who serves as sacristan of the chapel and seamstress for sisters living at Villa Assumpta and adjoining Maria Health Care Center.
“As we prayed the monthly Solidarity Prayer,” she recalled, “my discussion partner (Sister) Dolores Baumgartner and I wondered what we could do personally for the less-fortunate, something hands-on.”
After making some inquiries, they were directed by Sister Catherine “Missy” Gugerty, SSND, at the Center for Community Service and Justice at Loyola University Maryland to a group of women who live together while attending a drug-recovery program in Baltimore. The 14 women spend their days in treatment at a Baltimore hospital and their evenings and nights at the shared house sponsored by Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems.
They are fed breakfast and lunch at the program, but there is no provision for an evening meal. The sisters’ regular deliveries translate to easy warm-ups and quick, healthy dinners for the group.
About four years ago, during the Christmas season, about a dozen of the women in recovery and their supervisor were invited to be guests of the sisters at Villa Assumpta for dinner and gift giving, followed by an ecumenical prayer service. The gathering was so successful that it has been repeated every year since.
“The women really look forward to this great yearly outing,” said Sister Virginia, “and the sisters enjoy the interaction with the women.”
The sisters’ outreach to the recovering women has expanded to include many gifts besides food, thanks to other generous donors. One Christmas, the sisters at Villa Assumpta were given store gift cards from children at a nearby Catholic school. Many sisters used their cards to purchase items that the women in recovery needed. In one instance, they pooled enough credit to purchase a microwave oven for the halfway house. On another occasion, friends who were aware of the retired sisters’ grass-roots ministry donated to the SSNDs a washing machine and dryer that were in turn donated to the house.
Sisters (from left) Virginia Brien, Betty Rosser and Natividad Aponte load boxes of frozen meals into a volunteer's car for the trip
downtown to a halfway house for women.
“What a feeling of true sisterly love and joy we experienced when we saw the smiling faces of these women and experienced their grateful hugs,” said Sister Virginia.
Melva Jones, a coordinator at the halfway house, added, “It’s been a wonderful, wonderful experience for the residents and the staff. Many of the clients have very limited resources when they come in here. It’s been a godsend that the sisters come to visit on a consistent basis, giving encouragement to the women and sharing their stories.”
As their outreach ministry has become known around the Villa, free-will donations to the retired sisters’ “kitty” are common, allowing various personal necessities to be purchased for the recovering women and included in the biweekly delivery. In April, Sister Virginia roasted a turkey and used the free-will offering to purchase the “fixings” to go with it, surprising the halfway house residents with a fully cooked holiday meal a couple days before Easter.
“Little did we think years ago that this small endeavor would grow this big,” said Sister Virginia, grateful that even in so-called “retirement” SSNDs can find ways to live their mission of empowering others to reach their full potential. “Those of us who initiated the project are ever grateful to all the sisters and friends who have supported us and made this work possible. God has worked marvels for us!”
By Phyllis Brill, Communications Director, Atlantic-Midwest Province