On August 11th of last year, our own dear Fr. Bob Cronin of SOLT passed into eternity on the Turtle Mountain Reservation, where he had loved and served for more than 25 years. In the two weeks leading up to his death, we community members, as well as many parishioners, held vigil in his room, serving his needs under the gaze of our Eucharistic Lord, 24/7. When Christ came for him, there was a priest, a sister, and a lay person with him. From my time and meditations there at his bedside, I would like to draw out three particular points of the joys of Consecrated Life that I feel this experience showcased.
First, consecration. It is an inexhaustible source of joy and grace for me to be a bride of Christ and a Church in miniature. Consecration is the reality that makes people ask us, “What are you?” To be able to stand for Christ and the Church in a public, marked, concrete, and special way was definitely something that attracted me to this life. And not only do I stand for Him, but the King of Heaven has reached down and chosen and marked me for Himself. This symbolism of consecration means that I represent and stand for another. This mystery was so clearly revealed as we Sisters stood by the bedside of Fr. Bob, as signs of our own dear mother Mary, who persevered by the Cross of her dying Son, or as signs of the Church who stays faithful to all her sons and daughters to the last minute of their lives. This standing for another is expressed to me in many other ways, also, like the kindergarten students who persist in calling to me, “Hey, Mary!” or the questions and conversations that begin when people see our habit.
Secondly, communio or communion. This word is dear to our Community, as our charism states that we are “Disciples of Jesus through Mary, living in Marian-Trinitarian Communion, serving on Ecclesial Family Teams, in areas of deepest Apostolic need.” It is a joy to live out every day, in reality and in hope, full communion of Heaven and Earth, communion of all members of the Church, and communion of all of creation in the love of the Trinity. How beautifully this was felt in serving Fr. Bob! One of the other priests would say Mass every day in his room, and when Mass was not being offered our Lord in the Eucharist remained exposed in adoration for Fr. Bob and whoever was taking care of him that shift. Heaven and earth, priests, sisters, and laity all working together as it ought to be. I was able to sit in silence with others for many hours and watch Fr. Bob breathe, pondering life, and death, and beauty, keeping the rhythm of the day with the Liturgy of the Hours. All of us were touched by this communion and community united in a single purpose, a picture of what Jesus prayed for when He said, “Father, that they may be one…”.
Third, service. Service to always and to all. It is a great gift to realize that my life does not belong to me, but to all people in service. At Saint Ann’s, I am the religion teacher in our Catholic school, and we Sisters are also involved in lots of things, such as bringing Holy Communion to our many homebound parishioners, teaching sacramental prep, serving our nursing home, and running a thrift store. It is in service that I am able to complete the example that Christ gave as our Divine Bridegroom in laying down His life, and it is where I am able to be an outlet to the many gifts, insights, and services given to me. My favorite saint is Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati who expressed this so well. “Jesus comes to me every morning in Communion, and I return the visit by going to serve the poor.” As I sat by Fr. Bob’s bed, I often thought of the fact that it is not the number or quantity of people visited that makes a difference, but rather to make each and every encounter with anyone count, to re-gift to them their dignity and the love Jesus has for them, to let each one know that they are priceless.
I thank God that He has chosen me to be a Sister! Pray for your Sisters, and for the people God has given us to serve, that we may be found faithful! And may we always find the source of our joy in the consecration, communion, and service God has gifted us with.
Written by Sr. Mary Rachel Craig, SOLT