In 2002, I was employed as an emergency interviewer at an outreach center here in Baltimore. One of the first people I met was a religious sister, whom we’ll call “Mary,” who was the AIDS/HIV coordinator. Sister Mary instilled in me a culture of encounter, the importance of being compassionate to people no matter their condition or situation, and the need to meet them where they are.
This Sunday parishioners in the Archdiocese of Baltimore will have the opportunity to express their gratitude to our retired religious sisters, brothers, and priests. By giving to the Retirement Fund for Religious this weekend, parishioners will be telling these men and women, who sacrificed so much for us, that we are deeply grateful, and that we care about their welfare.
I know and have spent time with one of these retired sisters, a person who gave without counting the cost. I would like to share my encounter with you and your parish.
Sister Mary truly believed and taught her clients that they were special in God’s sight at a time when society as a whole feared contact with people infected with AIDS and HIV. “If life seems unfair, turn to God and he will be there,” she often repeated. She often purchased items for her clients out of her own pocketbook and would say to me, “Do not worry about me Pres – God will take care of me later.” No matter how rough her clients had it, she was always there for them.
When she retired, there was a void created throughout the AIDS/HIV community. She was such a strong leader and a passionate advocate for her clients. That’s why this year, on the World AIDS/HIV Day (December 1), I went to visit my friend in retirement.
I was nervous yet anxious to see her. As I entered the convent and walked down the hallway to her room, I noticed the quietness of the building and the many empty bedrooms. I ran into a nurse who directed me to Sister Mary. She was sitting on her walker in a daze, among other sisters who now needed others to help them.
Looking at her, I thought that Sister would not remember me. Nevertheless, I grabbed her hand and said,“Good Morning Sister Mary. It’s Deacon Presberry from the outreach center.” She lifted her head and said, “They were good old days, were they not?” Holding back the tears I answered, ‘”Yes, they were” while Sister lowered her head back in a resting position. I talked and talked and she just sat there until finally she said, “God is taking care of me.” With that, I gave Sister Mary a blessing, kissed her forehead, and left.
We all know a story about a sister, brother, or priest of a religious order who gave without counting the cost. This weekend, let us in turn give without counting the cost, just like Sister Mary did.