Motherhood in the sisterhood

| May 6, 2015 | 0 Comments
From left, Sister Mary Joseph Evans; her mother, Joan Evans; and Mother Mary Clare Roufs stand in front of a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the courtyard of the Cathedral of St. Paul. Sister Mary Joseph and Mother Mary Clare, superior general, belong to the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus in the Diocese of New Ulm. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

From left, Sister Mary Joseph Evans; her mother, Joan Evans; and Mother Mary Clare Roufs stand in front of a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the courtyard of the Cathedral of St. Paul. Sister Mary Joseph and Mother Mary Clare, superior general, belong to the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus in the Diocese of New Ulm. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Delivering food to the convent meant that Joan Evans might catch a glimpse of her daughter. Her hopes didn’t disappoint. When she arrived, her daughter was outside washing a car, a task Mother Mary Clare Roufs had assigned so the two could have a chance to visit.

“Her heart is of love,” Evans said of Mother Mary Clare. “I appreciate that.”

Evans’ oldest daughter, Barbara—now Sister Mary Joseph— joined the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus, a religious order in the Diocese of New Ulm, in 2012. For Evans and her husband, Robley, parishioners of St. Joseph in West St. Paul, the past few years have brought many changes, among them, growing accustomed to limited contact with their daughter as she answers her call to serve God and his people.

Evans said the loss of their mother-daughter relationship was masked by the façade of having it all together as a “good Catholic mom.”

“It’s funny how you can feel joy, but also feel pain at the same time. I am so joyful for where she is and of who she is in that community,” Evans said, noting that they correspond primarily through letters. “But still being able to say, ‘Yes, I’m willing to sacrifice and let her go because that’s what God wants for her.’”

It wasn’t until Mother Mary Clare asked Evans to write about her feelings as a mother of a religious sister that she felt release from her guilt. Evans’ March 22 post on The New York Times’ “Motherlode” blog, “My Daughter Is Now Sister Mary Joseph, and No Longer Mine,” garnered more than 200 comments, many thanking her for her honesty and witness. Evans said through writing the article, she has found healing in the difficulty of the separation.

“Since Sister Mary Joseph told us that she was going to join the Handmaids, it was probably the first time that I really admitted to myself how hard it really was,” said Evans, the mother of six and grandmother of one, soon to be two. “I think I just pushed everything to the back because I felt I would be disloyal to her if I wasn’t happy about it at all times.”

Evans said she’s grateful to be in a place where she can face the pain and tears of missing her firstborn. She appreciates the opportunities she gets to be with the Handmaids—including occasional public functions and biannual family days at the convent—but says it can be difficult.

From left, Mother Mary Clare Roufs, Sister Mary Joseph Evans and her mother, Joan Evans, visit in the courtyard of the Cathedral of St. Paul. Mother Mary Clare and Sister Mary Joseph are with the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus in the Diocese of New Ulm. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

From left, Mother Mary Clare Roufs, Sister Mary Joseph Evans and her mother, Joan Evans, visit in the courtyard of the Cathedral of St. Paul. Mother Mary Clare and Sister Mary Joseph are with the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus in the Diocese of New Ulm. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

“Some days when I’m with her and I can’t really be with her, I’m going to be OK with that. And other times, I’m going to feel deflated because I can’t just pull her aside,” she said.

Sister Mary Joseph, 32, who plans to take her final vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in 2017, said total availability is the new norm for showing people care and concern. But for her and the other Handmaids, they give that total availability to God and therefore, all his children.

“I know there is a real death, especially between mothers and daughters, because often, there is that total availability there of mothers calling their daughters, and vice versa, once they’re in their own vocation,” Sister Mary Joseph said. “But it’s not for the sake of sacrifice. What the Lord has created my heart for is to be totally available to him. And that means I’m not totally available to my mother or to my biological family in the same way.”

Mother Mary Clare said sometimes the sisters’ moms feel like they’re being replaced, “But the truth is, our moms can never be replaced. They’re always going to be our moms. They’re always going to have a particular place of leading and guiding us.”

For the sisters, having another woman in their lives who can be a mother figure to help them be the women they need to be in the world is “a gift that God gives, similar to when someone gets married,” Mother Mary Clare said, adding that the Church’s language of father, mother, sister and brother reflects its familial nature.

Sister Mary Joseph said the qualities she witnessed in her mom have prepared her for a different kind of motherhood.

“What motherhood is all about is bringing new life into the world and then nurturing that life,” Sister Mary Joseph said. “Growing up, I always wanted to do what my mom did, and I always wanted to be like her. So, I don’t underestimate at all the formation I received in being a spiritual mother.”

The gift of Mother Mary Clare’s motherhood has shown Sister Mary Joseph how to relate to Jesus as his spouse.

“What greater gift does a mother give than helping her daughter enter into whatever vocation that is and to live it to the full?” Sister Mary Joseph said. “So I just see so clearly how my mom and Mother [Mary Clare] have helped me do that gift through their own witness of love.”

Evans said she admires the Handmaids’ example and respects their charism.

“My vocation as a wife and a mother is only encouraged by a religious vocation and vice versa,” she said. “But the other thing I’ve come to see is that relationship with God is just so much more powerful if you’re willing to be who you are and to admit those times when you’re not feeling joy and happiness. For me, in acknowledging that there’s pain in it and there’s sacrifice in it, I think there’s been more freedom to actually see the beauty of God’s need for religious vocations.”

In all this, Mother Mary Clare said the Handmaids turn to Mary, asking her to help their families since she knows what it was like to lose a son.

“She has a lot to teach our own mothers in giving and surrendering their children for a good,” she said. “The reason why she had to surrender Jesus . . . was because God chose him for a particular mission for the sake of the world. And as God has chosen each of our sisters for a particular mission for the sake of the world, there’s a cost that the family has to offer. God doesn’t ask us to offer anything that he hasn’t already chosen to give himself. Mary has already walked that road, so in some sense, our families aren’t alone in being asked something demanding of them. They actually fall in a line of a profound person who has gone before us and has done it so well.”

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Category: Featured, Year of Consecrated Life