An outbreak of the new coronavirus swept through a Michigan convent “like wildfire,” killing 13 of religious sisters who lived, prayed and worked together in a matter of weeks, a Global Sisters Report said Monday.
“I get chills thinking about that,” Sr. Mary Andrew Budinski, the superior of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary convent in Livonia, where the women lived communally, said in the report. “The raw grief is yet to come, I think.”
The Global Sisters Report, which is a nonprofit project of the National Catholic Reporter publishing company, said all of the women who died were members of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice, or Felician Sisters. St. Felix was a Franciscan friar.
Between Good Friday on April 10 and May 10, 12 of the sisters died after battling the coronavirus. Then on June 27, one of 18 other sisters who initially survived the illness died from its effects to become the 13th fatality. Obituaries provided by Suzanne English, executive director for mission advancement for sisters to The New York Times, show that the women were all members of the Felician congregation for at least 50 years and ranged in age from 69 to 99.
In a statement to The Christian Post provided by English on Friday, Sr. Noel Marie Gabriel, CSSF, director of clinical health services for Our Lady of Hope Province, said more than half, 30, of the 57 Felician Sisters who were living at the Livonia convent prior to April were infected.
Some 44 sisters as well as five international students from other congregations studying at Madonna University, founded by the Felician Sisters, remain at the convent.
After so many deaths many of those who survived are facing a different reality that sometimes is challenging for their faith.
“The faith we share with sisters as they are dying, the prayers we share with sisters as they are dying: We missed all that,” Sr. Joyce Marie Van de Vyver said in the Global Sisters Report. “It kind of shattered our faith life a little bit.”
English told CP the sisters in Livonia have “very deep” ties to the community.
“In a square-mile block in Livonia, the sisters founded Madonna University, a Montessori School, St. Mary Child Care Center, Angela Hospice and Marywood Nursing Care Center, as well as the all-female Ladywood High School (1960-2018), so their collective impact on the community has been, and continues to be, very deep,” she said.
As the coronavirus began sweeping the U.S. in March, and people made adjustments to their lives, the convent started making changes, too, and the sisters who were very involved in public life as librarians, academics and a host of other roles began pulling back. They also stopped having mass and started having communion in their rooms alone. By Holy Thursday on April 9, however, the sisters on the 360-acre campus of the convent ended communion too.
Visitors had also been prohibited but the convent still had essential staff working such as nurses, nurse’s aides and dining hall workers. The trouble started with the workers.
“I first heard two aides had contracted the virus,” Sister Andrew said. “We don’t know who they are, and we don’t want to know. Then it hit sisters on the second floor, and it went through like wildfire,” she added in the Global Sisters Report.
Sr. Mary Luiza Wawrzyniak, 99, was the first to die on April 10.
“We all knew if it hit the place, it would be bad,” Sr. Mary Ann Smith said in the report. “But we never anticipated how quickly it would go.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Leonardo Blair