Every once in a while you hear a line that is so powerful, so beautiful that is speaks volumes with just a few carefully picked words. I came across one of those lines this week in a homily given by Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany at the Funeral Mass of Mercy Sister Maureen Joyce, the much-loved and respected CEO of Catholic Charities Albany for 20 years.
Speaking of Mercy Sister Mary Ann LoGiudice, who nursed Sister Maureen around the clock during her final battle with cancer, Bishop Hubbard said:
“Mary Ann, you truly loved Maureen to God; you served as a mid-wife, birthing her to eternity…”What a beautiful image, birthing someone to eternity. I was with my own mother when she took her last breath 22 years ago, and while I wouldn’t be so bold as to say I birthed her to eternity, I do know that what I witnessed was the most powerful connection to God I have ever felt. Even more powerful than the births of my children. To be with someone in those final moments -- holding them, kissing them, comforting them -- and then feel them breathe their very last breath really is like touching God. It is a moment filled with awe as much as it is filled with sorrow.
In his homily, Bishop Hubbard referred to Sister Mary Ann as Sister Maureen’s “beloved friend and soul mate.”
“One day when I was going to visit Maureen, Brie, a CMS social worker on the 2nd floor of Branson Parenting Center where Sister Maureen resided asked how Maureen was doing. After I gave an update, Brie then said, ‘I wish every person in the world could experience the wonderful bond of friendship Sister Maureen and Sister Mary Ann enjoy and the type of love Sister MaryAnn has poured forth on Maureen,'” he recalled.For the past two years I have spent significant amounts of time researching and writing about this kind of deep friendship, spiritual friendship, and our need for a soul mate – not in the romantic sense but in the spiritual sense. We need people to walk with us on our journey of faith, to pray with us, to birth us into eternity if we are lucky enough to have such a friend at the end.
When I first set out to write “Walking Together, Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship,” (November 2010/Ave Maria Press), I did so out of personal experience. I have been blessed with deep, spiritual friendships in my own life. I have seen the power of friends who meet us soul-to-soul, even if they can’t always meet face-to-face.
More and more in this world of constant mobility and high-speed virtual relationships, we need the stuff of spiritual friendship. We need soul mates. Sister Maureen was blessed to have such a friend, but that kind of deep love doesn’t have to be a rarity. It can flourish anywhere, if we know how to recognize it and nurture it.
Sister Maureen was a social justice force to be reckoned with in the Albany Diocese. She began her career there taking in and caring for pregnant teens back in the days when no one wanted to talk about teen pregnancy. She continued to reach out to every other disenfranchised group, searching for ways to bring dignity to their lives and hope to their futures. To read about Sister Maureen’s life and her work, click HERE.