CATONSVILLE – The All Saints Sisters of the Poor have served Baltimore for 150 years with an astonishing variety of ministries.
They helped the children of former slaves, worked with children with special needs, and provided homes for poor children and the elderly.
They offered common people a place to make religious shelters, care for the environment, care for injured animals, promote beekeeping, and maintain a scriptorium where they made inspirational religious cards.
Working with supporters of what is now Mount Calvary Catholic Church in Baltimore, the sisters also pioneered hospice care when they founded Joseph Ritchie Hospice in 1987.
However, the common thread that runs through the generations is the sisters’ commitment to cultivating spiritual discipline and a relationship with Christ.
During a Nov. 4 service at the Catonsville convent marking the 150th anniversary of the order’s arrival in Baltimore, Mother General Emily Ann Lindsey noted that the sisters are constantly asked “what they do.” His answer: “We are religious.”
“This is our mission,” said Mother Emily Ann, one of about a dozen members of her community who live in the convent, all of whom wear full habits with black veils and white spots covering their heads. “That’s what we do. Everything else comes from that.”
Mother Emily Ann said this jubilee year marks 150 years of loving and serving God and following his leading “despite what the world wants us to watch and listen to.”
All Saints Sisters of the Poor was founded in England in 1851 by Mother Harriet Brownlow Byron as an Anglican religious women’s community. Three sisters came to Baltimore as missionaries in 1872 and formed the first foreign branch of the religious community. They spread from Baltimore to other American cities.
Located in present-day Baltimore County since 1917, the All Saints Sisters of the Poor in Baltimore were received into the Roman Catholic Church in 2009 by Baltimore Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien.
Baltimore Archbishop William E. Laurie, who celebrated the Mass on Nov. 4 using a liturgy that adapted elements of Anglican worship, said in his homily that the sisters serve as a bridge between Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions.
“Being a bridge is not easy,” he said. “The bridge must bear a certain stress and weight, but I can say on behalf of all your friends gathered here today that you have borne this stress and this weight in the most beautiful way. “You not only resolve differences between Christians, but also act as a bridge to bring people to the Lord with your lifestyle.”
Mother Emily Ann noted that the sisters crossed two bodies of water in their history: the Atlantic Ocean when they first came to America, and the Italian river Tiber, which they metaphorically crossed when they came into contact with Rome.
According to the traveling sisters, orthodoxy and Christian unity were the main reasons why the sisters were attracted to the Catholic faith.
John Mohler, a member of St. Mark’s Church in Catonsville, grew up near the All Saints community and has known them for 30 years. He was one of about 125 people who attended the anniversary event and reception.
“They are such a light in our community,” she said. “They are a very holy, holy being and counterculture example for everyone.”
Caryl Maxwell, a member of St. Louis Church in Clarksville, made private retreats with the Gazmen sisters. He said they support anyone who visits them in search of spiritual refreshment.
“You can almost feel the prayers in the grass and trees here,” he said. “It’s a very sacred place and the sisters inspire you – sometimes with their silence – and if you talk to them about things that are going on in your life and you want to help, they are always encouraging and helpful – always,” she said. .
Virginia Patton, who lived with the sisters for five months and is Catholic and considering becoming a religious sister, said her time with the community was “the most beautiful, grace-filled season” of her life. He became a Catholic, but realized that the religious life was not for him.
“I adore and love the purity of their hearts,” said Patton, who now lives in Virginia. “Our Lord says that the pure in heart will see God, so I think they are giving hope to all of us that one day we will see God.”
The sisters lead a contemplative life and set times of the day when they come together for community worship. Archbishop Lori noted that while many in the world dismiss the sisters as living a “useless” life, their lifestyle is “precious in the eyes of the Lord and the Church.”
“For you are the one who directs our eyes to the eternal food, to the Eucharist, and to eternal truths, that is, to eternal life with the Lord and to the cloud of witnesses purchased by the blood of the Lamb.” said the archbishop.
Kevin J. Parks contributed to this story.
Email George Matysek at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org
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