by Ronnie Collins
How does one share the tapestry of one’s life, its warp and woof, in a brief article? You can’t. However, a few facts may suffice. I, Ronnie Elizabeth Collins, grew up in Dorchester as part of a happy Catholic home of four children. At that time it was customary for most activities, sports, dances, etc. to revolve around parish life.
After grade six I opted to leave parochial school for Girls Latin. Three years there were a broadening experience that I have always valued. Since the student body was 50 percent Jewish, it opened a whole new world to me and pointed out to me how parochial my previous existence had been. While I enjoyed it there, by grade 10, I felt the urge to return to a Catholic school. As fate would have it, the only opening in a school we could afford was at St. Patrick’s in Roxbury. Enter the Sisters of Charity – Halifax.
From the start they impressed me with their positive spirit, joy and excellent teaching. It wasn’t too long before I felt a call to join them. The fact that they were not diocesan, but Canadian/American had great appeal for me. So, in 1960 six of us from my graduation class took the train from Boston to Halifax to enter the Mount Saint Vincent Motherhouse. Five years later with a BSc in elementary education, we were ready to be sent wherever needed. I should tell you that all this time I was acutely aware that at some point I was meant to go to Latin America. This conviction had been with me since I was 15 and remained a steadfast reality within me.
I taught a few years back in Boston, had the chance to go to the University of Western Ontario for a degree in nursing and then was sent to nurse in psychiatry at the Infirmary in Halifax, NS. All of these missions I loved. Then I received the phone call offering me the opportunity to serve in Peru. My resignation was offered the next morning and within the month I was at language school in Lima, Peru, preparing to join the Halifax Diocesan team of priests and sisters in Chiclayo. I would join them in the program of evangelization and the practice of social justice. It was a dream come true.
In time, through prayer and guidance, I realized the reason the Lord wanted me in this part of the world was to meet the man He wished me to marry and raise a family with. It was a difficult decision but, with the love and support of the Sisters with me in Peru and back in Canada, as well as my family, I said yes to the Spirit’s prompting. Don and I both experienced peace-filled affirmation that remained an integral part of our life and love together. Sadly, he went to the Lord in 2013.
Both Don and I continued to live out our faith in service in a Vincentian way. For 25 years I worked as a VON nurse providing bedside nursing. While I did some staff education, I refused to leave “hands on nursing.” Our mandate included the poor, the rich, whoever was in need. My time in Latin America assured I was comfortable in whatever material situation I found myself. Palliative care gradually became my specialty. It was such a privilege to be with patients and their loved ones when their time on earth was done. I experienced prayer in so many forms during those visits.
In closing, I have to say that 16 years as a Sister of Charity was the greatest gift I could have been given to be a wife, a mother of three, a grandmother of six and a dedicated professional. I continue to be open to finding God in those He sends into my daily life and to celebrate His Goodness in the beauty of His creation around me.