From Massachusetts: Spring Renewal
by Sister Mary Sweeney
(With apologies to S. Martha Loo and the Vicentinas who are now preparing to face winter in the Southern Hemisphere.)
As we marked the anniversary of the imposition of pandemic restrictions in Massachusetts, we were entering spring. We had lived through a year of challenges, social distancing, mask-wearing, vigilance, feelings of isolation, and the daily updates on COVID-19 related cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. It was a strange phase of life, one that no one could have imagined, one that revealed our strengths and our vulnerabilities.
Have we ever needed to see signs of spring so much as we did this year? This year there was a yearning to find beauty in the new life that was once again breaking through the remains of winter and the scars of life in time of pandemic.
To see new life emerging, whether in Sister Joanne Kmiec’s work as she prepared her gardens at the back of the building, or in the array of flowers planted and tended by associate John Fortini at the entrance, or in the flowering trees on the property and the goslings on nearby Longfellow Pond: all provided much-needed morale boosters after a challenging winter. All reminded us of the blessing of spring and the renewal it brings.
The sun rose earlier and set later, and the extra light and warmth provided more and better opportunities to be outdoors, to inhale fresh air (mostly through masks) and to enjoy the reminder that from the limitations on life imposed by the pandemic. There could still be a “renewal of spirit” that lifts residents, employees, and friends, just as Easter does: from the death and darkness of the tomb, something new happens: light and life. And although there were no Easter liturgies in the chapel, the soul-saving truth was being manifested in nature and in the revival that spring provided.
As spring continued to unfold, and as vaccinations became available, other aspects of life have re-emerged – not to what they were, pre-pandemic, but to different modes of being together and of celebrating together that are appropriate for where we are now.
Sisters are now eating in the dining room, a welcomed change. During the height of the pandemic, sisters were eating alone in their rooms. This went on for weeks and created a situation that Sister Anne Power described as “isolating and lonely.” Now, although seating at each table is limited, the experience provides opportunities to interact and to feel the connections of community. In considering this return to dining together, S. Anne spoke of the importance of “being part of a conversation, of talking and listening, of being part of life again after being separated for so long.”
Gathering together in chapel for Eucharistic liturgies has also found a new mode. The absence of liturgy for more than a year would have been unthinkable, but Sisters grew to appreciate the ability to tune in to televised liturgies from various places. Now liturgy is celebrated twice a week, but there are no guests in order that the Sisters may keep a safe distance from one another. In speaking about the absence of liturgy for more than a year, Sister Mary Harrington described the experience as a sacrifice, even as she recognized the wisdom of the decision. “Eucharist is such a big part of our lives.” Now that it has been restored twice a week, she is “thrilled” – a sentiment that I suspect many Sisters would recognize.
Through all the challenges of the past fifteen months, Sisters have expressed their gratitude that they were well cared for by those who work at Mt. St. Vincent. Sister Judith, Lori Ferrante, and the staff have carried a heavy responsibility, and as new life emerges, we can all be grateful for their work and for the renewal of life that spring brings.