Retirement doesn’t always mean rest for religious sisters

By Catholic New World
Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Adrian Dominican Sister Mary Anne Yanz, 78, talks with Octavia Bonds at the Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park on July 20, 2018. Sister Mary Anne greets patients in the Mary Potter Building. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Ask a religious sister — one who is retired, or old enough to be retired at least — why she continues to serve in ways from praying for the church and the world to teaching English as a second language, and she might be confused by the question.

“Well, I can, because I’m quite healthy,” said Adrian Dominican Sister Mary Anne Yanz, who is 78 and spends five hours every Friday greeting patients at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park.

Sister Mary Anne lives in Chicago Ridge and also belongs to a weekly prayer group at St. Linus Parish, Oak Lawn, bowls in a league in the winter, makes it to the gym a couple of times a week, drives other sisters to doctor appointments and on errands, and bakes.

When I bake, I do it for other people,” she said.

Sister Mary Anne is celebrating 60 years in religious life this year. According to her listing in the jubilarian section of this edition of Chicago Catholic, she was a teacher and director of religious education, and in the Archdiocese of Chicago, she served at St. Denis, St. Richard and St. Irenaeus, Park Forest.

She enjoys her time at Little Company of Mary so much that when they brought in an outside company to run the gift shop, where she originally volunteered, she sought another position.

“It gives me a chance to talk to people,” she said.

Cabrini Sister Joan McGlinchey, the archdiocese’s vicar for religious, said that many older women religious maintain active schedules for a variety of practical reasons, as well as a commitment to living out their vocations as well as they are able.

Some, who live alone or with one or two other sisters in apartments, enjoy the independence they might not have had when they were younger sisters who lived in convents. Those who live in larger communities, on the other hand, might find that they can devote more time to volunteer pursuits because they don’t have to worry about shopping or preparing meals.

In her own community, she has seen the struggles of sisters who are in an assisted living facility that only houses members of the community, only to see them brighten up when they are transferred to a nursing home that serves laypeople as well as religious.

“Even though their physical health is worse, to need skilled nursing, they feel like they are in a place where they can minister to other people,” Sister Joan said. “I find that older sisters thrive when they can maintain that kind of engagement. They have that urge to be giving something.”

That’s certainly the case for Providence Sister Dorothy Gartland. Sister Dorothy, 88, has been in religious life for 70 years, and she has lived for the past 40 years in the convent at Maternity BVM Parish, 1540 N. Monticello Ave. 

After several years of first running and then helping with an after-school tutoring program and teaching English as a Second Language for Adults, she is preparing to move to her community’s motherhouse in St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.

She doesn’t drive, she said, and as she ages, she has to go to the doctor more frequently, and she doesn’t want to be a burden on the other sisters.

Still, she doesn’t want to sit still.

“I just feel like I can still help,” she said. “And I’m interested in people.”

She doesn’t know exactly what she’ll do once she finishes unpacking in Indiana, but she’s sure of one thing.

“I won’t be idle long,” Sister Dorothy said.

Providence Sister Rosemary Ward, has been in religious life for 60 years, runs a site for School on Wheels, a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph that teaches English to adults, at her senior apartment complex in Bolingbrook, bringing together volunteers and English language learners who are all over 60. Her oldest students are two 93-year-olds, she said.

She also is a long-time social justice advocate, serving on her congregation’s Justice Coordinating Commission. She has been active on task forces working on issues of climate change and human trafficking, and is part of the Illinois Religious Women Against Human Trafficking group.

That group organized a couple of conferences, and recently has been working to get parishes involved. Her next goal is to get some high schools interested in fighting human trafficking.

“Retirement,” she said, “is when you get busy.”


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