-Sr. Eileen Morrisroe

As A Sister of the Good Shepherd I feel privileged to be among those who visit and minister to the women whose freedom has been taken away from them, through their own mistakes or through circumstances. As a member of the Sunday worship liturgy, and through the week as I visit the different Tier blocks, I have witnessed true sorrow, a genuine gratitude, and humanity at its most vulnerable. Sometimes it only takes a smile, the remembrance of their name, a word to give counsel, a deeper look into a passage of the Scripture, or a song to uplift their hearts. Whatever – they are sincerely grateful for the time we share together and this goes two ways. I go to bring them new life, and come away so enlivened myself, all I can say to the Lord is, “Thank you for the gift of my vocation.”

At one of the Chaplain’s meetings we were encouraged to bring in choirs during the Christmas season – not a usual event, I can assure you, for no one enters without a badge. Taking the sheriff at his word, I invited our parish choir of African Americans to come one Saturday for the women in the largest of the prisons I visit. It would be their first time and it was plain to see that some were nervous, others excited, and some with a pointed word to give through song. As the director talked to the dozen choir members she reminded them that the following Sunday the message from the Lord was, “When I was in prison you visited Me.” And with that word…they came.

The Thursday before that memorable Saturday, I had asked the priest to come and hear the confessions of those women who had asked for the Sacrament. While this took place in a corner of the large, all purpose room; I sat and talked quietly with the other women. Using this time I told them about the choir coming and urges them to tell everyone so that the women wouldn’t miss it by sleeping, which can happen because they rise early for breakfast. One of the women asked if their choir could sing too. I gave a rather vague answer to that question, because I didn’t know they had a choir of their own, and secondly I wasn’t sure myself how much time the church choir would have.

Donned in their choir robes the hours arrived and all were present. Over a hundred of the women filed into the room and took their seats. One of the choir members read a beautiful prayer lifting all hearts to the Lord…and they began in their typical, jazzy fashion that got the women clapping, stamping, and crying for joy in no time at all. As song after song was sung, I think the whole neighborhood could have heard the clapping, the vocal joy and excitement. After about 6 hymns, the choir director then invited everyone to sing with them some Christmas Carols. During this, I told the director that when they finished the carols, the women wanted to sing for them.

It was the women’s turn – the most unlikely woman stood up, walked to the front with about 15 following her, making two semi-circles. Without a piano or organ, or any other instrument, they began in three-part harmony, a Spiritual that held all of us spellbound. When finished, the applause was thunderous. Then a skinny little woman stepped forward and sang in rippling fashion, up and down the scales, about Jeremiah. She faded back into the group and the prisoners’ choir picked it up again in three or four part harmony. It was magnificent. When they finished their final song I knew we all had received a little Christmas ahead of time.

Sr. Mary Hart

[Sr. Mary Hart is an apostolic (active) Good Shepherd Sister in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and has been serving in St. Francis/St. Philip Parish for 19 years. This is excerpt from an article about Sr. Mary.]

Sr. Mary recalls, "I remember my father telling me when I was a young girl, ‘Mary because your name is Hart, many doors will be opened to you. It’s your responsibility to help open doors for others who do not have the same responsibilities that you have had’…I never forgot that, and I have taken it to heart throughout my religious life and now especially in my work at the parish"….

Roxbury is an economically poor, urban neighborhood in Boston, but gifted with a wealth of "soul". It is a community where Jesus, the Good Shepherd would want to be present and is in fact present in the lives of the people. Mary reflects, "In the city you have to be very contemplative to know the plan of God. You come to know the plan of God from listening to the voices of the people.

"In the beginning, much of my work in the parish was developing the after work and summer camp program for the children in the parish and the neighborhood community…."

Today…Sr. Mary’s focus has turned to working with older children, young adults and staff in developing their leadership abilities and involvement with in the parish…. Sr. Mary says comments, "I feel that I have been helped so much in my own life and vocation. It came to me that my ministry is to be of any help that I can to the staff, teenagers, and young adults in discovering and responding to their own call. I truly believe in people, and that God calls each of us to live life to the full. One of the ways that we do this is by following our dreams, our deepest desires, and by developing our gifts. And we all have gifts!’"

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