Sr. Elish McPartland, Apostolic Sister - Massage Therapist
Sr. Elish grew up in Ireland and loved to read stories about the work of Irish Missionaries in various parts of the world. She recalls, "as a youngster she experienced a deep desire to become a missionary sister and work in the Samoa Island."
At 17 she moved to New York City and worked for an advertising agency on Madison Avenue right next door to St. Patrick's Cathedral. She would frequent this beautiful cathedral and "occasionally the desire to enter religious life would again rise up in my heart." One particular day Elise purchased a magazine in the gift shop in St. Patrick's. On her way home that evening, she read a story in this magazine, which was written by a Good Shepherd sister from St. Louis.
Sr. Elish remembers how she felt, "I can still feel the excitement I experienced as I read about the spirituality of the Good Shepherd Community, and how this spirituality influenced this particular sister to reach out to a teenage girl in need of guidance and support. At that moment I knew that I wanted to join this community. Although it is now over forty years since I read that story, I can still see clearly in my mind the inside of the subway car and the picture on the cover of the magazine. I felt that the spirituality described in the story was very akin to what I felt in my own heart. I decided immediately to contact the author of the story." Eventually this led to Elis's discovery of the Good Shepherd sisters in New York City. She entered the Good Shepherd Community at the age of 23, and so it was that, after working in New York City for over 6 years, Sr. Elise reflects, "I found my 'Samoa Island' and the beautiful ministry of the Good Shepherd."
The Story Continues:
Good Shepherd Sisters share in the mission of Jesus Christ who identifies himself as..."sent to bring Good News to the poor and to heal the brokenhearted." It was this mission of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, that first captivated Sr. Elish's imagination and heart.
Throughout the years as a Sister of the Good Shepherd, Sr. Elish has held various ministerial postions: child care worker - working with adolescent girls in need of a home away from home, administrator, and various leadership roles within the congregation. Now she is ministering to those in need of emotional and physical healing in a new way, a way that she would not have envisioned when she first entered the congregation. Sr. Elish is a massage therapist.
It was in 1993, after the completion of a year's sabbatical program at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkely, CA, that God's gentle and persistent way of leading the heart to service toook on a new and surprising twist for her. While in Berkely, Sr. Elish was introduced to a course in massage therap. She was initially attacted to the idea of massage as a way to help her sister who has multiple sclerosis. After completing the course, she began to provide massage therapy to women living at a nearby HIV treatment center.
Sr. Elish comments, "All the time I was doing it, I thought what a wonderful ministry this would be to reach out to popel who are hurting. I wasn't sure how I coud inegrate massage into my ministry, but I knew that I wanted to serve those most in need. I thought about women who had been abused and those recovering from addictions. And so it was that I formally decided to pursue my certification in massage therapy.
Massage Therapy: A Ministry of Healing Touch
What is the connection between massage therapy
and charism of the Good Shepherd - "to bring good news to the poor and to heal
Sr. Mary Hart, Apostolic Sister - Parish ministry
Mary remembers when she first went to the parish,
"My theology was a bit distorted back then. I remember thinking - I wonder
how I will bring God to the people here at St. Francis - St. Philip Parish?
In my prayer I clearly heard God saying to me, 'I'm here to be discovered.'
Sr. Pat Brennan, Apostolic Sister
A current day martyr, Sr. Ita Ford, Mary Knoll Sister, who was killed while ministering to the poor in El Salvador in 1980, wrote to her niece who had just turned 16:
“I hope that you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you. Something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for. Something that energizes you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can’t tell you what it might be. That’s for you to choose, to love. I encourage you to start looking, and support you in your search.”
Sr. Pat’s Introduction to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
It was at age 16 that Pat Brennan was first introduced to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. She had a cousin, Fr. Dave Mulcahy, who was visiting from his native Ireland. He was a missionary for years in Africa. He had first made a connection with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Limerick, Ireland where he used to say Mass for them. When he arrived in the United States, he asked if there were any Good Shepherd Sisters in the area. There happened to be a group of Sisters of the Good Shepherd and Contemplative Sisters of the Good Shepherd right in the city where Pat lived, Springfield, Massachusetts, and so Fr. Dave and Pat set out to see the sisters.
Sr. Pat remembers that after Mass, the sisters invited Fr. Dave and her to join them for a big breakfast. Pat recalls really being impressed with the warm welcome and generous hospitality that they received from the sisters. She recalls, “I was deeply impressed by their spirit of openness, their welcome, their warmth. When I left there, I could not stop thinking about them. There was something there that was attractive and inviting to me.” From that day on she would look for excuses to visit them. “I used to go back to see the sisters on the pretense that I was going to purchase things from their gift shop, but I really was interested in seeing the sisters and spending time with them. There was a sister there, Sr. Columba, who was the superior of the convent, she took a special interest in me and mentored me during this initial stage of discernment.”
Sr. Columba would talk to Pat about the foundress of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, St. Mary Euphrasia, and instilled in her a love and admiration for Mary Euphrasia. Sr. Pat notes, “I was really drawn to the spirit, the values and philosophy of the Good Shepherd. I experienced this ‘mysterious call’ deep within. At 16 I’m not sure that I could really articulate what it was, but there was something that I saw and experienced in these sisters that resonated deeply within my own heart. They were about making a difference in the lives of young women and girls who had experienced hurt and pain in their early years. The Sisters had created a place for these girls that was safe and nurturing – where they could grow and heal and change, and begin to believe in themselves and in how precious they were in the eyes of God. I wasn’t really sure exactly how this happened, but I know that it had something to do with the way that the sisters treated the girls and related to them. The sisters believed in them.”
Belonging to a Community of Faith
In St. Mary Euphrasia’s time she was drawn to the mission of the Good Shepherd: to reach out to those who had been abandoned, hurt, wounded by life circumstances or were caught in oppressive, dehumanizing and unjust situations. She longed to bring the good news of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, particularly to those who were hungering for human love and affirmation. This is the wonderful spirituality that Pat first experienced when she met the Good Shepherd Sisters in Springfield, Massachusetts at age 16. And it remains the “why” Sr. Pat continues to love being a Good Shepherd Sister! “It is the reality of belonging to something that is bigger than one’s self: the sense that one is not in this alone, that the mission and the spirituality of the Good Shepherd is expressed together as a community, that continues to nourish and encourage me in my vocation.”
Throughout Sr. Pat’s various ministerial positions within the congregation, child-care work, working with sisters in initial formation, and social work, she explains, “I always had a sense of camaraderie. I was not working alone. Even when things would be difficult, the sisters and the staff would pull together as a team to work together to help a child who was having a particularly difficult time. From 1965-1974 I was Candidate and Novice Director. Those were challenging times as there were many changes happening in the Church and society. I really loved working with the young women who were desiring to give their lives totally to God and to God’s people. It was such a rich and privileged experience for me, to walk with women at this stage of their faith journey in religious life.”
In reflecting on religious life, Sr. Pat states, “Our lives are meant to be integrated and focused on our ministry to Gods’ people. This is the focus of our prayer life too.”
She notes, “The charism (a charism is some aspect or image of God that God wants to make manifest within the world) of the Good Shepherd is a wonderful gift to be used for others. We are about creating places where people can grow in freedom and wholeness, where they can believe in their own unique worth and inestimable value. For me this charism identifies my own longings and desires with the longings and desires of the heart of the Good Shepherd: that all should experience reconciliation, welcome, belonging and healing.”
The Gathering Place
Sr. Pat is currently working at “The Gathering Place” in Waltham,
Massachusetts with two other Good Shepherd Sisters. It is a small community
program that provides a variety of services: counseling, massage therapy and
educational assistance, particularly to women and families, within a holistic
framework. Sr. Pat explains, “The three of us began this program about
years ago to respond to a need which we saw was not being met through other programs. There were people who were in need of support and who were left to face personal difficulties alone because they had no health benefits or insurance. The three of us knew that through our various backgrounds, professional skills and experiences we would be able to provide a variety of services within a holistic setting.”
Sr. Pat’s life as a Good Shepherd Sister is that which has given her deep meaning. Something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for. Something that has energized her, and continues to do so, enabling her to keep moving ahead in response to God’s people . Perhaps Jesus is calling you to a life in Good Shepherd. If you think that he might be, we encourage you to pursue your dream and we support you in your search.