Sr. Elish McPartland, Apostolic Sister - Massage Therapist

Her Story

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 the brokenhearted?"

Sr. Elish explains that her ministry as a massage therapist provides her with wonderful opportunities to exercise the charism of the Good Shepherd. It allows me the privilege of ministering to people whose minds, bodies and spirits bear the scars of injury and trauma. Annointing is part of many of our sacraments in the Church and massage is a way of annointing the body, thus facilitating the healing process."

"In my ministry of massage therapy and other modalities of bodywork I am able to exercise our charism of compassion. I firmly believe that God can and does use the touch to bring healing and comfort to those persons whose bodies and spirits are calling out, even sometimes crying out, for relief from emotional and physical pain. Frequently, as I wipe away tears and attempt to be present to each person, I find myself praying with a special instensity. I feel concretely the love of God in a personal and profound way, and that somehow my work can play a part in bringing a person to a great awareness of God's love for them."

The Power of Prayer

In her ministry of "healing touch" Sr. Elish notes that she encounters the charism of the Good Shepherd, in the people with whom she works, she witnesses a movement towards greater compassion towards themselves.

One of the greatest suppors for Sr. Elish in her ministry is the awareness of the power of the prayers of the Contemplative and infirmed Sisters of the Good Shepherd. "It means so much to the people when I assure them that they are held in prayer each day by all of the sisters. This prayer connectioin puts flesh on the bones of Christ's Body of which we are all members."

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, indentifies himself as having come "to bring the good News to the poor and to heal the brokenhearted." In Sr. Elish's current ministry as a massage therapist, God has lead her to a new "Samoa Island", an island where those who visit can experience the power of healing touch.

Sr. Mary Hart, Apostolic Sister - Parish ministry

Her Story

Sr. Mary Hart has been the director of St. Francis - St. Philip parish summer camp and after school program in Roxbury, Massachusetts, for the pat 19 years. St. Francis - St. Philip is a Black, Catholic Parish, whose members are a cross section of the Black community. In reflecting on her vocation to Good Shepherd and what drew her heart to parish ministry, 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 opportunities that you have had.'" Mary says, "I never forfot that, and I have taken it to heart throughout my religious life and now especially in my work at the parish."

Mary remembers, "Nineteen years ago when I was discerning a change in my ministry (I had been working in a residential program for teenage girls with special emotional needs at the time) I remember really feeling drawn to parish work. I really wanted to be identified with the Church. It was also very important to me to be sent by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd to work in the parish as a Sister of the Good Shepherd. Parish work was not one of our traditional works as a congregation, and so this was somewhat new territory for us. My feeling is that we are powerful people as religious, and we can help ordinary people to do what their hearts desire by sharing with others the gifts that we have been given as a group. And so, I was sent by the Sisters to begin my new ministry in parish work at St. Francis - St. Philip parish in Roxbury."

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 school and summer camp program for the children in the parish and neighborhood community. The work was mainly organizing and setting up the programs. The people of the parish community were ready and willing to staff them. This is how it should be as they are really best able to give the children what they need. God has given all of us in the parish this ministry of caring for our children. If we do the best that we are able, then the best is wonderful! We each share what we have with one another and God has blessed all of us abundantly."

Today the after school program and summer camp are well established. Sr. Mary's focus has now turned to working with the older children, young adults and staff in developing their leadership abilities and involvement in the parish. She is particularly adept at identifying the talents, strengths, and giftedness of others, and in helping them to see and realize those gifts and talents within themselves. Sr. Mary comments, "I feel that I have been helped so much in my own life and vocation. It came to me forcefully 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 I believe 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!"

One of the ways that Mary helps others to develop their gifts is through the leadership training program which she has developed for the young men and women who show signs of having the ability to take on a leadership role within the community. The program lasts five years and demands a real commitment and hard work from those involved in it. Sr. Mary notes, "It takes young people longer to stand on teir own two feet. It is so important to have someone to walk with them. I walk with them until they are able to walk confidently on their own. I have the patience to walk with them. They in turn walk with the younger emerging leaders and so it goes. We all learn to walk with one another. These young leaders become a real witness and model to the younger children in the community. The younger children then are able to imagine and dream of becoming leaders themselves someday. There is a sense of ownership and pride in the parish and ultimately a sense of accomplishment and esteem in one's self. It is so important for the young boys and girls of the parish to be able to look up to the men and women of the community and to say confidently, 'I can be a leader too.'"

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.' This was a profound religious experience for me that was totally freeing. I discovered God in the people and I try to always listen to htem and what they have to say. I see all aspects of God in these people, and I think that they experience God, the Good Shepherd, in me. We wash one another's hands here. It's not just me washing their hands. They wash my hands daily. This is a ministry of mutuality and reciprocity. We are all in this together.

"St. Mary Euphrasia, the foundress of my congregatioin, would say, 'A person is of more value than a world.' We are all that one person here at St. Francis - St. Philip Parish."

Sr. Pat Brennan, Apostolic Sister

Her Story

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 three
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.