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From Chatawa to Covington

By Sister Marie Williams
Marie Williams, SSND

I was reading an article “Put Out Into the Deep” from my monthly reflection book. So much of the article spoke to me as I recently learned I have cancer. However, I began to think of how it can easily apply to all of us in the process of transition. In the article, it states that God is inviting us to a deeper experience of His love for us and a deeper willingness to surrender our lives more fully to him. God is calling us to a deeper trust because God is not finished with us, with our province or with our congregation. Just as Jesus asked Peter to take another step in his journey of faith, Jesus also is asking something difficult of each of us. Jesus is asking us to surrender a life in which, we are comfortable and secure, to go out into the deep, to throw out our nets into the unknown, and to trust that God is there with us.

All of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) Central Pacific Province campuses are in transition, Chatawa, Mississippi, was the first campus to see this change. The Integrated Implementation Process (IIP) committee members were searching for a place where we SSND could still be in community. In Covington, Louisiana, the committee found a relatively new place that could accommodate sisters who are independent, as well as sisters needing assistance or memory care. A new residence across the street will open for those needing skilled care. St. Anthony’s Gardens is a Catholic facility, owned by the Archdiocese of New Orleans and is located near a parish church. Mass is provided six days a week.

We received much information about the services available at St. Anthony’s Gardens, visited it and had many questions answered in advance. Everything seemed to meet our needs. This does not mean we were all “jumping for joy,” even thinking of such a transition was hard and tears were shed when sisters left the beloved Chatawa campus.

We began the moving process, fully trusting that it was a call from God to go into the deep. At this point, some of our sisters in the province, having learned that this was an immediate move, responded to our call for assistance in this process. Some came to clean out cupboards or entire rooms, to shop and then pack articles needed for the apartments. Others helped individual sisters pack, organize, sort through clothes and dispose of unneeded items. Downsizing was the name of the game. In order to keep Chatawa open and running as usual during the next six months, SSND volunteers answered phones, did dishes, took care of transportation and other necessary details as sisters gradually moved out. Our sisters supported us so beautifully with prayers and encouraging messages and assured us that they were standing with us in this transition period. It is so touching and truly inspiring to belong to a province that is so supportive.

Sister Chrisann Mortensen, our community leader, knowing the sisters and their capabilities, divided us into groups of five or six for the actual moving process. The first group moved in the middle of August 2019. A moving van brought the bedroom and living room furniture, and our maintenance crew from Chatawa came to help set up the furniture. Other sisters helped in any way they could so the five sisters could be ready to go to bed at a decent hour that night. It was an exhausting day. This first group had two weeks to become fully established in their apartment and to become familiar with the daily routine, so they could be of assistance to the next group that arrived. Every two weeks, another group of five or six arrived, including sisters in need of memory care and assisted living.

As each group arrived, the administration and the residents welcomed us with open arms. Then, throughout the following weeks, the residents continued to be of assistance asking if we needed anything, showing us around when we got lost, inviting us to entertainment and doing a million other things. We came to see a new ministry in simply listening to them and offering words of comfort and of friendship. We took them into our hearts, as they opened theirs to us.

Several sisters still remain in Chatawa with our sisters in need of skilled care. By the end of October 2019, the first phase of the move was completed. The final move will be completed when the Skilled Care facility, Trinity Trace opens. Sisters Chrisann Mortensen’s and Dana Marie Heffner’s organizational skills and careful planning made everything go smoothly. Also, our administrative offices in Notre Dame of Elm Grove, Elm Grove, Wisconsin, did a lot of background work with social security, Medicare and Medicaid, to make sure we all had what was needed for the state of Louisiana. A big advantage of being here is the health care system, which has numerous doctors and health care professionals of all kinds, as well as a wonderful hospital, all located in the vicinity. We do not have to go far to get medical help. In fact, the St. Tammany Physicians’ Network now has provided a convenient on-site clinic, here at St. Anthony’s Gardens for the residents.

Our Provincial Councilors, Sisters Dawn Achs and Anna Maria Reha, came for a very informal meeting of sharing. The general consensus was that most of us were well satisfied and pleased with everything. The entire Provincial Council came in November for our commissioning service, which is the act of the council handing out ministry responsibilities and community assignments. That same day, Archbishop Aymond celebrated a Mass marking the three-year anniversary of St. Anthony’s Gardens, as well as welcoming us to the facility and to the archdiocese.

In looking back, most of us would say that the transition, though hard, was made much easier by the prayers and the wonderful support given to us by the sisters of the Central Pacific Province. Since Jesus asked us to “put out into the deep,” Jesus continues to walk with us and stays nearby through any difficulties we encounter. As transitions continue, may we all be supportive of each other in prayer and by offering whatever assistance we can give. Our God is a loving God and will not ask of us what we cannot do.


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