Devotion at a global level: Sister Mary Rita Griffin
“My ministry is sharing spirituality with people.” This is how Sister Mary Rita Griffin (formerly Sister Mary Paula), who recently celebrated 61 years as a Sister of Providence, describes her current role as coordinator of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Sister Mary is a person who radiates passion and takes her ministry to heart. Her role as Our Lady of Providence shrine coordinator, which she took on in July of 2014, is no exception to her single-hearted character.
Day in the life of a shrine coordinator
So what does a shrine coordinator do exactly?
“I promote devotion to Our Lady of Providence, especially related to family, prayer and spirituality. That’s my main focus.”
This is Sister Mary’s humble introduction to a ministry that provides spiritual accompaniment to individuals from Australia, Portugal, and a number of African and South American countries as well as more local contacts. In addition to daily visits to the shrine, coordinating an annual novena to Our Lady of Providence, and deepening her own devotion to Mary through spiritual reading, a big part of Sister Mary’s role is to respond to prayer requests made through the National Shrine of Our Lady of Providence page online. Sister Mary estimates that she responds to an average of six prayer requests each week.
“Recently I have received prayer requests from people experiencing serious illnesses, in fear of losing their house, dealing with other anxieties.”
Sister Mary composes a personalized response to each prayer request. She expresses her own love and support as well as that of the Sisters of Providence community. She then copies the requests into the official intention book located in the shrine, representing that the intention has been laid into the hands of Our Lady of Providence.
Sister Mary has been pleasantly surprised to find her contact with people seeking the intercession of Our Lady of Providence often extends beyond the first email. “It becomes a two-way conversation,” she says.
Her correspondence with Charles Opara from Nigeria is one example of a single prayer request that developed into a relationship of ongoing spiritual accompaniment. Charles first emailed Sister Mary requesting prayers for his own job security and for his wife Ijeoma who was expecting a baby within the month. Sister Mary recalls, “We had several exchanges of emails before and after Claret [the new baby]’s birth.” She was delighted to receive photos of baby Claret and rejoiced with the family as they welcomed him.
“I have been amazed by the rich friendships that are happening through my role all centered on Our Lady of Providence,” Sister Mary says. “It’s a growing role for me as more people share their love for her, and I love the international flavor of it.”
A natural role, a Providential moment
Sister Mary expresses gratitude that this ministry came at just the right time for her. “I’ve had full-time-plus ministries my whole life,” she says. “I wanted this time of my life to be a time of deepening my spirituality, so this opportunity was perfect.” She describes her current role as naturally flowing from other ministries throughout her life as a Sister of Providence. Apart from 18 years serving the homeless population in Washington, D.C. and a two-year stint in Taiwan, Sister Mary has primarily worked with young families. This includes time as a teacher and then a principal in various elementary schools and her most recent ministry on staff at Woods Daycare/Pre-School.
Sister Mary’s ministry to families continues as she finds Our Lady’s lived experience so relevant to families today. “What I love are the Gospel passages that show Mary is one of us in the Communion of Saints. She understood homelessness, uncertainty, being poor. She trusted God and did her best as a mother to raise Jesus in deep faith.”
(Originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of HOPE magazine.)