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Sharing both flowers and pain as a Catholic Sister

Editor’s Note: As we celebrate Catholic Sisters Week (March 8-14), several sisters will share via the blog about their experiences living as a Catholic sister.

The other morning, I walked down the long narrow hallway to my office in the Science Building at Chicago State University. Outside my office, on the floor, was a vase filled with flowers.

Attached to the vase was a sticky note saying, “Thank you, Sister Judy,” and signed with a student’s name. A student who just returned to campus after spending two decades dealing with and finally escaping domestic violence.

Sister Judith (right) with Sister Barbara Ann Bluntzer.

This is not what I usually find outside my office door. More often, I find late papers with notes begging me to accept them. But today, there were flowers, a vase full of beautiful flowers.

It was a very long day, filled with anxious students preparing for and taking midterm exams. Between reassuring students that their value as a human being does not depend on their success on this particular test, reading mediocre essays with a few that have a sprinkling of creativity and potential brilliance, the morning memory of the flowers stayed with me.

By afternoon, I was dealing with a sobbing student, a young man who was overwhelmed with his responsibilities. He goes to school full-time and works full-time. If he quits his job, his dad will lose the house, and they will both be homeless. He works from 3 p.m. to midnight, five days a week, gets home about 1 a.m., studies until 3 or 4, sleeps until 8 and goes to class.

The frantic schedule and the fatigue it produces all came crashing in on him. I sat with him and listened. He had only slept two hours the night before and hadn’t eaten since the previous day. I offered him food, but he didn’t have time to eat before he had to leave for work. I can’t fix his problems, but I can listen.

Sister Judith at a rally for immigration.

I told Jay I would pray for him. I meant it. It seemed to help.

His pain stays with me as I reflect back on my day. Most people would just see a quiet, overweight young man with dreadlocks hanging down over his eyes and two days of beard growth on his face. Usually, he contains the pain better. I’ve had glimpses of it before, but not as raw as today. Usually, he laughs and is the life of the party, only it’s a classroom. Not today, Today, he cried.

This is what it means to be a sister, to listen to the vulnerable. To realize that I can’t fix everything as much as I might want to try.

Being a sister means sharing the flowers and the pain, bringing both to prayer. Spending time with Jesus during this time of Lent. Holding those who offer flowers and tears.

Might God be calling you to a meaningful life as a Sister of Providence? Explore if you might be called to life as a Sister of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. 

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Sister Judith Birgen

Sister Judith Birgen

Sister Judith, better known as Sister Judy, entered the Congregation in 1977. Currently, she ministers as an Associate Professor at Chicago State University. She has traveled to Uganda as a Fulbright scholar to teach at Uganda Martyrs University.

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  1. Avatar Donna Butler on March 14, 2023 at 6:23 am

    Thank you, Judy for sharing your life and this touching story. What a blessing that you could be there to listen with a compassionate heart.

  2. Avatar Debbie Griffey on March 14, 2023 at 8:38 am

    Thank you for sharing this. We are called to listen, and as a clinical social worker I can attest that listening has much power, even more so than solutions often.

  3. Avatar Connie SP on March 14, 2023 at 9:18 am

    What a sacred story indeed. Thanks for your many years in education Judy. May God continue to bless you and your ministry.

  4. Avatar Paula Modaff on March 14, 2023 at 9:24 am

    How wonderful that you can see both the joy and the challenges of your ministry, Judy. I am praying with you for this brave young man.

  5. Avatar Editha Ben on March 14, 2023 at 2:02 pm

    Thanks, Judy, for sharing this sacred story. With you I pray for your students who have some challenges.

  6. Avatar Jan Dry on March 15, 2023 at 3:58 pm

    What a beautiful and sad story, Judy. I am not surprised at this student’s desire to share with you thoughts . My heart goes out to Jay and also to the student who has finally escaped the domestic violence. They are very fortunate to know you.

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