On Feb. 23, Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, S.V. of the Sisters of Life will make a visit to Denver for the Archbishop’s Lecture Series. Mother Agnes was among the first group of women to join the Sisters of Life in 1991, and she now serves as the Superior General for the Sisters of Life. She and the Sisters of Life are among the starkest of advocates for defending life at its earliest and most vulnerable state, and the work they do has helped countless women and children. The Denver Catholic caught up with Mother Agnes via email ahead of her visit to Denver and talked all things life.
Q: What sparked your desire to join the Sisters of Life?
A: We live and believe that the founding and the charism of the Sisters of Life are an exceptional grace for our time. In 1991 John Cardinal O’Connor, then the Archbishop of New York, hosted a Discernment Retreat for young women considering a religious vocation. He described the Sisters of Life (not yet established) as a religious community who would live a contemplative, apostolic way of life, and I was very drawn to the richness of a contemplative prayer life.
As the Cardinal, our founder, would say: “God raises up religious communities to meet the needs of the time.” It seemed so clear to me that the charism of life was most needed in our day. In the preceding year I had received my summons to proclaim the truth of the dignity of every human life holding an infant niece: suddenly as if from nowhere came the thought – which I now recognize as an inspiration – “When she grows up, what am I going to tell her we did to protect the lives of the unborn threatened by the horror of abortion?” In an instant I had been recruited to help build a culture of life.
Q: How would you gauge the overall presence of pro-life culture in society? Is the pro-life voice becoming louder or more faint?
A: After the annual events surrounding the anniversary of Roe v. Wade this year, I am filled with even greater conviction that the tide will turn in this culture. The presence and the passion of the youth and young adults of our nation who proclaim and uphold the dignity of every human person has revolutionized the Life Movement. Eight Sisters and I attended the Walk for Life in San Francisco, and our Sisters were also at One Life Los Angeles, where they said the spirit was one of joy.
Nearly 40 of our Sisters traveled down to Washington D.C. and braved the storm along with so many others. In Washington D.C., they hosted a Holy Hour for Life, participated in the Life Is Very Good rally, the Vigil Mass and the Verizon Center Rally and Mass. They all marched to the Supreme Court amidst tens of thousands of faithful, joy-filled, praying groups, who had come at great personal sacrifice and risk, from incredible distances to witness to the beauty of life, sacredness of the human person, and need for alternatives and support for women who find themselves pregnant and vulnerable.
After the recent revelation of the Planned Parenthood videos, and the announcement of the Jubilee Year of Mercy…we are receiving more calls that ever from women and men who have been suffering silently after abortion and longing to receive the Lord’s mercy and new life he promises. It is evident to us that 43 years after the Roe v. Wade decision, the voice of those speaking on behalf of the voiceless unborn and their mothers will always be present, and because the tone is filled with so much mercy and hope, it is drawing even more to the unshakable conviction that abortion is never a good and women and men who find themselves contemplating abortion need practical help and support to discern a future free of regret and grief.
Q: Is physician-assisted suicide a priority/becoming a priority in your ministry?
A: Our Sisters help staff the Family Life and Respect Life Office for the Archdiocese of New York, which hosted a training conference on helping to stop physician-assisted suicide, and are involved in efforts to raise awareness, form consciences, and inform the lay faithful of the risks and dangers involved in legislation that is pushing to permit physician assisted suicide.
That being said, the main focus of our apostolates is human life in its earliest and most vulnerable state, the pregnant mother and her unborn child.
By means of our fourth vow as Sisters of life, to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life, all of our prayer and activity, at every moment of every day, is offered to the Lord so that the life of every human person, especially the most vulnerable, will be protected and prized as an icon of the living God. This also includes making reparation for the wanton attacks against human life at every stage, including the frail elderly, the terminally ill, the disabled, and those tempted to take their own lives.
The choice to end the life of a human person by way of euthanasia as a solution to life’s difficulties is often rooted in fear. “Perfect love casts out fear.”
There is always hope, even in the midst of suffering, and we hope to witness to that hope that Jesus brings and cast out that fear with a love that refuses to draw back in the face of suffering or persecution.
Q: What topics will you speak on during your visit to Denver?
A: With the Jubilee Year of Mercy upon us, I want to be able to share a look at the works of Mercy through the lens of the Charism of Life. Merciful love simultaneously reveals to the one loved their worth and dignity, and the Heart of Jesus Christ. The works of mercy are the most effective apologetic for the sacredness of life and human love; topics essential to the success of the Church’s new evangelization.
The Lord Jesus Christ said to the disciples after he multiplied the loaves and fish, “Pick up the pieces, lest they be lost.” Our founder, John Cardinal O’Connor saw in Jesus’ words an incredible tenderness and intentionality: the Lord cannot stand seeing anything lost! Our Founder heard in these words the Lord saying to us, “Pick up the pieces of broken hearts, of broken lives, shattered because of abortion.”
There is no sin we can commit that is too much for him. He is the merciful and prodigal Father, who lavishes us with his love and relieves us of every burden and fear. Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly, and that means, receiving his mercy and allowing us to make us new.
Q: What are some practical ways to get involved in the pro-life movement and shift mainstream culture’s mentality regarding the value and dignity of life?
• Read what the Church teaches on matters of life and love and give yourself permission to ask “why?”
• In prayer, ask for understanding of these matters of the heart and seek personal healing where it is needed
• Volunteer to help women and children
• Pray outside of an abortion clinic
• Offer your gifts (Join us as Co-Workers of Life!)
• Befriend and accompany a pregnant woman or a young, single mother
• Pray for a greater respect for human life
• Be courageously and publicly pro-life. These issues need to be taken seriously and how we vote on them matters.
To RSVP for the Archbishop’s Lecture Series, visit archden.org/lecture.