As the host of Christopher Closeup, the half-hour weekly radio show produced by The Christophers, it was recently my joy to interview Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, Superior General of the Sisters of Life. She shared her order’s mission helping women in crisis pregnancies.
Founded after New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor visited the Dachau concentration camp and vowed to protect the dignity of every human life, the Sisters of Life provide a safe haven for women who experience an unplanned pregnancy and aren’t sure what to do. Mother Agnes Mary Donovan explained that when they get a call for help, “We speak to (the woman) and say, ‘What are the desires of your heart?’ Inevitably she’ll say to us, ‘If this wasn’t the situation or that wasn’t the situation, I’d want this child.’…Then we start putting together ways in which we can meet her needs so she can fulfill her heart’s desire…95% of the women who call us will bring their child to birth.”
The Sisters of Life work out of a convent in Manhattan where seven Sisters live with seven guests who are either pregnant or have already given birth. Though Mother Donovan chuckles when asked if there’s a “typical” day in the convent, she explains that everyone rises early, the guests come and go freely to work or school, everyone gathers for the evening meal, and finally, some guests join the Sisters for a period of prayer in the chapel. Women of all faiths or no faith are welcomed by the Sisters, but Mother Donovan notes, “Many of them find it very comforting to entrust their lives to the Lord…”
Though Americans are compassionate people, there’s often a disconnect when it comes to the sanctity of life of the unborn child. Mother Donovan attributes this to the “radical, bitter root of feminism” that took hold during the 1970’s which encouraged women “to live as if we were men, sort of jettisoning our whole feminine nature… I think what we have to recover is the genius of womanhood.”
Abortion is an issue that stirs up a lot of anger, but Mother Donovan offers a prescription for the negativity: “We’ve found that the simple alchemy of love — loving those that come to us one heart at a time — that is what changes them…. (Some) that come to us tell us they are pro-choice; that’s no issue to us. Oftentimes as they’re with us… and we’ve loved them, something will emerge where they’ll say ‘I could never think that again.’ … What we see is abortion and those kinds of decisions are fueled by fear. St. John says, ‘Perfect love casts out fear.’ When one is supported and surrounded by love, they see the world and themselves differently.”
Mother Donovan acknowledges that some people encourage abortion because they think they’re being kind. But as she explains, “What they think they’re suggesting is that the woman can rewind the last 24 hours or the last month as if it didn’t happen and somehow retain again the moment when she was not pregnant. And you know, that never happens. We also serve many, many hundreds of women who suffer after abortion. They come to us seeking hope and healing…. So we can speak very credibly from our hearts because we’ve seen it and we work with these people who suffer so greatly. And we can say, ‘There’s got to be a better way.’”