The impact of COVID-19 in our Congregation

Sr. Pat Twohill, OP
Prioress Dominican Sisters of Peace, USA

For me, and I think for many of the Sisters in the Congregation, the confinement has been the most difficult aspect of our response to the coronavirus pandemic. I have realized how important my friends are to me, and how much I previously relied on them to restore my resiliency which is not possible in the same way now since connecting in person remains prohibited. Connecting by phone, text, zoom is “OK,” but it is not as restorative as being able to share a meal, laugh in each other’s company, extend a hug in greeting, even to see someone’s smile– since faces are masked. I hope my “Irish Eyes” really do smile still, but I think the furrow in my brow is more pronounced and more visible– forget the twinkle!

Difficult for me is also the curtailment of travel. I cannot get to see the Sisters I serve in their locales, or see my sick blood sister for that matter, who lives at a distance. I have realized that my travel also was exercise for my body as I walked across large airport landscapes on my way to see Sisters or to attend meetings etc. Now I am more sedentary, and more tempted to eat that extra cookie! I did get myself a bike which was hard to come by since they were is such high demand, and I have found riding it to be relaxing exercise and a way of letting go of stress.

The restrictions also have called forth creativity among us as we continue to have ceremonies to welcome Candidates, send Sisters to the novitiate and welcome them home, and to celebrate professions, but these are challenging, and while holding a virtual celebration is a temporary solution, it’s not as satisfactory as gathering in person. A concern I also have is that the community life for the candidates and women in formation is much more of a “closed system” now which means the full transmission to them of our welcoming spirit is curtailed. We now invite guests to the dinner table via iPad. They eat at their house; we eat at ours. Better than nothing, but also very strange.

I have also come to see the value of ritual in my life. Sisters and I are missing the rituals, especially at wakes and funerals for the Sisters. There are some rituals still, but not the full complement. This has intensified the grief. Also, in the large motherhouse where I live with over 70 other people, I am lucky if I see three to five sisters a day. I miss the stimulating conversations that used to take place in the dining room.

COVID-19  continues to impact our daily life along with the other pandemics of Racism and Climate Chaos. I see some benefits to these pandemics as horrible as they are—the needs of those we serve are more pronounced now and more visible and invite an urgent and creative response from us. We also are more conscious of partnering with other like-minded folks, to increase the impact of the responses we make. Fortunately, the Sisters remain very mission-focused. Our Catholic community also is striving to witness more to unity among us as an antidote to the extreme polarization we face in society and in some Church circles. This gives me hope.

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