February 2, 2018

A life fulfilled: The joys of my ministry as a Sister of St. Joseph

By Sister Natalie Cain, SSJ, Special to iObserve

Sister of St. Joseph Natalie Cain (right) visits with retired Sister of St. Joseph Edie McAlice. (IObserve photos/courtesy of Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield)


Editor’s note: The following is a guest commentary submitted by Sister Natalie Cain, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, to mark the Feb. 2 celebration of World Day for Consecrated Life.

Upon awakening on a recent morning, I recalled a letter I had received from my mother on the day I professed my final vows as a Sister of St. Joseph. It was handwritten on a simple piece of stationery. Coming from a place deep in her heart, she wrote, “I hope you are as fulfilled in your life as I have been in mine.”  

At the time, it seemed that my life path was different from hers. There was a certain ache in her heart that I would never know the joy of motherhood as she had. There was a certain ache in my heart that she would never know the joy of religious life that I was coming to know.

Many years have passed since that occasion. Today, as I reflect on my life as Sister Natalie, from a place deep in my heart, I know that her deep desire for me has been fulfilled. I also know that our lives are not separate but rather entwined and interdependent on one another. Joy flows from God and connects us all.

What a joy for all involved when my mother visited my first grade class at St. Agnes School in Dalton with my 4-year-old niece, her first grandchild. We sang songs and she told stories about me to the kids.

Sister Natalie Cain sings at a neighborhood event in North Adams “a number of years back.”

Much to my wonderment, teaching young children as a young adult, I came to experience their parents as my peers. As I was developing my spiritual life, so were they. As a Sister of St. Joseph, I had growth opportunities and invitations to explore our changing church and so did they. It was parents of my school children who introduced me to Cursillo. My early involvement in Cursillo led me to treasure spiritual growth and action. I began preparing and teaching courses in adult education in parishes and in homes.

What a joy it was for me to move into parish ministry at St. Mark’s in Pittsfield, truly significant years for me. I visited in over 500 homes, listening to people, many of whom were no longer connected to the church. Other women joined me as we went in twos, listened, met Christ in the neighborhoods, and brought news to the parish community of real needs of the people we encountered.

It was in Adams that I first became involved in interfaith lay ministry. Women and men from various churches, seeing common needs, organized AMEN: A Meeting of Ecumenical Neighbors. For many years, we engaged with the local community in linking people together to address conditions and work for change.

As Sisters of St. Joseph, we challenged each other to go out to meet Christ, hidden in unexpected places. We were invited to walk the walk of the poor. Eventually, I returned to my hometown of North Adams, a place that seemed to be abandoned, with many stores closed and shuttered and many streets dark and bare. I saw bumper stickers that said “If you are the last one to leave North Adams, please turn off the lights”.

I stayed there for over 25 years and experienced great joy and transformation, as I came to meet the Christ I had vowed to accompany forever.

Presently, I am engaged in the religious vocation ministry. As we celebrate consecrated life on Feb. 2, I celebrate that all of our lives are consecrated. I also rejoice that that I have been blessed to become and be Sister Natalie all of these years.

My deepest desire is that younger women will come to know the fulfillment of this life path and know the joy of being “Sister” to many a dear neighbor.

Sister Natalie is available to speak about vocations at parishes and schools. She can be contacted at 413-271-7591.