150th Anniversary of Arrival in Baltimore
All Saints Sisters of the Poor
November 4, 2022
Note: For photos from the event and to read coverage of the celebration in the Catholic Review, click here.
Let me begin with my warmest congratulations to you, Mother Emily Ann, and dear Sisters, to my brother priests and to all of you who are the friends and benefactors of the All Saints Sisters of the Poor. We have gathered to celebrate and to give thanks as you observe the Sesquicentennial of the arrival of the All Saints Sisters here in the United States of America. Permit to say how providential it was that, of all the places in the United States, your sisters, invited by Father Joseph Ritchie, the Rector of Mount Calvary Church, settled here in the Baltimore area … what a blessing for us all.
Throughout the history of your community, you have responded to the call of the Lord, the call to live a life with him, and in so doing, to respond to the needs of your sisters and brothers. The call of the Lord came through your foundress, Harriet Brownlow Byron, who, in 1851, “left the world” and dedicated her life to Christ and the service of the poor. Building on an ancient English tradition of monastic life, Ms. Byron established a new community devoted to Christ in the Eucharist, founded in prayer and committed to the service of the poor. This community, time and time again, responded to needs that arose, whether it be nursing soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War, or caring for the children of recently emancipated slaves.
In 1872, three of your sisters came to Baltimore as missionaries, and, in 1890, you established your first convent on American soil, bringing to this land a new flowering of the rich tradition of the Anglican communion. From Baltimore, your sisters spread to other cities of the United States. In all these places, they responded to the call of the Lord to live a life with him and to serve the needs of their brothers and sisters,
Notably, throughout the life of your community, you have invited lay women and men to be your co-workers and have lovingly entrusted to them your ministries, that the good work you have begun might be brought to completion in Christ Jesus, Our Lord.
For example, your sisters were pioneers in hospice care here in America. In 1987, under the leadership of Sister Catherine Grace, and friends at Mount Calvary Church, you founded the Joseph Ritchie Hospice. This good work which you began is now being sustained by committed lay co-workers whom you formed and empowered to respond to the needs of their brothers and sisters.
Responding to a New Call
It was from the same desire, indeed the same call of the Lord, a call to respond to the needs of your brothers and sisters, that you, sisters, turned your focus toward the growing spiritual needs of the women and men of our times, living as they do in a world that grows ever-more forgetful of God and his abundant love. Here in this beautiful place, rooted in prayer, centered on the Eucharist, committed to communal life, you maintain an oasis of the Christian life. This is a holy place where, like the Virgin Mary, you store in your hearts the memory of the mysteries of life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In this way, now as ever, you are responding to the call of the Lord to be with Him, and in so doing, to serve the needs of your brothers and sisters
In the Gospel of to-day’s Mass, Jesus exhorts us not to labor for the food that perishes, but rather to labor for the food that endures unto eternal life that food and that life which only Christ can give to us. In the eyes of the world, your contemplative, prayerful way of life, consecrated as you to the Lord by chastity, poverty, and obedience, may seem futile. You may be asked, “Well, sisters, what do you do?”
This is the question posed by a world that reduces everything to the material, a world that is utilitarian, a world that has lost sight of the supernatural and the eternal, in short, a world grown forgetful of God. Sisters, your life, “useless” in the eyes of the world is wholly worthwhile, and more than that, it is precious in the eyes of the Lord and the eyes of the Church. For it is you who set our sights on the food that endures forever, the Eucharist, and those realities that endure forever, namely, eternal life with the Lord, and communion with that “cloud of witnesses” redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. It is for that reason that we were created. He alone is worth living for and dying for. He is our sole possession. You teach us by your mode of life to live as “having nothing yet possessing everything”.
Being a Bridge
Gathered in this chapel with those who love and support you, we know you have friends who are both Roman and Anglican, as also men and women who, in their search for truth, have been influenced by your lives of prayer and charity. Dear to your hearts, sisters, is the parting prayer of Jesus, “that all may be one” You stand as bridge between the Anglican and the Roman Catholic traditions, you who have time and time again heard the call of the Lord, and responded to meet the needs of your brothers and sisters.
It is not easy to be a bridge. A bridge must bear a certain amount of stress and weight, but may I say on behalf of all your friends gathered here today that you have borne that stress and that weight most gracefully. Not only do you bridge divides between Christians, but by your way of life, you also serve as bridge to convey people to the Lord. By your life of contemplative prayer, by your evangelical style of life, and by your warm hospitality, you help many to encounter the Lord, to hear the Gospel, and to set their sights on the things that endure forever. Your life is largely hidden but it is vital to the Church’s mission of evangelization. You are indeed, a light brightly visible!
A Future Full of Hope
As we look to the future, we are filled with hope. We are convinced that your sacrificial, evangelical, and prayerful style of life is vital for the future of the Church and for our spiritual welfare. Likewise, we are convinced that the Lord is still calling women to follow in your footsteps.
As your friends, we commit ourselves to pray for vocations to your community, that the good work which the Lord has begun in you may continue and be brought to fulfillment in the Kingdom where he lives and reigns, world without end. Amen.