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Sunday, July 20, 2008

"At 100 years old, nun has earned her optimism'

From Newsday.com

July 20, 2008

Emphases and (comments) mine - BW.

Sister Mary Loyola Engel still remembers watching lamplighters come down the streets of Manhattan to ignite the street lights at night before there was electricity.

She remembers riding in a horse and buggy before cars became common. And she remembers the day in 1917 when the United States entered World War I - the next day's headline took up the entire front page.

Engel was born in 1908, and today she turns 100. She says she is amazed she has lived so long, and even more amazed by the wonderful life she has led, including a stint as Mother Superior of the order that founded Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre.

"I feel fine," she said recently during an interview at the Villa St. Joseph, a convent the Congregation of the Infant Jesus built next to the hospital. "I sometimes wonder how did I get to be this old."

She will mark her birthday with a Mass at the villa, followed by a social hour and then dinner. She plans to make some remarks at the events- which shouldn't be a problem. She still leads Bible study programs and days of prayer.

"She's a great inspiration to us," said Eileen T. McMahon, who is director of an associates program of lay people who feel a spiritual connection to the order and share work and prayer with the nuns.

The associates program is one sign of how religious life is changing (I've begun noticing that more and more religious communities, particularly some of the ones that are in rapid decline, frequently tout the success of their "associates" program as the "future of religious life." However, if there are no longer any members of the religious community, with whom will the "associates" be associated? Besides, only vowed religious can constitute a religious community, and in it, religious life - associates can not, they are "lay people".), and one that Sister Mary Loyola finds intriguing. "It's a whole new world," she said.

It was a much simpler world when Engel decided to become a nun. After spending her early years in Manhattan, her family moved to Rockville Centre in 1920. Sunrise Highway did not exist then.

Engel eventually enrolled in Hunter College, and while there spent three years as a volunteer teaching Italian immigrants English. She graduated in 1928, and spent two years teaching. But the experience with the immigrants stuck with her and propelled her in 1930 to enter the novitiate.

"I knew I wanted to do something that would keep me in touch with poor people," she said.

She spent a decade providing home nursing to the poor in Brooklyn during the Great Depression and World War II, then went on to work teaching new sisters. From 1965 to 1974 she served as head of the entire order.

She also found time to write two books. One was "Half a Hundred: Whatever Happened to the Sisters?" a history of her order and their noted work in health care.

Like all Catholic religious orders, it has seen its ups and downs. It had about 200 members in the 1960s. Now it is down to 55, most of them elderly. Engel said she can't remember the last time a new member entered - sometime in the 1970s.

Read the rest of the article HERE.

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