Cardinal celebrates Mass of Thanksgiving for women religious jubilarians

BRAINTREE -- When celebrating a Jubilee Mass for the Archdiocese of Boston's religious sisters on Nov. 4, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley had to make a last-minute change to his homily.

Cardinal O'Malley said that the sisters, who gathered at the Archdiocese of Boston Pastoral Center's Bethany Chapel to celebrate the 50th, 60th, or even 70th anniversaries of taking their vows, represented centuries of religious life. It turned out that "centuries" was a low estimate. The sisters actually represented a combined 7,875 years of religious life.

"It says something about longevity in women religious," said Sister Germana Santos, a Daughter of St. Paul and the Archdiocese of Boston's delegate for religious.

Case in point: 96-year-old Sister Angela Gvazdauskas, who became a Poor Sister of Jesus Crucified and the Sorrowful Mother 70 years ago.

Ever since she was a little girl growing up in Worcester, Sister Angela wanted to be a sister like her older cousin. She attributed her long life to her faith but said that she is still going strong.

"I'm only 96," she told The Pilot.

During Mass, the sisters renewed their vows and congratulated each other on their milestones. Other sisters throughout the archdiocese also marked their jubilees but could not make it to the Pastoral Center due to illness or advanced age. Those who could make it shook hands with (or hugged) Cardinal O'Malley, received his blessing, and got their pictures taken with him.

"It's a miracle, to tell you the truth," Sister Jeanette Gaudet, who celebrated 60 years as a Missionary Franciscan Sister of the Immaculate Conception, told The Pilot. "It didn't seem like 60 years, I can say that for sure."

In a jubilarian reflection offered at the end of Mass, she said that by living and working with people of all backgrounds, religious sisters have special insight into the human condition.

"If we are open to having eyes that see," she said, "those years can also give us perspective. The higher the ascent, the deeper the depths plunged, the broader the vision."

In her 60 years of religious life, she has visited 11 countries, including Papua New Guinea, Egypt, Italy, Ireland, and Bolivia.

"It was a wonderful gift to see the variety," she told The Pilot, "and also the fact that people are all the same everywhere, really. They're joyful about some of the same things, and they're sad and in pain about some of the same things."

When she "experienced the joy of the Franciscan Sisters" in high school, she knew religious life was for her.

"I felt called to be in a really vital community where everyone was respected, everyone was loved," she said. "Everyone was brothers and sisters everywhere."

In his homily, Cardinal O'Malley compared the work of religious sisters to the ideals of the Synod on Synodality, which he recently attended in Rome. He said it was "refreshing" to see the number of sisters who participated in and assisted with the synod.

"It was just extraordinary," he said. "Sometimes we get disappointed that consecrated life seems to be on the wane, but I assure you, that is not the full picture."

He looked back on his own 58 years of religious life, and the changes that he has seen in that time.

"But I never doubted for a moment that religious life is one of the greatest treasures of the Catholic Church," he said. "Our religious sisters have initiated so many works and served so many millions of people, and always with such a special love and regard for the poor, the defenseless, the prisoner."

He said that religious sisters represent the "strong sense of community" that guided the church in its earliest days. With the synod, he said, Pope Francis is "trying to return" that community spirit to the church.

"We call you sisters because you are," he said. "Your call is to be part of every family, especially where God's merciful providence needs to be present."