A Community of Accompaniment
Editor’s note: A dear partner of FMS and supporter of our missioners in Jamaica, Sister Maureen Clare, passed away in May. In this reflection, missioner Joleen Johnson, who lives in a convent in Kingston with the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, reflects on the ministry of presence that the sisters and other convent residents showed toward Sister Maureen Clare during her final days.
One of the aspects of the Franciscan charism that attracted me the most as I began Formation with Franciscan Mission Service and started learning what St. Francis was all about is the notion of accompaniment and ministry of presence. At my mission site, I live among the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany in Jamaica. Every one of the sisters is an educator. In the wake of one of their beloved sisters approaching the transition into eternal life, this community of Franciscan sisters has taught me, in the most impactful way, what accompaniment truly means, and demonstrated tangibly selfless loving service to the one in need.
As Sister Maureen Clare became ill, and as she was dying, I had the blessing of watching her community come around her and lovingly serve her. I watched as one of her sisters prepared soft foods for every single one of Sister Maureen Clare’s meals. This loving sister made smoothies, sneaking in fruits and vegetables readily, and attentively observing Sister Maureen Clare’s preferences. I watched another sister bring Sister Maureen Clare her favorite Devon House coffee ice cream at every chance possible. I watched as a past student of Sister Maureen Clare’s came to her room and played piano for her one afternoon, even creating a song on the spot called, “Great Woman, Sister Maureen Clare” (which was later played at her funeral). I watched as our plant manager hauled oxygen tank after oxygen tank to her room, week after week. I watched as a dear friend living in the convent came each night with a mosquito zapper to displace all possible insects out of her room, even retrieving a ladder most nights to reach the stragglers who were trying to hide near the ceiling.
I watched as another sister took the work from Sister Maureen Clare’s desk and took care of some business, thus taking burdens off of Sister’s workload. I watched as her sisters gave her massages each night to alleviate the pain in her joints. I watched as one of her sisters came to her room to visit every night after supper, religiously, just to be present with her and share time together chatting. I watched as visitor after visitor sat by Sister Maureen Clare’s bedside and kept her company. In her last month, there was hardly a time when she was alone in her room without someone else there present. I watched as the alumnae of the beloved high school of which Sister Maureen Clare was principal for 28 years came to support her and gifted her with medical supplies, flowers, and many other gifts. I watched as a convent community member generously livedstreamed the daily Masses happening downstairs in the chapel so that Sister Maureen Clare could participate in the Mass with her community from her bed via computer. Anything she needed, her sisters selflessly gave her from their own few possessions and means.
I watched as her community—her sisters and the rest of us living at the convent, who have been welcomed as family—surrounded her, kept watch, and were present to her in her last hours. Her bedside was surrounded by nearly everyone who lives here at the convent. I watched as a priest and an Archbishop, a close longtime friend of Sister Maureen Clare’s, came to be present and give Last Rites. Throughout the whole process I watched as her sisters and community accompanied her as she declined. And on the night she was to die, I watched as her dear doctor, who continually took such tender care of her and came to care for and support her at least three times each day, slept on her floor, waking up to check her vital signs frequently throughout the night in conjunction with a caregiver aide.
Through the process of Sister Maureen Clare being born into eternal life, this community has taught me more about accompaniment than any book in Formation could have. This real life formation by example and first hand experience has impacted me greatly. The love and selflessness that I saw poured forth toward Sister Maureen Clare as she approached her death, are a powerful witness of presence that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life.
Question for reflection: How does the sisters’ example of accompaniment inspire you to serve those around you with selfless love?