"There is a spirit of love in this house..."

“To love one another, this is what holy charity demands of every good Sister of Notre Dame.” So said Saint Julie Billiart – hundreds of years ago.

Hundreds of years yet still in the ears of Sister Ann Fanella. Sister Ann repeats them directly, as St. Julie said them directly. And she puts them into action.

Sister Ann is 81 years old. She points this out. Then, “But I’m gifted with the ability to walk!”

Sister Ann Fanella and Sister Mary-Louise Rossi helping at Mount Notre Dame Health Center to keep things clean and sanitized.

Beginning in August 2018 it was part of her ministry, this walking. Walking for those who couldn’t. Sister Ann spent 54 years in a classroom, 36 at St. Robert Bellarmine in Chicago. Then she came to Mount Notre Dame Health Center – not for health concerns but to love her Sisters.

Through walking she was living out what Saint Julie asked her Sisters to do. Sister Ann delivered messages, went out for prescriptions, helped with trips to the doctor.

Then, in March 2020, as we all know, the world turned upside down. Sister Ann’s became a ministry of a whole other magnitude. For 15 long months, she remained in lockdown with her Sisters, eight of whom we lost. Her walking was confined to the building, sometimes only to her room. In its place came phone calls and notes and letters to her Sisters some only a door or two away.

It was a ministry of a different magnitude, but not of a different kind. It was, as before, to love one another.All over the world, and since Saint Julie’s days, our Sisters have loved one another and have loved those they serve. And it has never been fair-weather love, a love in the good and easy times. Instead it’s been a love for better or worse. An abiding love imperfect yet following in the love God bestows upon each of us and that we celebrate with the birth of Jesus.

When Saint Julie’s life was at its hardest she seemed to love the most. When our Sisters in the World Wars were in fear for their own lives, they reached out in love to shelter and save others. It was love unto death. Love as at Mount Notre Dame in the time of COVID. Love as we celebrate in this most holy season.

This Christmas, I hope you will contribute to the ministries of Sister Ann and to all of our Sisters wherever they might be – whether in health centers or schools, whether in this country or another, whether in cities or the most distant jungles. Because as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, and as St. Julie said to us so long ago, “it is God Himself who is manifested to us in the person of our neighbor.”