26 deaths in 3 US convents, as nuns confront the pandemic

26 deaths in 3 US convents, as nuns confront the pandemic

26 deaths in 3 US convents, as nuns confront the pandemic

LIVONIA, Mich. — At a convent near Detroit, 13 nuns have died of COVID-19. The toll is seven at a centre for Maryknoll sisters in New York, and six at a Wisconsin convent that serves nuns with fading memories.

Each community perseveres, though strict social-distancing rules have made communal solidarity a challenge as the losses are mourned.

Only small, private funeral services were permitted as the death toll mounted in April and May at the Felician Sisters convent in Livonia, Michigan — a spiritual hardship for the surviving nuns.

“The yearnings, throughout the pandemic, were to be with our dying sisters and hold our traditional services, funeral Mass and burial, to comfort each other,” said Sister Mary Christopher Moore, a leader of the Felician Sisters of North America.

For weeks the Livonia nuns went without Mass and dined in shifts, only one per table.

Those and other restrictions have eased in recent weeks as regular activities slowly resume.

But strict social-distancing rules remain in effect at the Our Lady of the Angels convent in Greenfield, Wisconsin, which provides memory care for nuns of the School Sisters of St. Francis and the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

Nearly all communal activities have been suspended since March, and the 40 remaining residents are not allowed to see visitors, said Michael O’Loughlin, communications director for the School Sisters of St. Francis.

“The changes are confusing for the sisters — the loss of their religious activities has been very difficult, with no Masses or daily Rosary in chapel,” he said. “They do not understand the virus and find it difficult to stay confined to their rooms.”

At the Maryknoll Sisters’ centre in Ossining, New York, as at the Greenfield convent, there have been no new coronavirus cases in recent weeks.

“Thank God things are stable,” said a Maryknoll spokeswoman, Chelsea Lopez. She said 177 sisters are still residing there and abiding by health officials’ recommended social-distancing protocols.

In several important respects, convents share some of the same health vulnerabilities as nursing homes, the hardest-hit sector in the U.S. in terms of COVID-19 deaths. In many cases, their populations are elderly and live in close quarters with one another.

“We realize that our communal lifestyle makes us, along with other religious communities, a target for this virus,” Sister Mary Christopher acknowledged back in May.

In Livonia, some of the nuns who survived COVID-19 infections have continued to experience weakness and respiratory problems, according to Sister Mary Christopher. Though in-person Masses have resumed, some of the sisters continue to participate via closed-circuit television or other electronic devices.

The 13 deaths — more than 20% of the convent’s population — have been a huge blow for the surrounding community, where the nuns played important roles. Those who died ranged in age from 69 to 99; they included a librarian, a nurse and several teachers.

The Felician Sisters “have been taking care of people in our community literally from cradle to grave,” said Livonia Mayor Maureen Miller Brosnan. “Now we have less nuns that are available to work in the hospital, less nuns that are available in our teaching institutions, less nuns that are out there taking care of making sure our souls are protected.”

Brosnan, who took over as mayor of the city of about 93,000 in January, cited the nuns’ role in a school, a university, a hospital, a home for retired clergy and a hospice, all within walking distance of their Livonia compound.

“They’re responsible for my education through grade school,” she said. “They’ve educated my husband. They educated my three children. We put our hearts in their hands.”

At Our Lady of the Angels in Wisconsin, the nuns who died in March and April had retired years ago. Some moved into the facility when it opened in 2011.

Among them were Sister Josephine Seier, 94, who had been with the School Sisters of St. Francis for 79 years, and Sister Mary Francele Sherburne, 99, who spent 34 years as an English professor at Mount Mary University.

The eldest was Sister Annelda Holtkamp, 102, who spent 33 years at St. Joseph’s High School Convent in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

According to her order, Sister Annelda grew up with six siblings on a farm in St. Paul, Iowa, walking more than 4 miles each way to the Catholic school she attended.

In her 20s she joined the School Sisters of St. Francis. Her first duties were working in a convent laundry facility.

Her last assignment was at St. Mary’s Convent in Chilton, Wisconsin, where, according to the order, she was known for her embroidery skills: “I could make almost anything,” she said after winning ribbons at the county fair.

O’Loughlin praised the work of Our Lady of the Angels’ staff as the pandemic took its toll — working double shifts without any days off for weeks.

“The staff focused on all aspects of caregiving and, because of restrictions, also had to do their own shipping and receiving, housekeeping, pastoral care, maintenance and technical support,” he said. “They truly are heroes who have been going above and beyond the call for months.”

—-

Crary reported from New York City.

___

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Mike Householder And David Crary, The Associated Press

Coronavirus

Just Posted

(Advocate file photo)
Red Deer down to 102 active COVID-19 cases

Central zone has 332 cases with 26 in hospital and five in ICU

Curtis Labelle. (Photo Submitted)
More exciting music to come from Sylvan Lake’s Curtis Labelle

Curtis Labelle has been called Canadian Elton John or Billy Joel by fans

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer COVID cases continue to fall

114 cases in Red Deer, down one from Saturday

Maskwacis Pride crosswalk (Left to right): Montana First Nation Councillor Reggie Rabbit, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Louise Omeasoo, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Katherine Swampy, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Shannon Buffalo, Samson Cree Nation Chief Vern Saddleback.
Pride in Maskwacis

The 4th inaugural Maskwacis Pride crosswalk painting took place on Saturday June 12th, 2021

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives at the 2021 budget in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta launches COVID vaccine lottery with million-dollar prizes to encourage uptake

The premier says the lottery will offer three prizes worth $1 million a piece, as well as other prizes

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

A worker, at left, tends to a customer at a cosmetics shop amid the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Half of cosmetics sold in Canada, U.S. contain toxic chemicals: study

Researchers found that 56% of foundations and eye products contain high levels of fluorine

Annamie Paul, leader of the Green Party of Canada, speaks at a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on June 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul facing no-confidence motion from party brass

move follows months of internal strife and the defection of MP Jenica Atwin to the Liberals

Tulips bloom in front of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, Thursday, May 10, 2018. Day two of a full week of scheduled hearings will be heard in Federal Court today on a case involving Indigenous children unnecessarily taken into foster care by what all parties call Canada’s “broken child welfare system.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
AFN slams Ottawa for ‘heartless’ legal challenge of First Nations child compensation

2019 decision awarded $40,000 to each Indigenous child removed before 2006

A health-care worker holds up a sign signalling she needs more COVID-19 vaccines at the ‘hockey hub’ mass vaccination facility at the CAA Centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Brampton, Ont., on Friday, June 4, 2021. This NHL-sized hockey rink is one of CanadaÕs largest vaccination centres. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
‘Vaxxed to the max’: Feds launch Ask an Expert campaign to encourage COVID shots

Survey shows that confidence in vaccines has risen this spring

Children’s shoes and flowers are shown after being placed outside the Ontario legislature in Toronto on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario commits $10 million to investigate burial sites at residential schools

Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified 12 locations of unmarked burial sites in Ontario

Two hundred and fifteen lights are placed on the lawn outside the Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., Saturday, June, 13, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Days after Kamloops remains discovery, Tk’emlups families gather to unite, move ahead

‘We have to work together because this is going to be setting a precedent for the rest of the country’

In this Saturday, May 29, 2021, file photo, people crowd the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, Calif. California, the first state in America to put in place a coronavirus lockdown, is now turning a page on the pandemic. Most of California’s coronavirus restrictions will disappear Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
With COVID tamed, it’s a ‘grand reopening’ in California

No more state rules on social distancing, no more limits on capacity, no more mandatory masks

Most Read