The religious sisters from six communities now living in retirement at Marian Woods in Hartsdale offer a unique brand of prayerful service to each other and those they encounter.
Cardinal Dolan celebrated Mass for the 20th anniversary of Marian Woods May 22 in the home’s chapel. Some in the crowd of 200 people also watched via a video transmission set up outside.
The 50-bed retirement home was founded by five communities of women religious: the Franciscan Sisters of Peace, the Sisters of Mercy, the Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt, the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and the Sacramentine Nuns.
The 45 sisters residing there now include each of the original communities except for the Sacramentine Nuns, who have four sisters due to soon return to the intercommunity residence. Additionally, one Ursuline Sister and one Sister of Divine Compassion are in residence.
Sister Aileen Donovan, O.P., the executive director of Marian Woods, said the greatest gift she’s received in her eight years at the Westchester facility is “seeing the deep, deep faith of these elderly religious women” up close.
“They are a powerhouse of prayer and want to be of service,” she said in a phone interview last week.
“They’ve inspired me,” said Sister Aileen, a Dominican Sister of Sparkill who will be leaving her position in July.
That service plays out in all sorts of ways, from preparing lunches for Midnight Runs to donating a portion of their meager monthly allowances to Food for the Poor.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, about a dozen sisters cut cloth patterns and stitched safety masks to ward off disease transmission.
They also started a phone ministry outreach to 30 parishioners of Sacred Heart in Hartsdale, where Father Michael Moon, the pastor, has become a close friend to the sisters at Marian Woods. “He’ll do anything for us,” Sister Aileen said.
The sisters are involved in other volunteer ministries. A couple even hold permanent positions, including Sister Christine Hennessy, R.S.M., who leads Catholic Charities’ Project Irish Outreach at the Aisling Center in Yonkers, and Sister Dorothy Hall, O.P., who runs a food pantry at St. Charles Borromeo-Resurrection parish in Harlem.
Last week, I enjoyed a lively phone conversation with Sister Margaret Rogers, S.H.C.J., a six-year resident of Marian Woods now in her 90s. She served for 22 years in Nigeria and more recently did summer mission appeals on behalf of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith office in New York parishes.
“The lesson Africans taught me was hospitality,” she said.
That lesson comes in handy for Sister Margaret at Marian Woods, where she is the chapel’s assistant sacristan and her service includes driving one of the kitchen workers to a nearby train station.
She calls the cooperation of the members of different religious communities “a big plus for the Church.” And I would say it’s also a good example for the wider community as well.
“It’s an example of what can be done, and what we should work at doing,” she said.
Marian Woods purchased 11.5 acres of the former Gaisman estate from the archdiocese, according to a 1999 CNY story, which said the rest of the wooded property was sold to the state, the county and the Town of Greenburgh.
The anniversary reception, held in Coolock House, honored Sister Patricia Wolf, R.S.M., the current president of St. Catharine Academy in the Bronx, who was then president of the Sisters of Mercy and the original chairwoman of the board of Marian Woods; John Maloney, current vice chairman and treasurer of Marian Woods; and Louis DiNapoli, a longtime supporter.