Since Good Friday, 13 Felician sisters in one Michigan community and another Felician sister in New Jersey have died, all falling prey to the deadly Coronavirus.
The Register talked with Suzanne Wilcox English, who serves as director of mission advancement for the Felician Sisters of North America, about the sisters who lost their lives during the pandemic. English reported that the departed sisters had brought many talents to God’s service: Among their number were teachers, college professors, a multilingual translator, a librarian, a director of religious education, an organist and a nurse. One had served as secretary at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. Another had written an exhaustive history of the Felician congregation. Some were retired (the sisters who died ranged in age from 69 to 99), but all shared their ministry of prayer.
In all, the religious order — more formally called the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice — has 469 sisters in about 60 convents throughout the United States and Canada, as well as a mission in Haiti. The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Convent in Livonia, Michigan, where 13 sisters lost their lives to COVID-19, is home to 44 Felician sisters and five members of other congregations who are students at nearby Madonna University. Sister Noel Marie Gabriel, director of clinical health services for the province, reported that in addition to the 13 Sisters who died in Michigan, another 17 were infected but have recovered. At the Felician convent in Lodi, New Jersey, where one sister died, 11 others had also acquired the coronavirus but have since recovered.
From the onset of the epidemic, the sisters were open and forthright in dealing with the problem facing their communities. Sr. Mary Christopher Moore, provincial minister for the Felician Sisters of North America, published a weekly letter, keeping members and others apprised of the cases and deaths, as well as itemizing the steps the sisters were taking to ensure that the disease did not spread further within the community walls. In April, she reported that all of the large convents were in full room quarantine, with sisters wearing masks when encountering another sister or employee. Already early in the pandemic, the sisters received their meals on trays with disposable dishes/utensils, and like many in the wider community, they watched Mass via closed-circuit television, and participated in a daily spiritual communion.
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