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Three Women Religious Celebrate Jubilees

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Three women religious of the Diocese of Raleigh will celebrate anniversaries of religious profession on Saturday, February 5 at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Raleigh: Sister Christine Gellings, IHM, a member of the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Ms. Joanne DeGidio and Ms. Echo Lewis, vowed members of Madonna House, a Society for Apostolic Life. A Mass of Thanksgiving and Appreciation for women religious will be offered by the Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Raleigh, at 11 a.m., followed by a reception at the Fallon Center.

Sister Christine Gellings, IHM, 50 Years

Sister Chris Gellings is a member of the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, headquartered in Monroe, Mich. She is a licensed clinical social worker and spiritual director who integrates her knowledge of spirituality and psychology to guide clients to deeper levels of human freedom.

Sister grew up admiring the faith of her grandmother, especially her love of the Eucharist. Having the IHM sisters in high school led her to choose this group with whom to spend her life.  She was attracted by their spirituality, vitality, care for one another and care for those in need.  Sister began her ministry as a classroom teacher in grade school then high school and eventually at Duke Divinity School. In 1976 she began ministry in the Diocese of Raleigh as a part of a pastoral team in Greenville, NC. Subsequently, she established the Office of Spiritual Growth and Development in the Diocese of Raleigh and opened Avila Retreat Center before beginning her therapy and spiritual direction practice.

Sister is sustained in her commitment by the Eucharist, prayer, nature, creative activities, spiritual reading and being in dialogue with other women and men who share her faith journey.

Ms. Joanne DeGidio, MHA, 50 Years

Ms. Joanne DeGidio of Madonna House in Raleigh describes Madonna House as a community called to live the “Nazareth life,” called to love one another in a way that would extend beyond their own community and bring others into it. The Madonna House community tries to do this by living simply, praying together and trying to live the Gospel in an authentic way. Joanne was attracted by the atmosphere in the community created by the charismatic Catherine Doherty, the foundress of Madonna House. Joanne says Catherine was on fire the Spirit and deeply in love with the Lord, whom she uncompromisingly proclaimed with her life.

Joanne continues to be sustained by community meals and conversations with visitors, even more importantly by the community’s day of quiet each week when each member prays in solitude, knowing that the others are praying as well.  If someone feels called to experience Christian community life, she says, they are welcome to “come and see Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario and live the life for a week or even a year.  Many young people come for a time during our annual summer program.”

Ms. Echo Lewis, MHA, 40 Years

Ms. Echo Lewis has been a member of Madonna House in Raleigh for the last ten years. The Madonna House community is made up of laywomen, laymen and priests, canonically referred to as an “ecclesial community.” They make promises of poverty, chastity and obedience and aspire to live in dependence on God in the model of St. Francis of Assisi.  The first line of their mandate is, “Arise – go! Sell all your possessions … give it directly, personally to the poor.” Raleigh seemed a good fit for Madonna House since it was a missionary Diocese and had no community with the main ministry of praying for the Bishop, priests and people of the Diocese. In addition to their frequent daily prayer, their chief service is to be present for and listening to the people who come to their door – to offer them “hospitality of the heart.” Echo and her companions live on the generosity of the people who offer them food, clothing and assistance with other necessities of life.  Echo, a convert to Catholicism, was attracted to the Madonna House by the simple lifestyle, living by begging and among the poor. “It is where I discovered my faith.”

For more about the women religous celebrating jubilees this year, go to pp. 4-5 of the January/February 2011 issue of NC Catholics, available on the NC Catholics web site.