Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sisters of Mercy are a Monmouth-Ocean blessing

ABOVE: (l-r) Former Matawan Mayor Bea Duffy, Sister Elizabeth Garvey and an unidentified person at the recent Crystal beacon Awards.

The Sisters of Mercy are a Catholic religious order that is very prominent in the Monmouth-Ocean County area. I have had some experience with two institutions that have involved the Sisters: Georgian Court University, in Lakewood, and the Bayshore Senior, Health, Education & Recreation Center, in Keansburg.

Georgian Court is a wonderful school, which I attended several years ago while seeking my bachelor’s degree in history during the 1990s. The Sisters of Mercy own the school and its buildings and grounds, which were purchased from the Gould family. In fact, the university is celebrating its centennial this year, and it is quite a proud tradition. Sister Dorothy Lazarak was in charge of the Evening Division, which all males had to belong to when they attended the university (then a college), as it is otherwise an all-girl school.

Several years later, while at The Courier, I encountered the Bayshore Senior Center, where Sister Elizabeth Garvey is the executive director. The center serves the needs of hundreds of seniors throughout the Bayshore. The center has been open the past 32 years and grew out of a program offered at St. Ann’s Church, in Keansburg, during the 1970s. While it is not a religious organization, there are Sisters of Mercy employed as part of the center’s administration.

It has been my pleasure to meet many Sisters of Mercy, and at each occasion it has been special. The Sisters of Mercy are, essentially, a teaching order. Yet, what I have learned from the Sisters is almost unintended because it is not taught as a part of a curriculum, nor in a program offering somewhere.

In a world that is so grounded in the everyday grind, these Sisters make faith a tangible part of that world. The Sisters do not retreat from the world, creating a space where they pursue after abandoning the everyday world. Rather, they bring active faith in God into every activity that they do — and do it well, which is not something that is ordinarily found.

Sister Dorothy is still at Georgian Court. During my time at Georgian Court, she had to deal with thousands of ‘real-world’ situations involving school administration. Far from ‘uplifting’ or cloistered, she had to remain accessible for many tasks associated with administering to a very dynamic, growing area of the university’s concerns. Still, she did not get caught up in the everyday. Rooted in her faith, Sister Dorothy was an example in respect, courtesy, efficiency and faith. Georgian Court is very diverse, but I found myself truly appreciating the durable nature of her religious beliefs, and that example teaches a great deal in itself.

Meanwhile, Sister Garvey has been a mainstay at the Bayshore Senior Center since 1981. She has such regard for the seniors there, and for people in general. The sister had to see many seniors pass, and has fought a daily battle to make the center even better than it is. She is dedicated to the Bayshore’s seniors, with a great and gentle kind of determination. Frankly, there are not enough good things to say about the simple and yet poignant way she goes about her duties, all the while a great example of Christianity ‘in the world.’

It is easy to lose touch with faith in the commotion of the everyday: the commute, the job, the mortgage, the kids, recession, stress, conflict and doing it all over again the next day. Perhaps I could add sleeplessness, frustration and a constant battle to try and be as healthy as you can while running at the pace of a greyhound on the track. For some, faith is there, but bringing faith into the everyday can be hard because of the pace of the train. I suggest that the attempt is worthy, and in the end the peace it brings can be priceless.

Neither Sister Dorothy nor Sister Garvey would ever say, I think, that they ‘have it’ when it comes to being as spiritually progressed as they try (who is?). But their walk of life is notable, and the way they each do it is beyond admirable and borders on quietly incredible. I think that speaks volumes for their order, the Sisters in the Order and their commitment to helping others while growing in faith themselves.

I think all of us could take a page out of their book, and be the better for it. Click on the headline to go to Georgian Court University's website.

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