Religious sisters help thousands while in quarantine on North East Side of Columbus

By Danae King, Columbus Dispatch Reporter

Rasheedah Crawley suspected that religious sisters wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to help others, but she never expected the enthusiasm that the Dominican Sisters of Peace had when it came to helping her pack and distribute nearly 1,000 bags for the homeless.

Crawley is founder of People Helping People 614, a collective of people who get supplies to those in need, and it had plenty of items leftover following the summer’s protests after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis police custody in late May.

That’s where the Dominican Sisters of Peace came in.

from left, Sr. Mauryeen O’Brien, OP, back to camera, Sr. Rose Bowen, OP, Sr. Rosemary Loomis, OP, Sr. Louis Mary Passeri, OP, Sr. Anne Schmidt, OP, and Sr. Catherine Malya Chen pack bags for the homeless at the Dominican Sisters of Peace Motherhouse on the Northeast side. Photo by Sister Michelle Sherliza, OP.

The novel coronavirus had 72 women, with an average age of over 80, quarantined inside the North East Side motherhouse and itching to find a way to help those in need in the world outside. They, of course, pray often, but they also wanted to do something more tangible.

Packing 991 bags for People Helping People filled with toothpaste, toothbrushes, Gatorade, socks and more isn’t all they’ve been doing while being stuck inside during the pandemic, either, said Gaye Reissland, activities director for the sisters.

“They’ve never remained stationary,” Reissland said. “They’ve done lot being confined — a lot of outreach — and touched people, maybe not physically but through really good works.”

Unlike nuns, who mostly live and pray within the enclosure of a monastery, sisters work and live in the world outside their religious community.

Even during their year of quarantine, the sisters have made around 7,800 face masks; sewn mittens, hats and scarves to donate to the homeless and others in need; tutored adult learners through Zoom; and offered virtual counseling sessions. Those who don’t live in the motherhouse — and thus weren’t quarantined — have been volunteering for Meals on Wheels.

“We really haven’t stopped because … when one thing was easing up — like masks — there would be a need right away for something else,” said Sister Susan Olson, mission group coordinator for the sisters.

Crawley never expected a group of religious sisters would be the ones helping her pack bags for the homeless.

“I didn’t expect it to be like an army of these ladies,” she said. “I didn’t expect them to be so very serious about this, pushing it forward, insisting we send them more stuff and more bags. They’re still insisting we do.”

She loved the sisters’ enthusiasm for helping people and their dedication.

“They’re not just talking it, they’re walking it,” Crawley said.

“These are all women who are later in their lives. They have not settled down, they’re going to continue to push forward and fight.”

Crawley plans to work with the sisters in the future and is thankful for their help.

“It does not escape me how important it is that they were willing to help me transform something that is a symbol of trauma into something that is a symbol of hope and maybe even transformation,” she said.

The sisters in the motherhouse, 97% of whom are vaccinated, are just beginning to venture out again after a year in quarantine, Olson said.

“Once they are able to get out again, I know they’ll be at the front line at city council meetings and working with public officials to try and make the world a safer place,” Reissland said.

Olson got the other sisters involved in a project of her own while they were quarantined and had them pack 50 bags for the homeless in February, a task they accomplished in 20 minutes, she said.

“They’re very efficient,” Olson said.

Most of the members of the Dominican Sisters of Peace have been quarantined in the motherhouse on the Northeast side due to COVID-19. Some, such as Sister Bea Tiboldi, were able to volunteer more actively. Sr. Bea delivers for Meals on Wheels.

Although most of the sisters are technically considered to be retired, Olson said none of them claim that. Instead, on cards they get each year, they say their lives are now of prayer and service, she said.

“One of the things I continue to be humbled by and in awe of is the generosity of spirit,” Olson said. “Even in the midst of very hard times — we were pretty much locked down for a full year —  the sisters still want to do outreach. It’s what they’ve known their whole life. It doesn’t stop.”



You can help the Dominican Sisters of Peace continue to “walk the walk” of Christ’s love. 

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