‘Faith no matter what’
LaVay Lauter was sick often when Sister Larraine was young, so as the oldest of three children, Sister Larraine was given much responsibility at a young age. Being the oldest daughter is a “sacred role” in her family, and she called being with her mother during her cancer “a sacred journey,” and “a privilege. It’s sort of a terrible beauty.
“I’m a very positive person, but I’m also very practical,” Sister Larraine said. “She was stage 4 when she was diagnosed, so I knew it would be tough. I knew she’d need a lot of positive support. I had pastorally walked with people with cancer, I knew what the odds were.”
One big need Sister Larraine sees is to advocate for the poor in health care. “My mom was my cheerleader. She was passionate for immigrants,” Sister Larraine said. “I’ve got this steely core when it comes to the rights of people who are suffering. You just have to have that.
“My mother was an amazing model of ‘faith no matter what,’” Sister Larraine said. “She prayed for healing, but she held onto faith until the very end.” LaVay Lauter Lewis died March 25, 2008.
It was the end of a period that involved too much death for Sister Larraine. In December 2006, Sandy Compas, a former Ursuline Sister and one of Sister Larraine’s best friends for 25 years, died in a car accident. In 2007, the chaplain at Churchill Downs, where she ministers to Hispanics, asked her to help translate for a woman whose 4-year-old son, Ivan Aguilar-Cano, was murdered. Sister Larraine found herself in the midst of a highly publicized case.
In the midst of all the death she’s been around, in January 2008, Sister Larraine was present when a Hispanic woman she works with had a baby. “Out of all this death came new life,” she said with a smile.
She moved back to the empty 140-year-old house and “farmette” where she grew up, and is restoring the home. Her siblings and her 6-year-old niece “who is the light of all our lives” live nearby. “It was my mother’s dream that it would be a place of refuge for mothers with newborns,” Sister Larraine said, and so far one such mother has stayed with her.
Next up is turning the property back into a farm, starting with a Nigerian dwarf goat she will get soon to begin milking. “By April I will have six to eight goats,” she says in her way that leaves little room for doubt.
Sister Nancy Liddy, her friend for 17 years, said Sister Larraine has always had affection for odd animals, including a hedgehog. “You don’t find many people who are consistently kind,” Sister Nancy said. “She’s kind to children, kind to animals, and kind to the earth.”
Sister Larraine has never ministered outside Kentucky, but she thinks someday she will be called far away. She goes to Honduras a few times a year with some Methodist missionaries, and has built relationships there with Catholics she’s met. Other than Haiti, Honduras is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Sister Larraine helped raise money to build a church there, and she met Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, a strong voice on social justice issues, and whom many consider a future candidate for pope.
“Maybe someday I’ll do development in Honduras,” she said. “I feel pulled to Honduras.”
She’s also interested in the future of the Ursuline Sisters. During Community Days this year, Sister Larraine gathered a group of 10 sisters to have their picture taken. The one thing they had in common? They were the only sisters younger than 50.
“I don’t think religious life always means big numbers,” she said. “We should be open to whatever membership God brings us, then be at peace. I’m thrilled we have these two new communities to bring a fresh, but seasoned perspective.”
The Ursuline Sisters of Belleville, Ill., merged with Mount Saint Joseph in 2005, and the Ursuline Sisters of Paola, Kansas, are in the process of merging. When completed, the Ursulines of Mount Saint Joseph will number 186. “I have no doubt,” Sister Larraine said, “that those of us who are younger will walk through a lot of changes.”
No doubt Sister Larraine will be happy that the sisters will continue to care and respond.
By Dan Heckel