“I’ve never done just one thing, other than when I was director of associates,” she said.
The charismatic renewal effort was meeting at Saint Columba in her days there, and one night, the pastor didn’t show up. Sister Mary Lois was asked to answer some questions. The couple organizing the effort and the priest in charge were impressed enough to ask Sister Mary Lois to become the theologian and coordinator.
She ministered in that role from 1982-89, at times through a lot of anguish.
“Many people were angry with the church and were leaving,” she said. “I was trying to hold that together.” She described the charismatic effort as the difference between meeting in the spirit and meeting in the sacraments. She believes both are important.
“The church was so divided. The pastors didn’t believe in it, and people (were resistant.) I got physically removed from a deacon’s house one day,” she said.
There were some positives she took from her years there. While helping her sister care for her two young children, Sister Mary Lois hurt her back and learned she had a degenerative disc. For 1½ years she had to spend three days each month in traction just so she could stay on her feet, and the pain was always with her. One day, she asked her charismatic renewal prayer group to pray over her. Within two weeks, the pain was gone, although the stiffness in her back remains.
“I’ve learned a lot about giving up control with my body,” she said. “I can read faces and can tell if people are in pain, either physically or emotionally.”
Following her time in Louisville, Sister Mary Lois spent nearly two years on sabbatical at Emmaus House in St. Louis, to help her put the tensions in her life in perspective.
“I rededicated myself to the community and spiritual life. I came home to myself,” she said. “It was so peaceful, so rewarding.”
She came back to Mount Saint Joseph in the summer of 1991 to take over Ursuline Associates from Sister Fran Wilhelm, who had started the effort in 1983 and had done an amazing job of recruiting associates, Sister Mary Lois said.
Her first job was to get more organized, and to start reaching out to the associates where they lived. An advisory board was begun, a prayer book was created and the Update newsletter was started. Sister Mary Lois serves on the advisory board now, but will be leaving that position July 1. She thinks the associates have a direct relationship with Saint Angela Merici, the founder of the Ursuline congregation.
“She always had the laity involved,” Sister Mary Lois said. “I think Sister Fran’s vision of that was anointed. As (sisters) have diminished in number, it’s a new form of Ursuline charism at work.”
Sister Mary Lois offers much insight and dedication to the associates, said Marian Bennett, director of Ursuline Partnerships.
“She strives to be the most useful in whatever way is needed,” Marian said. “She’s just a delight. She has a wonderful sense of humor.”
Sister Lennora Carrico, who is retired and lives at the Mount Saint Joseph Motherhouse, has a special friendship with Sister Mary Lois which dates back to a time when one of Sister Mary Lois’ friends was ill and Sister Lennora comforted her.
Sister Lennora said it is Sister Mary Lois’ compassion for others that makes her special.
“She’s right there in case anything happens, you can depend on her,” Sister Lennora said. “She’s there for anyone who needs her.”