We invite readers to send short stories about the ways in which their lives have been personally blessed by the life and work of priests and religious in our diocese.
By Karina Fabian
Sister Mary Agnes Hogan is one of the many weavers of the great tapestry of Catholic faith life. Even her job description at St. James Hospital in Butte says she is responsible for “the intentional weaving of the mission, vision and values of the founding sisters of the Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, into the current culture of the hospital.” It is a mission she takes very seriously, for she believes those values are what defines Catholic health care.
Sister Mary Agnes professed her vows in 1959 and has gathered many wonderful experiences that are the threads of the tapestry of her work and her life.
During her 13 years teaching in schools in Chicago, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, and Livingston, her students taught her to be open to new things. “Children are very accepting of new experiences,” she said. “I try to remember when I’m in a challenging or new situation to follow their example and not judge immediately, but sit and be with it.”
That silver thread was woven with the golden one of the changes brought by Vatican II, which she believed was a great awakening for the Church, and one of the great events of her life. Following Vatican II, she became intensely interested in parish ministry, and was given the opportunity to explore that by working in religious education at St. Mark’s Parish in Independence, Mo.
In 1973, the new Bishop of Grand Island invited her and two other Sisters of Charity to that Nebraska diocese to set up religious education programs for parishes, to replace the spiritual education that would have been lost when he had to close the diocese’s schools.
In 1981, she left, going into clinical pastoral education and getting her certification with the National Association of Catholic Chaplains. She’d intended to go to a parish, but her religious community purchased Silver Bow General Hospital from the city-county government in 1982. and needed a chaplain. Renamed St. James East, it contains a care unit for treatment of chemical dependency, a short-term surgical and medical unit, and a nursing home. While there, she discovered the privilege of working with people who were “vulnerable not only to great sadness, but great joy,” she said.
In 1989, she became the director of pastoral care and social concerns at St. Mary Parish in Helena. There she experienced a fullness in liturgy – from prayerful preparation to music, from celebration of the Eucharist to living that gift throughout the week. She sees evidence that that spirit carries on; the programs she began while at St. Mary’s are continuing strong today. Her time there had a profound impact on her. “I really experienced Church in its fullness. It’s more than intellectual. It’s at the heart. It enlarges the soul.”
Since her return to St. James to become director of mission integration and spiritual care, she has attempted to use those experiences as she assists the staff in weaving faith into the everyday life of the hospital – celebrating holidays, balancing Christian ethics with business practicality, keeping a Catholic spirit while recognizing the needs of the patients and staff of other religions.
“I have loved my life as an SCL. It has given me many opportunities for ministry,” she said. Thankful, too, is she for the way those ministries have not only helped her to weave, but have woven the fabric of her being.
Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 20, No. 12, December 17, 2004.