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
The Lord God has told us what is right and what (God) demands: See that Justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God.
– Micah 6:8 (Contemporary English Version)
Sister Elizabeth Olsen says she feels like she has the world by the tail, and that her order, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is the one to thank.
She grew up in Butte, where she attended Immaculate Conception Parish. She believes that it was the consistent faith of her family and the people of her community that led her to her calling. “I always felt I recognized my vocation because of the Butte people,” she said.
Sister Olsen entered the order in 1960. She expected that joining the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary would take her away from her family most of her life, yet she’s spent most of her time in the area. “I’ve had the opportunity to be with my family when I never thought I would,” she said.
She’s felt blessed to be in state for major family events and to be near the people of her background. “I also have the blessing of nature,” she said.
She started by teaching at schools in California, Washington state and in Missoula at St. Anthony’s in 1968-1969 and 1973-1975. Part of that time, she lived with a single mother of three, caring for the children when their mother was at work, and she also worked summers at a hotel in Seattle.
In 1975, she went to Wolf Point. Working with the people there, particularly the Sioux and Assiniboine, was an incredible experience, she said, adding that one year was not enough.
However, she moved on to Anaconda in 1976 to serve as a pastoral minister. Here, she said, her faith was deepened by the experience of working with the youth ministry, lectors and Eucharistic ministers, and also working with people as the community faced economic crisis when the smelter closed, and in counseling the sick and dying.
A friend working in a hospital in Charleston, S.C., encouraged her to go there and take some summer courses on ministering to the sick and dying, and she felt drawn to the ministry. She studied to be a hospital chaplain in Des Moines, Iowa, which was a profound experience for her.
She worked as a hospital chaplain in Monroe, Wis., then moved to St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, where she has served for the last 17 years.
“It was almost like I found my gifts when I was studying to be a chaplain,” she said. “I like to companion people, and it seems that this is when they need me, in times of trauma, death, pain. My responsibilities are simple: active listening, mindfulness – that is, concentrating on just that person and family and why I am there – and companioning. One of the things I feel blessed by is that my main calling in life is taken from Micah 6:8. It’s a chance to live the second commandment of loving my neighbor as myself.”
Published in the Montana Catholic, Vol. 22, No.4, April 14, 2006.