Sister-Siblings Celebrate Year of Consecrated Life with Special Bond
November 30, 2015
By Catherine Walsh, Sisters of Mercy – Northeast Community
At one time it was not uncommon for two or more daughters from a single family to become religious sisters. Sisters Theresa and Ruth Conlogue, who are retired educators in Portland, Maine, reflected recently on the Year of Consecrated Life and the “double closeness” they share as sister-siblings.
Seven Conlogue siblings—six girls and a boy—knelt on the kitchen floor in their rural Maine home every evening in the 1930s as their mother led them in the rosary. For Sister Theresa Conlogue, 83, and Sister Ruth Conlogue, 77, this memory is not only vivid, but it also continues to shape the more than 110 combined years of religious life they have shared in Mercy.
“We often said that our mother had more faith in one little finger than anyone else had in their whole body,” says Sister Theresa. “From our parents’ example we learned that God is very good to us and that we in turn need to help others.”
Sister Ruth agrees. “I think families might foster vocations [today] just by their way of living. If faith is important to them, and it’s fostered in the home, that example is passed on to the children—of reaching out and doing good for people. That example might stir the faith in the youngsters.”
For the Conlogues, the Year of Consecrated Life is an affirmation that the religious life they have lived for all these years with quiet zest and joy matters greatly to their local church in Maine and to the Catholic Church worldwide.
Sisters Theresa and Ruth, who are the fourth and seventh siblings respectively in their family, entered Mercy six years apart. Notes Sister Ruth, “I remember my mother telling me later that she thought I was following Theresa and I probably wouldn’t stay. If she had told me that before I entered, I might not have gone because you need your mother’s support! I was following Theresa, I guess, but I wouldn’t have stayed if I hadn’t had my own vocation.”
The sisters have very different personalities. Sister Theresa is outgoing like their mother was, whereas Sister Ruth is quiet and reserved like their late father. Both, however, take great pride in “something like 30 to 40 nieces and nephews and a multitude of grandnieces and -nephews,” says Sister Theresa.
The Conlogues saw each other less than they would have liked when both had demanding teaching assignments during their active ministry years. But on summer breaks in the heady years after Vatican II, they climbed mountains and camped with other young sisters. “We climbed Mount Katahdin I can’t tell you how much times,” says Sister Theresa of Maine’s highest peak. “Although when we first started, camping was not exactly sanctioned.” Sister Ruth cracks, “We did it under the radar!”
The sisters have developed a newfound bond in retirement. “We have grown a lot closer because we see each other a lot more,” says Sister Ruth, who drives her sister to medical appointments and sometimes sleeps on Sister Theresa’s pullout couch to care for her after surgery and other medical procedures. Their retirement ministries focus on prayer, being present to others, and Portland’s Good Cause Thrift Shop.
When asked the best part of having a sibling-sister who is also a Sister of Mercy, the Conlogues ponder the question carefully.
“Your interests are the same,” says Sister Theresa. “What’s very dear to me is very dear to her. I can always discuss things with her, something that might be bothering me or something that I’m excited about in the Community. You’ve got somebody you know who is going to be right there with you.”
Sister Ruth says, “It’s a double-bond. That’s the way I experience it. It’s interesting because sometimes she’ll say something or I’ll say something, and I’ll realize that we’re more alike, because we are both sisters and Sisters of Mercy, than we are different. It’s just a double-closeness, I would say.”
The sister-siblings believe that the Year of Consecrated Life honors all the good they’ve experienced in religious life, from a strong Community to meaningful ministries. As Sister Theresa says, “The Mercy charism is working well. God has been very good to us.”
Photos courtesy of the Conlogue family. Read about the Connelly sisters, another set of Mercy sister-siblings.