By Karel Lucander
Holy Angels in Belmont, North Carolina, provides specialized, round-the-clock care for children and adults with intellectual developmental disabilities and delicate medical conditions. In an environment fostering loving and compassionate care, opportunities for dignified living, and innovative learning programs, Holy Angels empowers people who have capabilities as well as challenges. Sister Nancy Nance is vice president of community relations for this nonprofit ministry.
“They sent me to Holy Angels when I first entered the Sisters of Mercy … They say I was the worst volunteer they ever had,” says Sister Nancy. “I put in my three weeks when Regina [Moody], the CEO here, asked if I would come and take photos for their annual report. I thought to myself, ‘Sure, I can go down there, snap a few photos and be out of there in an hour.’ But something happened when I looked through the camera lens. For the first time, I could look beyond the disabilities and see the person for who they really were and are. That changed my whole perspective. There is so much beauty inside of them and they are all so special. Some of the sisters who have known me since those early days have said, ‘We couldn’t get you to go to Holy Angels, and now we can’t get you to leave!’”
Holy Angels has been Sister Nancy’s ministry for 30 years and counting. She handles all communications (newsletter, news releases, public relations), and oversees the Cherubs operation. That includes Cherubs Café, Cherubs Market, and Cherubs Candy Bouquet, which all provide meaningful work opportunities for Holy Angels’ residents and LifeChoices participants. Another of Sister Nancy’s responsibilities is helping with fundraising efforts through the newsletter, news releases and review of fundraising materials (the ministry must raise 20 percent of its annual operating budget, about $2 million).
Founded 60 years ago, Holy Angels currently serves 88 residents living in one of 10 homes. Sister Nancy lived in one of those homes for 16 years, which she says influenced her outlook. The organization’s motto is “At Holy Angels, we love, we live, we learn. However different, we are all able.” They celebrate each individual’s gifts, skills and progress.
“When I see them accomplish something or tell their story, it makes me feel like I am making a difference,” she says.
But there was life before the Angels–and before entering the Sisters of Mercy.
With a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Western Kentucky University, Sister Nancy previously worked at a radio station, a men’s clothing store, and her dad’s store in Salisbury, North Carolina. Yet an internal voice kept whispering, “Don’t you want to be a nun?” A friend urged her to check out the Sisters of Mercy, so she wrote to them and received “the most beautiful letter back with an invitation to come and have lunch and see what they did.”
“I visited and thought, ‘This could work.’ I entered in 1982, when I was almost 31. The community and the support that I get from the sisters is extremely important,” she says.
One journey that greatly influenced Sister Nancy was volunteering for a few months at Mercy International Centre in Dublin, Ireland, about 10 years ago. She walked the same roads as Mercy founder Catherine McAuley and saw some of the same sights. “You read about people in books through somebody else’s perspective. But being there and experiencing some of the things she did, it was a really profound experience for me,” she says.
When she isn’t at Holy Angels, Sister Nancy enjoys time with her two sisters and great nephews, listening to music (from bluegrass to classical), and going to movies. Another movie buff, a Holy Angels’ resident in her 50s who has lived there since infancy (longer than any resident), accompanies her regularly.
“Lorraine and I have gone to see The Avengers, Thor, Superman, Disney movies. We have a great time together,” she says.