When Mother Mary Concepta, S.V., found out that she would serve as the new superior general of the Sisters of Life — a community of religious women dedicated to promoting the inherent dignity and worth of every human person — she felt grateful.
“I simply give thanks to God,” she told Our Sunday Visitor of her election. “Trusting in his purposes, and leaning into the legacy of Mother Agnes, the Superior General of 30 years.”
“I hope to continue her legacy of self-forgetful love and spiritual maternity for our sisters, community and overflowing into those we serve,” she said of her predecessor, who had led the community since 1993. “It’s been an affirmation of my own gift of spiritual maternity, and now I look forward to seeing it overflow and multiply in the life of others.”
Mother Mary Concepta credits the mothers present in her own life for leading her to the Sisters of Life. In her vocation story, she reveals the formative pro-life witness of her mother, who cared for pregnant high school students, and the intercession of Mother Mary. A college friend, who became pregnant after a date rape, introduced her to the sisters after seeking their help.
One of Mother Mary Concepta’s seven siblings, Sister Mariae Agnus Dei, also joined the Sisters of Life. She tells the incredible story of how their father, an OB-GYN, became Catholic and stopped performing abortions after the relative of a patient asked him about the baby: “Was it alive?”
Coming with this background, Mother Mary Concepta now leads the New York-based Sisters of Life founded by the late Cardinal John O’Connor in 1991. The sisters profess four vows: poverty, chastity, obedience, and “to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.”
Among other things, they dedicate their lives to God by serving women vulnerable to abortion, providing life-affirming support to pregnant and parenting women in need, hosting retreats and holy hours, evangelizing, performing college-student outreach, and offering help to women who suffer after abortion.
In addition to the New York City-area, they also serve in Denver, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., Toronto, and Catskill, New York.
Mother Mary Concepta, who began serving as superior general on June 1, the anniversary of their community’s Foundation Day, came to the sisters from Farmington, Maine. She studied nursing at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio and worked as a nurse in Boston before entering the Sisters of Life in 2003.
Today, she is located at their Annunciation motherhouse in Suffern, New York.
The example of mothers
During this transition, Mother Mary Concepta shared how Catholics can support her and the sisters.
“We cannot underestimate the power of prayer,” she stressed. “The enemy of the culture of death is a spiritual enemy. Our community was founded to pray and fast on behalf of human life, so we invite you to join us in prayer and sacrifice for the sanctity of human life and that it can be upheld.”
As the superior general, she pointed to Mary, the Mother of God, as her role model.
“The blessed Mother is the prime model to me for life and her spiritual maternity expands over the whole universe,” she said. “She is for every human person. Her message is so simple in her maternal love for every soul.”
She saw a focus, especially in Our Lady of Guadalupe, she said.
“Her message is simple; I am here to receive you and all your struggles, your problems, your sorrows, joys, and cover all those places in your heart with love and bring you to Jesus,” she said of Our Lady, who appeared as an expectant mother to St. Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531.
“We hope to be an expression of Our Lady’s spiritual maternity in the world,” she added.
She recognized her own mother as her “first witness to the sanctity of human life.”
“She flourished the lives of 8 children herself, while also upholding vulnerable high school students, pregnant and tempted to abortion or the threat of becoming high school dropouts,” Mother Mary Concepta explained. “She provided direct generous support (we babysat many a little one as we grew up!) so they didn’t have to choose between the life of their child and their education.”
“That was inspiring to me seeing her devotion to the mother and the child — both equally worthy of love and care,” she added.
A brave witness
She also remembered the impact of her college friend who pointed her to the Sisters of Life after that friend became pregnant from a date rape. The sisters accompanied her as she discerned placing her baby for adoption.
“I saw the transformation that happened in her and the ultimate gift and sacrifice in placing this child for adoption,” Mother Mary Concepta remembered. “In accompanying her and her own journey, I came to understand the life changing impact of the unborn child.”
She came into contact with the sisters through her friend’s brave witness, she said.
“Her witness led me on a journey to pursue religious life and be open,” she said. “It’s all God’s love and his divine initiative in our lives, and he is inviting us to be open to saying yes.”
She shared her advice while encountering pregnant women who feel alone, scared or that abortion is their only option: love.
“As Sisters of Life we believe that every person is sacred, unique and unrepeatable and infinitely loved by God,” she said. “We know going through this life it’s easy to forget that. But we know that when people are loved for who they are and not what they do, produce or achieve, they thrive and live in the fullness of life.”
The sisters, she added, want every person they encounter, especially every pregnant woman, to know and discover her own dignity.
“When she experiences that she is loved she can do anything,” she concluded. “When she discovers the gift of her own life she often desires to choose life for her own child.”