Body, Mind and Spirit
By S. Kathryn Ann Connelly
Having ministered in the field of education for 21 years, S. Mary Fran Davisson went on sabbatical to the School of Applied Theology in Berkley, California, in 1994. During this time, she attended a workshop on massage therapy, offered by the Jesuit School of Theology, and the seed was planted. After much prayer and discernment, and with encouragement from the Congregation, S. Mary Fran took part in an internship program where she learned more about massage therapy and the spirituality of massage therapy; she felt truly called to become involved. After a year of intense study at the New Mexico Academy of Healing Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, she became nationally certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork in 1996 and became an Ohio licensed massage therapist in 1997. To maintain licensure, 24 Continuing Education Hours are required every two years.
S.Mary Fran currently ministers through the Sisters of Charity Spirituality Center at the Mount St. Joseph Motherhouse. She graciously responded to an interview about this unique ministry.
When asked what massage is and what its benefits are, S. Mary Fran replied, “Every experience we have in life, whether positive, negative, or somewhere in between, is carried within our body.”
The Ohio Medical Board defines massage therapy as: “the treatment of disorders of the human body by the manipulation of soft tissue through the systematic external application of massage techniques including: touch, stroking, friction, vibration, percussion, kneading, stretching, compression, and joint movements within the normal physiologic range of motion; and the supplemental use of the external application of water, heat, cold, topical preparations, and mechanical devices. Modalities that involve the manipulation of the soft tissue for a therapeutic purpose constitute massage therapy even if commonly known by another name …”
In the early fifth century B.C., Hippocrates, referred to as the Father of Medicine, believed that all physicians should be trained in massage as a method of healing. The Bible recounts many instances where touch was used to cure and allow inner healing to occur. Massage is considered by some to be a luxury, but, research has proven that healthy and safe touch is a vital component of our health and well-being. It positively affects body, mind, and spirit. These benefits include but are not limited to: reducing stress; enhancing the immune system; increasing circulation; improving range-of-motion; reducing or eliminating pain; proving deep relaxation and peace; and encouraging healing on a physical, emotional and spiritual level.
Mary Fran once said that she strongly believes that she did not choose this ministry; rather it chose her. “My invitation to massage certainly was a surprise,” she recalls. “I had recently received my master’s degree and said to God, ‘I will continue to keep updated with educational workshops, but I am finished writing papers and taking tests.’ God has a wonderful sense of humor because six years later I was in massage school writing papers and taking tests!”
During her 24 years as a massage therapist S. Mary Fran says she has grown and been blessed by her clients and the knowledge and sense of God’s presence with her during every session. She recalls some those moments here:
“There were times when I felt the massage was not helpful, then I would hear, ‘I don’t have the pain anymore.’ God was present.”
“One day, a client said to me, ‘You saved my life.’ I have no idea what she was referring to, but through the years she has repeated that phrase many times. I didn’t save her life, God did. I was just present when it happened.”
“A person has said to me several times, ‘I didn’t come back for any more massages because the pain is gone.’ Again I was blessed to be present while God took away her pain.”
“Another young woman shared, ‘I felt God massaging my face today. It was very slow, gentle and tender. God told me how much He loved me and would always be with me. I was grateful and peaceful and knew what decision I needed to make.’ If she had not shared her experience, I would not have known what happened, but I do remember I was very aware of God’s presence that day.”
Since March 2020 the Sisters of Charity Spirituality Center has been closed and S. Mary Fran has been unable to offer her massage and energy work. In addition, the center and its offices located within the Motherhouse have moved to a new location on campus. The new massage room will be found in the former Respite Care area.
Mary Fran is looking forward to the day she can return to ministry and knows that its benefits could be useful to many as we emerge from the pandemic. “During the pandemic we may have experienced isolation from family, friends, co-workers, less movement than we were used to, muscle pain or weakness, interrupted sleep, and/or a variety of emotions from fear, anxiety, loneliness, anger, etc.,” she says. “Massage and energy work can help to relieve pain and help you regain your strength as well as increase your body’s range of motion. Massage can help you relax, allowing you to let go of and work with emotional experiences and help your sleep be more restful. Massage and energy work are complementary therapies and do not replace the need to see your physician.”
The Sisters of Charity have a long history of presence in the ministries of health care, education, and pastoral care. S. Mary Fran’s ministry in massage therapy is an extension of these ministries in a new way.