"The greater the work the more
important it is to establish it on
a solid foundation. Thus it will
not only be more perfect; it
will also be more lasting.”

St. Louise de Marillac

Grace Abounds

By S. Georgia Kitt

Noreen Ellison (second from right) at the St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen in the Detroit, Michigan area.

It’s all connected for S. Noreen Ellison. Since 2015 the spirit of Saints Vincent de Paul and Elizabeth Seton has permeated her retirement days. The SC influence and presence is fondly and frequently recalled by many living in her Royal Oak, Michigan neighborhood; a presence that has been there for 88 years. For S. Noreen, it’s all about building and continuing relationships – in her retirement ministries and in her neighbor community. “I do what presents itself, sharing kindness, care and outreach in different settings,” S. Noreen shared. Grace abounds.

S. Noreen considers it a privilege to have the time to freely respond to the challenges and gifts of actively living her vocation. Every day seems to fill itself. She is a member in many varied communities, be it her two St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) conference groups, the Resurrection Choir (for Shrine funerals), Spiritual Advisor Formation group, Vincentian Life Committee, her SC small group, or as a board member for the housing cooperative where she lives.

S. Noreen serves as the spiritual advisor for two St. Vincent de Paul conferences, one for the Shrine of the Little Flower (Royal Oak parish) and the other for three inner-city Detroit parishes, referred to as the Blessed Rosalie Rondu Conference. Typically the first and third weeks of the month are highly scheduled with conference meetings for both core groups. This includes preparation of the spiritual reflection and reports of home visits that occur on weekends. The Rule of the SVDP Society states: “Vincentians are called to journey together towards holiness … drawing near to Christ, serving him in the poor and in one another. No work of charity is foreign to the society.”

(From left) Associate Therese Frye and S. Noreen Ellison receiving a check from a benefactor to help pay a deposit and rent for a homeless SVDP family to get into an apartment.

SVDP conferences meet a minimum of two times a month; this is true of SVDP groups across the world. Meetings include Scripture, reflection, faith sharing, opportunities to grow in friendship with one another and together serving the needs of the poor. Visiting the homes of those they serve is a primary focus of the ministry with those living in poverty. S. Noreen and SC Associate Therese Frye form one of the visiting teams; as they set out for a home visit they refer to the time given as an opportunity to go out ‘to meet their grace.’ A familiar result of the home visit is that the poor’s courage teaches those who visit. As St. Vincent said, “Go to the poor, there you will find God.”

S. Noreen feels she has developed gifts of listening, encouraging, responding, facilitating and accompanying. During home visits they pray with the family, listening and responding to the needs voiced by family members. God seems very present in most every home visit. A frequent learning for conference members is to see how the poor are caught in the system; a challenge then is to find ways to change the system. Grace abounds.

In her neighborhood living community most everyone knows S. Noreen is a Sister of Charity. They fondly remember the many SCs who taught in the Shrine schools, including S. Patricia Marie Donnelly, who was at the grade school for 30-plus years. Some still appreciate the neighborhood Scripture groups that were led by Sisters Mary Catherine Ratterman and Annunciata Hulse. Many remember S. Katharine Pinto as their kindergarten teacher and S. Mary Alicia Bomya as a special minister to the homebound before she retired to the Mount. As S. Noreen walks the neighborhood they wave, smile and greet one another. When her neighbors learn of a health concern among them, they ask S. Noreen to lead them in prayer for the person and the family. During COVID-19, when a neighbor suffered a heart attack, 18-20 of them gathered outside in the courtyard to pray; it is where they turn – relationships are built. They look out for one another and appreciate the variety of cultures present in the neighborhood. Neighborhood relationships are valued. Grace abounds.

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