Convent of Catholic sisters neighbors Rowan’s campus

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Sister Stacie Gagnon poses for a photo along side fellow Catholic sisters. - Photo via Sistersfmihm.org

On Ellis Street, across the street from the Rowan-owned parking lot and just down the street from buildings that house classrooms that hundreds of students move through every day, in a large, light-brown house, there’s a convent.

The Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is housing for a convent of Catholic sisters. The particular convent is part of a larger network of sisters throughout the world who do missionary work. 

Sister Stacie Gagnon is one of these sisters and lives at the convent on Ellis Street.

“I could be called in at any time to go serve in another place where we have houses in the world, which is many places. And so, as far as a job right now, I’m back here as of three years ago. And what I’m doing right now is… first of all, I’m kind of in charge of this convent here. So I have to serve the sisters here and take care of the whole building and the whole organization of everything,” said Sister Gagnon. 

Catholic sisters are different from nuns, as nuns will usually live a cloistered life in a monastery, praying and doing simple work. Sisters will live and work out in the world, usually in schools or hospitals. 

This particular order of sisters was founded by Mother Mary Catherine Troiani. She started the Franciscan Sisters in Egypt in 1868. The order joined the dioceses in the 1960s, though the convent has only been on Ellis Street since 2006, with houses being in other South Jersey locations until that point. The missionary work has continued on to the present day.

Those in the convent live a communal life, waking at five in the morning, and then praying together at six in the morning. They then share a quick breakfast and head off to their own respective jobs. When the workday ends, the sisters have an evening prayer and a time of quiet contemplation on the word of Jesus. After that, the sisters eat dinner, spend time together hanging out, and say a night prayer before heading to bed. 

“The whole focus was helping people overseas aid, like in poor countries… so, taking care of the little children and protecting them, and also educating them to the faith or education in general. Also helping women. That’s another big thing that we’ve done and we do around the world is we help women, like for example, in the poor countries to learn how to sew or how to do some type of a trade to be able to take care of themselves and their children,” said Sister Gagnon. 

Sister Gagnon herself has done years of work around the world, spending 20 years in Italy and various amounts of time in Brazil, Jamaica, and Tibet, doing a wide range of work for the church. 

“I lived in Jamaica. I was in the center of Jamaica, a very poor, poor area, not the tourist place where everyone goes on the coast… we had little children that would come on our property… they were just so beautiful and so simple and so joyful. And it was just a pleasure to be able to help them… we’re going into Easter…. we were like, ‘oh, let’s do an egg hunt with the kids… thinking in our American mindset….so we literally boiled the eggs and colored them and we hid them outside, and the kids were running around finding them. But then they were like, they found them and they immediately ate them. Because they were so hungry,” said Sister Gagnon.

In addition to international mission work, which any of the sisters can be called to at any time, Sister Gagnon also got a master’s in counseling in educational settings from Rowan in 2010 and now works as a teacher’s aid to help students with learning disabilities in Gloucester County schools.  

While the differences between the lives of the sisters and most college students are vast, Sister Gagnon said that the university presence is not very disruptive to the day-to-day lives of the sisters, with members of the convent even attending events at the Newman House, the university’s ministry for Catholic students around campus. 

“It’s great to be a religious presence here. If the students ever want to come and visit, especially as a Catholic group. Then we see students going by all the time and of course, we pray for the students,” said Sister Gagnon.

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