When the bishop placed his ordaining hands on my head many years ago, and told me of my many duties as a priest in the service of God’s people, he said nothing about distributing baby clothes. Yet that is exactly what I found myself doing 35 years later in my mission in Chile. It all began with Sister Ursula.
I met Sister Ursula at Regina Medical Center, a hospital-nursing home-retirement complex in Hastings, Minnesota. I went there because the chaplain, Father Jim Dunne, was a good friend of mine since seminary days. During my years in Chile, I used to visit him about every three years, and often spent a month substituting for him as chaplain while he took a well-earned vacation.
Sister Ursula arrived at Regina in the late 1970’s. She had been teaching at one of her Order’s schools in Connecticut for about 40 years, and moved to Regina so that she could help in the pastoral care of the patients and the retired people living there. Regina Medical Center was an expanding healthcare center which had developed from a small country hospital founded by the Sisters in 1953.
Because of my regular visits to Regina during my time in Chile, the Sisters and staff were interested in my mission work, and wanted to help out in any way they could. They knew that my mission included a lot of young families, so Sister Ursula decided that her way of helping would be to collect baby clothes and send regular shipments to me.
I knew it was not easy work. Collecting the clothes was just the beginning. There were a lot of rules and paperwork to be completed. The receiving Customs insisted on written guarantees that the clothes were clean and sanitized and in good condition. They had to be packed in boxes not heavier than 10 kilograms (just over 20 lbs).
At the receiving end I had to go to the Customs to claim the boxes, and to guarantee that they contained what the labels said they did. It was worth it all, because every box of baby clothes from Sister Ursula brought joy to many young mothers and their children.
I left the sorting and distribution of the clothes to a team of women helpers, but I was there to share the joy and excitement of the mothers and babies. I also learned some new clothing terms, such as “sleep and play”, “sets”. “bibs and burps”, “bodysuits”, and of course the much-coveted “Moses basket”. I kept Sister Ursula informed of how much the young mothers appreciated her gifts of baby clothing, and how worthwhile were her caring and painstaking efforts to help them in their needs.
Sister Ursula went home to her heavenly Father just four months ago, in September 2011. She was 97 years of age, and had become a resident of the nursing home where formerly she had ministered as a Sister. Some of the babies she helped to clothe are now in their twenties. They never knew her, but one day she will meet them, and I know she will thank them because they inspired her to a baby-clothes mission that gave her declining years a new life and sense of purpose.