Religious sisters find new home, ministry in Rhode Island

Sisters of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament bring beautiful charism to Ocean State parish

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MANVILLE — Open windows in a newly built chapel welcomed in a warm spring breeze that gently moved the veils of religious sisters praying together in their new home in Manville, the former rectory of St. James Church, which will now serve as a convent to the sisters.

Sisters Tizzy Manuel, Jessin Sebastian Madathikkunel and Linsa Neendukunnel, all Sisters of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, are the newest residents at Division St. On May 31, many religious sisters and priests traveled from throughout New England to celebrate the special day through the welcoming of the sisters, the dedication of the chapel, a renewal of vows to the start of a beautiful new ministry here in Rhode Island.

The three sisters, all originally from Kerala, South India, have been living at St. Theresa Catholic Church and Shrine in Nasonville for the past few months and have been eager to begin their ministry in at their new parish. The sisters share a special devotion to the Adoration of the Holy Eucharist and hold a special charism that includes ministry to the sick and elderly. The sisters are currently serving as nurses in local Catholic nursing homes, and in addition, they will collaborate with Father Thomas Ferland, pastor at St. James and St. Ambrose Churches, to serve their new family in Christ. The sisters will also help promote Adoration to the Blessed Sacrament in the parish, bring Holy Communion to the sick and pray with the elderly.

The congregation of the Sisters of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was founded officially on December 8, 1908, when the first members received the religious veil at St. George’s Church, Edathua, Kerala, India. Today about 5,000 SABS are witnesses to Eucharistic love throughout the world.

For Sister Jessin, it already feels like home.

“It’s very nice to be here. We are very blessed and so very happy,” she said.

It is their mission that Jesus be known, loved and adored always, explained Sister Manuel.

“Today his mission will continue to be fruitful in one more place,” she said.

Sister Manuel expressed gratitude to the many who helped make their move and transition to the diocese possible, adding a special thank you to Bishop Thomas J. Tobin for his continued support.

“We thank you for your kindness, concern and generosity for granting your permission to have our community here in Rhode Island,” she said. “Even though you have many obligations you found time to be with us and support us. Be assured of our prayers.”

Bishop Tobin, along with Father Ferland and Father John Kiley, a senior priest at St. Ambrose, celebrated Mass for the sisters. The bishop dedicated and blessed the chapel and other rooms in the home, and offered a warm welcome to the diocese. He noted the wonderful timing, as they gathered in a very unique way on the sisters’ feast day of Corpus Christi, celebrating the real presence of the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist.

“We come together for this very special and happy occasion, a special day as we formally bless their home,” Bishop Tobin said. “We pray that it will always be a very peaceful and welcoming home for all of the sisters and visitors who come here to see you. And we bless in a very special way this chapel and we pray it will always be an appropriate place for prayer and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, in keeping with your beautiful charism — adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The feast day is an opportunity to step back and thank God for the gift of the holy Eucharist and recall all that it means to us.”

Sister Elizabeth Castro, H.M.S.P., director of the diocesan Office of Religious, said that having the sisters here is a great blessing to the local community and to the diocese as well.

“The sisters are very grateful to His Excellency Bishop Thomas Tobin for his warm and kind welcoming and support,” she said. “They have expressed their joy in serving the people of God in the diocese.”

Many hope that the sisters’ presence will help encourage and inspire other religious vocations. Pam Butler, a parish Youth Ministry coordinator, said that the youth and young adults of the parish are curious and excited to have the new sisters on board.

“Having them here is going to do wonders to lift the spirits of these young people here at the parish,” she said. “I think it’s beautiful.”

But, it took a lot of hard work to help get the house in shape for the sisters’ arrival.

Chuck Allard and Gregg Butler, both sextons at the parish, put in countless hours helping to make the space come to life again. The building once served as a rectory, but has been vacant for many years. Allard shared that 90 percent of the furniture was donated from parishioners.

“All winter we worked on it,” said Allard. “We stripped all of the wallpaper, redid the kitchen and tin ceilings, washed every window, added new screens, built the chapel in the front room and updated the bedrooms upstairs. I made a big yellow kitchen table from doors I found in the basement. The sisters love bright colors. It’s so nice to have them here. They are very appreciative.”

Father Ferland added that the parish community has responded with kindness and generosity towards the new sisters.

“People have wanted to help out in any way they could,” said Father Ferland. “We have had some benefactors come forward to help us to refurbish the house. People have been excited about it. We had an open house and close to 50 people came by for coffee an’ after the 10 a.m. Mass. They are very supportive and I think they like the sisters very much.”