Setting a Golden example in religious life

By Deirdre C. Mays

CHARLESTON – In a world of consumerism and self-oriented ideals, people like Sister Maryjane Golden stand out.

A Sister of St. Mary of Namur, she is one of the diminishing numbers of religious who have dedicated their lives to God in a ministry to the people.

Sister Golden has been a member of her international community for 42 years. She is the director of religious education at St. Patrick Church. Her work involves the youth ministry, baptismal preparation, liturgical minister formation, and adult and children formation.

When asked about her vocation, it’s clear that she has never had any questions about it.

“I first thought about it in the seventh grade when a missionary visited our class,” she said. “During senior year I felt God was calling me to at least try religious life. It was the correct decision.”

Sister Golden is originally from Binghamton, N.Y. The congregation’s motherhouse is based in Namur, Belgium. Their community center is in Buffalo, N.Y. They are primarily a teaching order.

“I had experience with our sisters in grade school,” she explained. “They are very simple, open, loving people whose focus is serving God in their lives. That was the ideal I held too. I didn’t enter with a specific ministry, more to live in community in service to God and my fellow human beings.”

One of the most valuable components of the religious life is living in community. Sister Golden lives in community with Sister Colie Stokes who ministers at Blessed Sacrament Church.

“Living in community is being with other sisters and sharing a life of prayer of their lived experience,” she explained. “There is a commitment to each other as well as a commitment to service and striving to live God’s will. It is the primary commitment. There are some very dedicated single people who live very good lives, but the religious are called to do it together in some way.”

She has no regrets about her life. Sister Golden has had her share of challenges, however.

“Particularly in American society where everything is so individualistic,” she said.

“Religious life lived at its ideal is actually a counter cultural statement. But no matter what life you choose, there are challenges. There are challenges in married life remaining faithful to raising a family in a Christian context, and challenges in being single and remaining committed to God’s call.

“I have no regrets about my choosing to follow this call. I believe it was the right thing for me.”

The issue of retirement usually evokes a good-hearted laugh with most religious.

“What happens is that sisters take on fewer full-time responsibility,” Sister Golden said. “We have sisters at our infirmary in New York who continue to do something. One sister is 83 and teaches Bible study on Saturday mornings. People just come to the infirmary.”

Others have found tasks such as selling stamps; the money from which is used for their congregation’s missions in Africa.

“Most sisters continue to work as long as they can to support themselves, the retired sisters and the works of the congregations,” said Sister Golden.

The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur are only one of several congregations working in the Diocese of Charleston that receives a grant from the Retirement Fund for Religious. The Monastery of St. Clare in Greenville and Mepkin Abbey were both grant recipients last year. It is a fund that is vital and well placed.

“It’s important to realize that the money that comes in supports not only the sisters who are retired and infirmed, it allows members of these congregations to minister in places that aren’t as lucrative to supporting the congregation itself,” said Sister Golden. “This way they can work in places where they are of best service to the poor.”