Sister Mary Thomas, a Presentation Sister of the Blessed Virgin Mary, has been a religious sister since September 2, 1978. She is currently the senior vice president of mission at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls.
Q. Tell us a bit about your family and where you grew up.
A. I am the youngest of eight children. I grew up on a farm north of Bowdle. I loved living on the farm and how we all worked together to get big projects accomplished. All my siblings lived in the area so we were able to gather frequently as an extended family.
Q. How did you get your call to the religious life?
A. A call matures and begins with noticing. Noticing what was stirring in my heart, when I felt more alive, what did not hold any attraction to me. As I listened and began to “act” upon what was churning in me, i.e. talk with a vocations director, someone who knew the life I seemed to be attracted to, then the swirling energy was able to find direction. She helped me focus my listening as I began to trust that I was being called and trust the one who was calling me. The attraction was love. God is love.
Q. What is your work as a religious?
A. I have had several ministries throughout my life. I would say the emphasis was more on a pastoral presence—youth minister, campus minister, vocations director and now senior vice president for mission at Avera McKennan. In common with all these ministries was accompanying people in their joys and sorrows, helping to guide them, so in that sense there was an educational component, deepening their spiritual awareness of God’s presence in their lives.
Q. Who has been most influential in your life?
A. I have been blessed with so many who have influenced me in a positive way. I would say in my teens, there were people who were willing to create space for me, listen to my deeper questioning, honor the questions and help me stand in the truth that was being revealed. As I grew older I still needed that type of nurturing presence; however, more was needed. I was influenced by people who could stay in relationship, in dialogue as there were competing “goods.” How to show respect for each other in the midst of divergence and elevate the conversation.
Q. What is your favorite part of being a religious sister?
A. The uniqueness is in what we, as a congregation, along with many like-minded people, strive to create together. The vows of poverty, chastity and obedience really do give structure and meaning to our life in common. Our personal and communal prayer keeps us/me grounded as I engage what is before me and who I am privileged to walk with at any given moment.
Q. Why did you choose the Presentation Sisters?
A. When I started I did not know there were lots and lots of other groups to potentially join. I attended Presentation College and felt there was a “fit” for me with the sisters I knew at the college. There is a certain spirit to any community and the Presentation spirit brought me to greater life. Later I was part of an intercommunity novitiate in Omaha. There I interacted with young women from three other congregations. While I valued each one, I felt confirmed in my original choice to be a Presentation Sister.
Q. What’s the most challenging part of religious life?
A. I think that for me there were challenges that may have been linked to my own developmental stages. So early on, choosing a “single” life as my high school classmates were getting married and having children would have been a hurdle. Later there was a question of whether my ministry has made a difference. With motherhood, we can see children grow and hopefully blossom. Those types of markers are not part of this way of life. I see all of those times and any coming up as invitations to listen more fully to the call once again. It might mean letting go of status symbols I may have picked up along the way. It helps so much to witness how sisters older than me have navigated similar waters so beautifully. They inspire me.
Q. What is the biggest blessing?
A. The blessings never cease if I have eyes to see—being able to deepen my relationship with God, having my community sisters as companions on the faith journey, engaging the people of God. God’s people are truly amazing.
Q. Who is your go-to saint? Why?
A. I lean on Mary, the mother of Jesus, because she is my namesake. St. Therese and her Little Way fits me well. Venerable Nano Nagle because she founded the Presentation Sisters.
Q. What is something most people don’t know about you?
A. I like to get up earlier than most people because the day is fresh and full of promise as we are on the cusp of a new day. There is a stillness to the early morning. I imagine the veil between God and me/us is thinner at that hour.
Q. How can people in the diocese best help you be a great sister?
A. Prayer really does make a difference. I welcome the prayerful support.