The patients huddled in the waiting room of Mercy Hospital in Buffalo had no idea of the effort made by the religious sister tending to their needs. Sister Donna Lord, GNSH, fought the Snowvember storm of 2014 to reach the hospital to fulfill her duty as a chaplain.
"The first day of the great snowfall I wasn't scheduled to work, so I thought whatever chaplains were there will handle the crisis, only to find out at the end of the day that not one chaplain had been able to come in," she recalled. "Most of them lived in the Southtowns. They were totally snowed in." Sister Donna lived outside the lake effect snowbelt, so she thought she could make it in. "A coworker and I said, 'If we can get in, we're going to do it.' We went to the Catholic Health Center near the medical campus. They said, 'If you can get over here, we'll put you in a four-wheel drive and get you to the hospital.' So, we did this, and this intrepid young woman got us to the hospital somehow. The police stopped us at least three times. Then I was there for three days. I wanted to be there because the other chaplains couldn't get in."
Duty, serving, helping those in need; these are the motivations for the 73-year-old Grey Nun, who wanted nothing else for her life than to become a sister.
"When I was in first grade, the sister who was teaching us said, 'How many of you girls think you might be nuns some day?'" She raises her hand, mimicking her behavior as a child. "Where that inspiration came from, I guess it came from God, but it was always in the back of my head through grade school and high school, I always thought that was what I was going to do. That's what God was calling me to do," she said.
She has spent over 50 years teaching and guiding her fellow Catholics, trying to touch them deeply and show them the way to the Lord.
Straight from high school, she entered the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, the order that taught her at Holy Angels Academy in Buffalo. Like most sisters, her first assignment after professing her final vows was to teach. She admits she did not have much training or college education at the time.
"I was sent out to teach in a little school in a coal town in Pennsylvania called Mahanoy City. I was assigned the eighth grade, having very little idea of what I was doing. When I think back, I think, 'Why did they do that?' I think it's because I'm tall. That's the only reason I can think," she said.
She moved around Pennsylvania, New York City and Atlanta, where she got the inspiration to move into parish work.
"When I was in Atlanta, one of the sisters I was living with, she was asked if she would come over to the Cathedral parish in which she would do something more like religious education and youth ministry for the parish. She used to come back and she would have all these horror stories about how difficult it was and frustrating. She was a born teacher. The more she talked about it, the more I thought, 'Oh, that's something I could do.' So as soon as we were able to start having choices (about our ministry), I thought, 'That's what I need, I need to transition into parish work of some sort."
The first ministry she thought of was religious education. She felt the Catholic kids who attended public school were not getting everything they should in an education. Not wanting to go into it unprepared, she asked the order to allow her to further her education. In just a little over a year, she had a master's degree in education from Fordham University. This earned her a role as director of religious education for St. Stephen Parish on Grand Island. When the mother of one of her students had to go into the hospital, Sister Donna felt a need to visit her. This led to her opening the pastoral side of her ministry.
Many sisters in her order were serving in the black communities of Philadelphia. She thought it would be a good thing to do, but couldn't find a parish in Buffalo to bring her aboard. After interviewing with a parish in Philly, she moved there. "That was a very rich and beautiful experience for me," she said.
There, she began to implement At Home Retreats, meetings in the homes of parishioners, teaching the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola.
"With that, I became more interested in spiritual direction in the sense that, the most important thing you could do for people would be to help them deepen their relationship with Christ and have a richer and deeper spirituality. I thought maybe I could be trained as a spiritual director," she said.
With a grant from the Pallotine Fathers, she joined an interfaith training program in Washington, D.C. Since then spiritual direction has always been part of her ministry.
While in Philly, she ministered to three sisters dying of cancer. The Fox Chase Cancer Center offered a program for clergy on how to minster to cancer patients. Even though she is not clergy, Sister Donna was allowed to join. As time went on she thought about getting trained for hospital chaplaincy in pastoral care. After a residency at a New Jersey hospital, chaplaincy has been her primary ministry. Today she works part time at Mercy Hospital as spiritual care chaplain, and part time at Our Lady of Czestochowa in Cheektowaga offering spiritual direction.
At 73, Sister Donna is still one of the more active sisters in her community. She is even taking piano lessons to give her brain a workout.
"At this point in my life, I'm blessed with good health. Thank God for that. I have health and energy," she said. "I think most sisters, if they have health and energy, still minister wherever they're able."