(I have adapted this post from an older one, on another website)
I first spoke with Sister Judy Mannix in the winter of 1997. I’d called the local parish and offered to volunteer. Sister Judy answered my call. And thus I came to know one of the most remarkable people I have ever met.
Before you read any further, scrub your mind clean of preconceptions about a person who chooses to live the religious life. Though she is obviously a woman of deep faith, Sister Judy does not impose that faith on anyone. It was several months – as she was handing out Easter tokens in fact – before she had any idea what my religious practices were. Although we worked together in Parish Outreach, doctrine was never an issue with us.
The center at which we worked was a small storefront office in the middle of a troubled neighborhood. This site was Sister Judy’s brainchild and represented her approach to a problem: bring the services to the people and get to work. We opened our doors and word-of-mouth did the rest. There were unpaid heating bills, poorly clothed children, undernourished families. The list of ills was probably representative of every distressed community anywhere.
With Sister Judy’s guidance we addressed the issues. But we also learned to do something else. And in one incident I witnessed, Sister Judy demonstrated what that something was.
It was maybe two in the afternoon; a woman of indeterminate age came to the office. She sat down and was vague about the reason for her visit. A strong smell of alcohol – and other things that suggested a carelessness about personal hygiene – surrounded her. I was at a loss and called Sister Judy from the back office because I didn’t know how to help this woman. But Sister Judy did.
Although she had been running ragged all afternoon dealing with fuel companies and social service agencies, Sister Judy just stopped. She sat next to our client. Suddenly we did not have a client. We had a guest. Sister Judy saw a need I did not understand. The woman craved company. This Sister Judy gracefully gave her.
Was it twenty minutes? I don’t remember. Nothing material was accomplished in those minutes. Sister Judy and the woman chatted casually, as one might do with a friend. At the end of their chat, the woman wandered away and Sister Judy returned to her intensive work schedule.
There was no discussion of religion, or doing good, before, during or after that woman’s visit. But the whole episode demonstrated for me once and for all what Sister Judy was about. She had turned herself into a vessel for good and as a vessel, bent willingly to the requirements of her environment.
In the past, she had traipsed across the mountains of El Salvador while civil war raged. She taught school in Malaysia. When I knew her she was establishing an outreach center for immigrants on Long Island.
As to money: every business should have Sister Judy supervising its books. There would be no random, unexplained expenditures with her on the watch. She has what I can only describe as a singular talent for thrift. She sees herself as a trustee of funds. Every penny is measured and dispensed with scrupulous care. No valid request for assistance is denied, but every request is scrutinized to be certain that it is indeed valid.
Sister Judy changed my life, and she did it by example, not by sermonizing. I will never be brave enough, energetic enough, thrifty enough or spiritual enough to emulate her. But now at least I know the goal, and knowing that, I can head in the right direction.
Sister Judy is a member of the Good Shepherd order, which has its home base in Jamaica, New York. According to the 2010 issue of the Catholic Islander, the newsletter of the Catholic Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, Sister Judy is currently working at the Good Shepherd Center in St. Croix.