‘It’s All Good!’

Sister Martha wears many hats these days. All have been affected uniquely by COVID-19.

She’s just returned to work with differently-abled adults. Her client is on the autism spectrum, hearing impaired, legally blind and nonverbal.

“I was excited to be with my client, and she was excited to be with me,” Sister Martha says of their summer reunion. “When she heard my voice, her face lit up and she gave me a hug.”

Sister Martha hadn’t seen her for almost a year-and-a-half because of COVID.

 “I make sure she gets her meds, we cook dinner together, we clean up together and enjoy each other’s company,” Sister Martha says. “I’m teaching her how to get her own drink of water.”

This aspect of Sister Martha’s ministry is through Iron & String Life Enhancement, or ISLE, a nonprofit based in Youngstown. She works one shift a week with the residential program.

Meanwhile, Sister Martha also is the pastoral minister and director of religious education for St. Columba Cathedral Parish in Youngstown.

Sister Martha with a CCD gathering shortly before COVID

In that ministry she’s helping parishioners find normalcy in our adjusted reality.

“We have young servers again in Mass. We have precautions like hand sanitizers around the church. We ask that if parishioners don’t want to keep their bulletins they dispose of them.

“Some people are still doing their own distancing. With CCD, we’re no longer doing Zoom, but we’re moving from a weekly meeting to once a month with the whole family — Growing in Faith Together.” 

St. Columba CCD had great attendance during the pandemic, she notes, because some families who had impediments to coming in person found it convenient to do so online.

“I welcome everyone with open arms,” she says, demonstrating with her arms wide and a smile to match on her face, but noting it’s not safe to resume hugging yet. “I welcome parishioners returning to Mass by name. We feel God’s love by loving our neighbors.”

Loving her neighbors is another way Sister Martha ministers. She, Sister Mary Alyce Koval and four other traditionally-abled friends founded a bible study group for people different abilities called The Five Saints (for saints Christine, Columba, Luke, Nicholas and Patrick).

Members of The Five Saints bible study group—Jim Shagla, Tim Gilboy, Sister Martha Reed and Jimmy Sutman

“We need to be open as a church including people with disabilities and all abilities to come and pray together,” she observes.

With about 20 members including the core team, it began meeting at the Cathedral a couple years back. Members share scripture, prayer and a small snack one day a month.

Meetings moved online during the height of the pandemic, but the group’s back to gathering — now at the nearby ISLE location.

“We all have a desire to experience God’s love through relationships, prayer, liturgy, and most importantly, one another,” she posits.

Sister Martha has a special place in her heart for adults with different abilities. She wasn’t identified as having dyslexia until 5th grade and didn’t learn how to read well until college.

And speaking of college, Sister Martha also is pursuing her second master’s degree. In her academic career, she earned a bachelor of science in Pre K Education, a master’s in Special Education, and now is working towards a master’s in pastoral ministry through Loyola University in New Orleans.

A local group pursuing the degree had been meeting for classes with a facilitator. But when the pandemic started, they weren’t allowed to meet traditionally.

“We got permission to meet by Zoom, but now we’re two semesters behind. We’re going to graduate together in May of 2023,” she says, noting they’re all now studying individually in the online portion of their courses.

While the ups and downs brought by the pandemic can be difficult, Sister Martha’s faith keeps her positive.

“Julian of Norwich has a famous quote – ‘And all shall be well.’  I’ve changed it a bit. My motto is, ‘It’s all good.’ God equals love,” she says. “Be patient with one another and listen to where God is leading us.”

Sister Martha refers to the second counsel of St. Angela Merici, founder of the Ursulines in 1535, for more direction.

“With things going on in our world today, not only the pandemic but with racism and violence, we all need to remember to be gentle with each other and show compassion,” she says. “That’s what I’m trying to do, just listening and praying with others. Yes, it’s easier to sit with some, but we’re called to sit with each other.”