Sister Marie Maravola’s Ministry: ‘I love it!’

For some women, the call to be a nun is a gradual nudging over years.

For others, it’s like a lightning bolt.

Sister Marie Maravola falls into that latter category.

“I was working in a dark room developing x-rays. Suddenly, I felt this overwhelming experience of God in my life. He spoke to my heart, as clear as anything. I knew at that moment I wanted to be vowed religious. I cried. Then I gathered myself and felt such a peace about me.”

Like most women in recent years, Sister Marie didn’t enter right out of high school but was in her late 20s. When she decided to become an Ursuline Sister [she professed her final vows in 1993], Sister Marie also decided on a career change, leaving the medical field and pursuing a degree in Early Childhood Education.

“Anyone who knows me knows I love babies and children. But I had to take a social work class and fell in love with it. I excelled in those studies and loved everything about it,” she comments.

Sister Marie went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Social Work from Youngstown State University and became a Licensed Social Worker in the state of Ohio.

“When I got that call to be a Sister, I knew I wanted to be an Ursuline,” Sister Marie says, noting she’d had Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown as teachers. Sister Therese Ann Rich, she adds, taught her to play guitar.

“I felt very connected to St. Angela [founder of the Ursuline order]. Before the term social worker came about, Angela was a social worker. She was working with the incurables and for the education of young girls. She was a caretaker.”  

And, fun fact, Sister Marie and St. Angela Merici shares the same birthday – March 21.

Sister Marie ministered as a social worker for a number of years at local senior healthcare facilities. But when the Antonine Sisters in North Jackson contacted the Ursulines, looking for someone to serve as a Pastoral Minister at their senior healthcare facility, Sister Marie was a natural fit.

“I do one-on-one visits with residents,” she says. “A lot of what I learned in social work and my experience working as a social worker in long-term care rolls over to pastoral care. A lot of it is attending to the needs of the people, being present to the people.”

Sister Marie shares this story: “Right now, I’m meeting with a woman who’s very sad. She’s mourning the loss of her husband. It’ll be a year in August. Now her children are preparing to sell her home. She also lost her eyesight to macular degeneration, so she feels like she’s losing everything. She’s not sleeping at night. I went in to talk to her and let her know how sorry I am for the losses she’s experiencing, and also to let her know to look for the things she still does have, to not lose sight of the bigger picture. She still has living to do.”

The transition to living at a senior care facility is difficult for many older adults, Sister Marie reports, because it’s not made out of their choice but often by their families out of necessity for safety and health concerns.

The Antonine Village is a wonderful place,” Sister Marie states. “People choose it because it has a chapel. I have a resident who did so because she’s a very religious person. It gives her great comfort to have the chapel and also that Sisters are there to serve in the capacities we’re there for.”

Sister Marie ministers with over 50 residents on independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing floors.

“I also do a lot of reminiscing with the residents. They love to sing. Especially the people down in the memory care unit. Music is one of the things they remember,” Sister Marie says. “For independent and assisted living, we do a lot of sharing. We talk about their childhoods and when they were married. Their stories are fascinating. They have so much to share.”

Since some emigrated to the United States as young people, and others traveled for work and fun, Sister Marie helps them renew those experiences in a 21st century way.  

“We tune into YouTube videos,” she explains. “Since they can’t travel anymore, we’ll travel to different places. We’ve traveled the world! I always have opportunities where we learn something.”

Working for another community of Catholic Sisters, Sister Marie has the opportunity to share her deep faith as well. She started the St. Anthony the Great Rosary and Prayer Group (some members are pictured here), and an Ursuline Sisters’ spiritual treasury for Mass at the Chapel.

“I love it. I love the older population. They have so much to offer,” she says. “It has been fulfilling.”

The gospel story that greatly influences Sister Marie’s ministry, she says, is that of the woman with the hemorrhage.

“She thought if she could even touch Jesus’ clothing, she could be healed – and she was!” Sister Marie notes. “He said, ‘You have been healed by your faith.’ I pray for the healing she experienced. She’s my prayer partner.”