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Sr. Carmel  Lohan

United States

Do you ever wonder what you’d be if you weren’t doing what you are doing!
That’s my thought as I write my life story. I wouldn’t call it an extraordinary life by any standards and yet I feel I have had a wonderful and very fulfilling life. I marvel at the opportunities I’ve had thanks to my family, friends and Mercy congregation, and again wonder why I was so blessed. I am truly grateful.

My life began in a modest family in Mountbellew, Co. Galway, Ireland. Primary school was uneventful apart from the usual schoolwork, dancing and piano lessons which gave me a good all round basic education. I attended Secondary in Claremorris, Co. Mayo where I was taught in main part by the Sisters of Mercy. I suppose it was here that the seed of a vocation was nourished. I wanted a life that would facilitate working in the service of others coupled with prayer and community living. I felt drawn to being a missionary. To follow this calling, I felt would not be fair to my parents as I had an older sister who had gone to be a missionary and I did not want to see them so sad if/when I might go ‘foreign’. So I opted to join the Sisters of Mercy in Tuam, County Galway. Under the jurisdiction of the archbishop of the diocese they at the time were a ‘stay in Ireland’ Congregation.

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Carmel

                                                  
It was a good time to enter religious life as Vatican 11 was just over and we were exposed to the new theology and liturgy and indeed new reflections on Religious Life. 1969 was a very significant year. That was the year I took first vows; it was also the year that the archbishop of Tuam agreed to allow Sisters to go ‘foreign’; and it was the year that a pastor from the USA asked if Sisters would go and work in the parish he administered. I signed up to volunteer……never thinking I’d be asked!!

In 1972 I went to Teacher Training College in Dublin and from there went to teach at the site of my Alma Mater, Claremorris. I taught Kindergarten there for 5 years and loved it. I enjoyed the community of Sisters (25 at that time) and the parents and larger community. In 1977 I was asked to go to the US to teach in one of the parish schools there. I was heartbroken leaving Claremorris and for many months after arriving in San Diego, California. However I got to love it, the children and parents. For 5 years I taught second grade, which was the First Reconciliation/ Communion class. This gave me great scope for working with parents which nudged me to go into parish work and adult faith formation which I did in 1988. I think it was in this capacity that I found the greatest scope for ministry. I was involved with young married couples, Evangelization, Bible study, Liturgy, Christian Initiation of adults and children, small church communities, ministry groups, interfaith groups, annulment processes, Cursillo, spiritual companioning so many people in their ordinary lives.

In 2005 a position became available as chaplain in a shelter for homeless persons. While I loved the ministry I was in I felt the tug to at least discern about working in this shelter. After a few weeks discernment there was no doubt in my mind that I was called to be a chaplain at St Vincent de Paul Village in down-town San Diego. Again I was loathe to leave what I was doing, but God called and there was no way I could refuse. During my first few months at the shelter I questioned and even worried if I was up to the task, but I relied on that God that first called me. I am now 3 years at the Shelter. There are eight hundred people (men, women and children) living at the shelter. At least five hundred more come in daily off the streets for a lunch and/or shower. Many of these are alcohol/drug dependent and have mental illness. Our staff is about two hundred and fifty.

My ministry is being a hopefilled presence to all. This entails a lot of listening, being with others as they meet the bump on the road, facilitating various groups and services. There are times I wonder if I’ll have the right words for someone, but somehow I’ve come to realize all they need is within them; they just need a sounding board. So many of them say, “Thanks for listening”. I love the people and really see their efforts. They don’t want to be homeless just as you and I would not want it, but many of them got a different hand dealt to them at birth, and others got it rough along life’s path. Our residents/guests come from very varied backgrounds. Many of them have reached rock-bottom so they appreciate the services that the Shelter provides. They may not be part of any religious denomination but they have a spirituality that often inspires me.

So you see I have had a very fulfilling life, not withstanding the many challenges. Some of my greatest challenges were leaving Ireland for the first time and settling into a ‘foreign’ land; moving from one ministry to another (I’ve loved them all) moving from a convent and community to live alone in an apartment (love it now though) So in response to my opening question “did you wonder what/where you’d be if you weren’t here” I say I am continually amazed at how my life has unfolded. I could not do now what I did way back when, and vice versa. It’s like one ministry prepared me for the next. I’m not sure how long I’ll be at the shelter; probably until the loving God wants me here and then I’ll feel the tug towards the next place that I’m called.
For leisure I like to walk, play bridge, cook and have people join me to do any or all of these exciting hobbies. So if you’re in my area, stop by!

Carmel Lohan
US Province

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