The Sisters of Charity Federation site features Sister Margaret Rose Nickerson who says she receives much more than she gives through her ministry at AIDS Saint John in New Brunswick.
“I recognize how poor I am and how rich those who are poor are for me,” says the Sister of Charity of the Immaculate Conception. As support coordinator, Margaret Rose journeys with those “infected and affected” by HIV-AIDS.
Offering non-judgmental listening, she helps them connect with government and non-profit service organizations. Sometimes the ministry takes her to the Saint John Correctional Centre to visit clients and advocate on their behalf.
Living with HIV-AIDS “is only one part of their journey,” she explains. They also deal with feelings of abandonment, alienation, poor self-image, anger and negative attitudes toward their sexual orientation.
“I feel blessed that they would trust me and share with me the very intimate parts of their life,” she says. In the midst of strained and painful lives, they inspire her with their courage and resilience, she adds.
Julie Dingwell, executive director of AIDS Saint John, says “Nicky” offers gifts of compassion and empathy among those suffering from poverty, addiction and disease. She recognizes how poverty can lead people to take risks which involve them in theft or the sex trade (prostitution), she adds.
Margaret Rose says her daily prayer is, “Lord, teach me what I need to learn to do to be a better woman of the gospel.” At AIDS Saint John, “I have received that from the very people I came here to help,” she notes.
Growing up in Saint John, she was taught by the Sisters of Charity, I.C. and entered in 1961. As an elementary teacher for 16 years, she enjoyed the children and still laughs about one little girl who earnestly asked, “What did your mother say when she found out she had a baby nun?”
After a sabbatical Margaret Rose offered pastoral ministry at Holy Trinity Parish in Saint John. From 1986-93, she then served in parish ministry at Holy Rosary Parish in St. Stephen, N.B.
“I was amazed and blessed by the gifts that came from the laity,” she says of her time in parish ministry. Besides “leading very busy lives,” they generously offered leadership in the parish and wider communities.
Supporting and Empowering Others
Her experience with persons with AIDS began when she visited a woman in hospital suffering from the disease. Lonely, frightened and abandoned by her partner, the woman expressed deep concern about her five children. Visiting often, Margaret Rose accompanied the woman until her death.
At the time, someone suggested she might work with persons living with HIV-AIDS. Returning to Saint John in 1993, she began to volunteer with AIDS Saint John and eventually moved into the paid, part-time position in which she continues to serve.
Annually since 1994, she has organized the local celebration of the International Candlelight Memorial Service featuring local dancers, professional musicians and singers who generously donate their time and talent. The service honours those living with HIV-AIDS, while remembering others who have died of the disease.
From 1993 to 2005, Margaret Rose also volunteered as a campus minister at the University of New Brunswick Saint John. “I have a great love for young adults,” she says.
Treated three times for cancer, she says illness has taught her about being peaceful and letting go. “It’s all beyond our control. The more you come to accept that, the more peaceful you are,” she adds.
She is also a former coordinator of Associates in the Sisters’ Atlantic region. “Associates give me hope,” she says. “I know that when we (Sisters) are gone, the charism will always live on in the hearts of God’s people who believe in that call from God.”
Margaret Rose says she has no fear about a lack of vocations. “We’ve empowered wonderful women and men to do God’s work. I do believe in the call of Associates and of other good people living the challenge of the gospel today,” she adds. (Debbie Lizotte photo)
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