A Franciscan for 50 Years

Posted by Daniel Imwalle on 12/16/16 7:00 AM

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"No one seemed to smile as much as the Franciscans,” says Sister Mary Lou Carlson, OSF, when she remembers discerning her call to religious life back in the 1960s.

The warm sense of welcome that Franciscan spirituality exudes drew Sister Mary Lou into entering a religious life in community in 1964, but her vocation to serve was nothing new. “My ministry over the past 50 years has been to spread the Gospel of Jesus. I work hard to help people get to know Jesus and the unconditional love God has for ever yone,” she remarks.

Originally from Fremont, Nebraska, Sister Mary Lou was taught by Franciscans throughout grade school, which left a lasting impression on her during those formative years. As a teenager, Sister Mary Lou’s awareness of her vocation deepened. “Every time we had our yearly high school retreat, I felt God’s call to serve,” she recalls.

Following high school, Sister Mary Lou visited five religious communities, going on
retreats at each to gain a well-rounded sense of the culture, spirituality, and camaraderie present. In Clinton, Iowa, she found her spiritual home. “I visited the Franciscans at Mount Saint Clare in Clinton and felt right at home, because they were all so friendly and welcoming. I signed up the next day.”


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The immediate impact and magnetism of the Franciscan charism have not faded for
Sister Mar y Lou. She started out teaching in elementary schools across the Midwest, but also developed an interest in pastoral ministry—eventually obtaining a master’s degree in human and religious studies. Her decades of work as a grade school teacher, RCIA educator, and retreat director point to her skills as a communicator and spiritual guide.

“I have lots of energy to assist in helping people grow spiritually. I believe Franciscan
spirituality can benefit anyone who is looking for God in their life.”

Sister Mary Lou’s boundless energy seems to have carried over into her current role as director of outreach at the Church of the Resurrection in Escondido, California, where she has served since 2006. Under the umbrella term outreach, Sister Mary Lou’s ministry includes bereavement follow-up, CPR training, and parish health ministry.

“Part of outreach includes eucharistic ministers who take Communion to the homebound,” she adds.

The Church of the Resurrection’s outreach work is also connected to a large organization called Interfaith. Interfaith is made up of a diverse group of faith congregations, with a mission of assisting those in need in the North San Diego area. Sister Mary Lou helps collect food every weekend, which she later takes to Interfaith’s nearby facility.

Even basic food items are welcome. “Last year [in 2014], we collected 1,304 jars of peanut butter and jelly,” she says. From helping to feed the hungry to making follow-up calls to parishioners who have recently lost loved ones, Sister Mary Lou does not compartmentalize her vocation to serve. “The ‘poor’ for me includes all people in need,” she explains. “As God shows no partiality, I must be ready to listen and assist people to know, love, and serve our creator.”

Outreach ministry, for Sister Mary Lou, turns out to be fairly simple at its foundation. “Most of all, people need to know others respect them. A listening ear is always an instrument of peace.”

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Clean Linens

We take it for granted that the insides of churches need to be swept and dusted, that altar linens be kept clean, and that sacred vessels be treated with respect. Christians in Clare’s day did not always act that way.

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