Sr. Maria of the Trinity founded the Gospel of Life Dwellings, bringing GOLD to the forgotten.
In 2009, Sister Maria of the Trinity was happily living in a religious community in France, when a spiritual experience led her to believe she was meant to move to Oklahoma and start a ministry of caring for the elderly.
“This might sound crazy,” says Sister Maria, an American by birth, “but I had a spiritual experience of my grandmother. She had grown up on a small farm in Oklahoma, and so I began feeling the call to go there. I had never thought I’d leave my community in France — I was very happy there! So, after much discernment to make sure this experience and this calling was from God, I came to Oklahoma.”
When Sister Maria arrived in Oklahoma City, she joined St. James the Greater Catholic Church. With the help of its pastor, Father Bill Pruett, Sister Maria felt called to set up the first Gospel of Life Dwelling in a property owned by the parish across the street. There, Sister Maria began receiving elderly residents from all walks of life, to live together in dignity and love as a “Gospel family.” The entire Gospel of Life Disciples (GOLD) ministry, which now includes four homes in Oklahoma City and one in Texas, among other projects, is entirely volunteer-funded and run. Sister Maria describes GOLD as an “emerging contemplative community actively accompanying life at its most vulnerable moments, and in the Spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, the Gospel of Life Disciples foster simplicity, solidarity, stewardship and service to the poor.”
The model for the GOLD dwellings is inspired in part by L’Arche, a network of communities in the United States that provides “homes and workplaces where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together as peers,” but with a preferential option for the elderly at the end of their lives — especially those without family, resources, or difficult life circumstances. Just like L’Arche, Sister Maria says that the GOLD ethos is built on fostering relationships between the residents and their community, welcoming new members “one person, and one heart at a time,” and living as a true family.
Residents of the GOLD dwellings, live-in GOLD LifeGuards (so named because “we are entrusted with each others’ lives,” says Sister Maria), and other volunteers from the local community spend time as families do — preparing and eating meals, praying together, caring for one another, playing games together, and simply living together. Although live-in GOLD LifeGuards and volunteers receive training, and many of the local volunteers are credentialed caregivers, the ministry of the LifeGuards is chiefly one of presence — of being there as members of the GOLD family. As Sister Maria quips, “You don’t need a degree to make someone an ice-cream sundae.”
Although not all of the residents and volunteers of GOLD are Catholic, Sister Maria says GOLD does not shy away from its Catholic identity, and especially its pro-life ethos. In fact, Sister Maria sees the ministry of GOLD as a vital way of protecting the dignity of life, promoting a consistent ethic of life, and hopefully stemming the tide against the culture of death — in particular, the practices of physician assisted suicide and euthanasia. She likens the ministry of GOLD to the work that crisis pregnancy clinics do in order to provide life-affirming alternatives to abortion. Sister Maria, the live-in volunteers and residents even spend time praying a Rosary outside of a local abortion clinic each day.
Many of the residents come to the dwelling from shelters, or are discharged from hospital stays with nowhere to go, or are living as shut-ins alone and forgotten. “I have never gone looking for anyone,” says Sister Maria, “they have all come to us, many via social workers, Catholic Charities, or local hospitals.”
Unfortunately, Sister Maria has had to turn potential residents away when dwellings have become full. But this is part of the reason why she hopes to make the GOLD dwelling model replicable so that more dwellings can be set-up across the country, filling the need of providing a “pilgrim stop” for our elderly brothers and sisters on their journey at the end of life.
Additionally, GOLD’s recent acquisition of a new property in Moore, Oklahoma — to be called the St. John Paul II Farmhouse — will welcome, accompany, and care for five persons at the end of life’s journey, with a preferential option for the very old and the homeless. The JPII Farmhouse will be part of the Omega Home Network and, in the spirit of all of GOLD’s enterprises, will be sustained by God’s Providence through volunteers and community support, and will provide care at no charge for needy persons during the last few months (weeks or days) of their life. The Archbishop of Oklahoma City, the Most Reverend Paul S. Coakley, recently visited the site and gave his blessing for this new GOLD effort to continue moving forward.
The ministry is still very much in its infancy, but is growing and adding new projects — like the plans for the JPII Farmhouse, a GOLD hermitage and farm in Norman, Oklahoma. Help is needed in the form of resources and volunteers for all of the dwellings, the hermitage project, the Farmhouse project, an initiative to start a Gospel of Life School for LifeGuards, and in helping Sister Maria organize the GOLD ministry and making it a replicable model for others to follow.
But just as the Lord called on St. Francis to rebuild the Church, Sister Maria feels that God has called her — and everyone involved with GOLD in one way or another — to rebuild the Church “one heart at a time” through this special ministry, and she is hopeful and excited about its future. “It’s a miracle to me how day by day, God has given us our daily bread. We are living each day by His Providence.”
If you are interested in furthering the ministry of GOLD through your time, talent, or treasure, contact Sister Maria here.