Members of the public are invited to pray with a sister during this Advent season. (Photo courtesy of the CSA Archives)

Two gifts that are always welcome during the Advent season? Prayerful support, and that irreplaceable feeling of human connection.

Both have felt in short supply these last 18 months or so. That’s why the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes (CSA) will once again be offering their “Pray with a Sister” program for the upcoming Advent season, allowing individuals to reach out by phone during specific times of the week to connect with a sister for prayer.

When the sisters piloted the program earlier this year for Lent, it was in direct response to the isolation many were feeling because of the pandemic, said Sr. Jean Steffes, CSA’s general superior.

“At that time, particularly, lots of people were housebound and didn’t have ways to dialogue with another or do some discernment with another, or just share what was on their mind,” she said.

But the program is not just for those who are homebound or quarantined — it’s for everyone, and for every prayer intention, large and small, said Sr. Jean.

Sr. Janet Ahler, who participated as a prayer companion during the Lenten season and will be doing so again during Advent, said that it was a “privilege to answer these requests.”

“I am an ordinary person, now retired, who does her best to love her God and all people,” Sr. Ahler said. “I try to be at peace and reflective of the love God has for each/all of us.”

The general public is invited to call 920-907-2300 from 1 to 4 p.m. Central Time on Wednesdays during Advent to join with a sister in prayer. The caller’s name and number will be collected, and a sister will call back momentarily to pray with them privately.

“My aim is to be open to listen to the request a person asks me to pray for,” said Sr. Janet. “I will then clarify to make sure that I have understood the request. I then may ask to whom the person wants the prayer to be addressed — for example, God, Mary, Jesus.”

Ultimately, this is a program about accompaniment, said Sr. Jean — on both sides of the phone.

“The sisters really just listened and prayed with and journeyed with the people who called,” she said, referring to the Lenten pilot program. “I felt it was also good for the sisters … many of our sisters at the motherhouse are retired or were bound by the quarantine or were not able to go around as freely as they had, so it gave them also an opportunity to exercise ministry. It was for the individuals who wanted to call, but it was also an opportunity for the sisters to share.”

In 2021, Advent begins on Nov. 28 and ends on Friday, Dec. 24.

Those who wish for support in prayer but do not desire dialogue can submit their prayer intentions at Remembering submitted prayer requests has always been a ministry of the retired Sisters of St. Agnes, in keeping with the directive in the order’s Constitutions, which states, “We remember in our prayers the needs of the Universal Church and all peoples, living and dead.”

But the really transformative piece of this Advent prayer program is the opportunity for “building community, journeying with and accompanying” one another, said Sr. Jean.

“We’re looking forward to seeing how we can journey with people,” she said. “Because it really is a matter of accompanying people on their life journey, praying with them, and reminding ourselves of the grace of God and the presence of grace in our lives — and our need for each other.”

The Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes (CSA), founded in 1858 in Barton, has been based in Fond du Lac for the past 151 years. Today, CSA has more than 150 sisters across the United States and Nicaragua, ministering in the fields of education, healthcare, pastoral ministry and social service.