Her military career began at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., which has an acceptance rate of just 8%. After studying for four years, she served for five more. Her service journey began on a destroyer as a gunnery officer. She spent hundreds of days off the coast of South America in pursuit of drug traffickers. Afterward, she worked in Naples, Italy, as a liaison officer.
The late Cardinal John O’Connor founded the Sisters of Life in New York in 1991. While they are based in the New York-area, they are also located in Denver, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., and Ontario, Canada. The community of Catholic religious women profess four vows: poverty, chastity, and obedience, and “to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.”
“When I met the Sisters of Life, I couldn’t believe that (their) charism existed in the Church and in the world,” Sister Maris Stella said. It was, she said, “everything in my heart,” being lived out in a joyful way.
Among other things, the sisters dedicate their lives to offering support and resources to pregnant women and mothers, hosting retreats, evangelizing, practicing outreach to college students, and helping women who suffer after abortion.
“I served in the Navy and I tasted many of the good things that this world had to offer,” Sister Maris Stella of the Sisters of Life told CNA. “But I knew my heart was made for something more.”
Then, she said “yes” to serving God.
She defined the community’s charism as seeing every human life as sacred, unique, and unrepeatable.
“That we would lay down our lives that others might live, and just knowing, too, that people have value and meaning, not for what they do and can produce, or what they look like, or how much money they have, but just because God created each person and each person is an act of his love,” she explained.
Sister Maris Stella, who grew up in Ludlow, Mass., said her journey to the Sisters of Life began with the Blessed Mother. “The day after my First Communion, I consecrated my life to Jesus through Mary,” she explained. “The Blessed Mother, she won my vocation, she has protected my vocation, and she has cared for me my whole life.”
Called to service She applied to the Naval Academy after feeling the need in high school to “do something great and meaningful” with her life.
“I knew it was a great opportunity for education, a great opportunity to serve my country, and so I went there and I received so much more than that,” she said. The academy, she said, was a “life-changing” experience.
“Part of the experience is being formed in some of the natural virtues of sacrifice and service,” she said. “We would go around in our uniforms and people would thank us for our service, but we really knew we were serving something greater than ourselves.” The desire to serve something greater stuck with her, she said. In her second year at the academy, she embarked on a Holy Land pilgrimage. While there, she experienced what she called a “big moment in my life.”
She also encountered virtue formation. “I was really surrounded at the Naval Academy by very impressive people who not only had a great attitude of service and sacrifice, but they also really loved God,” she said.