13 religious sisters die from coronavirus in Michigan convent

They were former school teachers, librarians, historians and nurses, among other vocations.
The 13 sisters who died from the coronavirus in 2020 at a convent in Livonia, Michigan.
The 13 sisters who died from the coronavirus in 2020 at a convent in Livonia, Michigan.Courtesty of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Convent
/ Source: TODAY

A convent in Michigan is still reeling after 13 sisters, all longtime members, died last month from the coronavirus.

Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Convent first lost Sister Mary Luiza Wawrzyniak, 99, on Good Friday, and then 11 more sisters in quick succession.

One sister, Mary Danatha (Danuta) Suchyta, initially survived COVID-19 but died from its “residual effects," bringing the total dead to 13 by the end of June, the convent confirmed to TODAY.

“We grieve for each of our sisters who has passed during the time of the pandemic throughout the province, and we greatly appreciate all of those who are holding us in prayer and supporting us in a number of ways,” Sister Mary Christopher Moore, the provincial minister of Our Lady of Hope Province, said in a statement to TODAY.

In total, 30 sisters at the Livonia, Michigan, convent were infected. Only 17 recovered.

“Every one of us is a COVID survivor; every one of us focused on praying, helping, sacrificing our accustomed way of living so our sisters, our employees, our local community, our state, our country can survive,” Sister Noel Marie Gabriel, director of clinical health services for the Felician Sisters of North America, said in a statement. “This has become our corporate ministry, our way of service to others; this became our Pro-Life Movement.”

The Livonia convent is one of 60 in North America. The 360-acre campus housed 800 sisters in the 1960s, according to the Global Sisters Report, a nonprofit Catholic news outlet. In Livonia over the years, sisters from the convent founded Madonna University, a Montessori school, St. Mary Child Care Center, Angela Hospice and Marywood Nursing Care Center, and the all-female Ladywood High School, which operated from 1960 to 2018.

Now, only 52 women call the convent home.

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"We couldn't contain the grief and the sorrow and the emotional impact," Gabriel told Global Sisters Report. "We went through the motions of doing what we had to do, but that month was like a whole different way of life. That was our most tragic time. It was a month of tragedy and sorrow and mourning and grieving."

Some of the surviving sisters told Global Sisters Report that it has been difficult to find closure in the wake of so many deaths of their own.

"Part of our tradition is to tell stories of the sister who died on the night we have the vigil, sharing happy moments we had together," Sister Nancy told the outlet. "You get a copy of their bio and a holy card, but none of that has happened. It feels like that door is still open."

Another said their religious traditions had been uprooted by the pandemic as well.

"The faith we share with sisters as they are dying, the prayers we share with sisters as they are dying: We missed all that," Sister Joyce said. "It kind of shattered our faith life a little bit."