FOX CHASE MANOR, Pa. – The Sisters of the Order of St. Basil the Great might be handling the COVID-19 quarantine better than most – they are monastics after all. Yet even their timeless regime of prayer and ministry was altered by the pandemic. Most of the Motherhouse at Fox Chase is much quieter than usual, save for one room full of activity. There, the sisters engage in what has quickly become an essential craft: producing masks for health-care workers.
Sister Teodora sits at a sewing machine, where she turns rolls of fabric and lace into today’s hottest commodity. Beautiful abstract and floral prints take shape and, in turn, are neatly ironed and stacked by Sister Olha. Now they are ready to ship: these masks will be received by nearby Holy Redeemer Hospital.
The project was a spontaneous initiative conceived during Holy Week, but it involves two much older elements of the Basilian Sisters’ identity.
First, for the task of making masks the sisters draw from the rich tradition of sewing and embroidery handed down for generations in Ukraine and later throughout the diaspora. Second, their involvement in health care dates back to Basil of Caesarea himself, whose monastic foundation in 4th century Asia Minor helped address the medical needs of the poor.
Thus, it is fitting that today the Sisters of St. Basil have combined the penchant for textile handiwork of Ukrainian culture with their order’s dedication to the sick.
The mission of the Sisters of St. Basil is to bring about the praying, healing and life-giving presence of Christ. Once social distancing made this difficult to do in person, they found another way – one responding directly to the needs of our time.
Sean McLaughlin is director of the Basilian Spirituality Center.