Letting Go of an Angel

I don’t know what the hardest job in the world might be but it’s fair to say that serving as chaplain in the oncology ward of a children’s hospital is right up there.  I can only imagine the strength it takes to comfort parents facing their child’s fight with cancer. Yet an angel did that job every day for 20 years—with joy. Her name was Sister Alice Edward Strogen (r), SSJ, Oncology Chaplain of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, known locally as CHOP. “Jolly” was how her office mate Helen Stermel described her. I’d suggest “Saint.”

If you don’t know much about nuns, here’s a thumbnail. They work tirelessly in schools, in hospitals, in some of the most desperate circumstances—not for money or praise, but for others. Many work well into their 80s and 90s, devoted to God. I was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph. I know these women. They are invincible.

I never met Sister Alice but she ‘met’ me when she attended my performance of “The God Box” on November 16, held to raise dollars for the retired sisters in the St. Joseph Villa in Flourtown, PA.  That night as I looked out from the stage, the audience was so darkly lit, I couldn’t see a single face. But that weekend, I received an enthusiastic letter from Sister Alice.

“Your dear mother, Mary, continues to have an impact on so many people!” she wrote. “I think that your mother’s legacy…her faith…her hope and her love… have so much to offer each one of us. Her most profound gift to us is the art of learning how to let go. I have said for years that I believe that this is what life is all about…learning how to let go!”

Sister and I wrote back and forth for a week, both of us so excited about bringing the show to Children’s Hospital. I couldn’t wait to meet her. But last Wednesday, Cindy Schmus, a nurse practitioner at CHOP, wrote to tell me that her dear friend Sister Alice, only 65 years old, had suddenly died of a massive heart attack. Cindy wrote that Sister spent her last hour, talking about sharing The God Box with patients and parents to help them cope.

I keep re-reading Sister Alice’s letters to me:

“I, too, believe that God brings people together and makes things happen…that’s why we have to learn to let go and open ourselves to God’s ideas for our lives…just like your mother did!”

Her funeral service is being held today at the Villa at 12:30PM. I know that the chapel will be packed with heartbroken souls trying to hold on to her. I won’t let go of my commitment to Sister Alice. I will figure out how to bring “The God Box” to the families and staff of CHOP. Rest in eternal peace, sweet angel. It’s only fair after doing the hardest job on earth.

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  • "Mary Lou Quinlan shares her mother’s handmade and heartfelt gift of how to persist, believe and move forward with joy."
    – LEE WOODRUFF, AUTHOR OF "IN AN INSTANT"
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The God Box App is shiny new and ready to welcome your cares

December 15, 2017
by Mary Lou Quinlan

Since The God Box book was published in the spring of 2012, so many readers have told me that they started their own God Boxes. I love hearing stories of children creating God Boxes and married couples joining their prayer and cares in a family box. (And my mother would be thrilled!)  A 'real' God box is a constant reminder that we are not in control and that letting go is the first step to finding comfort, hope and relief for life's worries. But did you know that many thousands have gone virtual with their God boxes? To help the many busy ...

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