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Sister Virginia Peckham ‘felt welcome right away,’ makes final vows with Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary

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Sister Virginia Peckham. Photo courtesy/Tina Schrider

Sister Virginia Peckham was not a Catholic or Christian as a youngster or young adult.

She was married and in her 50s when she began to have a conversion in 2004, first to the Baptist church and later to a Catholic church near her home in Maine.

Pictured at the gathering for final vows are, from left, Sister Constance Ladd, vicar general, Sister Ann David Strohminger, OSF, delegate for religious of the Diocese of Wilmington, Sister Patricia Lennon, Sister Virginia Peckham, Sister Jennifer Fletcher, Sister Mary Joseph Reinke, Father John Solomon; and in the front, Sister Marilyn Bouchard, superior general.
Photo courtesy/Tina Schrider

She was married 23 years when her husband died in 2011. She had friends in the area and knew she had an inkling to serve people, but it was her visit to that Catholic church in Rockland, Maine, that set her off on the next part of her life.

“I thought ‘This seems like the real deal.’ The Mass just kind of blew me away,” she said in an October telephone interview, about a week before she professed her final vows with the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary at their convent in Princess Anne, Md.

The sisters – all six of them – operate Joseph House in Salisbury, Md., that includes the Crisis Center, where services include a soup kitchen, financial assistance, food pantry and a day shelter for the homeless, among other ministries. They have been in Wicomico County since the late 1970s, a few years after the late Sister Mary Elizabeth Gintling founded the order in 1974.

Like so many social services, the work of the Little Sisters has been altered by the impact of COVID-19. Their dining room would serve 30 people, but coronavirus made it too risky in a small room. Still, they found a way to keep things going. All ministries are still in place except for the soup kitchen for the general public. The food pantry is still open, they continue to help the homeless with food and showers and laundry, and continue to provide financial assistance to people in crisis.

Sister Virginia found the Little Sisters when she was “talking about religious life” and filled out a vocations survey that matched her interests with religious orders. The Little Sisters were one of nine orders who came back as a match and she went for a visit.

“It was just so appealing,” she said. “I felt welcome right away.”

The process toward joining the sisters started in 2012 and final vows happened Oct. 18. Father John Solomon celebrated Mass at the chapel in Princess Anne.

“Our community is so blessed with so many volunteers and resources.”

Sister Jennifer Fletcher in 2013 was the last Little Sister to take her final vows.

“When I became a Christian in 2004, I was kind of on fire. I thought ‘I should be a missionary’ or something like that,” Sister Virginia said.

“When you’re out in the world, it can get kind of scattered and feel kind of isolated. I was working at the local soup kitchen. As a new Christian, I knew I had to start doing things for the poor.

“I thought if I live in a religious community, I can have the support of other women. And an organized prayer life and a lot of help in ministry. And indeed, that’s exactly how it’s been.

“I never dreamed it would be so nourishing and strengthening,” she said.

At age 68, she has not regretted the path she’s taken.

“In the ministry, there is no challenge that the sisters haven’t encountered before. So I’m always able to turn to them for advice.

“I am really happy. Happy that I made this choice, that God led me to every possible door. It was so clear that God approved of this path for me.”