On January 21, Trinity Church Wall Street celebrated Sister Ann Whittaker’s fifty years of service as a member of the Society of St. Margaret with a special Holy Eucharist followed by a luncheon. A few days later, Sister Ann reflected on her ministry as a sister, a ministry which is still going strong.
“God has such a sense of humor because I was never very religious to begin with,” Sister Ann recalled. “Somehow I started going to a very small Episcopal church, 12 people could fit at the altar rail if everybody squeezed in.”
Growing up in her hometown of Mansfield, MA, with plans to become a teacher, Sister Ann began to consider joining an order of sisters in The Episcopal Church, and checking out the various options.
“Each religious community in The Episcopal Church has its own feel to it and when I came back to St. Margaret’s, it felt like I was out of the high heels and into my loafers. I was comfortable and I thought that’s the way it should be.”
Sister Ann’s first assignment was baking altar bread.
“I learned that not everybody could become a baker,” Sister Ann said with a laugh. “It’s like cooking on a waffle iron except there is nothing to control the heat except the batter so if you’re not the right speed, you’re going to scorch it.
“They found out I could bake, so that was a start. I thought they’re not going to fire me.”
Sister Ann’s profession of vows, the act that was celebrated in Trinity’s January 21 worship service, came during the final days of 1972.
“I actually professed on St. John’s Day, December 27. I was in retreat during Christmas. That was difficult because I didn’t talk to anybody. I didn’t have a Christmas that year really. By that time, I had been in silence for a week.”
Sister Ann has served in Haiti, in Trinity School operated by the Episcopal Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, teaching elementary school, and working with the school’s philharmonic orchestra and the Trinity trade school.
“I’ve been to Haiti three times. The people are very close to my heart. Not the poverty, nobody would like that. But the people are wonderful.”
Other assignments included a nursing home in Montreal, a facility for cancer patients in eastern Kentucky, a retreat center and soup kitchen in Utica, NY, and St. Luke’s Church in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Currently, Sister Ann lives in community with Sister Gloria Shirley and the Rev. Sister Promise Atelon, all members of the Society of St. Margaret.
“We do Morning Prayer. We’re either here [in Trinity Church] for Eucharist or we have Eucharist there. We have Evening Prayer, and we have Compline.”
All three sisters serve on Trinity’s Pastoral Care team.
“Weddings, baptisms, and funerals. Thank God it’s not me having to organize it. We visit the people who are shut in. Ninety percent of the time it’s just being available to talk or pray or whatever people want,” Sister Ann explained.
“I do The Sister is In, which I thought was important even though 95 percent of the people who come in here come in here because they are tourists, they look around, and then they go back. Often there are people who are on the staff here who get brave enough to sit down and talk.”
Sister Ann responds quickly when asked what has been most fulfilling about her life as a sister.
“I really enjoy working with people from other cultures,” said Sister Ann, emphasizing that all of her assignments have introduced her to other cultures, especially eastern Kentucky and Haiti.
“It’s not always easy, but I think it’s vitally important.”
Sister Ann remembers that at the time she found the Society of St. Margaret, “I had my application for the Peace Corps filled out because I wanted to give my all to something.”
She never joined the Peace Corps, but the rest of that goal is still being accomplished, every day.