Thoughts on Aging...

Aging from the perspective of Coralita Ellerbrock, RSM

Aging from the perspective of Coralita Ellerbrock, RSM, taken from the summer 2001 Edition of “The Mercy Detroiter”

Sr. Coralita was born on April 12, 1915 and passed away December 3, 2005, but her words live on….

What does it mean to live, to grow old, to face diminishment, and to die?  It means everything.  It contains privilege and the honor of participating in the great chain of being-to be called forth and return with a grateful heart to the Source, the One who loves, who sustains, and who embraces our life.

The concept of aging is a process that begins at birth and develops as we travel through the many and varied cycles of life.  Each of these cycles presents a new adventure, and unexpected vista, and an ever-deepening challenge within the Self that remains to be discovered and developed.  At birth, we registered in the school of life with special lessons and tasks for each decade.  Each cycle requires a new set of skills and learnings that weave lifetime experiences into the whole.

For those who have chosen the quest for the Divine as a way of life, there is another set of tasks as we become wisdom-seekers in the Third Cycle.  To grow older provides time for us to soften or to yield this world’s values and expectations we so carefully constructed so many decades ago.  Now we can relax into the simple, lovely, expanding essence of who we are and who we are becoming rather that grasping and tightly holding what was past history in terms of position, title, or even our finest attempts to do good works for noble intent.

Now we can freely encourage ourselves and others to navigate through the unknown terrain of society, community, and world view; mentoring when asked, knowing always that new paths need to be explored, tried, and tested.  Now is our time to deepen our inner world, all the while supporting, encouraging, and trusting those who carry the burdens of the day.

These tasks and learnings arise by means of 1) reading the signs of the times, 2) pursuing our own deepening spirituality, and 3) seeking and exploring the inner dimensions of the Self.

Nelson Mandela, at the time of his presidency, asked all of the people to “set sacred intention” each day by saying the following prayer:

                Let us pray for the young ones,
                for they have a long way to go.
                Let us pray for the old ones,
                for they have come a long way.
                Let us pray for those in the middle,
                for they are carrying all the burden.

A Special Call

Retirement for me then was not about going into Prayer Ministry because I could no longer do anything else but rather Changing my FOCUS as a Sister of Mercy


Mary Anita Iddings, R.S.M

A very special thank you to Mary Anita Iddings, R.S.M., for allowing us to reprint her valuable article. She is a gifted writer, whose insight, grace, wisdom and serenity come out so fully in her words. We are so grateful to be able to share this with you.

A Special Call

Old age is a special call and not everyone gets it. Who receives this special call is not for us to decide. But our part is to prepare for the call, accept it, and live it in its fullness. Remember old age is a part of life. It is up to each person to prepare and decide how she will answer that call. You don't want to be like the lady who died at age 40 yrs. but wasn't buried until she was 80 yrs. Old age is meant to be lived.


When the day came that I noticed I had less energy and my "body parts" began to demand more attention, I knew I needed to make a decision about my ministry. I remembered learning in my early days that a Sister of Mercy was both active and contemplative. Retirement for me then was not about going into Prayer Ministry because I could no longer do anything else but rather changing my FOCUS as Sister of Mercy.

I had been interested in retirement needs for our senior Sisters for many years and had read extensively about retirement, aging and grieving. For two years, I had the privilege of caring for our Sisters in our Skilled Nursing Facility, Marian Care, and five years as nurse in Mercy Retirement Care Center. With this knowledge and experience, I tried to prepare myself to answer this call. My first question to myself was "What can I do now that I could not do when in the active ministry?" The answer gave me some idea of how I wanted to live in retirement. This was the beginning of planning for my retirement.

It is important that one not just "fall" into retirement but plan for it. When we think back to our school years we know that we had to plan and prepare for the high school, college and work we wanted to do. When it came time for retirement (another part of life), where are the plans?

One of the most important things in preparing is to learn how to process losses in our life. Sometimes we don't recognize them as losses. When I talk about losses, I am not Limiting it to a death in the family or friends. Rather, we experience losses throughout our life, for example, a change of job, relocation or illness. We may just ignore the incident. However, the feelings attached to that loss stay with you. Often rather than dealing with those feelings of anger or depression, they are projected onto someone or something else. Only by learning how to recognize and process losses will the negative feelings associated 'with loss be converted to the positive realization that every loss is the offering of a gift. The challenge is to learn to look for the gift.

When is it time to begin to think of retirement planning? Given the importance of processing the losses that come with retirement., now is the time to learn that tool. The quality of a retirement will depend in larger part on our ability i0 process loss. When people talk about retirement 'planning the first on the list i,, usually financial. That is important, however, no amount- of gold will take the place of doing one's own interior work. A good question to ask is, "Who is responsible for my happiness?" The answer: Look in the mirror. We all can and must make our own choices of how we will respond to our old age.


I have learned that losses do not go away in retirement. This is an important reason to learn how to process losses. I once thought the hardest loss to process was the loss of my lifelong ministry. I was .wrong. It is the losses associated with an aging body. These are irreversible. As the wear and tear on parts of my body lessen my control over the functioning of the body it offers me a gift. What greater gift can I offer God in my Vow of Poverty than the control I once had?

I think it is important to focus away from aches and pains and reach out to others. The computer has been a window for me. I respond to requests for prayers and send cards to Sisters who have lost family members, read and respond to information from WMW and the Institute, have computer pals, and of course play some games to help my brain from going completely asleep! Joan Chittister has a yearlong course on the computer, which I am taking. I enjoy frequent visitors, have a monthly prayer group who have been meeting since 2004, a wonderful Franciscan Sister Prayer Partner and I love to read.


I believe a Sister of Mercy is both active and contemplative. In retiring, all I did was change my focus from activity to contemplation, and so I feel that I am living in the fullness of a Sister of Mercy. Consequently, when I retired I asked my Community President to mission me to the ministry of prayer and presence and I think presence can be healing or otherwise. Retirement is simply a .change of focus. Some Sisters said they were sorry I was suffering so much. Actually, I do have constant pain but it is not "intolerable." Yet, I am not "suffering." Suffering is in the mind and I want no part of it. What I have is just pain. I have deep love for Our Sorrowful Mother and when I think of her pain walking with Christ on the way through life and at Calvary, how can I compare?

Old age is a gift, a calling and still very much part of life. How blessed I am to have received this special call. +

Listen for the call.

                       Plan for new life.

                                              Look for the gifts

                                                                   and Live new life in God.

The Mercy Association in Scripture and Theology publishes THE MAST JOURNAL, begun in 1990, three times a year. Members of the Editorial Board are: Sisters Eloise Rosenblatt, Editor (West Midwest), Patricia Talone (Mid-Atlantic), Marilyn King (West Midwest), Aline Paris (Northeast), Kathleen Mc Alpha (Mid-Atlantic), Marie Michele Donnelly(Mid-Atlantic), Sharon Kerrigan (West Midwest), Mary Jeremy Daigler (South Central) and Mary-Paula Cancienne (Mid-Atlantic). Subscriptions and correspondence to Julia Upton, R.S.M., Office of the President, St. John's University, 8000 Utopia ParkWay, Jamaica, NY 11439.


Manuscript submissions to Eloise Rosenblatt, R.S.M., at1600 Petersen Ave. Apt. 40 , San Jose, CA 95129, e-mail Printing by St. Joseph Press, La Grange Park, Illinois.



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Susan Dunnwald | Reply 04.03.2015 17:29

Sr. Mary Anita,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I especially liked the thought that in the aging process itself there are losses, which are gifts. Blessings!

Marilyn Panelli | Reply 01.04.2014 21:16

Dear Sister Anita - Your article on the special refocusing call of old and older age
was a positive/loving musing. I'm sharing it with friends.

Mary Ann Becker | Reply 26.03.2014 09:47

Sr. Anita, Thank you for your beautiful message and the challenge to live Mercy.

Jeanne Ward | Reply 24.03.2014 13:12

Thank you, Mary Anita for a very thoughtful and thought-provoking article.

Kathleen Kearney | Reply 03.03.2014 20:34

Thank's to Sr. Anita for a beautiful reflection on living life to it's fullest. Thank you for sharing.

Jean | Reply 03.03.2014 14:06

What a beautiful message of faith, spirituality and hope. Thank you!

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12.08 | 07:17

Mary, If you sent your email via this message page, please send directly to me as I cannot see your email from this site... this is a privacy issue.

11.08 | 11:46

I already sent my email address!!

11.08 | 11:42

Send your email address to and I will send a PDF oF the information.

11.08 | 11:22

I am interested in the Aging Conference in Buffalo. Unfortunately, I am unable to read the bio of the speakers because the font is too small. Can you help?

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