The following comes from a Jan. 10 story in Angelus News.
Every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday throughout the year, people within the Wilmington neighborhood line up outside the convent gate in great need of food or clothing. One might wonder why these people, a great number of whom are homeless, would gather outside of a convent, of all places. But attached to the Norbertine Sisters convent is the Poverty Program of Sts. Peter and Paul Church, led by Sister Roberta Sprlakova, s. Praem., the president of the Poverty Program.
During opening hours, the people are called from the line one by one to receive their food donations, which are distributed to them by the sisters and other volunteers.
These food items are usually donated to the Poverty Program by local grocery stores such as Smart & Final, Trader Joe’s, Albertsons, and even Gulf Avenue Elementary School.
The Poverty Program currently serves about 700 families, and its volunteers have been serving the Wilmington community for decades. Many years before the Norbertine sisters arrived in Wilmington from Slovakia in 2011, there resided seven Irish and American sisters, known as the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny. These sisters came to Wilmington in 1951, and they were each so immensely loved by the Wilmington community.
The community especially treasured Sister Lelia Clarke, who was in charge of the Poverty Program at the time. During the late 1970s, Lelia was truly the Mother Teresa of her day. She was very slight in stature, a strong woman who did so much to help the needy, and an undeniably dedicated religious….
The incredible work and ministry of Lelia and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny lives on to this very day. The Poverty Program is now run by a growing community of contemplative-active Norbertine Sisters. And recently, the program celebrated its 40th anniversary in the 150-year-old church.
During the event, Sister Ana Paula Rios, a Norbertine Sister, was able to publicly share her testimony and express what it now feels like to be on the “other side of the gate.”
About 25 years ago, when finances for her family were difficult, Ana Paula’s mother would wait in front of the convent for food, along with many other families in need. This was certainly not easy for her family, but the need was evident.
“The [Cluny Sisters] would make house visits to determine the needs of the family, and eventually they came to our house. My mom came to the Poverty Program for a period of four to five years,” she said.
“Looking back, I see that the items we received were more than just donations. They were gifts. Gifts given with love and care by people whose hands and hearts were directed by Christ. All Jesus asked was for us to receive and enjoy. Whenever possible, in whatever small ways, we should give to others as Jesus has graciously given to us.”