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The chiming doorbell breaks through the din of laughter and the pitter-patter of sugar-filled children racing down hallways. Sr. Mary Kolbe walks towards the door as a voice cries out: “It’s Tiffani!” A thousand memories flash through Sr. Mary Kolbe’s mind and heart as she opens the door. Beaming before her are two bright faces, one a clearly successful professional woman, the other, held close in Mom’s arms, a little girl decked out for the Christmas party.

“We’re here!!” little Kayla croons with delight on seeing Sr. Mary Kolbe. Squirming out of her mother’s arms, she races past Sister into the crowd of children sliding down the waxed hall. Tiffani hugs Sr. Mary Kolbe and, exchanging Christmas greetings, suddenly remembers herself: “You were the first one I met!” With a smile and a nod, memories pass silently between them: the fears, the trust that grew, the late nights talking, the joy of birth, the changed priorities, the baptism, the new job, the new realization of her worth.

Laughing, they walk towards the smell of just-out-of-the oven Christmas cookies and the sound of Christmas carols. Joy is in the air; around the tall tree and crèche are people – lots of them – chatting, sipping hot cocoa, and singing along with the Sisters. As Tiffani enters the room she is immersed in a chorus of welcomes and hugs: this will always be home, no matter how many years have passed. She looks around at the others in the room; each with a remarkable story behind her, and finds the one who looks the newest, still pregnant, taking it all in. Sitting beside her, Tiffani holds out her hand and introduces herself with a “Merry Christmas!” and the sure knowledge that they are more sisters than strangers.

Welcome to the annual Christmas Party at Sacred Heart of Jesus convent. Each year, the women and children who once called this home return to celebrate the Lord’s birth with “their” Sisters. Many of our former guests stay in contact with us regularly, but the Christmas party is a time guests reunite with old friends as well: stories are retold, updates shared, the Christmas Story acted out and gifts given to the mothers and their children. Now a much-anticipated Christmas tradition, it is far more than a social nicety. Observing a seven-year-old boy quietly slipping into the chapel during the party, one of the Sisters realized that this little party is a return to their roots for the children born here, a return to the place where the Eucharistic Jesus welcomed them into the world and where their mothers were welcomed back into hope.

Originally printed in IMPRINT Magazine Winter 2008.