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As a "breakfast reader" during silent meals, Providence Sr. Imelda Maurer would comb through the National Catholic Reporter for articles featuring "new ideas in areas of theology and the church as the people of God" and other current events to share with her community.
A mathematics, science and religion teacher in El Reno, Okla., Maurer remembers her home diocese as "a vibrant place to live" during that time, with Bishop Victor Reed of Oklahoma City-Tulsa bringing Vatican II reforms to local churches.
Teaching until 1973, Maurer then moved to southern Louisiana with Providence Sr. Bernie Galvin. Working as community organizers on sugarcane plantations where farmworkers lived in primitive conditions in newspaper-insulated shacks, Maurer describes the experience as one "of deep community," where she felt "the presence of God in a profound and different way." While there, NCR columnist Rick Casey reported on the sugarcane workers and used the convent's phone to dictate finished copy to NCR headquarters.
In 1980, Maurer and Galvin moved to Greenville, S.C., and worked undercover in a J.P. Stevens textile mill, cleaning looms and sweeping floors, prior to working as organizers with textile workers in Appalachia.
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It would be a personal loss, though, that launched Maurer into advocacy work on behalf of the aged: the death of her mother, Esther, after more than a year "lingering" in a nursing home. Angered and frustrated by what she witnessed, she committed to "changing the culture of aging and of aging services, specifically within sisters' retirement settings."
Maurer earned a gerontology degree and worked as a licensed nursing home administrator before founding In Service to Our Own, a nonprofit organization she now directs. The organizations's focus is congregations of women religious around the country.
Proclaiming that the present time, with its demographic challenges, is an "opportunity for prophetic witness" within religious communities and an ageist society, Maurer supports efforts to apply "congregational documents to the philosophy, policies and daily operations of a retirement center."