HELLS KITCHEN — Nuns and aspiring nuns who hailed from everywhere from Long Island to New Zealand gathered at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Convent on West 51st Street Friday afternoon inspired by Pope Francis' dedication to poor, humility and his selflessness.
They came from across the country and around the world to attend the pope's evening mass at Madison Square Garden.
"Let's not just think about the world's problems, about the poor," said Sister Catherine Marie Ross, 41, who's lived at the Hell's Kitchen convent for two years. "Let's get in there and actually do something."
Sisters giddily scarfed down egg salad sandwiches, rice and beans and oatmeal cookies at their New York base at 450 W. 51st St., slathered their faces with sunscreen and passed out tickets for the evening event.
"5 minutes to count down!" one exclaimed. They clapped their hands, sang a hymn with closed eyes and chanted "Viva el papa!," before hurrying out the door headed east on 51st Street, robes and rosaries bobbing in the breeze.
Nine of the 24 women live at the 51st Street Convent, while the rest came to join them from a sister convent in The Bronx.
"Even on the subway here [people were saying] 'Oh Pope Francis!'," said Lizzy Schmitt, 23, from Iowa, who just began a 10 month stay at The Bronx convent on her path to becoming a nun. "In America there's just open hearts [to him]. He's still new enough and exciting enough."
Sisters of Life, who have seven convents in the U.S. and Canada and three in New York City, have operated the Hell's Kitchen convent since 1995, according to Ross, who's been part Sisters of Life for 14 years. Sisters of Charity had previously run the convent for about a hundred years before that, she said.
Besides the nine sisters who lived at the Hell's Kitchen convent, there's also room for nine pregnant women in crisis who come to stay with the nuns during and after their pregnancies.
Last year, five women gave birth within a few week span, now just two pregnant women are living at the convent though they're currently interviewing women to fill the vacancies, Ross said.
Ross said that while earlier popes in her life time had been more scholarly or preached faith above all else, Pope Francis' was a message of love and of action.
Thursday night, for example, one of the nuns had a ticket to see the pope's Mass Friday night when then they got a frantic call from one of the women who they've worked with in the past.
"All the most important people in New York were at Saint Patrick's last night...everybody and their brother wants [a ticket]," she said.
They decided to give the ticket to the Mass away so a group of sisters could go be with the woman.
"We need to go and be with her, to just take care of what she needed. This is what Pope Francis would want - go to the peripheries, go to the margins," she said.
As the flock of nuns headed southbound, they earned broad grins and salutes from pedestrians, Verizon workers and men on construction sites they passed.
"This pope just makes everyone want to smile," said Madeline Gibson, 26, an aspiring nun.