'God's love is broad'

“God’s love is a sensation I cannot say I have experienced,” wrote Lindsey Bacigal in the beginning of a blog post for SisterStory.org.

The 20-year-old college student was reflecting on her new friendship with Sister Alice Wittenbach, a 78-year-old Dominican sister of Grand Rapids, Mich., and the subject of Lindsey’s oral history. She wrote with an arresting candor, continuing, “I have never been a religious person, nor do I ever see myself becoming one.”

That’s the reason Lindsey signed on for SisterStory in the first place: She was curious about nuns, interested in getting to know someone who has dedicated her life to faith. As a communications major with a women’s studies minor, Lindsey hopes to change the way women are depicted in the media. Challenging her perceptions of nuns, which Lindsey had envisioned as harsh, habit-wearing disciplinarians, seemed like a good place to start.

Lindsey discovered a vivacious woman who was generous in opening up about her life. The two bonded over their shared love of Nancy Drew and Ireland. In fact, Lindsey had just applied for a study abroad program in Ireland, a place Sister Alice has visited eight times through Lindsey’s school, Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich. “As I went through the process of waiting to hear back and then being interviewed for the program,” Lindsey wrote in a blog post, “Sister Alice was with me every step of the way, giving me hope.”

Lindsey couldn’t help but marvel over the fact that she was paired with the one sister in Aquinas’ oral-history project who knew Ireland so well that the locals call her “Queen Alice.”

“Fate isn’t something I usually put much stock in,” Lindsey wrote in a blog post, “but my experience with Sister Alice made me re-think that.”

During their visits throughout the fall, Sister Alice shared memories of growing up on an apple farm and attending a one-room country school. She spoke with passion about her long career in education, including many years at Aquinas, stressing the importance of “stretching your head” through learning. 

Most of all, Lindsey was struck by the fact that Sister Alice is one of the most loving people she’s ever met. Sister Alice is warm and welcoming, attentive and available. She makes you feel noticed and cared for.

And the decidedly non-religious young woman could not deny that, for Sister Alice, faith is at the heart of it all. “I could see in the way she talks about religion how important it is to her,” Lindsey said, “and how it’s made her a better person and how much it’s influenced her life. I could feel how her feelings about God and her experience of His love have changed the way she treats others, so I felt a lot of the love she feels.”

That divinely fueled love was always perceptible in conversation with Sister Alice, whether or not it was articulated. “Sometimes she speaks explicating about God’s love. But a lot of times it’s more implicit,” Lindsey said. “It’s there and you can see it and here it in her voice.”

In speaking of her travels, Sister Alice made a statement that Lindsey says she will never forget: “How can you learn to love your brother if you’ve never met him?”

“Given how divided our society is now, that really struck me,” Lindsey said. “That is such a profound statement.”

Sister Alice has inspired Lindsey to be more loving in daily life – whether she’s communicating with classmates or keeping in touch with her far-flung friends. The Dominican sister has also compelled Lindsey to find ways to put her love in action.  

Now the 20-year-old believes she has experienced God’s love, as reflected through Sister Alice. And Lindsey has a new working definition of what once eluded her: “God’s love is broad.” 

About Christina Capecchi

Christina Capecchi is an award-winning journalist from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She is the author of the nationally syndicated column “Twenty Something,” which appears in more than 50 Catholic newspapers across the country. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, America, The Chicago Tribune, The Star Tribune and The Pioneer Press. She also provides contracted editing and writing services. She holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a bachelor’s from Mount Mercy University.