Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon, from left, Janet Gagnon, Judy Donovan and Angela Fortier, pray in Gagnon’s home in Waterville on Monday. The women begin an hour of prayer at midnight on Election Day, Nov. 3, to pray for peace and for the leadership of local and national governments. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Sister Janet Gagnon isn’t praying for President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden to win Tuesday’s election. She’s just praying for a safe Election Day.

“Our hope is to have a peaceful election and that only good will come out of it,” Gagnon said. “That’s what we’re praying for. Not only the president, but all those who have risked putting their names in for serving for whatever capacity they’re offering themselves.”

Gagnon is part of a local chapter of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon who will pray the entirety of Election Day — Nov. 3. The national organization Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon will be in nonstop prayer for 24 hours, with local groups choosing one hour in the 24-hour span during which to pray. From midnight Tuesday until 1 a.m., the Waterville and Winslow areas will be in prayer.

The group of 14 sisters in central Maine is one of 175 congregations of Roman Catholic sisters, also known as “women religious,” participating in a 24-hour Election Day prayer cycle across the country. The Waterville area Sisters of St. Joseph chose the first hour of the day for their hour of endless prayer because Maine is the first state in the union to see the sun rise.

Gagnon was the sister who suggested the first hour as their time for the nonstop prayer.

“The Sisters of St. Joseph, our particular call in the church is to pay attention to unity and reconciliation,” said Winslow resident Sister Judy Donovan, the group’s local leader. “Every Election Day we pray, but particularly at this time, when there is a lack of unity and need for reconciliation, we found a need for duty.”


The 24 hours of prayer idea came from Mary Kay Brooks, a sister in Baltimore, Maryland. From there, a letter was sent to the national group of leaders behind the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. More than 20,000 sisters across the United States are signed up for Tuesday’s round-the-clock prayer, according to a news release.

The 14 local sisters will gather around a lit candle at various apartments, usually three together at once. They will be socially distanced and wearing masks.

Judy Donovan prays while joining Angela Fortier and Janet Gagnon, all sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon, in Gagnon’s home in Waterville on Monday. The women will begin an hour of prayer at midnight on Election Day, Nov. 3.The women will pray for peace and for the leadership of local and national governments. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“In this time of COVID-19, our options for praying collectively are limited, but we thought this is one time we can come together as safely as we can to literally come together and pray for justice, peace and safety for this election,” Donovan said.

Gagnon will be one of the hosts.

“I think it’s a way of doing our part, and also prayer has a universal energy, I think, that impacts the world. And I believe in prayer very much,” Gagnon said.

“It used to be as Maine goes, so goes the nation,” Gagnon said. “I think during that time we’re praying together for the United States, for our country, but also for our world, because we impact the world with what happens in the United States. We are praying for both candidates and all the candidates with no focus on anyone in particular.”


The order has had sisters ministering in Maine since 1906, but the Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon began in earnest in 1650. Groups of the sisters can be found around the world, including France, England, Ireland, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Lebanon, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mexico and Honduras.

For the last eight weeks, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has provided reflections for the sisters’ consideration. Many of the reflections led to conversations about unity and democracy. The day of prayer is the “culmination of that whole process,” said Sister Annmarie Sanders, associate director for communications at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

“… I’d say (people) were really grateful that they had some way to feel like they were contributing, for helping there be a sense of peace,” Sanders said. “It’s something very concrete that we could do by doing what we know best to do, to spend some time in prayer together.”

The Sisters of St. Joseph members live in small apartments in the greater Waterville area. Some sisters reside at Mt. St. Joseph Rehabilitation & Residence in Waterville. The Sisters of St. Joseph have always lived in communities, oftentimes in neighborhoods with shared apartments or houses.

The Sisters of St. Joseph are apostolic, meaning their mission is out in the community. They are involved in a variety of causes both on the local and national levels.

“Now that everyone but myself locally is retirement age, that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped being in mission,” Donovan said. “They are very active in service, working (as) volunteers with their neighbors.”

The sisters formerly staffed academies and a hospital, but that is no longer the case. St. Joseph Child Care Center was passed to Catholic Charities in 2001. However, they collaborate with the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, South End Youth Center and other local agencies. They’ve joined rallies and donated to charity.

Donovan, who is from Houlton originally, views those joining the community as neighbors and friends. Most of the sisters have French-Canadian roots. The women religious serve around the world, which Donovan said has furthered their respect for the election process in the United States.

“We do not take for granted the rights we have as Americans to speak out, to vote, to protest and to join together for the common good,” Donovan said.

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