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God called the shots, Sister Cindy followed

November 8, 2023

By Keith Benman
Contributing Writer

After graduating Massena High in 1971, Cindy Sullivan dreamed of being a professional golfer. She even moved to California and started training for a pro career. But just a couple of years later, she was in Ecuador, South America, as a Peace Corps volunteer.

So, what happened?

“I didn’t want playing golf to be like work,” she said with a laugh. “I wanted to play golf for fun.”

And “something else” happened to her in California. She said that “something” went all the way back to her education at Sacred Heart School in Massena.

“Because if you’re of a Catholic background, you’re always hearing about service to others, doing something for others,” she said.

Once in Ecuador, she felt the pull of service to others even more strongly.

“I had thought I was calling the shots,” she said. “But God was calling the shots.”

She worked closely with priests and sisters in service to the poorest of the poor in Quito, a city of 3 million people. Those priests were Jesuits, and the sisters were Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as the BVMs.

“Working with them, I knew I had a vocation,” she said.

After finishing her four-year stint with the Peace Corps, she would return to the United States to serve a three-year novitiate with the BVMs. She took first vows three years later, and then it was back to Ecuador. This time it was not as a Peace Corps volunteer, but as Sister Cindy Sullivan, BVM. She would spend the next four decades there working to better the lives of shoe-shine boys, their families and others.

She related all this on a recent morning at Massena Meals On Wheels.

She took up the director’s post there in 2017 when she returned from Ecuador to Massena to look after her aging parents in Louisville. At Massena Meals On Wheels, she’s in charge of an organization preparing 80 meals a day and the 55 volunteer drivers getting them to seniors.

She’ll be giving up her Meals On Wheels job at the end of this year.

Meals On Wheels will remain in good hands. Head cook Stacie Sweet will take over the director’s job.

Sister Cindy needs more time to devote to her parents’ care. And she’ll continue to work as the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s chief fundraiser for the Ecuadorian missions.

Those missions continue the kind of work she did for more than 40 years. They focus on education that will allow the poor families of Quito to make a living in a city that sees others like them streaming in from around the continent. The BVMs also serve those with Hansen’s disease in the coastal city of Guayaquil.

In her day, Sister Cindy in Quito taught carpentry for toy making, baking, religion, music and more. She and her fellow mission workers also served up three meals a day for 2,000 people six days a week. On weekends, they organized house building.

Sister Cindy is a vivacious woman who laughs frequently as she tells her story. It’s obvious she enjoys serving the elderly in Massena, but that her heart remains with the poor in Quito. That’s why she’ll continue on as fundraiser for the missions there.

As she talks about her journey and vocation, she wonders how exactly a kid obsessed with sports in Massena got to go the places she went and do the things she did. And she has some advice for other young people who might feel the same call to service as she did 50 years ago.

“I think if they open their eyes to what’s around them, they’ll find a tremendous number of opportunities for service,” she said.

For those specifically interested in serving people as a religious, she advises checking out the different charisms of the orders. Each has its own. A young person should make sure the charism and mission match up with their own, she said.

And place your trust in God. And go where he leads.

“He had me go to these places,” she said. “It was an adventure. Everything was so different. So totally different from what I’d known.”

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