Virtual ministry is anything but make-believe
Each night when Sister Patrice Colletti, SDS logs on to www.secondlife.com, she enters a three-dimensional, interactive world that spans dozens of computer servers and connects avatars representing nearly one million real people worldwide. For Sr. Patrice, it’s more than a pastime – it’s a ministry.
Sr. Patrice began her ministry on Second Life® five years ago as a volunteer mentor. She continues to mentor today, coaching adults with significant disabilities who are engaged in a virtual community called Virtual Ability®, Inc. (www.virtualability.org). The gift of her unique ministry is revealed in friendships she has made with men and women in Belgium, Spain, Australia, South Africa, Korea, Saudi Arabia and England, and all over the U.S., including rural Appalachia and East Coast cities.
In the last 18 months, Sr. Patrice’s ministry has expanded to include her role as project manager for Virtual Ability®, Inc. through a University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine research grant that looks at healthcare disparities among people with disabilities in the U.S. Among her responsibilities has been creating and running a web site at www.HealthcareEquitability.org
In a single evening from her computer in Wauwatosa, Wis., Sr. Patrice can reach people all over the world. Her avatar’s name is Sister Abeyante. Sr. Patrice chose Sister as her first name to establish her identity as a woman religious. Abeyante was assigned. Her profile reveals that she is a Salvatorian, a member of a global community serving in more than 45 countries. Connecting with Sister Abeyante “in-world” enables people to chat and find links to the Sisters of the Divine Savior video and our Salvatorian USA video. Just as the simplicity that characterizes Salvatorians in real life invites conversation, so does taking part in virtual motorcycle races, university course work, team chicken coop building, professional conferences or airplane flying.
And just as in the physical world, people in virtual worlds yearn for wholeness, light and life. Though mediated by avatars and technology, being with others in Second Life® is essentially the same as real-life ministry. Sr. Patrice has mentored and been mentored. She has engaged in profound discussions about the sacred and the profane, good and evil, dignity and injustice. She has learned from others about God in their lives and shared with others about God in her life.
“I have talked about the gift of salvation and the reign of God more in my five years in Second Life® than I did in 20 years of ministry as an educator and non-profit leader in other non-Catholic milieus,” Sr. Patrice says.
“I have prayed for and with others, and have been held in prayer. I have journeyed with others who have reconciled with God, returned to God, and even discovered God’s saving love for the very first time. In this immersive, virtual world we’ve shared about hope and life, mourning and death. We have created ways for friends with severe disabilities to become vital members of a virtual community,” says Sr. Patrice. While most of the one million people who have avatars in Second Life® have not yet met a Salvatorian, Sr. Patrice is virtually certain those who do, will be changed and enriched by the Salvatorian mission.
Sr. Patrice draws on the words of our co-founder, Father Francis Jordan to affirm her commitment to go beyond the expected: Preach the good news to all people everywhere. Be unlimited by place or class or race – or, apparently, by pixels.