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Reflecting on Notifications

Last week SSM Health celebrated Mission and Heritage Week. 2022 is the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Mother M. Odilia Berger and her companions in St. Louis. This is a reflection I wrote for the occasion.

Battle-tested from caring for soldiers during the Franco-Prussian War, the sisters came to a city in urgent need of their help. That first winter, in the midst of a devastating smallpox epidemic in St. Louis, they took to the streets, begging for money, supplies, food and medicines — anything to ease the suffering. They became known as the “Smallpox Sisters,” a name that would follow them through their earliest days in St. Louis. It was not until 1874 that they would receive their formal name: the Sisters of St. Mary (SSM), named for St. Mary of Victories Church, with whom their convent shared a common door.


As I reflect on the story of the “smallpox sisters,” I am reminded of all the notifications I receive on my computer and phone.

For the sisters in the 19th century, the practice of ringing a bell as they walked around town was an act of both self-awareness and care for the other. They knew that they were exposed to the smallpox virus and could be contagious. The ringing bell served to notify others of this reality and empowered them to keep a safe distance to stop the spread of a dangerous virus. With a single ring of the bell, the sisters tell the story of how they were courageously present to those in their care and how they could even be present to the stranger they pass on the street.

For us in the 21st century, the notifications in our lives are more common and often more trivial but provide for us a similar opportunity for self-awareness and care for the other.

Our attention is one of the most important and most limited resources we have. There is so much vying for our attention today, it is difficult manage. Our attention is finite. We cannot pay attention to everything–even if we want to!

What we pay attention to says a lot about who we are. It reveals our priorities, our values, and who or what we love. The things we pay attention to are the things we care about.

As we journey through our lives, what are the things we’re paying attention to? Are we directing our attention to the right places? Do the things we give our attention to at work align with our mission and values? For the things that don’t match up with our values, can we reduce the chance of being unnecessarily notified? How do we navigate notification fatigue in the clinical environment and elsewhere? Can the notifications we receive serve as a reminder of our mission and call us to be the healing presence of God for those we encounter?

Today, I invite you to reflect upon how you manage all the notifications in your life. When our phones buzz or our computers chime, let’s take the opportunity to become more aware of who and what we give our attention to. As we become more aware of how we spend the precious resource of our attention, I believe we will be more aware of how we can be present to those most in need. This will help all of us live our mission to reveal God’s healing presence to those we serve.