Charity Alive Today: Our Sisters’ Stories
Following in Elizabeth Seton’s footsteps, S. Peggy Deneweth says Elizabeth’s belief in empowering through education motivates and encourages her to carry out her ministry daily. Sister ministers at the Santo Niño Project in Anapra, Mexico, a ministry she and three other Sisters of Charity began in 2002 for poor children with special needs and their families. S. Peggy explains it all started after the women were asked by Columban Missionary Fr. Bill Morton to provide medical care to a neighbor of his. “One thing led to another and before we knew it S. Janet Gildea, a physician, was seeing patients in the kitchen of his house, and Sisters Carol Wirtz, Ann Dorenbusch and I were using his bedroom for massage therapy. Sometimes I think that is the way God works. God knows that if we just dip our ‘toes’ in the water we’ll get hooked.”
At the Santo Niño Project, S. Peggy helps the children with exercises and therapy while teaching their parents how to do the treatments at home. What she names as her most important role, however, is “being present, accompanying the women.” She calls it “a community where women can share their lives with each other in a safe and peaceful environment.”
“The women look forward to these days most especially now with the violence and death that surround them on a daily basis,” Sister said. “They have taught me so much about living in the moment and being grateful for each moment no matter what it holds.”
Serving on the U.S.-Mexico border is challenging. Although she is not afraid for herself, S. Peggy says she fears for those she has come to know and love.
The families’ strength inspires and compels her daily. Sister said she loves to see the spark in their eyes when they discover that they have the power within themselves to overcome adversity.
“Jacqueline, one of our Santo Niño children, came to us as a baby with cerebral palsy,” S. Peggy said. “Her development was slow and she could hardly hold her head up. I taught her mother and father some simple exercises to strengthen her neck muscles, arms and legs. I just said work with her here and in your home and she will progress. Jackie is almost 3 years old now and she runs all over the place. One day I saw her mom in the clinic and I said to her as her daughter ran by me, ‘She is a miracle and it’s because of you and your husband’s work with her!’ She smiled and her eyes sparkled. Her eyes said it all.”
As a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati, and like Elizabeth Seton, S. Terry Dery, a mental health therapist at Samaritan Behavioral Health in Dayton, Ohio, says her clinical practice allows her “to bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and release to prisoners. [Luke 4:18]”
“I tread lightly for I am on holy ground as I attempt to touch the fragile space in each client,” S. Terry continued. “I pray for God’s help in bringing them to an awareness that the kingdom of heaven is happening in their very midst as they heal, grow and find acceptance. In return, their resilience, trust and quiet courage are a blessing to me for I receive more than I give.”
S. Terry has been ministering at Samaritan Behavioral Health since 1986. She works with adults (individuals, couples and groups); most are Medicaid recipients or uninsured. Her responsibilities include accessing, diagnosing and treating mental and emotional disorders such as bipolar, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress. Her clients also seek treatment to deal with grief issues, addictions, abuse, violence, financial stress and job loss.
“I minister to the broken-hearted who need to be restored to wholeness and health,” S. Terry said. “It’s a ministry of healing emotional pain whether through crisis intervention or referrals to psychiatrists for long-term clients who are in need of medication.”
Her sense of humor and no-nonsense approach serve S. Terry well when things become overwhelming. And she says the rewards far outweigh the challenges as clients get well, develop coping skills, and feel more positive about themselves.
“I often wonder how Jesus felt after curing the sick,” S. Terry said. “I use my teaching skills to develop treatment plans and walk with each client toward change, dividing assignments into achievable goals. For many the journey is painful due to years of being imprisoned by repressing psychic wounds or living amidst dysfunctional family systems and toxic relationships. I marvel at their survivor skills.”
Her spacious office is as eclectic as her job at Light of Hearts Villa, the senior residence complex co-sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati and the Sisters of Charity Health Care System of Cleveland, Ohio.
In one corner is stashed a paper cutter and a pile of artwork and pictures to be used for prayer programs. In another corner is the box for recycled paper, in another a cabinet to be mounted for displaying artifacts.
“I do a little of everything,” says S. Regina Kusnir, director of Pastoral and Special Ministries at the Villa. “I love what I do, working with the elderly and their families. The elderly provide a lot of wisdom because they have dealt with life’s challenges.”
S. Regina’s bright blue eyes sparkle with enthusiasm when she talks about her ministry. It is obvious that her workplace is a community for her from the maintenance workers to the office personnel to the caregivers. “It is my worshipping community as well because I truly live with these people during my workday; we are all in this together. So, I like to begin the Saturday evening Mass with a brief reflection on something relevant to all of us. We started this as an activity for the Year of Faith and when we surveyed the people about whether or not to continue doing it, they resoundingly said yes!”
S. Regina arrived at Light of Hearts eight years ago following several terms in congregational leadership. Before then, she served in pastoral ministry at four parishes and as a director of religious education (DRE) in one. She started her ministry career as an elementary school teacher. “This is a perfect way to mesh all that I learned along the way in my other ministries,” she said, adding that “every day is a new day but I love the variety of challenges.”
One of those challenges took shape in 2005 and now provides an outreach of care to the surrounding community of Light of Hearts. Social workers for the Villa had noticed an increase in poor nutrition among seniors in the area. Together with S. Regina, they mounted an effort with the Nutrition Services Department of the University Hospital Bedford Medical Center to open the Seton Safety Net based on the requirements of a healthy diet for senior citizens. The pantry is operated voluntarily and takes only non-perishable foods but it also accepts gift cards to grocery stores for only certain items. S. Regina named the pantry for our founder, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, because “During her life, she often had to depend on others to help provide for her family and her fledgling community.”
Is there any part of her job that S. Regina likes best?
“I absolutely love Scripture study with the residents. They absorb everything with such enthusiasm.” Last year the group took an eight-week series on Luke’s Gospel and then asked to study Acts of the Apostles which Luke is reputed to have written. “Scriptures dance for me,” said S. Regina. “They are the major part of my Sunday morning quiet time and they guide me throughout the week.”
One readily observes the warmth and affection among Light of Hearts employees and residents. But to stand back and breathe in the spirit of generosity and compassion, is to encounter the charism of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton palpable and evident in the work of her follower, S. Regina Kusnir.
Article written by S. Mary Ann Flannery
S. Janet Gildea
The following article is reprinted with permission from the Oct. 3, 2016 Global Sisters Report.
The Face of God's Mercy at Santo Niño
Helping Luci lower her daughter down into the bathtub, I prepared for the big splash. The tub is conveniently placed at waist height for the mothers of our Santo Niño Project in Anapra, Mexico, to assist their handicapped children without bending over. Nena is a big girl, turning 15 next month. The syndrome from which she suffers has caused mental regression and progressive motor impairment due to frequent seizures. As Nena heaved down into the water there was indeed a huge splash. Luci smiled and poured cups of warm water over Nena’s head before applying the shampoo. Her daughter paid little attention, lost in her world of repetitive hand movements that made little spurts of water up into her face.
I am always amazed at the way the mothers care for their special children. Many of them never receive the positive reinforcement of even a smile of recognition or a spontaneous hug. Their children do not cuddle or coo. But with extreme fidelity these mothers attend to the unspoken needs of their daughters and sons.
On this day as Luci continued with Nena’s bath she suddenly stopped. “Madre Janet, will you keep an eye on her for a minute?” she asked while she hurried away. She went in search of baby wipes and not finding any in the box by the tub she retrieved an old striped T-shirt from her bag. Using her teeth she quickly tore it into several rags and then she was up to her elbows in the bath water, cleaning up a bowel movement in progress. Nena continued her splashing, completely undisturbed by Luci’s maneuvers, and Luci’s expression was just as tranquil. She finished bathing Nena while telling me about her son (in prison), her younger daughter (having early adolescent behavior problems), and being turned down for a Saturday/Sunday assembly line job because of poor eyesight.
“In about 10 more work days — I think that’s next Friday —I can call immigration to see if they approved my border crossing card renewal,” she continued. Several months ago a border agent stopped her at the port of entry because her card was damaged. Nena had chewed on it. Luci was given a warning and told that she had to apply for a new card — the process taking several months to gather the documents and money required. Luci crosses from Juarez to El Paso, Texas, purchasing items for neighbors and friends for a small delivery fee. This is how she supports her family, in addition to the small stipend she receives as a mother-therapist at Santo Niño.
Luci called one of the other mothers to come help us situate Nena in the sling for the hydraulic lift to get her out of the tub. It required the three of us to get her to a standing position and then onto the table where Luci gently massaged lotion all over Nena’s body. She diapered her daughter and propped Nena’s heavy leg on her thigh and struggled with the socks and shoes. She was done and I was exhausted by her effort. Luci helped Nena to her feet, beaming into the distant eyes and carefully arranging her wet hair. Nena drooled and then smiled. Luci lit up and kissed her.
S. Carol Wirtz
S. Carol Wirtz lives and ministers near the Texas/Mexico border. Since 2001, S. Carol has assisted with the treatment of breast cancer patients using lymphatic drainage therapy in El Paso, Texas. In addition, Sister also works with children with special needs and their families at the Santo Niño Project in Anapra, Mexico.
S. Carol says the most important part of both ministries is being present. “Elizabeth Seton accompanied many women in their illnesses and was ‘mother’ to many more than her own children,” she explained. “I feel that she has drawn me into this service and accompanies me. I hear her say, ‘Only do your best and leave the rest to our dear God.’”
In El Paso, S. Carol begins the lymphatic drainage therapy once patients are diagnosed with cancer, even before surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. She focuses on prevention and treatment of swelling due to the cancer surgery and also on lessening the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. She says many times she accompanies the patient and family in a supportive role, even through hospice care.
“I value developing the relationship and accompanying them as they journey through a difficult and often transformative period in their life,”
“While I chose my ministry with breast cancer patients, the ministry in Anapra really chose me – or I should say it chose us,” S. Carol said.
She explains about nine years ago she and three other Sisters of Charity began providing basic health care and alternative therapies in a priest’s home in Anapra, Mexico, a poor colonia just across the border from El Paso. Eventually they built a tiny clinic, and as more people heard about the massage and other therapies they provided, more started bringing children with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, autism and many other conditions.
“We discovered that there were few services for children with special needs and so the Santo Niño Project was born,” Sister said.
At the Santo Niño Project S. Carol performs lymphatic drainage and craniosacral therapy as well as massage and energy work. “I teach the mothers to do these techniques and coordinate their efforts as a team,” she said. “I also just play with the children, feed them, change their diapers, walk to the corner store to buy them treats…whatever needs to be done!
“I love seeing the smiles on the faces of our mothers and children as they tumble out of the van when they arrive at the clinic!” S. Carol continued. “I love hearing their laughter and seeing the moms who have never had any formal schooling providing wonderful healing therapies to their own and other children. My very favorite part of the Santo Niño Project is my own little angel named Reyna. She is 2 years old and has Down Syndrome; her mother, Tania, is herself an orphan at age 17. I feel blessed to have become like a mother to Tania and an “abuelita” (grandma) to Reyna since they have no other family.”
Developing such a connection with her patients makes it all the more difficult to see the violence and danger that the moms and children currently face in Mexico. “It’s hard to make the journey across the border and to see the military forces patrolling everywhere,” S. Carol said. “I see the poverty increasing as jobs disappear and the situation becomes more desperate. And it’s hard to know that I have the opportunity to return to a safe home when others that I know and love do not have that choice.”
More than 1,500 miles from the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati Motherhouse, S. Anne Darlene Wojtowicz ministers in Edcouch, Texas. A nurse practitioner, Sister has been with Nuestra Clinica del Valle since 1991. Although the clinic has 11 sites, some of which she covers regularly, S. Anne Darlene mainly serves in Edcouch where she focuses on family practice.
Seeing approximately 20-30 patients each day, S. Anne Darlene, who has a dual license certification, says her patients range in age from two weeks old to 97 years old. “We do not refuse anyone,” Sister said. “Those who don’t have appointments, we see them in between. We don’t leave the office until we’re finished.”
The clinic is the community health center for Hidalgo County, which is considered a medically underserved and health professional shortage area. Although she originally said she would stay for five years, S. Anne Darlene has been there more than 20 years – long enough to see patients she delivered marry and bring their children to see her.
“They know they can depend on me,” Sister said. “They know they can ask me to pray for them if they are in the room or at another time. I try to be there for each individual. I try to be where they are at and not go beyond what they can understand or can do.”
The ministry has its share of challenges. Aside from the closest Sister of Charity being in El Paso, Texas, nearly 12 hours from home, Sister says there is never enough time to do everything that needs to be done. She adds it is difficult when she is not able to help her patients in the way that they need help, for example finding a specialist that can and will see a patient. S. Anne Darlene says many of her patients don’t know how to ask questions. If a patient sees a specialist, they may come back to Sister and not know what the physician did or said.
S. Anne Darlene believes it was God’s call that brought her to Texas in 1983. When she first arrived, she and three other women religious founded Holy Family Services, a birth center in Weslaco. The center became a place where women, especially poor women, could have their babies in a safe, comfortable setting. Today the center hosts a range of facilities, including six birthing suites, a clinic, a classroom, a chapel, medical storage rooms, and housing for staff, volunteers, students and visitors. Sister continues to serve on the birth center’s board. She also volunteers at the center once a week after work conducting well baby checks.
“ Elizabeth went where the need was greatest,” she concluded. “I may not always like being moved around, but I too am going where the need is.”
“I think any time a person ministers to the poor or sick as Elizabeth Seton did you are following in her footsteps,” S. Louise Zaplitny said of her ministry at Springfield Regional Medical Center in Springfield, Ohio.
Sister is the center’s chaplain, responsible for the ICU units, the step down unit and the birthing center. “There are three ICU units,” S. Louise explained, “two on the first floor that are mainly used for heart surgery patients, and one on the fourth floor for patients with other issues. The step down unit is for patients coming out of the ICU units or for patients critical but not critical enough for the ICU.”
Sister says after all of the stress of the ICU and step down units, it is nice to be able to go to the birthing center to visit with the families and see the new babies.
Her call to this ministry came after her husband’s death in 1991. Due to hospital cutbacks there was no chaplain. “The staff was not kind and really did not handle the death well,” she said. “It would have been so much better to have had a chaplain present. After [my husband’s] death I realized that I needed a change in what I was doing and went through a discernment process in 1992; the end result was that I was being called to become a chaplain…”
“I love people and love my job,” S. Louise continued. “I find it most satisfying when the family gives me a hug afterwards because they are grateful. Then I feel God has rewarded me.”
After 44 years in education, most recently as principal of Holy Family School in Cincinnati, Ohio, S. Brenda Busch said her heart told her it was time to serve God in a new way. It didn’t take long for her to discover where she was being called.
After consulting with her sister, S. Barbara Busch, executive director of Working In Neighborhoods (WIN), an organization that empowers individuals to make informed choices for themselves and their neighborhoods through community building, home ownership and economic learning, S. Brenda learned WIN was understaffed.
“For the past 30 years, I have listened, observed and been impressed by the growth and mission of WIN,” S. Brenda said.
So when she learned the foreclosure crisis was not diminishing and there was a real need to be able to schedule more people for housing counseling, she realized this was where God was leading her.
Since August 2010, S. Brenda has served as WIN’s intake coordinator for its housing counseling/foreclosure prevention programs. She is the first person a caller speaks with when contacting WIN concerned and upset about losing their homes because they are falling behind on their mortgage payments. Sister explains the program’s process; fills out an intake form; and signs them up for their first session with one of WIN’s housing counselors.
S. Brenda says she most enjoys helping others, and being part of WIN’s friendly, competent and compassionate staff. “When I was much younger, I came across this quote from George Eliot (pen name for Mary Ann Evans): ‘What is there to live for if not to make life less difficult for others.’ I believe in the truth of these words,” Sister said.
Throughout the years countless Sisters of Charity have contributed to the mission and success of WIN, which was founded in 1978 by Sisters Barbara Busch and the late Judith Martinez. Through their Board involvement, prayers and monetary support, WIN has helped thousands of low- and moderate-income families purchase homes as well as saved hundreds from foreclosure, and S. Brenda is proud to add her name to that list. As she makes phone calls, greets others and schedules new clients, S. Brenda follows in Elizabeth Seton’s footsteps.
“Elizabeth cared for everyone she met,” S. Brenda said. “She left us the legacy to look for God in each person and event. She asked us to rely on God’s guidance and to do our best for others.”
In 1972, S. Anita Maroun met Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, an international organization that enables people with and without disabilities to share their lives in communities of faith and friendship. Jean asked S. Anita three questions: What is your nationality? What is your profession? Do you love Jesus?
“The first two were very easy,” Sister said. “I’m Lebanese and a teacher. The third question was a little more difficult – ‘yes, I think so.’ His response, ‘Come to L’Arche and see.’”
S. Anita traveled to France in 1974 and experienced firsthand what living in community was all about. Following her return to the Cleveland, Ohio, area, Sister met the founder of the Cleveland L’Arche community, Associate Pat Wehner, who at the time was a Vincentian Sister of Charity. This is how S. Anita was introduced to the Vincentian Community, and how she began her 36-year involvement with L’Arche.
In her sixth year as eastern U.S. regional coordinator, Sister’s primary responsibilities involve working with each community in the eastern region toward greater “mission effectiveness.” She provides formation for boards of trustees as well as assistants in the homes and community leaders; ensures there are retreats, gatherings and workshops within the region; and conducts leadership training. In addition, S. Anita is the chairperson of the International Discernment Process for the international coordinator and vice coordinator positions; a member of the Vocational Development Committee; and a participant on the National Council and in the International Leadership Body.
S. Anita says the relationships that she has built with her communities’ core members are what make her ministry so fruitful. “They are wonderful people – gifted in so many ways, so welcoming, so accepting and humorous” Sister said. “When I walk into homes within each community I visit, I am welcomed with open arms and I hear about everyone’s day and the special things they are planning. We share our lives around a meal one of the core members has prepared and we pray together for those we love at the end of the meal.”
As S. Anita responds to the needs of a population that continues to be marginalized and often seen as less than human, the words of Elizabeth Seton inspire her: “Our name devotes us to their service in any manner that we could truly serve them … We must display for them the tender compassion of [God’s] goodness, be the ministers of [God’s] providence for the relief of their miseries, a relief that disposes so well every heart to [God’s] better service.”1
1 Dirvin, Joseph I., C.M., The Soul of Elizabeth Seton: A Spiritual Portrait. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990. pp. 129-13
Each of us experiences stress in our lives relating to work, relationships, family, friends and school. We each deal with our stress in different ways. “I go scuba diving,” S. Joanne Burrows said. “It takes the pressure off my job. No one can find me underwater,” she added with a wry smile. “Underwater I must be in the present moment with my breathing. I can’t be thinking of anything else.” S. Joanne is the president of Clarke University, a Catholic liberal arts school in Dubuque, Iowa.
It is not often that scuba diving options are available to Sister, however. In the interim, you will find her hosting taco bar suppers for students in her home, meeting with faculty, planning budgets, serving on boards or facing the perennial issues of the tuition-driven needs of a small, private university.
“This job is the continuum of my life,” S. Joanne said. “I’ve studied higher education. Mine is a continuous process toward leadership.” With a doctorate in higher education from The Ohio State University, a master’s in theology from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif., and more than 20 years in the field, S. Joanne’s ministry is well-fortified with considerable expertise.
“When I was at [the College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati, Ohio], I was impressed and encouraged by Sisters of Charity Jean Patrice Harrington (a former president) and Elizabeth Cashman. I was also inspired by another president, S. Francis Marie Thrailkill, OSU,” S. Joanne added.
What inspires S. Joanne today? “At Clarke all dimensions of the student’s experience are encouraged, including the faith dimension. We are an inclusive environment; we value dialogue and connections. We are about relationships that promote growth and exploration. People know each other here. Our faculty members care about their students and staff is ready and available to assist. Our students are self-determined young people searching for deep connections through conversations, relationships, faith and values. They are learning more than just content here,” Sister explained. “Relationships happen in a learning exchange.”
“I love teaching, and it is a great joy for me to bring sound biblical knowledge into the public domain,” Sister said. “… In a Church whose primary ministry is teaching, in some sense, the whole world can be my classroom.”
Going into her 30 th year at the Athenaeum, the third oldest seminary in the United States, Sister says bringing professional biblical and theological education to the People of God is one of the finest gifts we can give to them. “[Elizabeth Seton] had that vision,” S. Betty Jane said. “I believe it is a value to participate in it.”
As the field of biblical studies continues to develop rapidly, Sister says challenges do arise. From keeping up with the new materials, the archaeological finds, and the contributions in the professional journals to the participation in professional meetings and discussions, the ministry is very involved.
“Of course, Sisters of Charity have taught religion in schools for a long time,” Sister explained, “but that is not the same thing as professional theological and biblical studies. Higher education in a Catholic context is very important because it is one way that the mission of the Church to “Teach all that Jesus taught” (Matthew 28:19-20) forms leaders for today’s world who have the ability to bring the message of Jesus to contemporary society. This applies to both clerical and lay leadership.”
“My greatest joy is working with children. Their enthusiasm fills me with energy,” S. Mary Alice Haithcoat said of her 40 years in Catholic education.
The current principal of Piqua Catholic School, a kindergarten through eighth grade consolidated school in Piqua, Ohio, S. Mary Alice continued saying watching the students “form friendships, excel intellectually and grow spiritually is an awesome experience.”
Sister has been ministering at the school since August 1993. She began as assistant principal and part-time teacher; in 2009, she became principal. Among her many roles, S. Mary Alice is responsible for the students in two buildings, as well as faculty and staff consisting of 25 adults.
“I have a wonderful group of dedicated teachers and many supportive parents,” she said.
At this particular time in our country, the challenges in the field of education are certainly there. Sister explains over the years she has seen many changes in family life and curriculum. And while technology is exciting and has brought many benefits to the classroom, it also has brought about its challenges, requiring patience and a willingness to change. In addition, the downfall of the economy forces S. Mary Alice’s parishes, school board and staff to develop creative ways to raise money in order for the school to continue as a successful place for learning.
The joys far outweigh the hardships, however, as Sister sees her students grow in their relationship with God. “I feel like a proud parent as I watch the second graders receive their First Reconciliation and their First Communion, or the eighth graders receive their Confirmation and graduate from grade school,” she said. “The smiles on their faces fill me with happiness. I am grateful to God for giving me the opportunity to share my energy, my love for life and my faith with the young people of Piqua.”
Approximately 90 miles from the Mount St. Joseph Motherhouse, S. Mary Alice has found community in Piqua with two other Sisters of Charity – Sisters Ginny Scherer and Joan Clare Stewart. The three Sisters enjoy walking through the neighborhood and on Piqua’s bike/walking trail, and the community has come to know them well.
“We have three Sisters that touch the lives of people in our parishes at three stages of life: elementary, second and adult formation,” S. Mary Alice said.
Sometimes the job of an educator goes beyond math facts and grammar drills; there are times when the job includes “listening, asking questions and giving advice,” according to S. Katharine Pinto. She would know, having worked in the field of education for 40 years, teaching everyone from kindergarteners to non-English speaking adults. She is currently ministering at Resurrection School in Price Hill (Cincinnati), a school that has had the presence of the Sisters of Charity since 1919.
As a tutor for grades kindergarten through eighth, an auxiliary person for the staff, and an aide with remedial students, Sister is able to sit down with students and provide them with one-on-one attention, a luxury that many students often go without.
S. Katharine compares this ministry to her past ministries in which she often taught an entire classroom: “When I had a whole classroom of students I couldn’t spend as much time with one,” she explains, “you can’t leave the rest of them to their own devices for that length of time. Now I am able to have a 45-minute span of time with one student and we’re able to focus exactly on what that particular student needs whereas when you have an entire class you just can’t. I didn’t have that opportunity in the past so I appreciate that.”
The students at Resurrection who are receiving this one-on-one time with S. Katharine are probably the children who need it most. Sister recognizes that the neighborhood that she tutors in is not necessarily ideal and that the children she works with are not always ready to learn as soon as they sit down with her because there are other things weighing on their minds.
“Most of those students are from low-income families and a lot of their families are not in tact,” she said. “Even though I am there to tutor, sometimes I’m also there to listen to what they need or what they want, or listen to the stories about things that have happened to them. Why they are feeling a certain way on any given day. Some of them come in with so much baggage.”
Although S. Katharine tends to go beyond her duties as a tutor, she never neglects her first and foremost duty: helping the students learn and excel. This is not always an easy task considering she works with kindergarteners, eighth graders, and everyone in between with a range of different subjects. There are times when she will be helping an older student with math that she hasn’t seen or used in a very long time, but S. Katharine believes that will work to the student’s advantage.
“Sometimes showing them that I didn’t know the answer straight away but I was able to find a way to figure it out helps them to see that there’s not always just one way to approach a problem. Sometimes I have to learn along with them or review with them some of the math that I haven’t used in years.”
There are days when she will help a third-grade girl with her math homework; there are days when she will assist an eighth-grade boy with his grammar; and on any given day she could help either or both of them with science. She never knows what task she will be presented. S. Katharine finds strength to do this through the spirit of Elizabeth Seton who is always present in her daily ministry.
“Elizabeth Seton was an educator and she would always tackle what presented itself,” she said. “And I think that can be a big challenge: not knowing exactly what student I’ll be seeing or what they will need help with.”
Anyone can tell that S. Katharine goes beyond her job as tutor and dares to risk a caring response for the children she works with. “Sometimes your heart just aches when you hear those stories and you wish that you could do something more to change a situation in some way, shape or form,” she concludes. “And sometimes you can’t change it for them … You can be there for them.” Luckily S. Katharine is there for them, both to help them with their math facts and to listen to them when they need to be heard.
By Megan Moore, Communications intern
Parish Work and Ministry of Prayer
The National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Mich., is a substantial parish with 4,000-plus households. Undaunted by her enormous responsibilities in such a big ministry, S. Noreen Ellison is serving in her ninth year as pastoral associate in Christian Service at the Shrine.
Sister outlined the list of her responsibilities, which “include leadership, facilitation and coordination of many outreach services that help parishioners put their faith into action through understanding and acting upon Catholic Social Teachings. That is, serving the corporal and spiritual needs of the community. I invite and prepare parishioners for various ministries and together we provide direct pastoral care based on the needs of the parish and beyond. In this role I am a pastoral liaison to the parish nurses, those leading the ministry for the homeless of our area, the women’s guild and mission services, the Advent/Christmas giving projects, the jail ministry, and the parish St. Vincent de Paul Conference.”
In addition, S. Noreen said, “A good part of my time is spent with the sick, the homebound, the dying and the grieving parishioners. I coordinate a large number of Eucharistic visitors who go to parishioners in their homes or assisted living facilities on a weekly basis. Together we plan for Mass and other Sacraments for those who are in communal living situations. I am a resource person for folks who need services beyond what we can provide through the church.
“Though it was not part of my original role description, I discovered a big gap in pastoral services to those who have just experienced death in their family. I became a ‘first responder’ in letting the family know that we, their parish, want to be with them in their pain, to help them through the funeral rites, plan with them and assist them in this time of grief. A phone call, a visit in the home or at the funeral facility is always appreciated,” Sister commented.
“Now, we have an organized process that includes the family, our priest(s), receptionist, liturgical coordinator and me or another funeral minister. Our liturgies are beautiful and bring much peace to bereaved families. The whole funeral process seems to be a key time of evangelization because so many non-practicing Catholics and other Christians experience the good news in many meaningful ways during these celebrations,” S. Noreen affirmed.
She continued, “As a pastoral staff person, I try to stay in touch with the next of kin and do what I can to help them into the next part of their journey. The Widow’s Group that I facilitate has become a group of friends and has begun to outreach to others who are newly widowed, providing companionship, transportation, or whatever may present itself. My ministry is creating and maintaining a network of care and Gospel service to parishioners and others whose needs may be helped by someone who understands.”
“Pastorally, my role feels very priestly,” S. Noreen confided. “I have many occasions every day to pray with people in all kinds of situations. I especially enjoy presiding at funeral vigils at funeral homes. This affords me the opportunity to help people pray their faith, to establish the sense that they are not alone, and to preach the Good News. I have been told that one of my gifts is bringing people together, affirming gifts and building community where each one is valued,” Sister said appreciatively.
In a parish the size of the Shrine, there are always challenges. “A personal challenge for me,” said S. Noreen, “is that my work is never finished. That, of course, is a blessing as well for I never have to wonder what to do next. It is always there, or it comes in the next phone call. Like so many Sisters of Charity in ministry, we need the balance of a healthy lifestyle, and sometimes physical exercise or time for just relaxing with friends. At times, I wish there was closer partnership with the pastor and the assistants, but then, I feel grateful for the trust that I experience, and the blessing of not being stuck in meetings all day. Now that I think about it, I have a lot of freedom to be who I am.”
Regarding the history of the Sisters of Charity in her part of the world, S. Noreen recalled, “The Sisters of Charity were invited more than 80 years ago by the famous radio priest, Fr. Charles E. Coughlin, to begin a grade school in this rural area outside the Detroit, Mich., city limits. The first year the parish served 26 families, most of them suffering the poverty of the Great Depression. Some years later, the Sisters constructed Little Flower High School for Girls on property one mile away from the church. A few years later it became a co-ed school, as it is today. So, we have a long presence here and a lot of loyalties from the past. S. Mary Alicia and I, as well as Associates Jack Hoolehan, Randy Husaynu and Jamie Kelly, strive to live the Charity charism and continue the generous service begun here many years ago.”
“I feel a commitment, at this time,” Sister relates, “to keeping an SC presence in Michigan, a state where many of us heard the call of our vocation to leave and travel to Cincinnati! In fact, it was in the Shrine schools where I became acquainted and attracted to the Sisters of Charity. So, I have come full circle. I never could have imagined being in ministry here because in our younger days, we seemed to be sent far from home. Ever since becoming more familiar with Elizabeth’s faithfulness to meeting ‘the grace of the moment’ I understand better that experience in my daily life in parish ministry. What grace abounds!”
Returning to Santa Fe, N.M., completes a full circle in S. Juanita Gonzales’ life. In 1958 when she began studying nursing at St. Vincent Hospital, this native New Mexican had never met a Sister of Charity, and certainly had never had any thought of becoming one.
As she writes, “The Lord obviously had other plans that He had not shared with me until after a few months of being in the program. I began to dream about being a Sister, but quickly put it out of my mind. However, when the Lord sets His mind, He does not give up.
“Once in pediatrics, S. Frances Jerome Quinlan and I were each feeding a baby, and out of the blue Sister says, ‘You are thinking of going to the convent.’ I almost dropped the poor child I was feeding. I had said nothing to anybody about that.”
Earlier, as a young Sister, a back injury had changed her career from nursing to teaching, and she became an award-winning principal in Lansing, Mich.
For six years she taught English in Poland, but rheumatoid arthritis sent her home. Providentially, to complete the full circle, the Rev. Frank Pettro needed a Spanish-speaking minister in his San Isidro parish in Santa Fe. “So here I am in the City of Faith as the director of the Faith Formation program. That would have never happened to me as a nurse. The Lord has a very strange sense of humor.”
When S. Juanita arrived in San Isidro parish, the 600 registered families attended Mass in a 175-year-old church. Now 2,500 families attend Mass on weekends in the parish center, and others are in the mission church San Jose. In this second largest parish in Santa Fe, Masses are in either English or Spanish. Besides S. Juanita, four deacons help, one blind and two Spanish-speaking. S. Felipa from Texas also works with Spanish ministry as well as helping in another parish.
One program involves meeting monthly with parents whose children are preparing for the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist. She explains, “I present lessons which they must teach the children at home and then bring the work to the next meeting. If parents cannot be at the regular meeting, we make another meeting time.
“Two years ago I separated the Spanish-speaking and English-speaking groups even though it means more meetings for me. However, it’s worth it because the parents themselves are being catechized.”
A blessing for S. Juanita is working with Fr. Frank, a Panamanian convert from Judaism. He has been at San Isidro for almost 30 years, and like Elizabeth Seton his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is extraordinary. She explains, “I have the freedom to do what needs to be done and run the programs as necessary. We discuss different ideas, and we are able to speak honestly about the problems in the Church and share our concerns and frustrations.”
When Father is away, S. Juanita prepares Communion services for deacons, but when they are unavailable, S. Juanita herself leads them and shares reflections on the readings. She also trains lectors and Communion ministers.
She revitalized the Altar Society which now decorates altars with real flowers for big feast days. “We also ordered banners in English and Spanish, especially for the Center to help make it look more like a place of prayer,” she said.
A big part of S. Juanita’s ministry is juggling parish responsibilities with CHI (Catholic Health Initiatives) board and committee meetings in Albuquerque, often driving there twice a week. If the meeting is late, she stays with her sister Anna overnight, but she has to be back in Santa Fe Tuesdays to prepare for Confirmation classes held after the 5:30 p.m. Mass and for Faith Formation classes for seventh and eighth grades Wednesdays from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
“Somehow, again, how the Lord works in strange ways! I ended up on the Archdiocesan Vocations Committee. Dominican Sister Jo and I drive to Albuquerque Saturdays every other month for meetings. In February we had our first Focus 11, a program for sixth graders to speak about vocations. We had close to 400 sixth graders that day, and besides my display, I was on a panel. Their questions were impressive: ‘When did you think about becoming a priest, sister or brother?’ ‘What do you do?’ ‘Are you sorry that you don’t have children?’ ‘Did you ever want to leave this way of life?’”
In 1865 Sisters established St. Vincent Hospital and Orphanage, but in 1977 the last Sister administrator left. Now, on a limited basis, S. Juanita is the lone Sister of Charity still involved in Christus St. Vincent Hospital. At a recent meeting they presented a session on end-of-life preparation they are willing to offer to the parish.
S. Juanita loves living in colorful Santa Fe, the “City Different.” She enjoys the seasonal “markets,” and she loves the food, “my food,” that she could never find in other places. Sadly, she still finds prejudice against the Mexicans, something the Sisters from the beginning fought against.
A special blessing for S. Juanita was being near her mother, a clear-minded matriarch, 100 when she died. One of 14 children, S. Juanita is close to her brothers and sisters, and the weeklong family reunion, five generations, is held every three years. At the same time being away for even a short time is part of the long-term challenge of her ministry. She wonders if anyone will be willing to take her place when she has to leave finally.
“People still remember S. Joaquin Bitler at the hospital and S. Pat Bernard at the clinic and others,” she said, “but who will be willing to continue the 128-year-legacy of the Sisters of Charity in Santa Fe?”
By S. Victoria Marie Forde
In her own words: “One of the greatest blessings that God has given to me has been the joy of ministering at St. Lawrence school and parish [Price Hill, Cincinnati] for the past 37 years – eight as a junior high school teacher, eight as principal and for the past 21 years as pastoral minister in the parish.
“My responsibilities as pastoral minister are varied. Primarily, my concern is for our homebound parishioners as well as those who reside in nursing and retirement facilities. Each week I visit the homebound and take Holy Communion to them which, for me, is such a special gift. Carrying Jesus to His beloved people – what an awesome privilege!
“As time permits, I look forward to my visits with parishioners in nine different nursing/retirement homes. All of these dear people know that they are vital members of our St. Lawrence parish family. They receive our weekly bulletin, The Laurentian, and greetings are sent for birthdays and holidays throughout the year. They also enjoy tins of candies and cookies for Christmas and Easter. Truly, all of those whom I visit are inspirations to me as I witness their deep faith and their serene acceptance of whatever the Lord asks of them.
“The first Wednesday of each month finds me busily preparing for approximately 140-150 senior citizens who come to St. Lawrence for an afternoon social. The donation is $10, which covers a catered dinner followed by Bingo and/or card games, share-the-pot, instant winners, a raffle and door prizes. Every month we honor those celebrating birthdays. Shopping for the small gifts, Bingo, door and raffle prizes and desserts is an ongoing process from one month to the next. I have eight women whom I call “The Cincinnati Belles”; they telephone all those who come to the socials each month so that I know precisely the number of dinners to order from the caterer. Four very dedicated women assist me with all preparations and activities for each social.
“The months of October, November and December find me especially thinking about those families who have fallen upon hard times. Requests are made for monetary and food donations so that we can assist these families at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our parishioners and other friends are exceptionally generous with their donations and they enable me to assist 100-125 families each year. The families receive generous food baskets, a turkey at Thanksgiving, and an abundance of foods and a large ham at Christmas. I purchase gift certificates for each family so that ‘Santa’ can enjoy shopping for clothing and toys on every child’s wish list. Our eighth grade students, along with their teacher, assist with the distribution of the baskets to the families. Several women generously give of their time and energy to help me assemble all of the food baskets.
“Throughout the calendar year altar linens are cared for as needed and all church supplies such as hosts, candles, incense and other items are ordered by me when necessary. Lectoring and distributing Holy Communion at Masses are also wonderful privileges.
“There is no set schedule to any of my days as I am always ‘on call,’ so that our pastor is free to make other requests of me.
“I believe all ministry is a joy and a challenge because it involves being present to others in the same way that Christ Himself would be present to them. As religious women, God gives us so many wonderful opportunities to share with Him in the spread of this Kingdom.”
Although retired from formal ministry as of July 2011, S. Irene Mraz continues as a dedicated sacristan in the parish of Our Lady of Hope in Bedford, Ohio. Prior to retiring, S. Irene amassed a wealth of experiences that would serve her well in her many years in pastoral ministry.
Sister entered the Vincentian Sisters of Charity of Bedford when she was just 16 years old, bolstered with a strong desire to “do things for and with others.” She taught elementary grades in the Cleveland diocese from 1951 until 1968 when she assumed religious coordination activities first at St. Pius X, Bedford (1975-’79) and then at St. Mary in Bedford (1979-’81). Sister also served as a missionary in El Salvador and devoted 12 years in servant leadership to her Congregation.
In 1999, S. Irene began her pastoral ministry at St. Pius X. Over the years, she attended diocesan district meetings; planned parish programs with staff; and worked with the parish pastoral council. Sister coordinated the extraordinary ministers of the Holy Eucharist, the lectors, greeters and adult and student servers for liturgies. She enjoyed one-on-one conversations with parishioners and facilitated Bible study groups and women’s gatherings. Sister continues to participate as a volunteer in the Bible study group consisting of 16 people who meet weekly. They share in the popular Little Rock Scripture Study program that features videos, study guides and shared prayer.
S. Irene initiated outreach ministries such as bake sales, Christmas in July, clothing collections for the poor and a ministry to Westside Catholic Center with food and household articles. She also collected donations for an El Salvador clinic providing prosthetic devices to the sick and injured. Our Lady of Hope parishioners provide Holy Spirit parish with food for the poor on a monthly basis. In addition, the parish collects toys for children at the Cosgrove Center in Cleveland for Christmas delivery.
One of S. Irene’s greatest challenges as a pastoral minister was the merger of a cluster of Cleveland diocesan parishes beginning in 2007, when the bishops asked for the merger or possible closing of several parishes.
Sister explained, “We secured a transition team that met monthly with other parishes for 18 months. We brought to the table the realities of each parish including demographics, finances, parish needs/assets, real estate holdings, conditions of buildings, the number of practicing Catholics, and those who attended Church less frequently. We had to be honest and open to say things as they were. We needed a lot of prayer. We got through it. Holy Trinity, Bedford Heights and St. Mary, Bedford, merged with St. Pius X in Bedford to form Our Lady of Hope parish.
“Through all of the transitions, there was the underlying joy of having a wonderful welcoming community of those who came together at Our Lady of Hope. We are a prayerful, loving, participative parish who truly learned the art of change, the joy of change in an extraordinary way,” exclaimed S. Irene.
After experiencing the great changes of parish mergers, S. Irene said, “I am overjoyed with our merger with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati . It is wonderful!”
“Elizabeth Ann Seton inspires me with her energetic spirit, her enthusiasm to do the will of God in all things and her ever-abiding faith and love in the presence of God in everyday moments,” concluded S. Irene.
Before S. Donna Steffen began to take part in the discernment process of her Community’s current Novices, she had to do some discerning of her own.
It was October 2011 when S. Donna was asked if she would be interested in becoming the Community’s Novice Director.
“It really took me off guard,” S. Donna said. “It was both very humbling to be asked, and it was also very serious. I knew I really had to sit with God with this; I needed God’s direction, to show me the way.
“I also asked myself the question, ‘Could I say no?’” she continued. “There has to be freedom in discernment so I realized I could. If it really felt wrong, or just wasn’t a good fit, I would need to say no. But that wasn’t what I experienced.”
In order to determine if she was being called to this ministry, Sister received help from a spiritual director who told her to look for PAGL, or peace, assurance, gratitude and love.
“If these were present, it was a sign of God’s spirit,” she said. “I started journaling about what my vocation has meant to me and what it has meant to me to be a Sister of Charity. As I did this, I was filled with all of those things. I added enthusiasm to the list because I knew that I needed excitement and passion.”
After saying ‘yes,’ S. Donna knew there was much work to be done; by June 2013 the Community would have two women entering the Canonical Novitiate – Tracy Kemme and Andrea Koverman. Since the Community had not had Novices for almost one decade, the entire program needed to be developed. In preparation, Sister made a 30-day retreat with the Sisters of Loretto and began seeking advice from other religious communities in Cincinnati involved in formation ministry.
“I found a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur who had their Novitiate in Cincinnati at that time,” she said. “I sat down with her and she told me how she had developed their program and what the components were. After about two hours with her, I felt like I could do this. I had an idea of what a weekly schedule could look like; this was really helpful for me.”
In addition to the help she received from others, S. Donna’s previous ministries proved to be beneficial from the beginning.
With a background in spiritual direction she understood the spiritual journey, and realized that each person processes differently. “My past experience with the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults was also one of persons becoming incorporated. It all contributes to this ministry,” she said.
Within her ministry, Sister’s greatest resources are her fellow Sisters of Charity. “It’s the lived experience that helps one take on these things,” she said. “… A lot of this year is about relationship. It’s about the Sisters getting to know Andrea and Tracy and Andrea and Tracy getting to know the Sisters.
“There is the intangible charism of the humility, simplicity and charity in the Community. You don’t think, OK now we’re going to be humble or now we’re going to show charity, but as you experience people, you see that those values are alive.
“You learn by doing,” she continued. “The different justice demonstrations we have participated in; the ministries that they are doing; praying together. They are living this and they are learning.”
Beyond the help of the Community, S. Donna is completely dependent upon God.
“I knew instinctively that I could only do this in God. There has been this whole experience of it all unfolding. I don’t know what the next thing is. I have to keep asking ‘What will I do?’ ‘Is there something I should be talking about with Andrea and Tracy?’ ‘Who do I need to ask about this?’ It’s a good thing for me to be day-to-day dependent on God. It’s a wonderful experience, though it’s challenging not knowing what’s next.”
When looking toward the future of the Community, S. Donna is nothing but hopeful.
“Women entering today need a strong relationship with God,” she said. “I have no idea what they’ll need in life; I’m sure I can’t even picture it, but whatever it is they can do that if they have this grounding and this anchoring inside. I’m not the one giving that, God is and it’s been happening long before they came. I don’t see them worrying too much. It’s not about numbers, it’s about living this moment and into the future, and we will know, in the same way they’ll know, here’s what I’m to do.
“I can say that I feel very blessed and gifted in my life. I’ve had very rich experiences in God and my life, and I trust that that will be there for them, too. I believe that the charism of religious life still exists. God does and will call people.”
By Megan Moore, Communications summer intern
S . Winnie Brubach recalls, “Without calling it ‘environmental’ I have always been involved in things growing, plants and creatures. My parents’ families of origin were all farmers and people of the land. I was taught respect of Earth and her inhabitants, especially from my father and his family. This is possibly where I got my sense of place orientation, my understanding of the ecosystem where I live and learning to work within it without destroying what is there naturally.
“When I began to work at EarthConnection in 1995,” she continues, “my interests expanded to include renewable energy, water conservation, land use, invasive species and the organic side of gardening and large-scale farming.” As facilities coordinator of EarthConnection, S. Winnie conducts tours of the building, talks about solar energy as it is used in EarthConnection and about organic gardening.
“I am part of a team of four who maintain an organic garden at EarthConnection. We meet weekly to plant, harvest and weed the garden. The produce harvested goes to St. Leo’s Food Pantry in the North Fairmount neighborhood of Cincinnati. Last year we harvested and delivered 1,338.5 pounds of veggies.
“I try to show that it is easy to garden, to raise your own food, even if you have limited space. I am not an expert on container gardening but I have been able to encourage folks to consider it. We always have tomato plants that we pot and take to the food pantry. The people there are most happy to take the plants home to grow their own tomatoes.”
When asked what progress they’ve seen in environmental awareness and care of the Earth, S. Joyce says that as a result of the work of the Western Wildlife Corridor, “ Much of the invasive species have been eradicated. Persons in the area are becoming aware of the damage caused by invasive species and educated in the beauty of the environment and its diverse plants. Children are also participants in some of our activities; an appreciation and love of Earth is being fostered.”
S. Winnie takes a long-range view of her work. “ There has been some consciousness raising and awareness of things global. Or, so I have been told. I see myself as a seed sower. Sometimes it takes a while for the seeds to germinate and grow toward harvest.”
S. Paula says, “It’s exciting to see that only five years after Ohio became the 24 th state to become a member of Interfaith Power and Light, the organization now has 40 state chapters. It’s gratifying to see that faith communities are really beginning to help their folks ‘connect the dots’ between their faith life and climate change. Globally there is growing implementation of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, in spite of political and corporate resistance.”
What progress has S. Jean observed? “I just returned from both Nicaragua and the Border,” she said. “I saw the commitment and progress toward sustainability. In Nicaragua the progress I saw was certainly not the results of my efforts, but I was so happy to see the priority that is being implemented around the use of solar energy, reforesting, sustainable agriculture and alternative materials for home building.
“It was a joy to visit with Tierra Madre and experience the struggle of the residents,” she continued. “The 2008 economic downturn caused a pause in building and an analysis of what to do at this new moment. They have made some plans that I hope will allow them to meet the new reality and continue the sustainable goals. I do feel that this project is an example of lots of my effort, struggle, joys and frustration.”
Four Sisters of Charity, each of them in her own way has been a trailblazer. They have left their marks locally, nationally and internationally.
S. Mary Fran Davisson, a nationally certified massage therapist licensed in both Ohio and Kentucky, currently ministers through the Sisters of Charity Spirituality Center at the Mount St. Joseph Motherhouse. For the last 17 years, Sister has “learned how to ‘listen’ with [her] hands, with [her] heart, as well as with [her] ears,” offering massages to those who come for retreat and to the Sisters, employees, and women and men from the surrounding areas.
“Our Congregation has a long history of SC presence in the ministries of health care, education, and pastoral care. I believe that massage therapy is an extension of these ministries in a new way,” S. Mary Fran explained.
S. Mary Fran says she believes strongly that she did not choose this ministry; rather it chose her. Sister attended the School of Applied Theology in Berkley, Calif., in 1994 and while she was there she participated in a massage weekend where she was introduced to the spirituality of massage as well as the benefits and basic skills of giving massage. Following that weekend, S. Mary Fran began to feel as if she was being called in a new direction.
Her initial reaction was, “This is crazy. I just had a good experience during the weekend.” But the feeling grew and as she prayed and reflected on it, with the help of her spiritual director, Pat McLennon, CSJ, she registered for the internship program Care Through Touch taught by Mary Ann Finch.
With the approval of the Congregation, S. Mary Fran enrolled in the 1,200-hour massage program at the New Mexico Academy of Healing Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. After graduating from massage school in 1996, before taking her Ohio licensing exam, S. Mary Fran received a gift from God: the need for back surgery. Although she was not happy about this gift at first, and grew concerned that it meant she might not be able to practice massage after the surgery, the experience only helped her in her ministry of caring and compassion.
“The experience taught me what pain feels like. I can’t say what a client’s pain feels like but I do know pain and how it can affect your entire being,” Sister said.
S. Mary Fran considers her ministry a spiritual one and has had the privilege of ministering to and meeting the needs of a variety of people, just as Elizabeth Seton did. Some of these people have suffered great tragedy and as a result they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, which Sister does her best to lift.
Sister said that several years ago she participated in an Oncology/Hospital Massage course at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., and one of the most challenging aspects of the course was the afternoon that she spent on the pediatric floor.
“It touched me deeply to see young children with cancer,” she said. “In the infusion center, the patients were so hopeful and sharing life with one another as they received their chemotherapy treatment.”
S. Mary Fran has also ministered to rescue workers in New York following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and to the staff of Covenant House in New Orleans, La., after Hurricane Katrina.
“My clients not only come with physical aches and pains, but also the joys, sorrows, and challenges that they face,” she said. “I have learned so much from my clients. Many times their challenges and how they handle them have given me insights for my own life.”
S. Mary Fran shared one instance in which a massage made a definitive impact in a woman’s life.
“At the end of a session one woman said to me, ‘You saved me.’ I have no idea what she meant, but I do know that I did not save her, it was God who saved her.”
Though it was God who saved this woman, she may never have let Him in if it were not for S. Mary Fran’s caring touch.
“My passion in life is helping people grow and find their own road to God and their own spirituality,” S. Betty Finn said as she discusses her current ministry.
A former grade school teacher and principal, S. Betty felt the call to change in 1976 transitioning to the College of Mount St. Joseph to serve as a counselor. Four years later she became the Community’s novice director, while also conducting career life planning workshops for religious communities across the country, primarily women religious.
S. Betty said during that time in religious life, community members were starting to look for their own ministries instead of being instructed where to go. “Many Sisters were struggling to name their own gifts and what they could do,” she said. “What dawned on me was nobody was ministering to the ministers.”
For the last 35 years S. Betty has felt a strong call to minister to the ministers. Between consulting, workshops and leadership training, Sister became increasingly interested in spiritual direction and retreat work. She went back to school and received a master’s degree in pastoral counseling and became a licensed counselor. But for every elective that she was afforded, S. Betty chose a class on spiritual direction or spiritual development so that she could do either/or.
Sister explains as her ministry evolved she saw an exciting change in the individuals she was ministering to. “The lay spirituality and lay involvement in the Church started to grow,” she said. “I began doing Myers Briggs work with seminarians; I was teaching a course in the lay pastoral ministry program. So the ministry changed from almost totally working with religious to working with half religious, half laity.”
She explains the difference between spiritual direction and counseling in the fact that spiritual direction is much more of an ongoing relationship than it is with counseling. With counseling there are specific goals, once a client has reached those goals the relationship can be terminated. With spiritual direction the goal is to improve the directee’s relationship with God. “And until we’re buried, that relationship isn’t finished,” she said.
Like Elizabeth, S. Betty emphasizes community and growth, valuing relationships and committing herself to others. “Watching the individual blossom and bloom, it’s fun,” she said. “I like my job because it’s fun. When I was doing career life planning I used to always teach people that a job or employment should mean getting paid to do something you like. That’s idealistic in today’s economy, but it’s what I believe.”
“I enjoy the variety of the ministries that I do,” S. Teresa Marie Laengle said. “The fact that I can freely use my creativity in all of these ministries energizes me. As I work in spiritual direction, retreat work or the Ignatian Spirituality Project, I am humbled by the depth of spirituality I find in those that I minister with and those that I minister to.”
Since 2008 S. Teresa Marie has served at Bergamo Center in Beavercreek, Ohio, offering monthly spiritual direction as well as retreats for the Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP). In addition, Sister started her own ministry, “Signs and Wonders,” in which she offers retreats to a variety of groups such as parish teams, women’s organizations and faculties of schools. In this role, Sister usually meets with the person in charge of setting up the retreat and discusses the theme and needs of the group to creatively design a retreat to fit their needs. Retreat titles include Elizabeth Ann Seton, Pathways to God, Making Good Decisions and Women and the Bread of Life.
“I try to be a conduit for God’s love to flow through me to touch the lives of those that I minister to,” S. Teresa Marie said. “My goal in planning retreats is to draw those who are attending to a closer, deeper relationship with God.”
S. Teresa Marie explains her work with homeless men and women began in October 2010. After learning about the Ignatian Spirituality Project, which offers retreats to those who have been homeless and are in recovery, she was intrigued. “I fought with God for about six months before I finally decided I would take the risk of starting the ministry,” she said. As coordinator for the Dayton office Sister’s responsibilities include creating a yearly budget; contacting transitional housing agencies to determine who they would recommend to make the retreats; arranging transportation; searching for and training volunteers; planning retreats and searching for funding.
“I open my compassionate heart to the homeless, accepting them for who they are as persons and without any judgment on how they have lived their lives,” S. Teresa Marie said. “I have the opportunity to encourage them to get an education, to support them in this and to celebrate with them when they achieve their goals … I marvel at [their] resiliency.”
While she enjoys the variety in her ministries Sister says it is a challenge to balance all three. In addition finding retreatants and keeping connections with the women and men who make the ISP retreats can be difficult due to their transiency.
Sister’s compassion and support are life-giving – for both the retreatants and herself.
“Contemplate how you are being asked to give your heart to God amidst your everyday activities. Be prepared to meet your grace in every circumstance of life.” ~ St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
The words of Elizabeth Seton speak to S. Margaret Mach’s heart. “That is my call,” Sister said. “Elizabeth was a great woman who trusted in the providence of God. I, too, trust the Spirit is working through me as I walk with others on their journey.”
After ministering for 20 years in education as teacher and principal; 16 years in Leadership for her community; and 11 years with the Diocese of Cleveland, S. Margaret explains that it was God’s providence that led her to her current ministry as spiritual director at River’s Edge in Cleveland, Ohio. While meeting with her various spiritual directors over the years S. Margaret said she felt something resonating within. It was their skill and ability that developed her interest in spiritual direction. In 2000, S. Margaret received training with the Vincentian Studies Institute of the United States in New Jersey.
Ten years later, in December 2010, she ran into a Sister of St. Joseph, who asked about Sister’s current ministry. “At the time I was feeling like it was time to move to something else,” S. Margaret explained, “so I said, ‘I am waiting for God to speak to me. God will let me know when the time comes.’” The Sister told her one of the spiritual directors at River’s Edge was retiring and they were looking for a replacement. It was while she was meeting with her own spiritual director stationed at River’s Edge that her interest piqued. They talked about the position and S. Margaret said she felt herself getting excited.
Three months later, she began ministering at River’s Edge, a ministry of the Congregation of St. Joseph. According to its Web site, the center “fosters the integration of personal wellness, spirituality, global and ecological responsibilities, and expanding consciousness in order to bring about personal and societal transformation.”
There S. Margaret meets with directees one-on-one, usually once a month. “It is a privilege and a blessing to walk with them on their journey,” Sister said. “I am witnessing the movement of the Spirit in their lives. I am amazed and filled with awe, every time.”
Sister explains she encounters people in various parts of their journey; many are new to spiritual direction. She has the opportunity to help them build a foundation to move forward on. Most of her directees are lay women. “They have families; they are mothers, housewives, juggling all these things. But, they take the time out because it is important to them on their journey,” S. Margaret said. Sister works to empower and encourage her directees to find God in all things.
In addition to spiritual direction, Sister also participates in week-long directed retreats at River’s Edge, meeting with retreatants one-on-one daily. “It’s a beautiful amount of time,” she said. “Our time together is very fruitful and spirit-filled.” She also provides spiritual direction for retreats outside of River’s Edge, as well as offers workshops and days of reflection.
Be prepared to meet your grace in every circumstance of life. Those words and Elizabeth’s example have served as a guide for S. Margaret throughout the years, and particularly in her current ministry as she helps others to meet their grace and to find their God in the ordinary and every day.
“I have enjoyed every ministry I’ve ever been in,” said S. Mary Ellen Murphy as she reflected on her years of ministry prior to spiritual direction. “As I’ve aged, this [ministry] just felt right with the kind of energy I have. I know I’m a good listener. I know God works through me.”
Throughout the years Sister has ministered in education, in an emergency relief center with the low-income elderly, she has been a missionary, and was even president of her Community.
“I have done a little of everything but very often I would end up having the opportunity to just listen to people,” she said. “A lot of times that is healing in itself. They are not coming to have you solve their problems; they just need someone to listen to what’s going on in their life.”
Those experiences led to her current ministry of spiritual direction. Since 2003 Sister has been meeting with directees, lay persons and Sisters, monthly at the Motherhouse. “It’s their agenda,” she said. “I always say there are three people here – you, me and God. God is the real director. They call it spiritual direction and there’s a question around that. Are you really directing them, or are you guiding them or walking with them? That’s what it is for me. It’s walking with the individual, guiding them when needed. And, frankly, I think I benefit from it as much as they do…
“It never ceases to amaze me how God works in people,” she continued. “How honest people are, how sincere they are, and how much they long for God – which is what brings them in the first place even if they can’t name it.”
There are challenges. “This isn’t counseling, we’re not trying to solve problems,” she said. “We’re trying to say where is God in this experience, how do you connect with God? Not how do we solve it.” Another challenge is trusting whatever unfolds in the spiritual direction relationship, knowing that what develops is what it is supposed to be. “That is where we meet our grace,” she said. Finally, Sister says sitting in silence can be uncomfortable but it can also bring about positive results.
“I am always amazed at what ferments in silence,” she said. “It’s OK to not fill every moment with words. I don’t have the answers. They have the answers themselves; they just have to find them.”
In addition to her scheduled directees, S. Mary Ellen also visits Sisters in Mother Margaret Hall twice a week. In some cases there are certain Sisters she sees on a regular basis. The rest of the time she drops in on individuals – if someone is new, she may say hello; if a Sister is having a hard day, she may stop by to have a conversation.
In many ways Sister’s 16 years in leadership have provided a built-in trust with her Sisters. “In leadership you get into very serious soul conversations with people,” she said. “Though you aren’t there for spiritual direction in lots of ways that is what happens. It’s spiritual companioning.”
“I think Elizabeth Seton was about being a soul companion to people,” she said. “I feel like that’s what I am about. It isn’t what I say but it’s my own journey and desire to deepen my relationship with God that draws me into it in the first place.”
In her own words: “Currently I minister as a spiritual director/directing retreats in the Albuquerque, N.M., area, having been involved in the Sangre de Cristo Sabbatical Program near Santa Fe, and presently in the Canossian Sabbatical Program. After ministering in elementary schools either as teacher or administrator for 33 years, I have been involved in the spiritual growth ministry for the past 20 years after receiving a master’s in Christian Spirituality at Creighton University (Omaha, Neb.), which included a year of supervised practicum.