A Journey of the Heart
By S. Janet Gildea
(From left) Sisters Ann Dorenbusch and Florence Cremering’s first opportunity to meet in ministry to Hispanic Catholics came in the summer of 1976 in Center, Colorado.
“When did you and Ann first share the journey of life and ministry?”
S. Florence Cremering has many years of memory to sift through as she considers the question. She and S. Ann Dorenbusch were 10 years apart in age and the first opportunity to meet in ministry to Hispanic Catholics came in the summer of 1976 in Center, Colorado. S. Flo was on mission there, serving alone in an area she describes as a place of “spiritual warfare.” S. Ann arrived to work for some weeks with other religious women as a translator for migrant workers while on summer break from her ministry as a professor of Spanish at the College of Mount St. Joseph (Cincinnati, Ohio). For those who always envision the two SCs together on the journey it is surprising to discover that although their paths were intermittently entwined, they didn’t actually co-labor until 1990.
S. Ann left academia for the missions of the altiplano in Peru in 1978. It was long a dream of S. Ann’s to use her fluent Spanish in a pastoral setting. She eventually landed in Ichuña, a remote village high in the Andes, with S. Mary Frances Boyle. Meanwhile S. Flo had responded to a call to serve in parish ministry in Vidalia, Georgia. Unbeknownst to each other, Sisters Ann and Mary Fran both wrote to S. Flo inviting her to join them in Ichuña in 1983 but by then S. Flo was settling into a new ministry in Hazard, Kentucky. “It just wasn’t the right time,” reflects S. Flo, remembering her discernment journey.
When the time was right for S. Flo, S. Ann was leaving Peru for sabbatical. In 1988 S. Flo arrived in Ichuña but S. Ann went to Duran, Ecuador, to join S. Ruth Jonas. The Spirit blows where it will! When S. Ann was back in the states again she discovered an opportunity for ministry in a predominantly Puerto Rican parish in Cleveland, Ohio. S. Flo was on a freighter heading home from Peru with S. Mary Fran. S. Ann invited S. Flo to join her for the new project. Finally the time was right!
“We had complementary gifts. Ann was the linguist and I was the ‘go-fer,’” S. Florence reflects. “I could organize the cupboards and decorate the liturgical space. She could animate the people and lead the programs.”
Sisters Florence Cremering (center) and Ann Dorenbusch (right) paths crossed again at San Juan Bautista parish in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1990.
There were times, however, at San Juan Bautista parish (later Sagrada Familia) when Fr. David Fallon referred sticky pastoral situations to S. Flo whose long experience enabled her to untangle them with grace. The two SCs inspired, encouraged, accompanied and welcomed a young woman of the parish to respond to God’s call to vowed life. S. Juana Mendez shared the journey of discernment with Sisters Ann and Flo as an Affiliate. After nine years in Cleveland, S. Flo wrote in her Advent letter to family and friends, “Now, lay leaders are continuing our ministry. We had many wonderful despedidas (farewell parties)! We still miss the people that were so much a part of our lives!” She and S. Ann returned to Cincinnati, imagining that the last leg of their journey was in sight. But the Spirit blew again.
“We need more Spanish-speaking SCs in El Paso,” I wrote to Sisters Ann and Flo individually in the summer of 1999. Our parish was a complicated mix of Anglo and Hispanic families, wealthy and poor, documented and undocumented. Our clinic in the colonias served them all. We also were beginning to realize a call to serve across the border in Anapra, Mexico, on the outskirts of Juarez. Help! After an initial gracious, “No thank you,” S. Ann decided to come and see. With the turning of the millennium S. Ann moved to El Paso. S. Flo agreed to come to help her get organized in the house and at Holy Spirit parish. That part of the journey lasted three years! The dynamic duo contributed mightily to the development of the border project. They helped create a community of welcome called Casa Caridad, sharing life with women in discernment, teenage refugees from Central America, Associates and many other short- and long-term volunteers.
S. Flo returned to the Motherhouse in 2003 but responded to our frequent requests to visit and help with special projects like packing for the move into our new home in 2006. She accompanied S. Ann who led a catechetical program for a mission of the parish in Anapra. “I don’t think I ever had great missionary gifts but I guess I’m good at community,” S. Flo smiles. Amen to that!
(From left) Sisters Florence Cremering and Ann Dorenbusch shared the journey together in life and ministry for nearly 40 years.
When it was time for S. Ann to return to the Motherhouse in 2008 who else but S. Flo would come to help her pack and share the journey home. This time there would be a succession of settlings-in. From Seton Hall to Marian to Mother Margaret Hall nursing facility, Sisters Flo and Ann shared the journey. Eventually cancer and memory loss complicated that journey for S. Ann and so for S. Flo. With grace and leaning mightily on the Lord, each evening S. Flo visited S. Ann on the second floor. They would walk to see the finches or watch episodes of television programs again and again. S. Ann, who had suffered much with anxiety during her active years, found some relief with the loss of memory. “I used to worry about everything but now I can’t remember what to worry about!” she quipped. S. Flo smiles as I recall that comment. S. Ann went home to God on Aug. 11, 2014. Now her prayer card is next to the Blessed Mother in S. Flo’s room. In the Spirit, they continue to share a journey of the heart and anticipate with Mother Seton, “Eternity!”