After Sister of Mercy Mary Regina Feltz retired from teaching primary-school students in 1972, she was looking for something to do.
So in 1977, when she moved to Greece’s Cardinal Mooney High School, she decided to walk down Maiden Lane to Grand√© Ville, a full-service senior living facility that was built three years prior.
There she met owner Michael Panaggio and offered to help. Although she was willing to do anything, Panaggio said she spent the bulk of her time visiting residents who didn’t have family nearby.
“She had a way of winning everybody over,” he noted.
Even after she moved to McAuley Residence at the Sisters of Mercy Motherhouse in Brighton in 1989, Panaggio still made arrangements to bring Sister Feltz to Greece to visit people at Grand√© Ville, according to Mercy archives.
In 1999 Panaggio honored Sister Feltz’s volunteerism by naming the facility’s new wing for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients the Mary Regina Special Care Community. The new unit featured innovations for Alzheimer’s care, including items to make rooms more familiar for patients and a secure courtyard that would allow patients to walk outside safely. Sister Feltz still chuckles when she remembers a time before the new wing was built that a resident wandered off unnoticed and was returned by a Greece Police officer.
“I think (Grand√© Ville is) very friendly, and a very nice place for the elderly,” she said.
Sister Feltz, who turned 100 on March 7, is passionate about senior care. She encouraged guests who attended her birthday celebration at the Mercy motherhouse to look around them, in part because she wanted them to take note of the new adult independent living program that the motherhouse now hosts each day.
Although she no longer is able to visit others, now visitors come to her. They include Mercy Associate Mary Makeham, who visits Sister Feltz twice a week and on holidays. She met Sister Feltz in 2004 during Makeham’s first visit to the motherhouse.
“I fell in love with her immediately,” Makeham said. “I was a little nervous, but she was so gracious.”
Makeham often reads articles to Sister Feltz, and they enjoy discussing current events.
“She’s feisty and strong-willed, and her sense of humor is wonderful,” Makeham said.
A lifelong resident of the area, Sister Feltz was born in Penfield and grew up in Pittsford the second youngest in a family of 10 children. She remembered her mother being more religious than her father, noting that before she was born, her two sisters — with their mother’s blessing — would sneak out to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
“I thought that was so sweet of them,” Sister Feltz said.
Both of her sisters pursued religious vocations, and two of her brothers were Franciscan priests. Sister Feltz entered the Sisters of Mercy novitiate on Aug. 15, 1927.
“I wanted to become closer to the Lord,” she said.
Her love of children led her to spend 43 years in the classroom, teaching at schools in Webster, Greece, Rochester, Pittsford, Corning, Auburn, Elmira and Clyde.
She recalled that when she was growing up her family had several horses, including a race horse named Dolly. Getting from Pittsford to the City of Rochester used to take about a half an hour by horse, she noted.
She still chuckles at the memory of her nephew taking a picture of her riding a horse when she was dressed in her habit. She said he always lamented that he never took a similar photo of her on a motorcycle.
Besides riding horses, Sister Feltz also honed a variety of craft skills over the years. Makeham said Sister Feltz has made hundreds of rosaries for foreign missions and also used to sew habits, tat and crochet.
“I used to make (habits) for others who couldn’t sew,” Sister Feltz said. “I could do it for them. It was lots of fun.”
Known around the Mercy motherhouse as the CEO, Sister Feltz enjoys daily devotions of Mass and the rosary. She also enjoys listening to the music of John Denver.
“He was a beautiful man,” Sister Feltz said. “God’s right-hand man. He breathed God like the air.”
Sister Feltz said his music conveyed a natural spirituality.
“There was something about his voice,” she said. “Why did God take him? We need him here to pray nature.”
Even though she spends most of her time indoors, her thoughts often are on the outside world. She gestured to a window facing Route 590, noting that during her birthday party sirens had cut through the sounds of celebration. Emergency vehicles were rushing to the scene of a car accident in which two people were killed. In the midst of her own celebration, Sister Feltz was concerned about others.
“I felt so bad for them,” she said. “You never know when God’s calling us.”
“We all want to go to the good place,” she added. “We’re waiting.”