It was natural for Sister Cathy Solan to make her final profession of vows as a Sister of Mercy Aug. 18 at her home parish, Our Lady of Mercy in Greece.
That’s because it is nearly impossible to talk about the half-century history of Our Lady of Mercy without talking about Sister Solan’s family. Previously parishioners of Holy Cross Church, her family was one of the first to be registered with the new parish.
Though her parents had a houseful of young children, including 2-year-old Cathy, they allowed their home to become the parish’s first rectory. The parish’s first pastor, Father Michael O’Brien, took up residence in several rooms of their home as he started the new parish.
They also agreed to allow him to install in their home a parish phone, which they answered day and night. They entertained his visitors, which included fellow priests and the diocese’s auxiliary bishop at the time. Later, they sold the 603 Denise Road home to the parish, which used it as a convent for the sisters who taught at Our Lady of Mercy School.
“I don’t know anybody today that would give as much as they did,” said parish historian Nora Plumeri.
Sister Solan said she learned from her parents the importance of serving others. Her late father, Robert Solan, was heavily involved in parish activities and printed the church bulletin each week. He also was ordained a deacon with the diocese’s first class of permanent deacons and later served at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Hamlin.
Her mother, Clara, served for many years as Our Lady of Mercy’s sacristan and worked as the secretary of the parish school from the mid-1960s until the school closed in 1980, Sister Solan said. Her family’s social activities also were all parish-based, including the bowling league, the Rosary Society, the Men’s Guild and bingo.
“Life revolved around your church and your school,” Sister Solan said.
Sister Solan said she was glad to be able to profess her final vows at her home parish, where she first heard a call to vowed life.
“This is a public statement, and I wanted to celebrate with the people who helped to make it possible,” she said.
Her mother, still a Greece resident and Mercy parishioner, said she was proud to see her daughter, one of six siblings, profess a religious vocation.
“That was wonderful,” Clara Solan said.
Sister Solan said she was first drawn to the Sisters of Mercy at the parish’s elementary school. She graduated from Our Lady of Mercy Elementary School in 1969 and from Cardinal Mooney High School in 1973. She attended Miss McCarthy’s, afterwards called the McCarthy Business Institute, for a certificate in secretarial science, she said. She worked for 25 years as an executive secretary, including 10 years as an executive secretary for a financial planning firm.
Soon after her father died in 1995, Sister Solan began to reassess her life. She also was guided through that process by her volunteer work with the parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program and the parish’s faith-formation director, Mercy Sister Kathy Wahl.
“It was the journey with men and women through the program that really revived my own faith,” Sister Solan said.
By Easter, Sister Solan said she was able to articulate what was calling her: She wanted to learn more about becoming a Sister of Mercy. She also realized she longed to work for a nonprofit organization.
In 1999 she began working as the secretary to the diocesan chancellor and entered the Sisters of Mercy as a candidate on Aug. 30, 2000. During her candidacy, she lived in community with local Sisters of Mercy, which was a time for her to learn about the order’s values, decisions, ministries and how she might be part of it, said Mercy Sister Cynthia Serjak, the incorporation minister of the New York, Pennsylvania and Pacific West Community of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.
Sister Serjak said Sister Solan had a long background in faith.
“Cathy comes to us with a deep love for the church,” Sister Serjak said.
Sister Solan left her secretary position in June 2002 when she entered the novitiate. She spent a year at the Institute Canonical Novitiate in Laredo, Texas, on the U.S.-Mexico border. Novices there minister part time to migrant populations, Sister Solan said.
After the year in Texas, Sister Solan returned to the Rochester area for her apostolic year. She worked at St. Agnes Parish in Avon as a volunteer parish visitor, in Hornell with Steuben County Rural Ministry’s Thanksgiving and Christmas projects, and at St. Monica School in Rochester assisting Sister Mary Marvin in the school office.
After her two-year novitiate, Sister Solan made her initial profession of vows and was hired in April 2003 to be a full-time pastoral minister at St. Cecilia Church in Irondequoit. She also worked as temporary administrator of the parish during the pastor’s six-month sabbatical.
After three years, she began studying for her bachelor’s degree in theology at Carlow University, a Sisters of Mercy college in Pittsburgh, Pa. She said once she receives her degree, she hopes to continue on for her master’s degree in Rochester.
Sister Serjak said those who have made their first profession work with a leadership team to ensure that the sister is beginning to integrate her vows into her life. Sister Solan said she also chose to take a retreat just before making her final profession.
“This is a major step, because you are committing yourself until you die, and it’s one that I took extraordinarily seriously,” she said.
Sister Solan said she now feels at home, and said she hopes in the future to work in pastoral ministry in a rural setting.
“I knew as I professed my final vows that my journey had only begun, but now I have this big and caring family surrounding me on this journey,” Sister Solan said.