Ninety-three-year-old Louis Quill still remembers the names of each of the religious sisters who taught him at St. Mary School in Auburn more than 80 years ago.
His son, Ron Quill, also has clear memories of the Sisters of St. Joseph who taught him at the same school — and none of those memories involve knuckle rappings from ruler-wielding nuns.
Instead, Ron Quill remembers Sister Francis DeSales, the Irish nun who started teaching her students songs about Ireland the day they returned from Christmas break each year, and he recalls watching the sisters driving their first car, a green station wagon, around Auburn.
"You’re able to go through and remember all these things because they had a great influence on how you perform in life," Ron Quill said. "It was a great time in my life. I never got whacked with a ruler. You learned a lot, and you didn’t realize until you got a bit older how much the nuns’ Catholic education had to do with how you went through your life."
Louis and Ron Quill and dozens of fellow Catholics recently showed their appreciation for the women religious who have served in Auburn by attending a Mass of thanksgiving for these women and their efforts. The Mass was one of two events planned by Auburn parishes in celebration of the Year of Consecrated Life, which Pope Francis declared would extend from Nov. 29, 2014, through Feb. 2, 2016.
"It was the pope’s desire to honor and recognize the tremendous contribution that those in the consecrated life of a religious sister or brother made to the life of the church," noted Father Francis Lioi, pastor of St. Mary Parish, which hosted the Mass of thanksgiving on Oct. 4. "Our Mass today is bringing the pope’s desire down to the local level here in Auburn."
Father Lioi also is pastor of Ss. Mary and Martha Parish, which on Sept. 25 hosted a performance about the life of St. Therese of Lisieux, who became a nun when she was just 15. Pope Francis canonized St. Therese’s parents, Louis and Zelie Martin, on Oct. 18.
After the pope declared the Year of Consecrated Life, Father Lioi set out to find out how many women religious had ties to Auburn. He contacted the superiors of orders he knew had served at local schools, hospitals and other institutions and soon learned nearly 900 women religious have served in Auburn since 1867. He learned that Auburn’s Catholics had been served by Sisters of Mercy of the Americas; Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester; St. Francis Sisters of the Newman Communities of Syracuse; Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph of Hamburg; Religious of Jesus and Mary of Washington, D.C.; Sisters of St. Basil the Great; and Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate. These women had taught in Auburn’s parochial schools, tended to the sick and dying in Mercy Hospital and cared for children at St. Joseph Orphanage.
Father Lioi also learned approximately 175 women from Auburn have entered religious life. At least 60 women from St. Mary Parish alone entered the Sisters of St. Joseph, he said.
Father Lioi was at a Knights of Columbus meeting when Ron Quill casually mentioned his father’s desire to see the sisters who had taught him receive some recognition and thanks. The pastor thought the idea had merit and soon began planning just such a Mass. He invited religious sisters who had served in Auburn to attend the Mass, and during his homily he invited those in attendance to stand and be recognized. He concluded his homily by sharing words Pope Francis had spoken at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City just a few days earlier.
"In a special way, I would like to express my esteem and my gratitude to the religious women of the United States," Father Lioi said, quoting the pontiff. "What would the church be without you? Women of strength, fighters, with the spirit of courage which puts you in the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel. To you, religious women, sisters and mothers of this people, I wish to say thank you."
One week later, nearly 200 people went to St. Hyacinth Church, which is part of Ss. Mary and Martha Parish, to learn more about the life of St. Therese of Lisieux, who became a Discalced Carmelite in 1888. The performance was put on by St. Luke Productions and featured an original score composed by Carmelite Sister Clare Sokol. Actress Audrey Ahern did a wonderful job of showing the obstacles St. Therese struggled with and ultimately overcame, according to Ss. Mary and Martha parishioner Judi Oristian. The setting never changed, but Ahern’s acting prowess, along with well-done music and lighting provided by her crew, allowed viewers to experience the saint’s moods and empathize with her problems, Oristian said.
"They put on a phenomenal performance," she added.