Holy Angels nuns leave the diocese - Catholic Courier

Holy Angels nuns leave the diocese

After 77 years of service to the Diocese of Rochester, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity’s Holy Angels Guild closed its convent on North Winton Road in Rochester in April as part of a reorganization.

Two sisters involved in local parish ministries had been living at the convent. Sister Martha Escobar has moved to a community in El Paso, Texas, where she will become a superior; Sister Goretti Witkowski has temporarily relocated to Carrollton, Ohio, before moving to Green Bay, Wis., in the next several months.

Sister Escobar has been in the Rochester area for six years and was a pastoral associate for the Community of the Blessed Trinity, which comprises Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier, Corpus Christi and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel churches in Rochester. Sister Escobar, a native of Mexico, has helped minister to the three parishes’ large Hispanic populations.

“I love our charism of working with women in need,” Sister Escobar said about her order’s special focus.

Sister Escobar, who joined the order 17 years ago, said she was drawn to religious life because she was very involved in religious education and youth ministry in the Mexican parish where she grew up.

Sister Witkowski noted that parishioners say they will miss Sister Escobar.

“I know she’ll miss them, and they’ll miss her,” Sister Witkowski said. “We have to move on because that’s what God wants us to do, but we feel very bad about leaving.”

Sister Witkowski, who has lived in Rochester a year, said during that time she volunteered at a child-care center in a building on the convent grounds and at St. Ann’s Nursing Home, distributing holy Communion and helping residents. She also worked at Matthew’s Closet, a clothing ministry of Corpus Christi.

“You fall in love with everyone. There’s something very special about the person,” Sister Witkowski said.

Thirteen Sisters of Our Lady of Charity had been stationed in the Rochester Diocese during the order’s peak in the 1950s and 1960s. During that time, the sisters operated Holy Angels Home for Girls, a residence for troubled teen girls, which closed in 1975. The home housed up to 36 girls between the ages of 9 and 16, and the sisters are remembered for helping the residents through difficult times.

"What they did was take in wards of the court, children who were abused or neglected,” said Beverly Moll, whose late husband, Martin Q. Moll Sr., was a member of the Holy Angels Home board for more than 40 years.

The sisters also provided education and social opportunities for the girls, Moll said, recalling a picnic she and her late husband had hosted for the girls.

“We just had more fun with those nuns,” she said.

According to a history of the convent, in 1930 then-Bishop John Francis O’Hern invited an order from Buffalo to open a convent in Rochester. That year, six sisters, who also were known locally at various times as the “Good Shepherd Sisters” and the "Holy Angels Sisters," were sent to Rochester.

The sisters decided to serve teenage girls as an alternative to foster care, and Bishop O’Hern broke ground for Holy Angels Home in September of 1930. According to the convent history, the sisters made an income by selling Communion hosts to parishes around the diocese, and one of the sisters laundered altar linens as well as curtains for Rochester residents.

On the facility’s 25th anniversary in 1956, the sisters launched a drive to raise $300,000 for a new building and gymnasium, the history said, and afterward the convent was connected to the original three-story building through a passageway. In 1970, two 12-person cottages were built, and the original home was converted into apartments for 12 girls.

As the number of girls in the home began to drop, the sisters and their board decided in 1975 to discontinue the residence. Death, age and illness of sisters, as well as the lack of new vocations, were factors in the decision, news accounts said.

“At the time, the problems with the girls being referred were becoming more serious, and it was evident that the present program would have to undergo drastic changes such as 24 hour awake staff, night security, etc.,” the history notes.

All but the cottage in which Sisters Escobar and Witkowski had been living has been sold. The local office of American Cancer Society occupies the former convent, and it has also been used as a residence for out-of-town cancer patients receiving treatments locally. One of the cottages is now used as a child-care center, and the Messianic Jewish Congregation Shema Yisrael uses the original three-story building as a synagogue.

The sisters said they have not heard what will happen to the cottage in which they were living. Most of the sisters moved from Rochester in 1992, and several moved into the Hamburg convent, Moll said.

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