Nine Rochester Sisters of Mercy are celebrating jubilees in 2019

Catholic Courier    |    04.30.2019
Category: Vocations


Nine Sisters of Mercy from Rochester, with a combined 585 years of service, are celebrating their jubilees in 2019.

A celebratory prayer service for the jubilarians is planned for Saturday, May 18, at 1 p.m. at the Mercy Center chapel, 1437 Blossom Road in Brighton. The service will include a PowerPoint presentation honoring each of the jubilarians, prayer and music by the Sisters of Mercy Prayer Group.

The Sisters of Mercy in Rochester are part of the Sisters of Mercy Community of New York Pennsylvania West, which also includes Buffalo, Erie and Pittsburgh.

75 years

Sister M. Raymond Joseph Griffin

Sister M. Raymond Joseph Griffin spent a good portion of her religious life teaching the finer points of music to students in Diocese of Rochester schools.

In part, it was Sister M. Gabriel, her first piano teacher, who nurtured her love for music and desire to be a Sister of Mercy.

“She was prayerful and knowledgeable,” said Griffin, who grew up in St. Mary parish and school in Corning.

She entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1944 and professed final vows in 1951.

Sister Griffin earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Nazareth College and a master’s degree in music from Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.

Her school assignments included St. Ann, Hornell; Holy Cross, St. Andrew, Rochester; St. Charles Borromeo, Greece; St. James and St. Thomas, Irondequoit; St. Louis, Pittsford; Notre Dame High School, Elmira; and Chemung County Catholic Schools.

Later, she was a pastoral assistant at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Corning and a parish visitor at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Elmira.

“I taught music for many years and enjoyed the St. Ann’s School Marching Band. When I reluctantly left teaching to work at St. Vincent de Paul Parish at the invitation of Father Robert MacNamara, I soon realized how very fortunate I was to share God’s love with so many. After St. Vincent’s, I experienced the same camaraderie and blessings in Elmira. I am so grateful to so many,” she said.

Motto: Behold the handmaid of the Lord.

Sister Ann Cullen

70 Years

Sister Ann Cullen grew up in Auburn’s Holy Family Parish.

After 12 years of education at Holy Family grammar and high school, she entered the Sisters of Mercy on Sept. 4, 1949. She made her final profession on Aug. 18, 1955.

Sister Cullen earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Medaille College and a master’s degree in education from Canisius College, both in Buffalo.

She ministered as a teacher in many Diocese of Rochester schools: Holy Family in Auburn, St. Cecilia in Elmira, St. Mary in Corning, St. Michael in Newark and St. Patrick in Owego. She also was a teacher and administrator at Annunciation School in Rochester.

Sister Cullen served in the Rochester City School District as a home hospital teacher and worked in social services at Holy Angels Home for Girls. She also worked as a receptionist at Mercy Center in Brighton and coordinated garage and Christmas sales for the Sisters of Mercy. In the past few years, she has ministered in activities with infirm and senior sisters.

Ever joyful over whatever she was called to do, Sister Cullen enjoyed working with children and loved to watch them blossom, especially when they felt loved and could believe in themselves.

“Being a Sister of Mercy for 70 years has been a gift and a blessing,” Sister Cullen said. “I have been privileged to walk with many special people. Their support and love, along with a loving family and friends, brought me to this milestone on my journey.”

Motto: Alone with Jesus.

Sister Julia Norton

Working in parish ministry, especially with the Hispanic community in the Diocese of Rochester, has been at the heart of Sister Julia Norton’s 70 years of religious life.

Currently director of the St. Regis Food Cupboard in inner-city Rochester, she has been pastoral assistant at these Rochester parishes: Our Lady of the Americas, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, St. Patrick and St. Anthony.

“I was free to respond to needs that arose in the community. They included religious education, hospital and home visitations, helping with preparations for the sacraments. A special joy was directing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in Spanish groups and helping with weekend retreats for the community,” she said.

She noted that her work in Hispanic parishes and neighborhoods challenged her to learn Spanish and become part of that culture.

“They were immigrants and very poor, so it called forth our vow of service to the poor, which I consider has been a wonderful privilege and enrichment in my life. I was so happy among them, and many have remained friends,” she said.

Sister Norton entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1949, taught in Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Rochester and served as principal at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School. Also, she has served for many years as a spiritual director and in retreat ministry.

“I have had a fulfilling life, able to live what I felt was my calling, and have been challenged to develop and use my gifts in community and ministry,” she said.

Motto: Lord, I am not worthy.

Sister Jeanne Reichart

“It’s the best dream I ever had!” said Sister Jeanne Reichart of her 70 years as a Sister of Mercy, much of it in education in the United States and abroad. 

“I express my gratitude to my beloved family and to the teachers I had at St. Salome School and Our Lady of Mercy High School, whose example and guidance led me to acceptance of this incredible gift of God,” she added.

The former Sister Mary Dominic taught at St. John the Evangelist (Humboldt Street) and Holy Cross, Rochester; St. Louis, Pittsford; St. Rita, Webster; Holy Family, Auburn; St. Patrick and Our Lady of Lourdes, Elmira; All Saints Academy, Corning; and Our Lady of Mercy High School, Brighton.

She served as administrator at Corning Catholic School North, Our Lady of Lourdes and St Patrick schools in Elmira and St. James in Irondequoit.

In 1974, she was an exchange teacher at St. Joseph School in Hertingfordbury, England. In the mid-1990s, Sister Reichart spent four years working in the Archdiocesan Education Office in Agana, Guam.

“The Sisters of Mercy, Mercy Associates, children and parents with whom I have lived and known in my life demonstrate clearly: the Kingdom of God is alive and well,” she said.

Currently, she is archivist for the Sisters of Mercy in Brighton.

She credits Sister Frances Warde for summing her vocation up exactly right, “It’s a glorious thing to be a Sister of Mercy.”

Motto: Sine Me nihil potestis facere. (Without Me you can do nothing.)

60 Years

Sister Mary Ann Ayers

The Sisters of Mercy served as an example to Sister Mary Ann Ayers while she was a student in Buffalo at St. Brigid Grade School and Mount Mercy Academy.

“I was influenced by their presence to the people they served and each other,” she said.

Entering the Sisters of Mercy in Buffalo in 1959, she professed final vows in 1967 and taught in schools in the Buffalo Diocese.

Moving on from the classroom, she was executive director of chaplaincy services at St. Mary’s Hospital, Rochester, for two years before serving as executive director of Spirit House, Rochester, from 1987 until it closed in 2013. She has been local leader for the Sisters of Mercy in Rochester since 2014.

“I have been happy in all of my ministries, which include teaching in Buffalo and ministering to sisters at Spirit House, a healing community for women religious who were dealing with major life stresses, to being local leader,” she said.

She has gained strength from a quote of Sisters of Mercy founder Catherine McAuley, “The tender Mercy of God has given us one another.”

Sister Ayers considers her religious life as being “able to give service to all with compassion, carrying out and living Catherine McAuley’s charism as a Sisters of Mercy.”

Sister Margaret Deegan

Motto: Lord I am not worthy. 

During a family conversation at the age of 4, Sister Margaret Deegan learned that she was not going to attend St. Ann’s School in Hornell with her brothers and sisters. When she asked why, her mother told her that there weren’t enough Sisters. She then said, “Then I’ll be a sister.”

“Immediately my whole body reacted, and I realized right then that God had accepted my offer. I never forgot that experience,” said Sister Deegan, who entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1959 and professed final vows eight years later.

She taught at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Brighton; St. Rita, Webster; St. Louis, Pittsford; and St. Helen, Gates. Also, she taught at St. Bernard’s Seminary. At St. Jerome Parish, East Rochester, she was liturgy coordinator while serving her community as director of pre-postulants. Other ministries included registrar at St. Bernard Institute and office manager at the Sisters of Mercy administrative offices. Today, she is liturgist at Mercy Center in Brighton.

Sister Deegan has a master’s degree in liturgy from Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., Her love for music was nurtured through Sister M. Raymond Joseph Griffin, who taught her to play the piano.

“Over the years, my love of Mercy has continued to deepen as I realize more and more the depth and breadth of what Mercy means. When I reflect on the lives of our sisters, both past and present, I am proud to be one with them. They continually inspire me and challenge me to become a better person of greater service to others, and have fun along the way,” Sister Deegan said.

Motto: Christ is my life.

Sister Anne Marie Mathis

For 32 years, Sister Anne Marie Mathis visited the homes of sick and elderly in Chile, offering them a listening ear, compassion and the Eucharist.

“I feel that I have walked in the footsteps of our foundress, Catherine McAuley; she had a great love for the poor and women,” said Sister Mathis, who ministered in Santiago and nearby areas, and in Rancagua. “There was so much poverty there; the people were not concerned for themselves but for their neighbors. They gave from the very little they had to those who had less. We in the States are generous, but give from what we have extra.”

Nurtured by the Sisters of Mercy who taught her and with two cousins in the community, she entered in 1959 and professed final vows in 1967. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Nazareth College and a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in reading from Elmira College.

She taught first grade for 21 years in parish schools in Rochester and Elmira before serving as a missionary in Chile from 1985-2017, following a five-week, Third World Experience in 1983.

“I loved it very much. Before I went to the missions, I never went hungry. There, I learned to be generous to a point where it hurt me. Friendships and caring for others became very important to me,” she said.

Her favorite quote from Catherine McAuley ties in well with her religious life, “The poor need our help today, not next week.”

Motto: In His will is our peace. 

Sister Kay Schwenzer

She began her ministry as a Sister of Mercy teaching religion, history and Asian-African culture studies in Elmira, but 10 years later, Sister Kay Schwenzer’s two-and-a-half months in India on a Fulbright grant caused interior questioning about her fourth vow that led to a new path two years later.

“Something I had never thought of years before became a reality when I risked taking my foot off the known shore to step into the unknown ministry in Chile,” she said.

She was there from 1976-89 as a missionary and part of the time also was director of novices.

“I became immersed in another culture, in the warmth and love of others who accepted me with my limited Spanish, and in the energy of the Chilean church, which stood firmly on the side of the poor during a time of dictatorship. Through the example of the parish priest, I began to understand better what justice is and how to serve with compassion and justice. As I ministered among the youth, I took on some of their enthusiasm. Even today, I keep in touch with some of those former youth leaders,” she stated.

Once back in Rochester, she served as Hispanic pastoral associate at St. Michael and Our Lady of Perpetual Help parishes in Rochester. Now for 12 years she has ministered among Hispanics in the Finger Lakes counties of Yates, Ontario, Wayne and Seneca with offices in Geneva and Newark. Her heart “goes out to the undocumented and those seeking asylum who come to this country escaping violence and poverty and seeking a better life for their families. Too many are deported and separated from their families.”

Motto: Christ is alive in me today.

Sister Lucy Walawender

Without knowing it at the time, Sister Lucy Walawender’s calling to religious life began while preparing Sunday dinners at home in Auburn with her mother while listening to the lives of the saints on a radio program.

“I was inspired by St. Damian’s dedication of service to the lepers on the island of Molokai,” she said.

While attending high-school religious-education class, she was asked by a priest if she had ever considered a religious vocation.

“It was then that I seriously reflected on it,” she said, explaining that she came to know the Sisters of Mercy through her own sister introducing her to her friend, Sister Rosaria Hughes, a Sister of Mercy who was principal at Holy Family School in Auburn.

“She hired me to work in the school office that summer, which eventually led me to enter the Sisters of Mercy in 1959,” Sister Walawender said.

She went on to teach at St. James School, Irondequoit, and perform office work at Our Lady of Mercy High School, Brighton, and Notre Dame High School, Elmira.

Sister Walawender initiated the St. Mary House of Prayer, Corning. After eight years there, she began pastoral work in diocesan parishes: Holy Name of Jesus, Greece; St. Salome, Irondequoit; St. Francis, Phelps; and St. Felix, Clifton Springs. She then became social-ministry coordinator in Elmira at St. Patrick Parish and, later, at St. Anthony/St. Patrick Parish Cluster.

“It’s difficult to choose my favorite ministry — each of them had special moments that are cherished,” she said.

Motto: In Christ Jesus.

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