One of them taught in Wayland; one of them was born there; and one of them was raised in neighboring Cohocton.
And now, three Sisters of St. Joseph have “come home,” so to speak, to serve the people of southern Livingston and northern Steuben counties.
On Aug. 30, the sisters — Mary Ann Brunett, Barbara Kuhn and Mary Jean Smith — moved into the former rectory next to St. Pius V Church in Cohocton. The rectory had been renovated for them by more than 40 volunteers from Holy Family, a parish which was formed earlier this year and comprises the churches of St. Pius V; St. Mary’s, Dansville; Sacred Heart of Jesus, Perkinsville; and St. Joseph’s, Wayland.
Each of the sisters has spent between four and five decades in various types of ministries, ranging from teaching in classrooms to working in parishes. They will live in the former rectory rent free and are gradually discerning the direction of their ministry, they said. One thing they are not, they said, is retired.
“We’re gray haired, but not retired,” Sister Smith said with a chuckle, noting she was a Cohocton native.
“We don’t have a job description, as the typical ministry would,” added Sister Kuhn, a native of Wayland.
Sister Kuhn’s previous position was as director of St. Peter’s Kitchen, a ministry of Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Rochester. She and the other sisters called their new work “kitchen-table ministry,” noting they are willing to sit and simply talk to anyone, from a harried single mother to a lonely elderly person, who needs a sympathetic ear. They’ve even enjoyed visiting with their neighbors’ dogs, they joked.
“Probably the thing I like to do best is talk with people,” said Sister Brunett, whose most recent position was as pastoral associate at St. Jerome’s Parish in East Rochester.
“This is more ‘being’ than ‘doing,'” added Sister Smith, who most recently served as pastoral associate at St. Theodore’s Parish in Gates. “It’s neighbor helping neighbor.”
All three sisters have ties to the area, including Sister Brunett, who once taught at St. Joseph’s School in Wayland. The school closed in June, and Holy Family opened a new school last month in the same building that housed St. Mary’s School in Dansville. Meanwhile, a Holy Family religious-education center has opened in the former St. Joseph’s School building.
The changes were among many experienced by the four Holy Family faith communities in recent years as they went through the pastoral-planning process. The sisters noted they have come to be a part of this new parish and to serve non-Catholics in the area as well. They said they have already participated in an ecumenical group meeting in the area and have discussed working with Holy Family parishioners on such activities as a women’s prayer group, a bereavement group and a Bible-discussion group.
The sisters are already hosting a weekly prayer meeting at St. Joseph’s and are planning to host regular prayer meetings in their home. They have already visited some people in the area, including those who are among the poorest of the region, they said.
“We’ve found that this has become a really economically depressed area,” Sister Smith said, noting that a number of small family farms in the region are no longer operating. They’ve also found that among the difficulties faced by the area’s poor is a lack of transportation, the sisters said, adding that this can present such challenges for people as getting back and forth to medical appointments.
Despite the challenges, the sisters said they are excited to be able to minister in this area especially because they like the small-town atmosphere.
Doris Miller, a longtime volunteer at St. Pius, whose daughter, Deborah Gilman, serves as Holy Family’s business manager, said the sisters “don’t really feel like strangers.”
“They fit right in,” she said. “They’re so friendly. They’re like country folk, I guess.”