Eleven Sisters of Mercy are celebrating their jubilees with sisters, Mercy associates and friends on Saturday, May 21, at 1 p.m. at Mercy Center, Brighton. The local community in Rochester is part of the Sisters of Mercy New York, Pennsylvania, Pacific West Community.
Sister Mary Dismas Foster spent her grade-school years in St. John the Evangelist School in Rochester and high school years at Our Lady of Mercy in Brighton, graduating in 1941. The influence of the Sisters of Mercy led her to devoting 40 years to teaching.
She taught at St. Charles Borromeo School in Greece and Our Lady of Mercy, where students remembered her as "completely tireless and dedicated to God’s service." At intervals, she was a motherhouse cook and later an honored volunteer.
As a volunteer, she worked with the poor and needy in Rochester’s Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, delivering used furniture and opening a clothes closet. Friends of the Rochester Psychiatric Center honored her for her 26 years of volunteer work teaching sewing to patients, organizing various celebrations and encouraging students to make visitations. She even had a 5K benefit race named in her honor. At Seneca Towers Apartments, Sister Foster assisted residents with grocery shopping, cooking, feedings and keeping them company.
She was one of two sisters honored by a former student’s monetary gift, which was used to refurbish Our Lady of Mercy’s auditorium.
Today, she volunteers at Mercy Center in Brighton and continues to "embrace the will of the Father."
Motto: In His will is our peace.
Sister Mary Howard Cowan and her four brothers and one sister were members of Holy Family Parish in Auburn, where they were taught by the Sisters of Mercy.
Influenced by their example, she entered the community, completed formation and began studies in nursing at the former St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester.
In 1951, Sister Cowan graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital and was assigned to work in the motherhouse infirmary, which continued to be her work for the next 20 years.
She then became a nurse at Flower City Nursing Home before returning to Auburn to care for her parents until their deaths. She returned to Rochester and spent another seven years nursing in the motherhouse infirmary.
In late 1984, Sister Cowan and Sister Rose Schum went to Elmira and started Mercy Care Center, an adult social day care, which they operated for 23 years.
"It has been a privilege and an honor to have worked with Sister Rose, both in caring for our sisters and for our day care clients," Sister Cowan said.
"It has been a most rewarding ministry for these 70 years," she added.
Motto: I thirst.
After graduating from Our Lady of Mercy High School and completing formation and study, Sister Kathleen Flaherty returned to her parish, St. John the Evangelist in Rochester, on her first teaching appointment.
Her education profession spanned 30 years, with teaching assignments at St. John the Evangelist, Clyde; St. Cecilia, St. Thomas the Apostle and St. Salome, Irondequoit; St. Patrick, Elmira; St. Charles Borromeo, Greece; St. Joseph, Penfield; and Good Shepherd, Henrietta.
In 1978, she and the late Sister Carol Wulforst cofounded Tioga Rural Ministry, which today continues serving the needs of those living in Tioga County.
In 1982 she took a new direction as a home health aide for Visiting Nurse Service.
"For 15 years, 10 of which were spent in their day care, I was senior program assistant. I loved the people we served," she said.
Pleased with the assignments and challenges she faced over the years, Sister Flaherty is grateful for "the many chances for spiritual and secular studies which were afforded to and benefitted me."
Motto: Fiat. (Be it done unto me.)
Sister Elizabeth A. Hughes trained as a teacher after entering the Sisters of Mercy from her childhood parish of St. Patrick, Elmira, and remained in education for 21 years.
She taught or administered at Holy Cross, Rochester; St. Ann, Hornell; St. John the Evangelist, Clyde; St. Patrick, Owego; St. Mary, Corning; St. Thomas the Apostle, Irondequoit, St. Patrick, Elmira; and Holy Family, Auburn. She also taught at St. Genevieve du Bois in St. Louis, Mo.
From 1970-82, Sister Hughes was pastoral assistant at St. Christopher Parish, North Chili, and Immaculate Conception Parish, Ithaca. In the interim, she taught adult education for the diocesan Pastoral Center.
She was recognized for her eight years of dedication as one of two chaplains at both the former Craig and Newark developmental centers while continuing as director of candidates. It was written of the chaplains, "They personified love to clients." She said of that ministry, "I believe in the healing power of the Eucharist, and I believe that the Spirit is in these people."
She added, "Being a pastoral associate and chaplain because of the one-to-one interaction with individuals was my favorite ministry."
Before retiring to prayer ministry at Mercy Center, she was in the spiritual apostolate at Notre Dame Convent and St. Joseph Apartments, Elmira.
Motto: Love demands but love alone.
Sister Janet Korn grew up in Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish and attended Our Lady of Mercy High School, where a young teacher left a lasting impression.
"The sisters at Our Lady of Mercy High School, especially Sister Ann Miller, led me to enter (the congregation). She was young, funny and a very good teacher," Sister Korn recalled.
And so she went into education, teaching at St. Thomas the Apostle in Irondequoit and Our Lady of Lourdes in Elmira. However, her real desire was to pursue missionary work.
She was one of several sisters who answered the call to minister in Chile, where for 16 years she lived and worked among the poor and oppressed in Santiago. Of her many assignments, she labeled it her favorite.
"It was formative for me in every way. I had a better understanding of the injustice of poverty and the negative role of U.S. corporations in the life of the people," she said.
Her experiences led to advocacy in Rochester’s poor neighborhoods and for migrant farmworkers. For 10 years she was social-justice awareness coordinator for diocesan Catholic Charities. Currently, she is justice co-coordinator for the New York, Pennsylvania, Pacific West Community of the Sisters of Mercy.
In addition to accolades for missionary and justice-related speaking engagements, Sister Korn is the recipient of the Vita Award given by the diocese for consistent-life advocacy.
Motto: All that is not eternal is nothing.
Sister Rachel Parlavecchio twice was awarded the Catherine McAuley Award (1998 and 2003) for dedication and service to Catholic schools in Rochester.
She taught at Good Shepherd, Henrietta; St. Charles Borromeo, Greece; Our Lady of Mercy, Brighton; and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, St. Andrew and Annunciation, Rochester. At the high-school level, she taught at Cardinal Mooney in Greece. Yet it was preschoolers that she enjoyed teaching most.
"They have an amazing capacity to discover and learn with great enthusiasm. The energy they generated kept me young at heart," she said.
In addition to her teaching, Sister Parlavecchio was a foster care parent at Andrews Center in Rochester.
She credits her parents and siblings with making her strongly aware of mercy’s message. She said she found this same kind of compassion and caring in the Sisters of Mercy community.
After she retired from the classroom, she was given the opportunity to return to her original family as a caregiver for 10 years.
"To be able to give back what was so freely given to me in a time of need speaks volumes," she said.
Motto: Thy will be done.
Sister Livia Ann Ruocco taught for many years, but found her time as pastoral associate at Rochester’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish the most rewarding.
She said the mentoring and holy example of the parish’s pastor, her cousin, Father Neil Miller, influenced her as a sister. Under his leadership, she said, the parish "became alive" and the experience there helped prepare her for her current ministry as pastoral-care coordinator at St. Ann’s Home and Wegman Transitional Care Center for Rehabilitation.
Sister Ruocco has been recognized for her leadership, receiving awards of excellence from St. Ann’s Home and the Women of Faith Award as part of Transfiguration Lutheran Church’s Bold Women’s Day Celebration.
"My many roles as a Sister of Mercy have put me in touch with so much diversity: students, families, the elderly, the very poor, the disabled, the bereaved, those recovering from injuries and illness, and those who are dying," she said.
However, Ruocco admitted that she experienced the true spirit of mercy from her parents, who lived mercy to the ultimate in their daily living. She said: "Most rewarding for me is when I can lift up the spirits of suffering people who have lost hope or even their faith."
She considered religious life while a senior at Corning Free Academy and wrote to 14 missionary religious communities. However, she strongly felt the Holy Spirit calling her to become a Sister of Mercy.
Motto: God wills it.
Sister Marilyn Williams still finds religious life rewarding after six decades.
"It is such an inspiration to be with tremendous people in the community and in ministries who share the same prayers and hopes for a better world for all those less fortunate than ourselves," said Williams, manager of Kate’s Tea and Gift Shop at Mercy Center since 1996.
Sister Williams earned a master’s degree in reading from Syracuse University in 1967. She taught at St. Louis, Pittsford; Our Lady Queen of Peace, Brighton; Good Shepherd, Henrietta; and St. John the Evangelist, Rochester. She also served as a Title I reading teacher at Ss. Peter and Paul, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, School No. 12 and School No. 28 in Rochester.
"I have been blessed to enjoy all of my ministries, especially my years as a Title I reading teacher. I loved the challenge of finding ways to help younger children who were struggling to learn how to read. At the same time, I formed many lasting friendships with colleagues," she said.
Motto: For the greater glory of the Trinity.
Sister Kathleen Ann Kolb attributes her vocation to her parents’ faith, a fun-loving, large family, the Sisters of St. Joseph who taught her in grade school, and the dedicated Sisters of Mercy who taught her at Our Lady of Mercy High School.
Following entrance, formation and study, she enrolled in St. James Mercy Hospital School of Nursing, earning a registered nurse degree. She undertook nursing duties at the motherhouse infirmary, St. James Mercy Hospital, Hornell Nursing and Health Related Facility, and Ira Davenport Hospital. Sister Kolb was nursing director at the motherhouse infirmary for 16 years before being named day center supervisor at Independent Living for Seniors and later director of Mercy Outreach Center.
"I have had two main ministries in my life: caring for our frail elderly members and serving the poor needing healthcare in the city of Rochester. They have enriched my life so much," she said.
Sister Kolb served her community as councilor in elected leadership at Mercy Center and became coordinator of health and wellness for the Sisters of Mercy New York Pennsylvania Pacific West Community, a position she maintains today.
Motto: My God, I love you.
Sister Joan McAteer has tried for more than four decades to instill theological principles into young minds and be a positive, guiding influence for students. She has taught theology since 1975 and for many years has chaired the theology department at Our Lady of Mercy High School.
"I love teaching at Our Lady of Mercy and getting to know the students and watching them grow up," she said.
She taught theology at Cardinal Mooney High School in Greece from 1971-73 and served the Diocese of Rochester as a consultant for high-school religious education from 1973-76.
Sister McAteer has a master’s degree in religious studies from Manhattan College and a bachelor’s degree in theology from Nazareth College.
She was drawn to consider becoming a Sister of Mercy as a student at Our Lady of Mercy and observing the "joyful service" of the sisters who taught her. She gains insight from the Gospel quote, "Whatsover you do to the least of my people you do unto me," which she said "sums up the social-justice mission of the church."
That spirit has sustained her in living the Gospel as a volunteer at Rochester Psychiatric Center for more than 40 years, for which she was presented several service-recognition awards.
Reflecting on 50 years of religious life, she said, "I’ve enjoyed the sisters I have known, learned wonderful things from them and loved my teaching and work."
Motto: Through him, with him and in him.
Sister Catherine Pfleger was a physical-education teacher at Rochester’s Nazareth Academy when she met Sister Mary Brigid Quinn and the Sisters of Mercy. She found them outgoing, happy and, like her, teachers.
She decided to enter the community saying, "I don’t think I chose the Sisters of Mercy in Rochester, they chose me!"
She was able to use her degree from Ithaca College in physical education, health and recreation to teach those subjects at Our Lady of Mercy High School in Brighton for 12 years. Students requested that she begin a soccer team, which she once coached to an undefeated regular season.
"It was fun and rewarding working with young women," she said.
After several years in clerical work at Highland Hospital, Rochester, and for the Sisters of Mercy, she earned a degree in theology from St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry.
For the past 29 years, she has been pastoral associate at St. Theodore Parish, Gates.
"From my first day at St. Theodore’s, I was welcomed and embraced by the people. When I’m asked what I do as a pastoral associate, I respond, ‘I do everything except say Mass and hear confessions.’"
She credits her mother and maternal grandmother with making church the center of her life and influencing her decision to consider entering the convent.
"I guess I always wanted to enter religious life," she said.
Motto: If I live alone, whose feet will I wash?