Sisters of St. Joseph jubilarians reflect on their varied ministries
The following Sisters of St. Joseph are celebrating jubilees in 2020.
“It was while praying at Immaculate Conception Church, Rochester, that I remember I first heard God calling me to live a consecrated life,” said Sister Mary Dorothy Burnett. “This was a strong, personal experience I have never forgotten. I answered ‘YES’ to that call and entered the Sisters of St. Joseph. Daily, I thank my loving God for calling me.
“For 38 years I had the joyful privilege of serving as teacher and later administrator in diocesan Catholic schools: St. Ambrose; Nativity, Brockport; Sacred Heart Cathedral; Most Precious Blood; St. Mary, Elmira; St. Alphonsus, Auburn; St. Thomas More; and Holy Trinity, Webster.
“Ministry then took me to St. Ann’s Home, where I served as receptionist. How life-giving it was to greet the many people of God who visited their loved ones.
“Along the way, both in community and ministry, I have been blessed to walk in the presence of people who witness to the love of God and serve to bring about God’s reign.”
“I was born into a large Catholic family, and my mother and dad taught the 10 of us our prayers long before we went to
school,” said Sister Grace Noël Gleichauf. “I truly believe my call to religious life came as early as first grade.
“As a sister, I taught young children in Catholic elementary schools for 17 years (St. Anthony of Padua, Corpus Christi, St. Stephen, St. Bridget). My next assignment was St. Joseph’s Villa, where I worked in purchasing and as a cottage relief mother. Following this, I was on the staff of our Prayer Center while having the privilege of being a eucharistic minister at Highland Hospital. I returned to education, teaching religion at Immaculate Conception School in Ithaca. In 1998, I became the sacristan at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse and since 2010 have worked in a variety of congregational services.
“All my days have been filled with blessings and graces, and for this I am most grateful.”
“It’s a wonderful life!” said Sister Cora Marie Mitrano.
“I grew up in St. Anthony of Padua Parish and attended grammar school there. After graduating, I went to Nazareth Academy.
“My first teaching assignment was at Holy Apostles School, where I taught for five happy years. Next, in 1952, I was assigned to teach at my alma mater, Nazareth Academy. I enjoyed seeing generations of students graduate from Nazareth Academy in my 62 years there.
“God has blessed me with good health, and I am now enjoying my volunteer work at the motherhouse in our Office for Mission Advancement, where I keep in touch with Nazareth Academy alumnae and our SSJ donors.
“I pray every day for my family and for all the wonderful people God has sent into my life.”
“When I became a Sister of St. Joseph, … I wanted to attain a closer relationship with Jesus,” said Sister Julia Clare Richards. “My parents, parish, and teachers sowed the seeds of this relationship.”
This relationship has been evidenced as Sister Richards served in Catholic schools, religious-education programs and elder care all around the diocese, including Holy Rosary and Nazareth Academy, Rochester; St. John, Greece; St. Mary, Canandaigua; St. Mary, Dansville; St. Agnes, Avon; St. Mary and St. Patrick Junior High, Elmira; St. James, Waverly; and Sisters Care, Elmira.
“Throughout these 75 years, I have been blessed to enjoy the growth of many friendships with those young in life as well as those in their golden years,” she said.
Sister Beatrice Ganley credits grace for her good fortunes in life.
“Grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will bring me home,” Sister Ganley said. “It is all about grace: the grace belonging to a group of women whose whole lives are devoted to seeking God; the grace of meaningful work in my various ministries; the grace of friendship, support and understanding. I often wonder, ‘How did I get so lucky?’”
Sister Ganley entered the congregation from Blessed Sacrament Parish in Rochester. She is a writer and an educator. She taught at Nazareth College; St. Bridget, St. Monica, St. Augustine and Nazareth Academy, Rochester; St. Patrick, Seneca Falls; Nazareth Hall Cadet School; St. Agnes, Avon; St. Theodore, Gates; and St. John the Evangelist, Greece.
Sister Marian Johnson (formerly Sister Joan Michael) entered the congregation from St. John the Evangelist in Greece.
“My call to religious life came at a rather young age,” she recalled. “Having had many encounters with the Sisters of St. Joseph in grade school and high school, the call became stronger and clearer each year. Now as I celebrate my 70th year, I know that my call to serve God and His people was, and is, a commitment which continues to grow each year.”
Education was the principal ministry of the early years of Sister Johnson’s religious life. She ministered at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Rochester; St. Paul, Oswego; Christ the King, Irondequoit; St. Rose, Lima; St. Jerome, East Rochester; St. Theodore, Gates; and All Saints Junior High, Rochester.
Sister Johnson later worked with Sisters Care, the former SSJ ministry that aided the elderly.
“As schools consolidated or closed, I felt called to devote my energies to those at the other end of life’s spectrum — working with the elderly was truly a need of our time,” she said. “Now I am enjoying community at the motherhouse.”
When Sister Barbara Joan Lynaugh left her family home in Canandaigua to become a Sister of St. Joseph, she said she had no idea where the light would lead her.
“Each ministry had its own challenges, and all these ministries evolved one into the other,” Sister Lynaugh said.
She started out teaching in the Rochester Catholic schools, along with spending time at St. Paul’, Oswego and St. Mary, Auburn.
In 1974, she became a pastoral assistant, working with Father Henry Atwell at St. Agnes, Avon. While at St. Agnes, she worked closely with the funeral directors at Stephenson-Dougherty.
“I discovered that the bereaved were often overwhelmed with follow-up paperwork that led many to distraction and an inability to cope,” she said. “That experience guided me to my next ministry as a health insurance consultant, where I helped people process their checks, pay their bills and oversee their insurance plans.”
From there, Sister Lynaugh joined the congregation’s finance office, working with the caring support of SSJ Finance Director Alicia Pender in coordinating health insurance for the sisters. At present, she is involved in the prayer ministry at the SSJ Motherhouse.
Sister Ann Collins (formerly Sister Lambert) has been engaged in the ministry of elementary and secondary education throughout her religious life.
“Working with the young involves more than classroom instruction or school administration,” Sister Ann Collins explained. “The impact is far-reaching, opening the doors to work with families, church, school organizations and the wider community. I am always grateful to learn when former students or coworkers recognize the impact certain teachers or administrators had in the choices they made throughout their lives.”
Sister Collins has ministered at St. John the Evangelist, Greece; St. James, Waverly; St. Paul, Oswego; and St. Ambrose and the Nazareth Schools, Rochester. Currently, she works in the finance office of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Reflecting on her 60th jubilee, Sister Collins noted why the SSJs are special.
“To this day, I admire my sisters in community, those who use their gifts and talents unstintingly in service to others, whether it be as educators, pastoral ministers, health-care providers or missionaries. I also admire the fact that each sister has the freedom to invest herself in work that best expresses her God-given talents.”
Sister Ellen Galvin (formerly Sister Mark) was born in Corning and attended St. Mary Church. She said her 60 years in religious life have been an exciting journey.
“The adventure began with the formation years — wearing different clothes, called by a new name and learning about prayer, vows, and how to be a sister and teacher,” Sister Galvin recalled. “The stability of the early years of teaching and convent life were soon challenged by the new Spirit of the Second Vatican Council — we were called beyond our enclosures to embrace the needs of a wider world. New areas of service and ministry to the people were offered to us, as well as new spiritual renewal programs to deepen our faith and prayer.”
Sister Galvin said she felt the call to serve in schools and parishes. She taught at St. Alphonsus School in Auburn and St. Ambrose School in Rochester. She also ministered in religious education at St. Ambrose Parish and Holy Spirit Parish in Webster and was a pastoral associate at St. Thomas More in Brighton. She later spent eight years as a coordinator for the SSJ Motherhouse, and now assists with a variety of needed services at the motherhouse, as well as provides some outreach for those in need.
“My call to serve in schools and parishes has shaped and blessed my life beyond my expectations,” she said. “The people’s faith, support and generosity have nourished me, and I carry each of you in my heart. At each Eucharist, I will give thanks for the gift you have been to me.”
“Celebrating 60 years as a Sister of St. Joseph, I am so grateful for the sisters in my congregation, for the people I live among now at our motherhouse, and all the family of God I have worked with over these years,” said Sister Jean Rodman. “I think back to the priests, families and students at Sacred Heart Cathedral, St. Aloysius in Auburn, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Rochester and St. Jerome’s in East Rochester. I hope I taught them at least as much about Gospel living as they taught me.
“The people I worked with as religious-education coordinator in Horseheads at St. Mary Our Mother, on the staff at St. Vincent’s in Churchville and for the diocese in Parish Council Development were vivid witnesses to the reality that we are the church. Being a sign language interpreter has invited me into intimate and life-changing events in people’s lives, to interactions with the diaconate community, to the opportunity to teach interpreters and, with my wonderful colleagues at RIT, to interpret in post-secondary education.
“I come from a large and loving family, and I am still learning — from family, friends, my sisters in community and those with whom I work — the kind and merciful love of God who works through and among us. Acts 17:27-28 is a kind of summary: ‘God is not far from each of us. For in God, we live and move and have our being.’”
Sister Elizabeth Snyder (formerly Sister Lisette) said a lifelong love of learning started when she was just a young girl attending a small country school.
“It was a family-based Catholic school, and as I remember, the education I received there helped me build confidence and a desire to be a teacher.”
She became a Sister of St. Joseph and pursued a ministry as a teacher at St. Monica, Blessed Sacrament and Nazareth Hall Middle School, Rochester; St. Paul, Oswego; and Our Lady of Lourdes, Brighton.
“I loved my years in education, working with teachers and staff and the children,” Sister Snyder said. “Children have always been my passion, and my greatest desire has been to make a difference in their lives.”
After 15 years of teaching and 31 years of being a principal, she retired from education.
“My ministry and story continue, as I now am engaged in hospitality ministry at our motherhouse under the title of hospitality director,” Sister Snyder explained. “Only our gracious God knows what will unfold in my life along the journey of service for Him through others.”
When Sister Phyllis Tierney (formerly Sister Vincentia) entered the congregation in 1959, she expected to wear a habit, teach in school and live in community for the rest of her life.
“Vatican II changed many of our external religious practices,” Sister Tierney said, “but it also brought profound changes in the way we lived our religious life and ministered to others. For the first time, I became exposed to the great injustices in the world around me: poverty, racism, emotionally deprived children and hunger here in our own back yards. The various ministries I have experienced have led me to serve as justice coordinator for the congregation since 2006.”
Sister Tierney’s home parish is St. Joseph in Weedsport. Her first years as a Sister of St. Joseph were spent as a teacher at St. Patrick in Seneca Falls and St. Mary in Canandaigua.
However, new experiences at St. Joseph’s Villa and as director of religious education in Hannibal, N.Y., led to social work and pastoral ministry at St. Pius Tenth in Greensboro, N.C.
Understanding the plight of undocumented immigrants has been a more recent focus for Sister Tierney. She visited Honduras in 2016 and has volunteered at the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, through Annunciation House.