Sisters of St. Joseph reflect on ministries
The following Sisters of St. Joseph are celebrating 75-, 70-, 60-, 50- and 25-year anniversaries in 2009.
Sister Bernice Benner (formerly Sister Rosalia) says her story is different from that of the other young women who became postulants in 1933. “I had never seen a Sister of St. Joseph until the day I went to the motherhouse, at the advice of my pastor, to ask entrance into the congregation.” She entered the congregation from St. Paul of the Cross, Honeoye Falls. She taught at Sacred Heart, St. Ambrose, St. Monica, Holy Rosary, St. Francis Xavier, Nazareth Hall and St. Agnes High School, Rochester; St. Theodore, Gates; St. Paul, Oswego; St. Mary, Waterloo; St. Alphonsus, Auburn; St. James, Waverly; St. Patrick, Seneca Falls; and Holy Trinity, Webster. She is now involved in prayer ministry. “Looking back over my 75 years, I can truly say I have never regretted being a Sister of St. Joseph. Each day I thank my God for my wonderful vocation,” she said.
Sister Elizabeth Mandell (formerly Sister Theophane) says working with children and watching them grow has been among the most enjoyable aspects of her ministry work. She began teaching soon after entering the congregation from Holy Apostles, Rochester. “My first ministries were teaching at Immaculate Conception and St. Bridget’s schools,” she said. “Then, I was assigned to St. Mary’s Boys Home, which merged with St. Patrick’s Girls Home to become St. Joseph’s Villa. I taught there in the living room of the cottage until the Villa School was built. I loved being with the children. We did school work, read stories, and planned shows.” After attending Catholic University, she returned to St. Joseph’s Villa as a social worker. “Helping clients and families never was a chore for me,” she said. “I was happy to be able to ease the transition of clients from their homes to living for a time at St. Joseph’s Villa where I could watch them grow and mature.” She now resides at the motherhouse in Pittsford and works in the prayer ministry.
Sister Francis Cecelia English entered the congregation from St. Anthony of Padua, Syracuse. Her aunt was a Sister of St. Joseph. “My aunt, Sister Florita Lavere, and her many friends visited our home often when I was a child. I loved her dearly, and admired them very much,” she said. Fluent in French, her ministry has been in teaching. “I always wanted to be a teacher and, with a wonderful education provided by the congregation, have enjoyed using and teaching French on every level from kindergarten through college, and in tutoring. I’ve also spent much time translating French books and articles, using also my Latin and English minors from college,” she said. She taught at St. Michael, Penn Yan; Elmira Catholic High School; DeSales High School, Geneva; and Nazareth Academy, Rochester. She is currently involved in the prayer ministry.
Sister Joan Francis Hauser entered the congregation from St. Andrew, Ro-chester. She had worked at Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., so she came to religious life with a background in business. “After taking my first vows in 1941, I was assigned as a bookkeeper at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Elmira, and stayed on there for 40 years,” she said. She also worked in the hospital’s admission office and most remembers her interactions with people. “It is a place where illness inspires patients to discuss troubling situations, and many times it results in a return to the sacraments or a marriage being blessed,” she said. After her ministerial work at St. Joseph’s, Sister Hauser returned to Rochester and worked at St. Ann’s Home. She now is involved with the prayer ministry at the motherhouse.
Sister Kathleen Kohl (formerly Sister Walter Marie) credits the warm relationships she had with her aunt, a Sister of St. Joseph, and her uncle, a diocesan priest, for sparking her religious vocation. She entered the congregation from Ss. Peter and Paul, Rochester, and taught for 31 years at Immaculate Conception, Ithaca; St. Joseph, Wayland; St. Aloysius, Auburn; St. Lucy, Holy Rosary and St. Francis Xavier, Rochester; St. Stephen, Geneva; and St. Mary, Dansville. After teaching, she worked as a counselor for the aging at Rochester’s Catholic Family Center. “Many times I recall Father (Robert) Meng would give me money to assist in providing the necessities for the elderly, simply to put a meal on their table,” she recalled. Sister Kohl is now involved with the prayer ministry at the motherhouse. “As I celebrate 70 years as a Sister of St. Joseph, I continue to feel the enthusiasm, the faith and the commitment of my fellow sisters, young and old,” she said. “I share with them the purpose of our ministry, and that is to enrich the lives of our neighbors.”
Sister Joseph Anne Collins entered the congregation from St. Joseph, Weedsport. “My pastor recommended that I contact the Sisters of St. Joseph in Auburn about entering,” she recalled. “I rode up to Auburn with a coal-truck driver because of the distance. I lived with wonderful sisters, and I was anxious to go to school.” She taught at Immaculate Conception, St. Augustine and Most Precious Blood, Rochester; St. Mary, Auburn; St. Pius Tenth, Chili; St. Anne, Palmyra; St. Francis de Sales, Geneva; Immaculate Conception, Ithaca; and St. Mary, Elmira. After teaching, she worked in the St. Joseph Convent Infirmary and is now involved with prayer ministry. “I have been faithful to prayer, helping others when I can, and praying for those who need or ask for prayers,” she said.
Sister Mary Doran (formerly Sister Marie Mat-thew) entered the congregation fr-om St. Mary, Canandaigua. She remembers the call from God at a very young age. “I prayed to God, thinking how can this be; I was the second oldest of 12 children and did I not need to help my parents financially? Because of their strong faith, my parents accepted this sacrifice as God’s will. And so began my 60 happy years as a Sister of St. Joseph,” she recalled. She taught at Holy Rosary, Blessed Sacrament and St. Agnes High School, Rochester; and St. James, Waverly. After teaching she went into pastoral care, ministering at St. Paul in Oswego and Our Mother of Sorrows in Greece, and is currently a chaplain at Monroe Community Hospital. “This new ministry of parish life and ministering to people of all ages, responding to all their needs, sharing their joys and sorrows, building new friendships, has been a new challenge and a blessing for me,” she said.
Sister Lorraine Julien (formerly Sister Julia) entered the congregation from St. Jerome, East Rochester. She taught at St. Mary, Elmira; St. Ambrose, Nazareth Hall, St. Monica, Immaculate Conception, St. Francis Xavier and St. Bridget, Rochester; Guardian Angels, Henrietta; St. John the Evangelist, Spencerport; and Queen of Peace, Selma, Ala. She then moved into pastoral ministry at St. Thomas More, Brighton; St. Monica, Rochester; and St. Francis de Sales, Geneva, and served at Pine Apple Learning Center, Pine Apple, Ala. Today, she is active in parish ministry at Holy Apostles, Rochester, and the SSJ Volunteer Corps. “As a Sister of St. Joseph, I have learned that the manner of our service is as important as the what of our service,” she said. “So, to do so with respect, with compassion, is to strengthen our relationship with our neighbor and assist them in their relationship with God.”
St. Joseph’s Hospital, Elmira, has been “home” for Sister Marie Michael Miller for 58 years. She has been a nurse and is now involved in an administrative role there. She entered the congregation from Holy Redeemer, Rochester. “Through my years of ministry at St. Joseph’s Hospital, I was blessed with many opportunities to serve Christ in the sick, from pediatric nursing supervisor and instructor, to director of the school of nursing and nursing service, to assistant administrator, to nursing home administrator, to volunteer in the pastoral-care department. “Looking back at these 60 years, I am grateful for God’s great love in calling me to be a Sister of St. Joseph. He has given me the peace, physical health and graces needed to do whatever he asked of me,” she said.
Fond memories of helping sisters with church work after school at her home parish of Holy Cross, Charlotte, prompted Sister Francis Mary Rossi to pursue her religious vocation. She taught at Holy Rosary, St. Francis Xavier and Sacred Heart Cathedral, Rochester; St. Patrick, Seneca Falls; St. Elizabeth, Selma, Ala.; and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Brockport. From education she moved into pastoral work at St. Theodore, Gates, and Most Precious Blood, Rochester, and then as a home caregiver for Sisters Care, an SSJ ministry that helps elderly people remain independent at home. Sister Rossi now works as a pastoral visitor for Legacy Cranberry Senior Housing. She is happy to reflect on her many years of ministry. “Sixty years of memories — great gifts. As the song goes, ‘the best is yet to come.’”
Sister Jean Catherine Welch, who spent 53 years as a teacher, says each of those years has been unique in some way. She entered the congregation from Blessed Sacrament, Rochester, and taught at St. Mary, Elmira; St. Anne and Most Precious Blood, Rochester; St. Stephen, Geneva; St. Thomas More, Brighton; St. John the Evangelist, Greece; and St. Pius Tenth, Chili. “When I ‘retired’ in 2003 a new door opened for me, one that has brought great joy,” she said. “I became coordinator of volunteers in our parish, St. Pius the Tenth. I wear many ‘hats’ and am very involved in the parish. They call me the ‘Energized Bunny.’ “Key to my entire ministry is my dependence on my God who nourishes me and gives me the graces necessary to serve him,” she said. “It is a wonderful grace to see how God works among his people and to know that in some ways he uses me as his instrument. Ministry has enriched me and has allowed me to become a stronger person. I am blessed to be a member of the Sister of St. Joseph of Rochester.”
Sister Mary Ann Brunett (formerly Sister Petra) entered the congregation from St. Boniface, Rochester, and has ministered in both education and parish ministry. She taught at Guardian Angels, Henrietta; St. Joseph, Wayland; St. Stanislaus and Nazareth Academy, Rochester; and St. Anthony, Elmira, and has done pastoral work at Our Lady of Mercy, Greece; St. Jerome, East Rochester; St. Margaret Mary, Irondequoit; and the SSJ Kitchen Table Ministry, Cohocton. She no longer works in parish ministry, but stays busy in her “retirement.” “Though I do miss parish ministry, I have found other ways to minister,” she said. “Two days a week at our motherhouse I help provide recreational activities for our sisters in Joseph’s Place. I love being with them! The other three days find me at St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center. There I work very hard to procure from various pharmaceutical companies free medications and diabetic supplies for the uninsured.”
Sister Maureen Halack (formerly Sister Marie Baptiste) entered the congregation from St. Mary, Auburn. “‘Come, follow me!’ These words I heard over and over as a young child when I felt I was being called to be a Sister of St. Joseph,” she recalled. Sister Halack has been a teacher all of her religious life. She taught at Sacred Heart Cathedral, St. Lucy, Immaculate Conception, St. Bridget, St. Monica, School of the Holy Childhood, and Corpus Christi, Rochester; and St. Lawrence, Greece. For the past 25 years, she has taught at Trinity Montessori, East Rochester. Sister Halack says she is most thankful for her fellow sisters. “My greatest blessing has been living with a group of God-seeking women, sharing our joys and sorrows, experiencing a life of trust, mutual respect, and a deep love for God, each other, and those we serve.”
Sister St. Luke Hardy’s home parish is Blessed Sacrament, Ro-chester. She has taught at St. Patrick, Seneca Falls; St. Stephen, Geneva; and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rochester. She was teacher, principal and parish assistant at St. Augustine, Rochester. She said one of her most memorable moments came in 2000 when she helped coordinate the move to the new motherhouse. She also recalls being the last to leave the old motherhouse on Jan. 29, 2002. Currently, she works for Sheila Walsh Realty, founded by Sister Sheila Walsh. “I was struck by a call from a gentleman who asked me to help him sell his home,” she recalled. “After the call I reflected that I have walked with him and his family through the years. In school I connected with his children, as director of pastoral care I came with Eucharist to his home as his wife was dying, ministered with him in Legion of Mary, was with him through his son’s death and now working with him to sell his home. This is just one example of how each ministry is just the vehicle to relationship with our neighbor.”
Since entering the congregation from Holy Family, Auburn, Sister Catherine Heverin (formerly Sister Edwina) has been called to serve in many different ministries. She taught first grade at Guardian Angels, Henrietta, and St. Mary our Mother, Horseheads, and taught religious education at Holy Spirit, Penfield. She also was involved in campus ministry at Monroe Community College and was director of religious education at St. Paul, Webster. She then moved into pastoral work, first at Sacred Heart Cathedral and now at St. Mary, Rochester. “I never imagined that I would be called to serve in so many different ministries, go through so many changes and discover gifts I never knew I had,” she remarked. “Each child, each person, each parish community became special to me, drew me closer to the God I loved, and helped me give thanks and sing of God’s goodness.”
Sister Ruth Maier (formerly Sister Fides) says becoming a Sister of St. Joseph was not her idea. “I wanted to be a funeral director, as was my father and his father before him,” she recalled. “But God had other plans.” She entered the congregation from Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rochester, when the Catholic Church was on the brink of change. “It was a time of hope and promise,” she said of the Second Vatican Council. “A time to step out of traditional habits and explore and experience the fresh new life of the Spirit; working in God’s people.” She has taught at Holy Rosary, Rochester; St. Theodore, Gates; St. Mary, Auburn; and Immaculate Conception, Ithaca, and has done pastoral work at Blessed Sacrament, Rochester; St. Paul, Webster; and St. Mary, Scottsville. She is currently a pastoral associate at St. Catherine of Siena, Mendon. “As I reflect on the journey these 50 years have been, I am most grateful to so many of God’s people who have become friends, who have supported and encouraged and prayed for me along this path.”
Sister Mary Ann Mayer (formerly Sister Christine) is a teacher at the Nazareth Scho-ols, Rochester. She entered the congregation from St. Margaret Mary, Irondequoit, and says her life as a Sister of St. Joseph in mission has come full circle. “My first mission was at DeSales High School in Geneva, where I taught Latin, English and history, and quickly fell in love with the Salesian spirit and the students of DeSales,” she said. “DeSales prepared me for my next mission to the interior of Brazil, where I learned to walk among the people and learn from them a profound faith. My time in Brazil changed my life by opening me to a different culture, to joy in spite of poverty and to new ways of looking at life. I am now teaching a next generation of students at Nazareth Academy and learning from them how to live in the 21st century.” Sister Mayer, who also served on the SSJ leadership team, says fellow sisters and their shared experiences have been a great support. “What has sustained me throughout was life in community,” she said.
Sister Barbara Orczyk (formerly Sister Paulissa) has been a missionary most of her religious life and now ministers in Brazil. She entered the congregation from St. Stanislaus, Rochester, and taught at her parish’s school as well as at Rochester’s Blessed Sacrament. When the congregation opened a mission in Brazil in the 1960s, she volunteered to go. She worked as a teacher and a principal, and then returned to Rochester to earn a physician’s assistant degree. She returned to Brazil in 1978 and worked in a health clinic in the small hamlet of Itaguaçu for 23 years. “It was then that I really knew what a vocation was,” she said. “God had called me to serve his people. He didn’t lead me down the straight and narrow, but on a crooked road from teacher, principal, to the medical field, and now, as parish administrator. His ways may not be the ones you would take, but, looking back, you can see that, like the Good Shepherd, he leads you safely on your way in life and in your work.”
Sister Mary Kay Ryan (formerly Sister Carmelita) is proud to have been the seventh member of her family to become a sister. She entered the congregation from St. Charles Borromeo, Greece. She taught at St. Thomas More, Brighton; Blessed Sacrament and St. Agnes High School, Rochester; St. Anne, Palmyra; Immaculate Conception, Ithaca; and St. Theodore, Gates. In 1982 she became the religious-education coordinator at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Hamlin, and thus began her pastoral career, which continued in Victor, Corning and now at Good Shepherd Catholic Community in Cayuga County. “One part of this ministry that gives me particular joy is the RCIA process. Each catechumen, candidate, sponsor or core team member brings unique gifts of grace to the process of welcoming new members into the Catholic Church so that the entire church is constantly renewed!” she said.
Sister Alicia Schur entered the congregation from her home parish of St. Charles Borromeo, Greece. “As a small child, the sisters had an attraction for me,” she said. “Even today I tell my second-grade teacher, Sister Gonzaga, RSM, that she inspired my vocation.” She began her ministerial work teaching at Corpus Christi and St. Anthony of Padua, Rochester. Sister Schur then moved into social work and spent more than 30 years ministering at St. Joseph’s Villa and Catholic Charities in Geneva. “The children at the Villa continuously amazed me with their strength and resilience in the face of sometimes overwhelming difficulties,” she said. She now serves in the congregation’s transportation office and “enjoys the challenges and rewards of this work.”
Sister Joan Sobala (formerly Sister Kostka) entered the congregation from Our Mother of Good Counsel, Blasdell. “Early in my years as a Sister of St. Joseph, I came across a reflection that resonated with me then and has continued to ring true,” she said. ‘The difference between a crisis and an adventure is in one’s attitude.’” During her 50 years of religious life, Sister Sobala taught at Rochester’s St. Agnes High School, and served as campus minister at the University of Rochester; pastoral assistant at St. Mary, Rochester; chaplain at the Eastman School of Music; and pastoral administrator at St. Felix/St. Francis, Clifton Springs and Phelps. She currently is pastoral administrator at Our Lady of Lourdes, Brighton, and St. Anne, Rochester.
Sister Mary Wehner (formerly Sister St. Anne) entered the congregation from St. John the Evangelist, Gre-ece. She taught for 10 years at Nazareth Academy, and then the focus of her ministry changed. “When I taught high school, I valued the ‘afterschool hours’ when students stayed around and shared informally about their lives. This desire to listen and to be attentive grew and, eventually, led me to my ministries in spiritual direction, retreat direction and counseling,” she said. She then became director of formation for women entering the congregation and was on the staff at The Galilee Community Renewal Center near Ottawa, Canada. She also counseled in Rochester at the Samaritan Pastoral Counseling Center for 13 years. Sister Wehner currently has a private counseling practice in Rochester.
Sister Mary JoAnne Flynn entered the congregation from Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Watertown. She worked at St. Ann’s Home and Monroe Community Hospital in Rochester. “I truly enjoyed geriatric nursing, as it was a privilege to bring life, especially to those who had no one left, and to stand by others going into new life,” she said. She also worked as a teaching assistant at Trinity Montessori School, East Rochester, and Rochester’s Mary Cariola Center. She is now a nurse at Henrietta’s School of the Holy Childhood. As she looks back at her 25 years, Sister Flynn has this reflection: “I entered, not in the days of many, but by myself, and I am held tenderly in the hands of God and given great freedom being a Sister of St. Joseph of Rochester — to love tenderly all who come into my life — community, family or ministry. A greater gift no one can ask for.”