Sisters of St. Joseph reflect on their ministries
The following Sisters of St. Joseph are celebrating jubilees in 2019.
“After graduating from Elmira Catholic High School, I entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester,” recalled Sister Mary Brigid McCarthy. “My Rochester (area) teaching assignments were at Holy Rosary, Nazareth Hall, St. Anne’s and St. Theodore’s. These were followed by St. Stephen’s in Geneva, and then to Elmira at St. Mary’s and St. Patrick’s Junior High/Holy Family Junior High.
“Retired from teaching in 1990, I remained in Elmira substituting at the Junior High. In the primary building, I monitored those who needed to be dropped off before the usual school hour. On weekends, I was a receptionist at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
“As a volunteer, I was able to enjoy office work at the Red Cross, serving meals at the soup kitchen, and parish visiting at the hospitals and Chemung County Nursing Facility.
“All of these years have been so enriching. How grateful I am for the gift of a calling to the SSJs of Rochester.”
“A few years ago I was invited to write a story about my first 50 years as a Sister of St. Joseph,” recalled Sister Dorothy Mulcahy. “This year the invitation came again, but added 25 years. Luckily, a report of most of my exploits was included with the invite, so it really was not too difficult to recall.
“My ministerial work began in education. I taught at St. Patrick, Mount Morris; St. Augustine, Rochester; St. Stephen, Geneva; St. Mary, Canandaigua; Ss. Peter and Paul, Elmira; St. Michael, Penn Yan; Christ the King (in Irondequoit) and St. Joseph Villa, Rochester; and St. Mary, Dansville. Then my ministry turned to nursing, and I worked at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Elmira, St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Nazareth Academy as school nurse, Our Lady of Lourdes in Elmira, and the former SSJ ministry Sisters Care.
“A gift I have been given from God is a sense of humor, which I have shared on numerous occasions. Seventy-five years is not such a long time when you consider the great times and pleasant memories, friends and countless blessings. My sincere thanks to all I have walked, laughed, planned and plotted with and been rescued by — God’s blessing on all.”
Sister Lorraine Julien (formerly Sister Julia) entered the congregation from her home parish of St. Jerome in East Rochester. Sister Julien began her ministry in education, teaching 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.
After teaching, she moved into pastoral ministry at St. Thomas More in Brighton, St. Monica in Rochester, St. Francis de Sales in Geneva and Pine Apple Learning Center in Pine Apple, Ala.
Sister Julien said pastoral ministry suited her.
“In this ministry I met people who were poor. I felt good about connecting them with agencies that could address some of their needs. I felt that I related well to so many of the persons I served. I respected them and ‘walked’ with them in some way,” she said.
Today, she is active in parish ministry at Holy Apostles Church in 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. In retrospect, I know I have received much more than I have given. I am grateful to God and all those who have blessed me on my journey.”
Sister Marie Michael Miller entered the congregation from Holy Redeemer Church in Rochester and spent 64 years as a nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Elmira.
“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,” Sister Miller said.
“I especially cherish my seven years of working in pediatrics, because I have a great love for children. However, my 28 years of caring for the residents of the skilled nursing facility were also a special blessing.”
Sister Miller currently is in the prayer ministry at the motherhouse in Pittsford.
“Looking back at these 70 years, I am grateful for God’s great love in calling me to be a Sister of St. Joseph,” she said. “He has given me the peace, physical health and graces needed to do whatever he asked of me.”
“Seventy years as a Sister of St. Joseph of Rochester has afforded me the opportunity to embrace two ministries: that of education, as a teacher for 53 years, and as coordinator of parish volunteers for the past 16 years at St. Pius Tenth Parish,” said Sister Jean Catherine Welch. “Both ministries have presented challenges and have also been filled with excitement and joy.
“My recent years at St. Pius Tenth have been rewarding and life-giving. I have earned the title ‘Energizer Bunny!’ When our church was destroyed by fire in 2015, I experienced a great sense of loss. The spirit and faith of ‘Pius People’ replaced that loss, and a beautiful new church rose from the ashes! I am so proud to be a part of this!
“The key to my entire ministry is my dependence on my God, who nourishes me and gives me the graces necessary to serve him. 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 Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester.”
“The last 60 years have been a journey of mission, ministry and community, taking me to many unexpected places,” said Sister Mary Ann Brunett (formerly Sister Petra). “After 19 years of teaching in various elementary schools and at Nazareth Academy, I spent more than 20 years in pastoral ministry at Our Lady of Mercy, St. Margaret Mary, St. Jerome parishes and at the SSJ Kitchen Table Ministry in Cohocton. After serving at St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center, I now volunteer at St. Joseph’s Northside, St. Ann’s Community and our motherhouse.
“Over the years I have met and worked with many incredible people and especially cherish my time in pastoral ministry. Those years broadened my views of God, church, the role of women in church and society, and invited me to share in the joys and sorrow of good, faith-filled, generous and loving people of all ages.
“Those I have met in ALL the diverse ministries over this journey of 60 years have blessed me in more ways than they will ever know.”
Sister Maureen Halack (formerly Sister Marie Baptiste) entered the Sisters of St. Joseph on Sept. 8, 1958, from Auburn. The majority of her career has been teaching.
“Starting my career in 1961, I’ve worked in preschool, daycare, elementary, the inner city and at Trinity Montessori School,” she said. Specifically, Sister Halack has taught at Sacred Heart Cathedral, St. Lucy, Immaculate Conception, St. Bridget, St. Monica and Corpus Christi, Rochester; School of the Holy Childhood, Henrietta; and St. Lawrence, Greece.
“These ministries and the people, children and coworkers I have met during these years have been a blessing in my life, along with my sisters in community,” she said.
Sister St. Luke Hardy’s home parish was Blessed Sacrament in Rochester. She taught at St. Patrick, Seneca Falls; St. Stephen, Geneva; and St. Augustine, Rochester. She was principal at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rochester, in the 1970s. She returned to St. Augustine as principal and then served as pastoral associate at St. Augustine Parish.
“These were years of change as the parishes in the area came together as the Roman Catholic Community of the 19th Ward, now St. Monica’s,” she said. Sister Hardy continues to connect with this vibrant community.
From 2000-03, she served as coordinator of the motherhouse community during the transition from the East Avenue location to the current home on French Road. She later went on to become a licensed real restate salesperson with the former Sheila Walsh Realty. She enjoyed this new ministry for 15 years.
Currently, she is the codirector of the SSJ Associate Program, which welcomes both lay men and women who share the spirit and mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Sister Hardy summed up her life, saying, “Thanks, for all that has been and, yes, for all that still will be.”
Since entering the congregation from Holy Family Parish in Auburn, Sister Catherine Heverin (formerly Sister Edwina) has been called to serve in many different ministries. Sister Heverin taught first grade at Guardian Angels in Henrietta and St. Mary Our Mother in Horseheads, as well as religious education at Holy Spirit in Penfield. She also was involved in campus ministry at Monroe Community College and as director of religious education at St. Paul in Webster. She then moved into pastoral work, first at Sacred Heart Cathedral, followed by St. Mary in Rochester. After leaving parish ministry, she was called to serve the senior sisters and priests as the coordinator of the motherhouse for six years.
“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 said. “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. I also came to realize that many people do not know how much God loves them, and that has become one of the messages I try to share as I live my life.”
Sister Ruth Maier (formerly Sister Fides) said becoming a Sister of St. Joseph was not in her life plan.
“I was going to be a funeral director, as was my father and his father before him. But God had a different plan,” she said.
When Sister Maier entered the congregation, the church was on the brink of change. The recently elected Pope John XXIII announced an ecumenical council, and six years later, the documents of Vatican Council II called the church to change and renewal.
“It was a time of hope and promise. 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 said. “Today, many Catholics have no memory of the council and what it was to be in church those days. It formed and shaped who I would become.”
Sister Maier taught elementary and junior high school at several parishes across the diocese, including Holy Rosary, Rochester; St. Theodore, Gates; St. Mary, Auburn; and Immaculate Conception, Ithaca. She taught religious education and was a pastoral minister at St. Pius V, Cohocton; St. Januarius, Naples; Blessed Sacrament, Rochester; St. Paul, Webster; and St. Mary, Scottsville. She currently is pastoral associate at St. Catherine of Siena in Mendon.
“As I reflect on the journey of these 60 years, I am grateful to so many of God’s people who have become friends, who have supported, encouraged and prayed for and with me along this path.”
Sister Mary Ann Mayer (formerly Sister Christine) currently is a member of the St. Joseph’s leadership team. She also has served as a teacher in area high schools and as a missionary in Brazil.
“My first mission was at DeSales High School in Geneva, where I quickly fell in love with the students and spirit of DeSales,” she said. “DeSales prepared me for my next mission to the interior of Brazil, where I walked among the people and learned from them a profound faith. My experiences there opened me to a different culture, to joy in spite of poverty and to new ways of looking at life.”
Sister Mayer returned from Brazil to continue her teaching career at Nazareth Academy. When Nazareth Academy closed, she taught for a year at McQuaid Jesuit High School.
Sister Mayer said that her sisters in community always have been a great support.
“What has sustained me throughout my life has been prayer and life in community. The sharing of faith experiences, prayer and day-to-day living have been a constant source of support and encouragement to me,” she said.
Sister Mayer’s home parish is St. Margaret Mary in Irondequoit.
Sister Barbara Josephine Orczyk (formerly Sister Paulissa) has been a missionary most of her religious life. She ministered in the SSJ mission in Brazil for many years.
When she first entered the congregation, Sister Orczyk was educated as a teacher and taught at St. Stanislaus in Rochester, her home parish, as well as Blessed Sacrament in Rochester.
When the congregation opened a mission in Brazil in the 1960s, she volunteered to go. She worked as a teacher and then principal. She later came back to Rochester to get her degree as a physician’s assistant.
“When I graduated in 1978, I returned to Brazil looking for the neediest of places to work,” she said. “It was Itaguacu, a small hamlet that had a small health clinic, but no doctor in regular attendance. I got hired by the local city and worked there for 23 years. It was then that I really knew what a vocation was. God, he didn’t lead me down the straight and narrow, but instead on a crooked road from teacher, to principal, to the medical field and now as a eucharistic minister at St. Stanislaus Parish.”
Sister Orczyk has these thoughts upon reflecting her 60 years as a Sister of St. Joseph: “Trust the Lord. 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 work.”
Sister Mary Katherine Ryan (formerly Sister Carmelita) entered the congregation from St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Greece.
“Now at this time, as I celebrate 60 years of religious life as a Sister of St. Joseph, I am here!” said Sister Ryan.
“There have been two significant, powerful living and ministerial facets of these years. At St. Pius Tenth Parish, I was the director of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process. I was very humbled by being able to walk with those who choose to become Roman Catholic,” she said.
Sister Ryan also taught at St. Thomas More, Brighton; Blessed Sacrament, Rochester; St. Anne, Palmyra; Immaculate Conception, Ithaca; St. Theodore, Gates; and St. Agnes High School, Rochester. She later became the religious-education coordinator at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Hamlin.
“Now I live and pray and celebrate all of God’s gifts to me in living at our motherhouse,” she said.
Sister Joan Sobala (formerly Sister Kostka) entered the congregation from Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Blasdell, N.Y.
From 1962-2014, Sister Sobala served as an educator at the high-school and college levels, an advocate for women in the church and diocese, a campus chaplain, pastoral associate and pastoral administrator in a variety of settings. For 10 years, she hosted a reflective radio program called “Good Morning, God.” She also served on the SSJ leadership team.
Sister Sobala currently coordinates Fresh Wind in Our Sails — programs offered at the motherhouse that connect faith and life.
“Throughout my life, Christ has been a beckoner, calling me to travel sometimes along the edge, sometimes at the center of life,” she said. “The challenge and the grace has been, and continues to be, flexible, open and ready for whatever is next.”
Sister Mary Wehner (formerly Sister St. Anne) thought she knew exactly what she wanted to do after graduating from Nazareth Academy — become a Sister of St. Joseph and teach.
“As my life unfolded, I learned God had additional plans for me,” she said.
Sister Wehner did teach mathematics for 10 years at Nazareth Academy and then, she said, 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 of spiritual direction, retreat direction and counseling,” she said.
She became director of formation for women entering the congregation and was on the staff at Galilee Community Renewal Center near Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
“I have been privileged to journey with many people as they shared their hopes, expectations, pain, sufferings and joys,” Sister Wehner said. “For 13 years, I counseled in Rochester at the Samaritan Pastoral Counseling Center, a not-for-profit agency. I ministered with Catholics, Jews and Protestants of practically every denomination. Through our sharing, I learned to focus more on what we hold in common instead of what divides us. We are, in a very real sense, ‘all one’ and need to grow in this powerful realization.”
Sister Wehner currently has a private pastoral counseling and spiritual direction practice at Brighton Campus Park in Rochester. Her home parish was St. John the Evangelist in Greece.
“Gratitude, deep gratitude, is what fills my heart as I reflect on my 50 years as a Sister of St. Joseph of Rochester,” said Sister Elaine Hollis. “I am grateful that the congregation empowered me to learn from and to serve people in places like Seneca Falls, Horseheads, Brazil, Hornell and right here in Rochester.
“Building on a firm foundation given to me by my family and enriched by my teachers, friends and colleagues, I am grateful to all and to God for the life and love that allowed me to become a student, teacher, missionary, chaplain and leader. As I celebrate, I am mindful of those whose lives I have touched and whose lives have touched mine, and I pray that we may always abide together in the deep love which surrounds us.
“May I/we continue to grow and become more compassionate and grateful persons who care about all of God’s creation and especially those whose lives are threatened by indifference and injustice.”