Each week, we’ll feature one of our sisters with a photo and quote on this page. Currently, we’re highlighting laypeople who give us hope, the 2018-2019 Dominican volunteers.
Check back to get to know the volunteers one by one.
Dominican Volunteer Sean Puzzo
“When I was a young child in elementary school, I remember being in the grocery store with my mom. As we turned around the aisle, I froze in my tracks and couldn’t believe my eyes: there halfway down the aisle was one of my school teachers. In a matter of seconds my theory that teachers never left school and slept there was shattered.
I had a flashback to that moment when I first moved into my community of sisters this summer. Sisters are just like regular people: they joke, they cook, they work, they may drink, and on the rarest of occasions they may say a bad word! Sisters are educators, medical workers, counselors, social justice activists, and so much more. In my case, they will become a second family.” -Sean Puzzo, 2017-18 Dominican Volunteer who serves with the Dominican Youth Movement and shares community with the St. Hugh of Lincoln community in Long Island New York.
Sister Marion Michael Beagen
“In high school, I spent my free time in the school’s art studio. I’ve always loved art, but I never thought of painting. There was never anyone to teach me! When I was teaching middle school for many years, I didn’t think of painting.
When I took my first art class at age 70, I didn’t know that I had talent. I was surprised when people wanted my paintings. I don’t know why this started so late in life for me; all I know is God gave me the talent, and I used it.” -Sister Marion Michael Beagen
Sister Rosemarie Wdzieczkowski
“Knowing that I’m doing all that I can to form the minds and the hearts of my students brings me hope.When you present an idea and it finally clicks for the child, you can see in their eyes and in their expression that they finally get it. That’s hope.”-Sister Rosemarie Wdzieczkowski
Sister Nancy Moroney
“In 1963, I had one class for kindergarten in Trenton, NJ. Then, I had them for first grade, for seventh grade, and I graduated with them in eighth grade. By the time they got to eighth grade, I knew them and they knew me. We knew how to get along. Now, they still see each other. And, when they do, they send me a note signed from them. Some of them have come to visit me. Every few years, when it would have been time for me to leave that school, I ended up staying. That’s how it goes with God’s will. If you follow the call and do what God wants, you’ll end up exactly where you’re supposed to be.” -Sister Nancy Moroney
Sister Veronica Miller
“When I was living in Harlem, there was a man who lived in the staircase of a grate. He had ulcerated legs and I would dress his legs for him. He never went to a shelter or anything like that; over time, you would try to help him he would vanish.
But, he came to me to dress his legs a couple of times per week, which was very interesting. Because he knew he could get help. That’s a sign of God to me. It’s a revelation that there must be a God that loves so much that God can motivate someone to seek out help and get it. There must be a God that enables two women who are fighting to stand up for their children so they can get a home. God is persistent. God survives. And, as we cared for the poor, they saw God coming to them.
The world teaches us something different. The world is get-ahead, just-pull-the-wool-over-someone’s-eyes, the-more-I-get-the-better-I’m-going-to-be. That’s not what the poor are like at all. It’s not what’s outside but what’s inside them that’s important. In terms of ‘What do you know about God,’ well, the poor have always been my teachers.” -Sister Veronica Miller
Sister Monica McGloin
“When I entered I thought we would do nursing, and we did. But, as we became more conscious of the civil rights movement and the war on poverty, we and society became more conscious of people who were left out. We began then to focus our work on inner-city areas, we began to focus on low-income neighborhoods, we became interested in different organizations and in community council meetings. Altogether, we became much more aware of the systemic nature of poverty. We learned from the people that the systems we have in place benefit by keeping a certain number of people poor. We continued to do nursing, but we also questioned how do we change systems. How do we begin to talk about changing how we function as a society so that we don’t have people who are locked into poverty for generations? We’re still struggling with that.” -Sister Monica McGloin
Sister Nora Foley
“The most important part of our lives is our spiritual lives.” –Sister Nora Foley
Sister June Baker
“The happiest time of my life were my eighteen years as a hospital chaplain. Being with people who were dying was the greatest privilege of my life. Those years also taught me the importance of listening and being open.
For years, I went into patients’ rooms and just started praying with them. Well, one day, I was visiting the ICU and I finished praying with one patient. Then, the woman asked, ‘Sister, could we pray for my children? Today is their first day of school.’ I would have never thought of that! That experience taught me to enter each room as an empty slate. I don’t want to bring my need into the room; it’s not about what I can fulfill for that patient. I’m often surprised by what the patients are thinking and what they might need.” -Sister June Baker
Sister Mary Ellen Wisner
“For years, I painted but didn’t tell anyone about it. I really didn’t think of becoming a professional artist; I was thinking more of teaching as a profession. Some people like flowers and some people like balloons. I love art.
I love to paint or sketch outside where I can be inspired by nature. I don’t decide what I’m going to paint ahead of time. I just see something and then I go ahead and paint it. The beauty of art is that it captures a single moment.
So, my art started out to be a hobby: I just did it because I loved to do it. Later, I found out that I was really better than I realized.” -Sister Mary Ellen Wisner
Sister Delphine Croft
Sister Judy Brunell
“Could our nation’s love and goodness be documented? Who might be included? Perhaps humanitarian organizations and socially responsible networks for investments. Of course, integral to these would also be the millions of financial supporters who make their work possible. Volunteer organizations, student groups who spend their breaks working to alleviate the plight of the poor, humanitarian relief efforts in areas of the world reeling from natural disasters might also be included.
Worthy of mention, though admittedly more difficult to document, would be some of the grassroots movements that advocate ‘random acts of kindness’ and ‘paying it forward’ or ask us to ask ‘What would Jesus do?’ and thus bring to our attention how we personally can contribute to the common good by cultivating a proactive mindset for goodness.” -Sister Judy Brunell
Sister Mary Feigen
“If we really answer the call of the Gospel, it’s to stand with the poor and the marginalized. I believe that we are called to take a stance for what we see as injustice in our world. I believe that, as Dominicans, one of our calls is to be seekers of the truth.” -Sister Mary Feigen
Sister Lorelle Elcock
“When you’re with the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena, who are now refugees living in Kurdistan, you feel like their life was not unlike ours. That’s what I find so touching: even though it’s a very foreign culture, they are Dominican women living the Dominican life doing the same kinds of ministries that we would do in the U.S..
I just can’t even imagine what it’s like to be uprooted as they have. The sisters are trying to provide as much normality as they can muster at this point in time. But it’s still not their home. It’s not a place where they have a real sure future. If we all had to flee and leave on short notice with what we could carry with us, to me, it’s like, how do you even comprehend that? Mostly, I’d like to let them know that there are people who are aware of their situation. We are concerned and supportive. We want to help them maintain courage and hope for the future.” -Sister Lorelle Elcock
Sister Lorraine Ferguson
“When I graduated with my MA in Expressive Therapy, I worked in an addiction hospital and became an addiction counselor. Then, I got this invitation to work at a center for priests and religious who struggled with addiction. I didn’t realize that they were also working with pedophiles. This was years ago; you hardly ever heard the word “pedophile.” I figured that, if they were sick people, they needed help. Well, I got the job.
I loved what I was doing. A vocation leads to places that you never know. I learned so many, many things. I have been so lucky.” -Sister Lorraine Ferguson (pictured with her original artwork)
Sister Stephanie Frenette
“In my bedroom, there’s a photograph of me with a young girl in Nicaragua. I had handed her a little box of cookies, and she had no idea what to do with it. I tried to explain to her that it was food, but she didn’t understand. Finally, I broke one cookie in half. I gave her half and I took the other half and put it in my mouth to show her that the cookie was something good to eat.
Every day when I wake up, I wonder what that girl is doing today, how old she is, if she ever got any schooling. On my flight back to the United States after meeting her, I just sat in my seat and wondered how it was possible that people there were even surviving with such little means. I grew up in Detroit, and my family wasn’t wealthy. But I had never seen poverty like that.” -Sister Stephanie Frenette
Sister Maureen Sullivan
“I have a passion for another moment in church history – the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The pope who called this Council, John XXIII, hoped Vatican II would be a moment of renewal and reform in the church. This willingness to adapt was at the very heart of the church in its earliest days. I believe we are at a moment when our willingness to adapt is being tested.
“Pope John XXIII will be remembered for many things, Vatican II among those things. But, underlying his many achievements was his profound trust in the Holy Spirit. I see this same trust in our current pope, Francis. I pray that Francis will allow that trust to enable him to bring about bold reform in our church. Ordaining women deacons would be an example of that bold reform.” -Sister Maureen Sullivan
Sister Anne Marie Bucher
“When I became involved as a home health aide, I saw how one person’s sickness can affect a whole family. Nowadays, it seems that you treat the disease that the person has, but, in the 1950s, we were much more holistically centered. We were going in to people’s homes and seeing the patient as a part of a family and part of a community. We went regardless of race, color, or creed. We wanted for the poor what the rich were able to afford.
Connecting with different communities led to trying to work for root causes and change in our economy, in our government, in the way the poor are treated. Trying to work for more structural change and advocate for social justice was a radical idea then, and it’s still a very important factor in today’s clinical seen. The poor are often shoved aside, but they are to be respected and given rights.
The whole idea of healing and being present to people has extended into the healing of our world. The aspect has extended from being just a one-on-one, person-to-person relationship to the family to the nation to the environment to our relationship with the whole cosmos. It’s one seamless picture to me.” -Sister Anne Marie Bucher
Sister Eileen Hollen
“I like to affirm people in their stories. I like to affirm women especially; we’re wonderful storytellers. The truth is, my patients have struggles. They struggle to make right decisions and to be in right relationships. But I am blessed and graced and gifted by these stories and struggles. The desk in my clinic room is the altar of people’s lives. We share eucharist there; we share the sacredness of who we are as part of God’s Earth.” -Sister Eileen Hollen
Sister Cynthia Bauer
“Saint Catherine of Siena is very special to me. I believe that Catherine’s model of spirituality cannot become our own unless we have gone through our own conversion process in life. This call to follow Catherine in our Dominican way of life requires constant effort to understand her way of life in terms of the questions of our day.” -Sister Cynthia Bauer
Sister Joann Boneski
“One big item that I hand out is umbrellas. You give somebody an umbrella, they think you gave them a million dollars. Our needs and our wants are met. Many people don’t have any of that; they can’t just go into a store and buy an umbrella because it’s raining. We have abundance, and we forget that.
You could pass on your blessings, they become a blessing for somebody else. All of life is a blessing— we bless each other. And these people bless me.” -Sister Joann Boneski
Sister Joseph Marie Levesque
“I felt from day one that it was a ministry because I was helping people. For a lot of the poor and elderly who receive [my] volunteer tax return services, their only income is social security. They have misconceptions; they think that they don’t have to pay taxes if they’re over seventy, or that, if their social security goes up a little bit, they’re going to have to pay tax. If I can get a refund for people who need it and don’t expect it, it’s a good feeling for them and for me. If I can help people, that’s being hopeful. And I give them a little hope, too, that they can trust people, that there is goodness in the world.” -Sister Joseph Marie Levesque
Sister Joan Ruth Whittle
“We used to have this librarian, Sister Bernie Joseph, at Mount Saint Mary College; she did not even allow whispering in the library. I was a postulant at the time and I would not be whispering; I would be talking! When she’d see me even walk in she’d say, ‘Remember you have to be quiet.’ I wasn’t. She’s got to be rolling over in her grave now that I’m a librarian.
It’s a ‘volunteer’ job, but I am at the school Monday through Friday, from 7 am to 4pm. I am the first car in the parking lot in the morning and the last car out. And, if I’m ever a few minutes late, the students are all standing outside of the library waiting for me. Many of them come to talk to me about their school work or personal lives; I’m like their grandma that they come and talk to. Some just want a quiet place to work or to study. I keep the volume at a low whisper.” -Sister Joan Ruth Whittle
Sister Julienne Nikiema
“In the Burkina Faso, in the countryside, everything is under the hand of a husband because he decides everything. If he is not satisfied, he can, of course, resort to violence. One issue we have is that many couples do not marry legally; they only form an informal contract between their families. It’s very evident that, if a man dies, the mother of his children has no rights to his heritage because his means go to his family. She has to raise the children, but she has no income or shelter. That’s a common problem. And many men don’t want to marry legally.
But, being in the U.S., talking together, sharing has enriched me. Dominicans are a big family that works together. Sister Bernadette and I share the same vision for Africa. Surely, we can do something important together for Africa.” -Sister Julienne Nikiema (Dominican Sister from the Ivory Coast)
Dominican Volunteer Viviana Sisack
“In Argentina, I want women to realize that they have inherent power. The country tends to accept that men are better; that idea seeps into daily life and many places. But, women do all the work, while men often leave using ‘work’ as an excuse. Altogether, there is a lot of domestic violence. The women are very badly treated. Many times, they are single with many responsibilities and no help or support. And the government favors dependency. The government will give women money, or social help, but they won’t help them get work. I want to learn how to empower women, not just give them handouts.” -Sister Viviana Sisack (Dominican Sister from Argentina)
Sister Else-Britt Nilsen
“Surely women have been fighting for rights for a long time, and I think it must be a joyful endeavor. In these days of migration, there have never been so many people on the move since WWII. In the beginning, it was men who were on the move. Now, most immigrants are women and children. We have a big responsibility to them, and to all women.” -Sister Else-Britt Nilsen (Dominican Sister from Norway)
Sister Ana Belén Verísimo
“Women need projects that are going to help them to rescue their own sense of dignity.” -Sister Ana Belén Verísimo (Dominican Sister from Brazil)
Sister Elsie Bagaypo
“I’m realizing that, at my program, (teaching victims of domestic abuse agricultural skills so they can render their own income) we fail to identify the root cause of women coming to the program. We usually ask them, ‘Do you like it?’ and then they’ll say ‘Yes, it’s nice.’ We don’t always have the skills to go deeper.
The children of these women have died during the war in 1991, 1999, and 2006. It pains me, but the trauma’s not being addressed. We have some projects and agriculture; but there’s a chain of violence. In the evenings, I cannot close my eyes because, in the middle of the night, neighbors come to me asking to borrow my car. ‘My mom was beaten over the top of the head with a chair, and she needs to go to the hospital,’ they say. When I go to meet the women, they act like it is not a big deal that they got hit.” -Sister Elsie Bagaypo (Dominican Sister from Timor-Leste)
Sister Anjana Parmar
“I’m a professor at a university; I teach human rights to undergraduate students who are getting degrees in social work. I want to take away what I’ve learned here at the UN and go back to my country and raise awareness. I can bring it into my classroom, little by little. I can translate these UN talks into action. There is potential for change.
No one should be left behind. Ghandi said ‘You shall not rest until the tears of the last person are wiped out,’ and I believe that to be true. As religious, we also believe in the resurrection. Because Christ was risen, we all are here. Resurrection means for us that Good Friday is not the end. There is always Easter. To work for humanity and the cause of women gives us hope because we women are all together.” -Sister Anjana Parmar (Dominican Sister from India)
Sister Bernadette Mwita
“Some of the injustice that I’m learning about at this conference, I didn’t know about them before. Already, I feel like my experience has been similar to watching a sport; I’m watching all that is happening, but it never moved to say ‘Let me cross over to the others who are doing so much.’ I read the newspapers everyday. And I pray for people. But the Kenyan government has signed all these statutes about gender inequality to stop the problem, and they need people like myself to join hands in order to carry them out. We may pray and stay informed, but change will come from us joining together and taking action. Let’s link ourselves with NGOs. Let’s share knowledge so that others can become aware of these problems. The awareness has to begin somewhere; we have to stop taking things for granted. Nobody is going to do this for us.” -Sister Bernadette Mwita (Dominican Sister from Kenya)
Sister Mary Ann Clausson
“Part of the heritage of the Dominican family is Truth: speak the Truth. One of us doesn’t have the entire Truth, but each of us has a piece of it. Together, we come to a fuller realization of Truth.” –Sister Mary Ann Clausson
Sister Pat Peters
“Don’t just sit with your discouragement and do nothing about it. Make your voice heard in situations where you see rank injustice. I believe in the power of voices. If a person is feeling discouraged, go find some other people who have similar feelings and ideals and start a group. Make improving the situation the goal of the group. And, of course, pray. I do believe in the efficacy of prayer.” -Sister Pat Peters
Sister Peggy Devlin
“The Christ who mesmerized the woman at the well must grab us and ignite us. It’s not a matter of cognitive knowledge. Yes, we know that Jesus is God’s son, but this is not enough for a disciple. We must know Him, not just about Him. The knowledge that is love; the kind of love you experience when you want to surrender all else in wild abandon. The kind of love that thrills to the presence of the other.” –Sister Peggy Devlin
Sister Sylvia Bielen
“It’s pure grace of God, really, to help you enter the convent. To break away from everything you knew and liked and were happy with, and to go into this life that you don’t know anything about; by yourself, you couldn’t do that! My reasoning was that nothing really gave me pleasure; it seemed that everything was so empty. I felt I wanted to give my whole life to God, whatever it was going to be. I remember my hair was wavy and brown, and I knew I would have to cut it off. But I thought, ‘God, if that’s what you want!’ I had the veil on for twenty-five or so years, but after we stopped wearing the veil my hair just grew back.
When I was coming in, I thought, ‘Whatever it is, God will see me through.’ And he has for seventy years.” – Sister Sylvia Bielen
Sister Ann Stankiewicz
“I was never unaware of racism and prejudice. Growing up in Newburgh, black people all lived in the same area by the river. It was terrible. I was trying to make people more involved and more engaged with the issue of civil rights. But it wasn’t something that people were really excited about. It was years before the civil rights movement really came about.
When I first brought in a minority student to the college, there was one black student. That was very hard. Most of the people at the college would not have had much interaction with minority students. We had civil rights marches and speeches to try to make campus more accepting of all students. It took awhile. But, eventually, my hope was really realized in the sense that Mount Saint Mary College started to take in many more minority students. We got federal funding for them. What came about was the interaction of white students and black students, and the idea that we were trying to overcome prejudice.” -Sister Ann Stankiewicz
Sister Marianne Watts
“We always have a choice. And not to respond as the enemy dictates is a wise choice, the way of wisdom, the way of prayer.
Yes, this is a Pollyanna perspective. Like ‘it’s always darkest before the dawn.’ Well, isn’t it? And don’t the roots of Hope live and grow strong in the shadows when nothing is clear?
And isn’t Christmas not only the holy reminder of what was but the shining prophecy of what is to come?” –Sister Marianne Watts
Sister Pat Flynn
“Human trafficking advocacy was a whole new world for me, and I learned a lot. I also saw how difficult it is to make change. You can’t look for success; it’s the small efforts that you make tirelessly on a regular basis to reach someone who can have an affect. It’s building relationship; that’s the key, to constantly work with a given individual or group of individuals to make change. As an individual, you can make the change by voting, by being aware of where you shop (many stores clothing made by slaves or underaged workers), by buying conscientiously, fair-trade products. There are many small ways of contributing, but you have to get out there and do whatever you can. Don’t be discouraged by it. There’s a lot of work to be done.” -Sister Pat Flynn
Sister Mary Headley
“When I told some of my friends that I was going to Haiti for Christmas, they laughed at me. But it was just a fabulous experience. Instead of giving presents, I wanted to be a presence. When I retired from fifty-five years of hospice ministry, I felt there was something more I could do. So I went down for the holiday.
I’m not a missionary, but there are such good women down there doing good stuff. We prayed every night on the rooftop, and, as you looked off, the kids were using the soccer ball we gave them from the U.S. You could see the goats roaming the pasture. It’s a different life, and I couldn’t do it full time, but I want to do something. I have this fire in my belly now, and I want to be an advocate in some way.” -Sister Mary Headley
Sister Margaret Anderson
“When we were dividing things up, I chose to be on the board of the Newburgh Ministry. It was here, but it was not anything like it is now. The services offered are different, the place is different, but the focus remains: What are the needs of the people and how do we meet those needs? Having been a teacher, principal, and social worker, I have seen poverty. I see the need for the services we have here for the poor. It’s the importance of giving people a place where they are safe. ‘Presence, service, and transformation’ have stayed the whole time; that’s really what the ministry is all about.” -Sister Margaret Anderson
Sister Beth McCormick
“Prison ministry is about people, with all our sins, foibles, virtues. There was a lot of virtue among the people I met in prison. There were some real contemplatives. Especially among lifers —people who were in for life— I found that they had so come to terms with the fact that they were going to spend their life in prison, that a lot of these men made a clear decision to make the best of it. They decided to try to lead as decent a life as they could while in prison. They became students. They became readers. They read the classics. They read really important, good stuff, and they learned a lot about different forms of prayer. When you have a lot of time, you think about God. You think about your soul. You think about spiritual life. Many of them were real contemplatives, very prayerful men.
I enjoyed it. I can’t say I enjoyed everyday, and certainly I did not like the ambience.
But I guess what I really liked was that sense of how alike we really are as human beings. I had never worked directly with the poor. I had taught mostly. In prison, I learned that, basically, our humanity is the same. And I also learned what I knew in my head, which was that God is everywhere. Even in these drab, ugly, dreary places. Because God is in the people.” -Sister Beth McCormick
Sister Madeleine Tacy
“Some of the more injurious images of God are images that see God as the one who never lets anything bad happen to us, also known as the great mother in the sky, or the image that portrays God as the one who gives us whatever we want. And, finally, the image of God as the old man with a big stick who is just waiting to catch us doing something wrong. All of these beliefs cloud our vision of God. We need to let go of them to experience the gift of Christmas, when we are once again reminded that it is the faith of the little child who goes about life without anger, prejudice, or blindness, accepting God, people, and situations as they are and not as we would like them to be. The promise is that God is there to be at our side, to be the light in our life.” –Sister Madeleine Tacy
Sister Frances Irene Fair
“It sounds corny, but, if you look at life from a religious view, Christmas is everyday. To me, Christmas is a joyous time. It’s a time of giving, and it’s a time of showing your love for God as He shows it to you everyday.” -Sister Frances Irene Fair
Sister Juanita Morales
“I like to pray in the quiet and in the dark. I get up very early; it gives me time to do my yoga, my tai chi, and have a cup of tea. And, it’s quiet in the morning. I love the quiet. I remember my mother sitting out on the back porch, and I used to go and sit very close to her in quiet. She used to do that every night after supper. I didn’t know what she was doing at the time, but now I know she was praying and thinking about her day. I could feel it. So I learned to pray in the dark hours of the morning, maybe because of that experience.”
-Sister Juanita Morales
Sister Janice Dionne
“When we were asked to do something by a superior, the word ‘no’ was never part of our vocabulary. When we were asked to do something, we said, ‘Yes, Sister.’ We never said, ‘No.’ One situation for me was when I was teaching in Gloucester, New Jersey, and it was a very happy time. And then, all of a sudden, Mother General comes and says, ‘I would like you to be the principal of the high school and the superior of the convent.’
Well, that was a time I wish I had been able to say ‘no.’ Because I wasn’t qualified! I was happy teaching French in high school. After awhile, I learned how to say ‘no.’ But it took awhile.” -Sister Janice Dionne
Sister Barbara Hamilton
“When I entered, I said to Sister Rose Carmel, ‘There’s one thing that really bothers me: I’m afraid I’m going to be bored.’ She said, ‘Come to me the first time you’re bored.’ I never went; I’m never bored! There’s always, always something to do. There’s always some way of serving or celebrating or reaching out to people. I think that people today still want to be that active in the church and in life. There’s still a desire to have a meaningful life.” –Sister Barbara Hamilton
Sister Estelle (Maris Stella) Kilpatrick
“What gives me hope is that we, as a congregation, work together. We do have a closeness, an understanding of each other. Even if we’re mad as hops at one another, we know it’s going to pass. We really do. And the biggest thing is that we work together. If you have someone in your group who is not of the same feeling, you have to give of yourself to the extent that everybody’s happy. It works. Sometimes you have a flare-up, but that happens in homes, too. When that does happen, it’s because we’re acting like children.” -Sister Estelle (Maris Stella) Kilpatrick
Sister Mary Anthony Schmittauer
“When I started volunteering at Mary’s Place, I was surprised by some of the effects of cancer on the women there. I knew that people with cancer often lose their hair or become bald, but to see it… Sometimes I sit with them and hear their stories. I try to give them a shoulder to cry on or a hug. I think they get a lot from coming to Mary’s Place, especially peace and serenity. And they know that there are people out there who love them.” -Sister Mary Anthony Schmittauer
Sister Sharon Yount
“I was forty-five when I went to Maine. I lived for five years in a cabin in the woods. My source of heat was a wood stove; I learned how to use a chainsaw and cut and split wood. I didn’t have running water: anything I wanted to drink I had to bring down in a jug from the well at the top of the hill. But it was a beautiful place: I was surrounded by woods and a lake in front of me. And it was a real learning experience for me. I learned not to take anything for granted.” -Sister Sharon Yount
Sister Janet Marchesani
“When you express your heart through your body, it’s amazing what comes out. I did a workshop with sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade students in Poughkeepsie. I asked the students, ‘What’s your favorite prayer, and how would show that?’ And one girl just stood there and said (and motioned), ‘Lord, have mercy.’
This was a seventh grade kid who was very popular in her class! It just blew my mind.
It’s expressing with your body what you want to tell God, how you want to be with God. You don’t have to be trained, you just have to be free.” -Sister Janet Marchesani
Sister Maura Schefter
You were a teacher and a principal for thirty-six years. What was the most joyful part?
“The children and their parents. Interacting with them and being there for them.”
That’s a long career. What kept you going?
“The children and their parents.”
Is there anything specific you miss now that you’re retired?
“The children and their parents.”
-Sister Maura Schefter
Sister Mary Headley
“Where is the Good when you look at the evening news? Maybe they talk about good things for a few minutes, at the very end. But Pope Francis radiates it, and so many people are attracted to it, and need it, and want it. He takes subjects such as homelessness and immigration, many of the things we see in political debates, and focuses on them. He talks to single mothers, young immigrants, children who were bullied. That’s hope.” -Sister Mary Headley
Sister Donna Brunell
“We were very creative as a congregation, and I always dreamed I would continue that legacy. Art that lifts the spirit is the kind of art that I want to do. I want to make the kind of art that makes people feel good inside when they see it. For me, being creative fosters a connection with God as Creator and Imagineer.” –Sister Donna Brunell
Sister Linda Rivers
“Kids want to learn. Sometimes they can’t. Sometimes they have something blocking that desire for learning: maybe they’re too young to go through a certain thing at a certain time and they’re being forced into it. Maybe they’re saying they don’t want to do it because they think it’s too hard for them. Many things can block kids and turn them against learning. But they want to. They want to.” –Sister Linda Rivers
Sister Agnes Boyle
“The relationships that have developed with each other have been the most joyful part of being a sister. And, in many cases, they develop into friendships that last forever.” -Sister Agnes Boyle
Sister Jean Lawrence Strack
Was Being a Sister Difficult?
“At times. What isn’t? Being a parent is difficult, I think, too.”
What kept you going?
“The desire to help other people. Actually, isn’t that what life’s all about?”
–Sister Jean Lawrence Strack
Sister Maryann Ronneburger
“We were all at a picnic at the Mount, and Mother Leo Vincent came over to me came over to me and she said, ‘Sister [Thomas Gerald], you are going to love Parsippany.’ Well, I had just made first profession. I was just nineteen years old; I didn’t have my degree yet.
I went to Parsippany with two other professed sisters, and, when we arrived, there was nothing there. There was just a hallway. So I taught in the back of the firehouse, no blackboards, sixty-two first graders. And the other sister was at the other end of the firehouse, she had second grade, and the third sister was the principal—she taught third and fourth grade on the other side of town. We lived in a rented house in a new development but the walls weren’t painted, no light bulbs, we had no bathtub. To get clean, we took sponge baths in a laundry tub in the basement.
My biggest love was teaching. When we got into the new school in Parsippany, I enjoyed teaching in the firehouse. There’s something about when you walk in, as soon as you step through the doors, it stirs in you again, and you want to do it again.” –Sister Maryann Ronneburger
Sister Louise Levesque
“As followers of Dominic, we cannot in conscience simply sit on the sidelines. There are all kinds of preaching opportunities here, beginning with a simple click on the computer or tablet or smartphone to indicate support or not of an issue.
Dominic would be pleased to know that, in our sensitivity to promote justice and peace, the sisters already address social ills from the death penalty to genetically engineered crops. Can we aim even higher?” – Sister Louise Levesque
Sister Catherine Walsh
“In the second year when we entered, I got into a little problem with the Novice Mistress. I was delivering trays to the infirmary, and one of the sisters fell. I had to get another sister, finish delivering the food, and then, by the time I ate my own lunch, I ended up getting to the laundry late. The Novice Mistress was scolding me for being late, and I was trying to explain to her that I didn’t do it purposely, but she got really angry.
So then she sent for me. She said, ‘You should have never been late.’ And I said, ‘If you’re telling me that we have to choose between charity for someone and the rules, then I will choose charity. If you don’t like that, you can send me home.’
And she never bothered me again. She never yelled at me again and I never got in trouble. I thought I was going home that night; I thought she was going to say, ‘You’re out of here!’ But she didn’t.” –Sister Catherine Walsh
Sister Margaret Mary Rottinghaus
“I think the best part of nursing was to see how much we got from the patients. We often say we’re ‘joyful givers,’ so to speak. But, when you see the joy of the people and how they welcomed you into their homes, we got more than we gave, in a way. That part is very rewarding.” –Sister Margaret Mary Rottinghaus
Sister Connie Koch
“I think that building community among adults in a faith venue is vital as an answer to a world that lacks hope. It’s important to help each other not lose hope, and to see what hope there is in seeing a loving and forgiving God. That is what I think is missing when we listen to the news.” -Sister Connie Koch
Sister Beth Jaspers
“I’ve always worked with the poor. I always have. I admired them and I was amazed at their courage. One woman was in her eighties, Helen, she had come here from Austria, and she loved to garden so much that she would be on her walker with her hose fixing her garden. I mean, how can you not admire people like that?
Another man was in a wheelchair, but he loved to go fishing. His friends would carry him from his wheelchair into this boat, and he would go fishing. It was such a chore for them to get him into the boat that he would sleep in the boat all night rather than [have] them carry him in and out.
It was the people that brought you such satisfaction and such admiration.” – Sister Beth Jaspers
Sister Nancy Erts
“I believe in a God who loves diversity. We can have unity in diversity. We’re meant to be in communion with one another; our differences are meant to be celebrated. I think of it like a mosaic—lots of little pieces coming together to create a unified whole. Our differences don’t have to separate us.” –Sister Nancy Erts
Sister Debbie Blow
“When I entered and I was asked about ministry, I said, ‘I don’t care, just don’t have me do mission abroad.’ Fast forward forty years, and I’ve led sixty trips to Nicaragua. It was intimidating at first, but I’m so glad we didn’t do a ‘one-and-done’ deal. We continue to go to support education, healthcare, community development, and ecological sustainability. Those are what modern-day miracles are all about. That’s what hope is all about.” -Sister Debbie Blow
Sister Bette Ann Jaster
“If you see somebody doing something, you can join in and be a part of something bigger than yourself. It’s a sense of belonging and becoming community. We want to enlarge that sense of community to include the natural world, the land, organisms, animals, water, air, stars, and all of us, both near and far. We as people might have different views of spirituality, but we all are citizens of the planet.” –Sister Bette Ann Jaster
Sister Mary Aquin McDonald
“I started a group at the Church of the Holy Family in Sewell, NJ, for senior citizens. I wanted to start it to have something for them to do. We met once a month; we would have talks or otherwise we played Bingo, different things. At that time, they were like a forgotten group, but now they’re one of the clubs of the parish. It’s still there—they call themselves the Owls.
I remember meeting with them for the first time, and I used the example of Father Damien of Molokai, who worked with lepers. When he talked to the lepers, he’d say, ‘You lepers.’ Then, when he contracted the disease, he said, ‘We lepers,’ and that’s when they knew he had leprosy.
So, when I met with the group, I would say, ‘We seniors.’” –Sister Mary Aquin McDoald
Sister Anne Stephen Hajducek
“In the beginning of 1941, I had made up my mind that I was really going to go into the convent. Well, my father died on Thanksgiving Day of 1941. On December 7, the war broke out. Soon after that, my older brother was drafted. So everything was happening all of a sudden. And I knew I couldn’t say to my mother, ‘I’m going into the convent.’ So I continued working.
Of course, every time I’d see the priest, he’d say, ‘When are you going to make up your mind?’
I’d say, “All of this is happening!” And he’d say, ‘It’s going to happen all the time.’” –Sister Anne Stephen Hajducek
Sister Linda Delgado
“When I first went into [advocacy work], it reminded me of taking a course in college: I felt that I had just dropped in and there was so much more to learn. My language had always been that of religion –I’m a Catholic sister– but that didn’t work in politics. I had to rethink the way I go about things, and I had to talk to people who have more experience than I do. I said, ‘I have no mortgage, I have no children, I can go up against the freeholders. Tell me what to say and I’ll say it.’” -Sister Linda Delgado
Sister Connie Kelly
“In our call as Christians, as Catholics, anybody, we should be able to help one another without being asked to do it. If you see someone walking down the street and you see them struggling with their bags, get your backside down there and help the person, because that’s the way we should be for one another. Our society teaches us differently. I think it’s important that we’re there for one another, no matter what.” -Sister Connie Kelly
Sister Jeanette Redmond
“At mass, I set aside everything I know. All I know is we’re all here, we’re all breathing the same breath, and we’re all united. I don’t want what I know, what I remember, what I’ve been taught, any of that, to interfere with right now. Because you never know what’s coming! How can I learn anything new if I’m holding onto the old? I don’t let go of it; I just set it aside. I keep learning.” -Sister Jeanette Redmond
Sister Jean Spena
“Most of the time, you have this preconceived idea of what it means to work with the homeless, the poor. But once you actually work with them, it is nothing like what you thought. Mrs. Jones was so wonderful in really working with me; she knew what a lot of these people were going through. So I learned. I understood that being poor doesn’t mean you don’t have money. Being poor means you’re rejected by society, you’re rejected by your family, you have a disability that makes you different, you’re unloved.” -Sister Jean Spena (pictured with Mrs. Jones)
Sister Grace Ball
Sister Philomena McCartney
“The brochures they sent me were pictures of nuns kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament; I thought I was going up [to the convent] to be with the Lord all the time! I didn’t think I was going to be teaching. I entered the Dominican Sisters on Saturday, September 8th. On Monday morning, I was sent out to teach second-graders. It was a shock! But teaching turned out to be my greatest gift that I didn’t know I had.” -Sister Philomena McCartney
Sister Lois Dee
“I think we preach the gospel through our presence, through the space we offer, through the respect that we model here at Mariandale.
I want people to leave here with a deeper understanding of who they are and who their God is. I can see it almost like a scale: it’s being able to put things in perspective and look at things through a different lens” -Sister Lois Dee
Sister Regis Nuva
“The best part of nursing was to get people to enjoy our visits. We just talked to them and made them laugh; we enjoyed life. I love to make people laugh. I love to laugh myself! In every home we went into, it was an honor to be there, we didn’t care how disrupted it was.
We never, never criticized their homes or anything because that wasn’t right. We honored them and respected them for who they were and we tried hard to make [life] better for them. I just think it’s wonderful that people laugh, and I love to make them feel how much they are loved by God. It was a lovely life, really. ” –Sister Regis Nuva
Sister Pat Jelly
“What excites me so much is helping people. The joy is to see one person’s lights go on, when they think, ‘Now I can change something.’ It’s very simple but very powerful.” –Sister Pat Jelly
Sister Jo-Ann Iannotti
“Whether it’s through writing or whether it’s through photography, I have discovered myself as an artist. It’s who I am, no matter what I do. I was writing poetry while I was doing all of my other ministries. I am a poet. It affects my perspective on life, it affects what I write. It’s right. It fits me.” – Sister Jo-Ann Iannotti
Sister Mary Ann Cirillo
“I’m not sent here to save the world. Jesus already did that. But, when I can’t bring about something through advocacy, I find myself in the chapel saying to Jesus, ‘You created all people; use me as an instrument to help them.’” – Sister Mary Ann Cirillo
Sister Mary Alice Hannan
“I sometimes go late to Mass– sometimes I go after the homily. But I have a big feeling toward the Eucharist. I don’t have a big thing on wanting to preach from the altar, it’s not that, it’s just the particular event, the Eucharist. I believe strongly in it and the power of it. And I draw a lot of my energy from that.” –Sister Mary Alice Hannan
Sister Barbara Anderson
“You have to be in love with God; you have to be convinced that this is what God wants you to do no matter what– whether it’s getting married or remaining single or entering religious life. Very often, it’s manifested to you by your desire.” –– Sister Barbara Anderson