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Business group pledges to help Chester Catholic school

April 24, 2008

Longtime Saint Mary's leader dies
Sister Marguerite Waite saw hospital through good, bad times

April 20, 2008

A cutie

April 25, 2008

Advocate for homeless to be honored

Apr. 2, 2008

Program tutors Holyoke pupils

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Region's religious orders seek quite a few good women

March 30, 2008

Nun Run is done, but sisters say fun was 2nd to none

March 30, 2008

Book about Sister Karen carries her message of peace

March 30, 2008

Apartment complex two months ahead of schedule for Sisters of St. Joseph

March 28, 2008

Villa St. Joseph campaign succeeds with area-wide support

March 27, 2008

New All Saints Catholic names its first principal

Jersey Journal, March 17, 2008

St. Paul nun's 'green genes' earn her a big honor

St. Paul, Minnesota March 11, 2008

Sisters receive $4,000 from Colonial program

Berkshire Eagle, NY March 7, 2008

A heavely match?

Boston Globe, March 9, 2008

Radical Sisters

March 2, 2008, Minnesota Women's Press

"Beyond the Call, The Sisters of ST. Joseph in St. Augustine" by Sister Thomas Joseph Goldrick, SSJ

February 29, 2008

Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine, Florida tell their story in a new book

Sisters of St. Joseph Elect New Leadership Council

Salina, Kansas Friday, February 22, 2008

The Sisters of St. Joseph elected Sister Marcia Allen as President of their Congregation. Sister Beth Stover was elected as vice-president and Sisters Anna Marie Broxterman, Regina Ann Brummel, Jean Rosemarynoski, Judy Stephens and Mary Jo Thummel were elected as executive councilors. The council, which begins their term July 1, 2008, will hold office until July, 2012.

The election, held February 15 at Nazareth Motherhouse in Concordia, culminated a 20-month Senate process. During the Senate, as part of their refounding efforts, the Congregation adopted a new governance model and set the direction for the next four years with its commitment to nonviolence.

Sister Marcia Allen, a native of Plainville, KS, will be serving her third term as president. She previously held that office from 1987-1995. She is currently on staff at Manna House of Prayer in Concordia.

Sister Beth Stover was raised in Beloit, KS, and is presently with the North Central-Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging in Manhattan, KS.
Sister Anna Marie Broxterman is from Baileyville, KS, and is the vocation director for the community inviting women to become vowed members.
Sister Regina Ann Brummel, was raised in Boonville, Mo. She has most recently worked at the White Earth Tribal and Community College in northwestern MN.
Sister Jean Rosemarynoski grew up in Wichita and Topeka and is the communications director for the congregation.
Sister Judy Stephens, from Oakley, KS, works in Hispanic Ministry at Catholic Charities in Salina.
Sister Mary Jo Thummel is also a native of Plainville, KS, and is a pastoral associate at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Junction City, KS.
The new council will further the vision of refounding by working toward a more in-depth response to the demands of the Gospel and the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph relative to the needs of the time.

Sisters sponsor ecology program

Thursday, February 28, 2008
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden will sponsor a series of programs related to ecology and the environment.

The first program will be The Global Banquet: Politics of Food, from 10 a.m. to noon March 8 in the motherhouse, 1020 State St., Baden,

Remaining programs are:

• Climate Change, 10 a.m. to noon May 10.

• Who's at Your Table? 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 12.

• Shifting World Views for Shift in Energy, 10 a.m. to noon, Sept. 20.

• Air Quality and You, 10 a.m. to noon, Nov. 8.

Orders find new lifeblood with laity

February 22, 2008

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet are hardly alone in finding new lifeblood through associates. The trend is in full swing, thanks to training programs in dozens of orders that see passing on their values and mission to laypeople as essential to survival.

“It’s a reality that many orders realize -- that for their ministries and charisms to continue, they have to empower laypeople,” said Peggy Maguire, director of associations for the Carondelet sisters.

If that mandate is true -- which dwindling numbers of religious seems to indicate -- then the face of these orders may look very different in the future.

A two-part study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington, released in 2000 and 2003, has estimated that close to 30,000 lay associates are affiliated with a religious order.

But the demographics of the studies, commissioned by the North American Conference of Associates and Religious, is more telling. Women outnumber men seven to one. And younger vowed religious are more likely to work with associates than older religious.

But perhaps the most important statistic found in the study was the level of commitment to mission expressed by the lay associates.

“As they gain familiarity with the religious institute,” the report states, “90 percent of associates report a growing desire to serve others and to become involved in various forms of ministry.”

Lay staffers embrace order's charism

Associates program blossoms at university sponsored by sisters
Kansas City, Mo.

When Delany Dean enters her classroom at Avila University, she has more on her mind than the lecture she prepared for her psychology students. Like many who have gone before her at Avila, located in Kansas City, Mo., she is mindful of the mission espoused by the school’s founder and sponsor -- the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Louis Province.

The order’s original charge still applies, to do “all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy of which woman is capable and which will most benefit the dear neighbor.” Dean, assistant professor of psychology, wants that charism to permeate her work and the work of the entire school.

“There’s a constant presence in my mind to bring something extra to my students,” she said. “When I see an opportunity to bring up the kind of work CSJs do, I try hard to do so.”

This is not a top-down directive. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

While the number of Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet has dwindled to a mere handful at Avila, the order’s presence -- its values, its mission and its guidance -- is increasing. Last year Dean and 10 other faculty and staff members at Avila became lay associates of the order.

“In many ways people who work here see their work as a form of ministry,” said Avila president Ron Slepitza, one those 11 new associates. “To find a way to affirm that, grow in that, is what we are trying to do. So the associates program started as a faith-sharing group that became a more focused way of living the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.”

Grass roots

This spring, another seven faculty and staff members are expected to join as associates after meeting weekly for the entire school year. The candidates, of which nearly half are non-Catholic, study the order’s history and spirituality and discuss their own personal growth. It’s not a small commitment and it has surprised even members of the order that so many are eager to join.

“We already considered the staff here partners in ministry,” said Sr. Ruth Stuckel, associate professor of humanities and performing arts at Avila. “We didn’t think to make them associates. A few did it on their own and got so excited they started spreading the word.”

Jeremy Lillig, a 26-year-old graduate of Avila and a media specialist for the university, was one who planted the seed by becoming an associate himself two years ago, under the sponsorship of Stuckel.

“It seemed like a natural step in my spiritual growth to become an associate,” Lillig said. “Once I went through the program, I saw how beneficial it could be for others.”

Lillig wrote a letter to colleagues he felt shared the order’s values and spiritual aspirations. The response went far beyond his expectations.

“It was amazing,” he said. “Not only did everyone express interest, there was just such a hunger out there for this kind of community.”

It was such an enthusiastic response, it caught the attention of employees at other Carondolet ministries, which include eight other universities, as well as high schools and hospitals.

“I’ve had other campus ministers ask me about it,” said Dave Armstrong, Avila’s campus minister and a co-leader of the associates program along with Stuckel. “What I’ve told them is it’s a wonderful and somewhat rare opportunity to minister to faculty and staff -- and it’s pretty easy to do.”

Right relationship

There is no obvious professional benefit to the associates program. In fact, Slepitza said it remains to be seen what institutional outcomes result from this movement at Avila. Still, he has his hopes.

“I think a university that wants to be successful must really understand what sets it apart,” Slepitza said. “The more we say, ‘This is what we stand for,’ the better off we are. And when you look at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the value that is prevalent is right relationship.”

Slepitza is referring to the the order’s statement on social justice: “We commit ourselves to liberation from violence by the promotion of right relationships within community, with the dear neighbor, and with all creation.”

Dean said right relationship begins for her by honoring the spirit of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

“We can stand and walk with the sisters in our own versions of their ways of living,” Dean wrote in her blog shortly after her commitment ceremony last spring, “for the benefit of our university and, especially, our students. We can do so even if there are no sisters walking beside us in the flesh. They certainly walk beside us in the spirit, and constantly encourage us.”

That spirit is what must thrive in this modern age, said Peggy Maguire, the order’s director of association and a 30-year lay associate herself. The numbers are clear about the order’s future as a body of women religious. At its height, the sisters numbered around 1,600. Now the number is 416. Meanwhile, the associates numbers have grown to 164.

“I think it’s very reasonable to expect associates to take a more active role in the community,” Maguire said. “In fact, associates are already involved in almost every aspect of the community, with the exception of the leadership in the motherhouse.”

And, of course, right relationship goes both ways. Armstrong, whose office is now in the former living quarters of the sisters at Avila, said that many of the associates and candidates are drawn to the program because the order’s values reflect their own.

“For me and for others in the group,” he said, “becoming an associate is a way to publicly affirm what we have already believed and practiced. Now we do it with the mission of the order in mind.”

Many paths

Lillig’s and Dean’s stories provide similarities and contrasts on how one’s journey leads to becoming an associate.

Lillig grew up Catholic, attended Catholic schools, and was deeply influenced by the religious who lived and worked in his schools.

“I’ve had seven Sisters of St. Joseph who really had an effect on me,” Lillig said. “It started in second grade religion and went through to Avila, where I discovered my calling to be an empowered layperson in the church to advocate for social justice.”

His time studying theater at Avila exposed him to one of the core principles of the Sisters of St. Joseph -- standing up for social justice in all realms of life, including the arts. The sisters have long been known for their justice work -- they have marched for civil rights, opposed war and all forms of violence, advocated for the sick and elderly.

The example inspired Lillig to apply his interests toward similar causes. While in college he wrote a play about homelessness that he toured around the area. The experience led him to form Full Circle Theater Company, which addresses social justice themes.

Justice was also a key draw for Dean, 55. But her values and causes were well formed before she encountered the sisters four years ago, when she joined the Avila faculty.

“I didn’t know any more about the CSJs than what we were told at the orientation,” Dean said. “But once I had a chance to learn about their history and their values, it was clear I had found a charism that very much matched my own.”

Dean had to turn at several crossroads before she reached Avila. She was reared an Episcopalian, but said she was drawn to Catholicism at an early age.

“I fell in with a crowd of justice-minded Catholics while I was in college and they corrupted me,” she laughed. “I was just drawn to that spirituality and eventually joined the church. But I really knew more about Jesuit spirituality, partially because my parish is Jesuit.”

Even her career had to change for her to reach this stage in her life. Dean served as prosecuting attorney and later became a defense lawyer before she returned to school to get a doctorate in psychology, which led her to teaching. She said the model of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet resonates with her life experience -- one where a deep spirituality and commitment to a more just world go hand-in-hand.

“I think Sisters of St. Joseph live their principles in very powerful ways,” she said. “Perhaps they are a little quieter about it than other orders. But their story is inspirational when you learn it.”

An associate makes a three-year commitment to the order when she or he joins. There is no financial commitment on either end. Nor is there a prescribed way that associates live out their commitment to the order.

But in a sense, Dean says, there is a directive if associates look to the sisters’ example of living.

“The challenge for us is to live out our lives the way they live out theirs,” Dean said. “When they find people in need, they find the resources and they tend to that need. We should be doing the same in our own lives.”

Going green

Sisters are renewing community life from the ground up

Click on the link for this article with photos

Her ministry helps the dying come to terms with life
Thursday, January 31, 2008 Pittsburgh

There's no time for small talk when you're dying.

Instead, larger issues about the past and, especially, the future, tend to matter most.

They are weighty topics, no doubt, but these conversations are the life's work of Sister Catherine Higgins, of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden.

"To me, this is a calling," said Sister Catherine, a chaplain and hospice social worker for Celtic Hospice and Palliative Care in Butler County.

After starting her career in education, she turned to hospice work after caring for her mother during 16 months of illness before her death.

"Those were the best 16 months of my relationship with her," Sister Catherine said.

"She taught me more in that time than she did in all the other years of our lives."

Sister Catherine sums those lessons into a philosophy she calls the ministry of presence. Simply put, what people, and not just the dying, need most is someone who is truly present with them, focused completely on them for just a little while.

Her mother, though she was bedridden, taught her daughter that lesson during her illness.

"She was really the minister," said Sr. Catherine. "She was trapped in that room in so many ways, but she listened to everyone who cared for her or who visited her with her total presence."

In response, people opened up to her mother with their most personal questions or concerns. It was at her mother's well-attended funeral that Sister Catherine learned how many lives she'd affected with her quiet caring.

After her mother's death, Sr. Catherine devoted herself to people who were dying, practicing the ministry she learned from her mother.

"When a person is terminally ill, he or she is very vulnerable," she said. "They're coming to terms with life's questions. 'Is there really a God? Have I been duped? Have I been forgiven?' "

By allowing the patients to take the lead in the conversation, She said, finds she can help them best.

Sister Catherine lives in the order's motherhouse in Baden. She works for Celtic, which among its services, provides care for terminally ill people. The Celtic approach is to treat not only a patient's physical needs, but their emotional and spiritual needs, Sr. Catherine said.

"Often they come into the program thinking they're just going to get pain medication, but we come as a team," she said.

As a social worker, Sister Catherine makes sure that both the patient and the caregiver have access to all the resources available to ease a difficult situation. As a chaplain, she offers her spiritual support.

"Sometimes, when you ask someone if they want to see a chaplain, they immediately say yes. Other times, they're wary. But when I walk in there's no judgment being made at all. This is about knowing God hasn't gone anywhere."

The wary patients may have never stepped into a church, or feel that it's too late to turn to a faith that they rejected long ago.

"The more self-reliant the person is the more difficult it is for them to be so vulnerable and so needy. If that's the case they're reluctant to ask God's mercy or forgiveness." Sister Catherine is there to tell them that it's never too late.

Sister told the story of a man who would not speak to her on her first visit. His nurses told her that he'd been asking for her later.

She returned, and he gradually opened up, telling her he carried guilt for the killing he'd done as a soldier years ago.

"He presumed he was doomed," she said.

Sister Catherine visited him regularly over the next several months, listening to his stories and helping him come to terms with his past.

"He told me he really understood forgiveness at a different level. He died with a prayer on his lips," she said.

Work with dying patients is not for everybody, she knows. But anyone can practice the ministry of presence, and there are many people in need, people who are homebound, or who have a family member who is sick. People who have recently lost a loved one or gone through some other emotional trauma, she said.

To help reach those people, Sister Catherine has sent a letter to area churches offering her services as a trainer. She's willing to visit and explain what the ministry of presence means, and offer suggestions for implementing it within individual congregations.

A school that bucked the trends

Canandaigua, N.Y.

The Civil War was in the distant future when the St. Mary’s school opened in Canandaigua. The school has survived hard times during the Depression, an arson in the 1970s, and most recently the closings of Catholic schools throughout this region.

But its doors are still open.

“In 160 years, there are waves of up and down times,” said Principal Anne Marie Deutsch. “It’s like anything in our lives.”

St. Mary’s has been bucking the trends. The small school behind the big church on Main Street is growing, with enrollment jumping about 18 percent since Deutsch became principal seven years ago.

It’s a stark contrast to what’s happening over the county line. Two weeks ago, the Catholic Diocese of Rochester announced the closure of 13 of its 24 schools in Monroe County. Over the last decade, enrollment in the diocese’s schools has dropped by 45 percent, and the school system is facing a $1.3 million deficit this year and a $5.3 million shortfall next year.

“It’s sad,” said Deutsch. “It’s sad for the child and the family. It’s sad for my peers.”
Deutsch said St. Mary’s parents were concerned about the Jan. 18 closing announcement in Monroe County. “But they know that our school is financially and academically strong,” she said.

Of the 7,498 Catholic schools nationwide, 212 consolidated or closed last year. There has been an 11 percent decrease in enrollment across the country in the last five years, according to data from the National Catholic Educational Association.

Deutsch said the growth at St. Mary’s could be attributed to a population boom in communities like Canandaigua and Victor. New students are a combination of public-school transfers, ex-homeschoolers and new moves to the area, she said.
Keeping up with the times doesn’t hurt, either.

“We have all the accouterments of any other school,” said Deutsch. “I don’t think they lack for anything that’s in any other place.”

Those amenities include interactive white boards and computers in every classroom. Outside the classroom, there’s the chess club, the bowling club, the knitting club ... And about five years ago, St. Mary’s added sports teams at the junior-high level because school officials found they were losing young athletes to public schools.

Mackenzey Tallman, an eighth grader, plays basketball, softball and soccer at the school but likes St. Mary’s because “it has a high academic program.” She said her sister — a St. Mary’s grad who is now at Canandaigua Academy — is ahead of her peers academically. Mackenzey will attend CA next fall, which will be a big change from the small curriculum.

“I just love it here,” she said.

Early days

The school started in the basement of St. Mary’s church in 1849. Traditional blue and yellow jumpers, pressed pants and collared shirts still rule the halls, but gone are the nuns who once ran the school.

In 1854, the Sisters of St. Joseph came from Chicago to help the school, and in 1869 they joined the newly formed Diocese of Rochester. The current school was built in 1880, with additions completed in 1910 and 1957.

While St. Mary’s school is part of the diocese, it is parish-funded. Tuition, which accounts for about 60 percent of the school’s revenues, runs about $3,000 per student and is on a sliding scale depending on how many children from one family attend. For the balance, the parish contributes about 20 percent and fund-raising accounts for the rest.

The 211 students at St. Mary’s are not all Catholic. Part of the school’s curriculum includes mass and Catholic education, but students of all faiths are accepted. Deutsch said about 15 percent of the student body practices other religions.

“The parents like that they’re welcomed here,” said Deutsch.

Walk through the school hallways any day and you’re bound to see parent volunteers helping out in classrooms, serving lunch or monitoring recess. Deutsch estimates that about 1,000 community members help out in a year in school or at fundraisers. Some are parents or grandparents and others have children who have already gone through the school.

A family-like atmosphere is what brought the Coha family to St. Mary’s this year. Jill and Tim Coha had to relocate from Michigan to Canandaigua after Will changed jobs, and Jill said the family had plenty of Catholic schools in the greater Rochester area to choose from for their two children.

They settled on St. Mary’s because of the attention given to all students. Jill said the church and school community has made her family feel at home.

“I thought it would be miserable moving,” she said. “It’s been a very smooth transition.”

Wendy Cowan, St. Mary’s gym teacher, started at the school 26 years ago — right after college — and never left, even though she admits her salary is lower than it would be at a public school.

“It’s like a family,” she said. “I love it, I know everybody. They’re all my kids.”

The school has seen generations of families pass through its doors. Pam Negley, the school secretary, was the second of three generations to attend the school. Her father was a student in the early 1950s, she went in the 1970s, and one of her sons is in sixth grade. Another son graduated last year.

“It’s the top-notch education,” she said. “St. Mary’s is very close to my heart and my faith.”

Bloomfield sister helped others to see their potential

Pittsburgh Friday, February 15, 2008

During 60 years as a Sister of St. Joseph, Sister Margaret Berry was filled with compassion for the less fortunate, always believing that they could improve their lot in life.

Sister Margaret Berry of Bloomfield, principal of St. John of God School in McKees Rocks, died on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008, at West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield. She was 77.

Sister Margaret Llewellyn, who is a member of the order in Baden, Beaver County, recalled that Sister Berry was sent in 1990 to Belize in Central America to supervise a child development center.

"It was in a very poor area," said Sister Llewellyn, associate professor at Carlow University in Oakland. "There were times when it seemed that Sister Margaret wouldn't have the funds to meet the payroll, but somehow she could reach out to those who had the ability to help."

Sister Llewellyn said Sister Berry cared about the spiritual needs of those she helped and "would take the time to listen, pray and advise them."

Another of her contemporaries, Sister Sharon Costello, said Sister Berry saw the potential of every person she met.

"Sister Margaret invited you to live the potential she saw in you, even if you didn't see it yourself," she said.

Born and raised in the North Side, Sister Berry was one of six children of Irish immigrants John and Bridget McDonough Berry.

They were members of Annunciation Parish in the North Side.

In the years after her entrance into the religious life, Sister Berry taught in elementary and secondary schools in the Pittsburgh and Altoona/Johnstown dioceses and was an instructor at then-Carlow College.

She served as principal of St. Joseph High School in Natrona before becoming principal of St. John of God.

Sister Berry was opposed to physical punishment for those who misbehaved, Sister Llewellyn said. "She would ask the offending student to come to her office, where she would invite them to make amends, read a book and then give her a book report when they were done."

Although she spent most of her career in education, Sister Berry assisted Jubilee Kitchen in Pittsburgh's Soho neighborhood, a ministry to the homeless and hungry.

She is survived by two sisters, Mary Panneton of Bowie, Md., and Anna Strosser of Philadelphia.

She was preceded in death by a sister, Elizabeth Berry, and two brothers, Joseph and Jack Berry.

Friends will be received from 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday and from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m Monday at the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 3 p.m. Monday in the motherhouse chapel, with burial to follow in the sisters' cemetery on the motherhouse grounds.

Newsday (Melville, NY)

July 19, 2003

Centennial Convocation / The Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood reflect on their mission and renew their vows

For three days last month, the Sisters of St. Joseph gathered to mark the order’s 100 years in Brentwood. More than 450 nuns came together at the convent to pray, renew their vows and reflect on their role, and the needs and challenges of the world. They dedicated a 12-foot "peace pole," an obelisk with the message "May Peace Prevail on Earth" on each of its four sides.

The main speaker each day was Sister Maria Pascuzzi, a biblical scholar and assistant professor of theology and religious studies at the University of San Diego. After the closing liturgy on June 29, two of the elder sisters, Joseph Anita Quinn and Isabel Maria Rivera, sprinkled holy water, assisted by two younger members in temporary vows Sister Marie Mackey, who teaches at Mary Louis Academy in Jamaica Estates, and Sister Susan Wilcox, campus minister at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn.

The Roman Catholic order was founded, without cloister or habit, in the 17th century in France and is known for its ministries in education, health care and social work, especially to the poor and oppressed. The more than 800 sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood serve in more than 240 sites in this country, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

A daily prayer and additional information are available on the Brentwood sisters’ Web site,

Copyright (c) 2003 Newsday, Inc.

Saint Paul Pioneer Press

November 3, 2001



Author: JASMINE KRIPALANI, Pioneer Press

When the Sisters of St. Joseph began removing their habits 35 years ago, some traditionalists said they missed the holy presence. But the sisters of today say it's still there.

"People emphasized the outfit and not the work," said Irene O'Neill, who took her final vows in 1985. "When they got rid of the habit, they peeled off the things that covered up the fact that everybody in the world could be living this life. And all it is, is a life of goodness."

The sisters have led the good life for 150 years in St. Paul and today will celebrate the arrival of four Roman Catholic nuns who stepped off a St. Paul-bound steamboat from Carondelet, Mo., on Nov. 3, 1851. Two weeks later, they converted the vestry of a log church into a school, and two years later, they made it a hospital. A century and a half of service was begun.

The vows have remained the same: poverty, chastity and obedience. The meaning, however, has changed.

Once, the vows of poverty prevented nuns from listening to the radio, going to the movies or driving a car. Today, they mean living simply.

Once, the vows of chastity kept them from forming close friendships with anyone. Chastity today means living among a variety of neighbors and developing personal relationships, although abstinence still applies.

Once, the vows of obedience required the sisters to live in a communal setting, where they rose, prayed and ate at the same hour. Now it means listening.

Their lives changed in the mid-1960s, when the Second Vatican Council relaxed some of the restrictive policies -- allowing sisters to wear contemporary clothes, occupy houses in groups of three or four, and drive.

Today, the Sisters of St. Joseph celebrate their anniversary with a ceremony-by-invitation at RiverCentre's Grand Floor Ballroom. At noon, the bells will toll 150 times at several churches throughout the Twin Cities and at one in Carondelet. A public Mass and reception was held in March.

The sisters can point to 40 ministries they support in the Twin Cities, including St. Joseph's Hospital, Cretin-Derham Hall High School and the College of St. Catherine.

"They are surrounded by people who support them and value each other's growth," Kathleen Matuska, 46, said of her younger sister's life as a nun. "I've always told (O'Neill) that I'm jealous of her life as a sister. I'm kind of joking with her, but I kind of mean it. The nuns have something that no one else has, which is support from the community of nuns. I have my husband and kids, and she has a community."

The nuns dispute many notions, especially the one about Catholic nuns dying out.

Although nationwide statistics indicate a steady decline in the number of religious sisters since 1965, O'Neill points to the fact that their order started with four sisters in St. Paul and now has 405 nuns plus 55 dedicated volunteers, known as consociates.

O'Neill's day begins with meditation and ends with prayer and is filled with visits to various social service organizations run by the sisters. They include a dining room for homeless people, a day-care center and a learning center for immigrants.

At the Peace House in Minneapolis, about two dozen people on a morning last week sat together in a circle and sang "This Land Is Your Land." The voices were mostly from the homeless community who gather there on Franklin Avenue at 10 a.m. every weekday.

A woman who had painted a red flower the size of a nickel on her left cheek strummed her guitar. Every Tuesday is music day. Some waited silently for lunch. One man slept. Most sang along.

Rose Tillemans, 78, runs the show. Many call her Ms. Rose or Rose, but few call her Sister. During the singing session, a man loudly yawns. Tillemans corrects him by saying, "That was inappropriate."

He apologized.

"It is a day center, and in it we try to form a community, and the main thing here is respect for one another, caring and telling our stories in an open forum," said Tillemans, who started the center in 1985.

A Cretin-Derham Hall student, Bridgette Donnelly, visits the group once a week. She is working on her senior community service project. After each visit, she walks away with a new perspective.

"Some guy asked me how I was, and when I asked him, 'How are you?' he said, 'Well, I'm alive,' " Donnelly, 17, said. "It really ... wow. I have my comfortable life, and they're living day to day. They don't care that I have a house, that I have money, and I live comfortably and have the luxuries that they don't. They're very accepting and take the uncomfortableness away."

Free food is offered only to sober diners.

A mile west of the Peace House, O'Neill meets with Sister Polly Preston, who runs a day care called INSTEP, licensed for 20 children.

Inside a room at the Calvary Baptist Church in Minneapolis, the children are watched, held and fed by Preston and her staff of five.

Here, free child care is offered only to low-income parents who don't qualify for government programs. But sometimes a lack of space forces Preston to turn away parents.

"If the church could raise enough money to buy the next-door property, then we'd have enough space for 20 more children," Preston said.

This is a place where parents leave their children for three or four hours while they search for work, run errands or attend an adult-education program in one of several rooms upstairs, which is also staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

About 156 immigrants who have moved to the United States from places like Ecuador or Somalia spend an hour to an hour and a half with one of the 15 sisters or volunteer instructors who teach a variety of subjects from English to computer skills in a program known as learning in style, offered only to immigrant students.

"They have the same need the immigrants had 150 years ago," said Agnes Foley, who started the adult-education program eight years ago.

Of the 405 sisters from the St. Paul province, 370 live in the Twin Cities, and 208 are actively involved in one of more than 40 ministries; 13 work throughout the state; 20 are scattered across the nation; and three work on international missions. About 160 are retired but continue their work in prayer and witness.

"You can't work in the church without knowing about the work of the Sisters of St. Joseph," said Fran Donnelly, a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary who works as co-vicar for religious sisters at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. "They, like any religious community, are affected by shifting numbers, and no matter what the community holds, they're going to continue using their human resources and reach out to people in whatever way they can.

"As individuals, (they) see a need and respond to it, whether it's prison reform or shelters for abused women. They're going to be there on the front line responding."


Eight communities of Roman Catholic nuns will present a readers-theater panel Nov. 11 to highlight their century and a half of work in education, health care, social service, art and spirituality in Minnesota. The program, "Sisters With a Mission: Women's Religious Communities in Minnesota," will begin at 2 p.m. at the Minnesota History Center, 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul. One of the participating orders will be the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who are marking the 150th anniversary of their arrival in St. Paul. Admission is free.

Copyright 2001, 2003 Saint Paul Pioneer Press
Record Number: 0111020127

Allston-Brighton TAB (Needham, MA)

August 18, 2006

Rooted in tradition, reaching to the future

Sisters of St. Joseph review mission, look ahead
Author: Judy Wasserman

The Sisters of St. Joseph were established hundreds of years ago, in 1650, and today, continue the community work and teaching for which they have been known for so many years.

But a visit to their motherhouse on Cambridge Street shows the Sisters, now under brand-new leadership, are squarely in the 21st century.

And they are very proud of it. Just ask Sister Mary Murphy and Sister Helen Sullivan, newly elected members of the congregation's leadership team.

Sister Mary, who just began her six-year term as president, smiled ear to ear during a recent interview as she recounted the decision to go high tech. And, Sister Helen, who has begun her six-year term as an area councilor, eagerly pointed out details in the newly renovated motherhouse, which makes it a "green" building.

Going green, looking to the future

In planning the building renovations, the Sisters were determined to be energy conscious wherever possible, and in their words, "carry on the vision and work of sustainability." For example, Sister Helen noted, the wood floors are made of bamboo, a very plentiful wood; and the double-paned, low-e windows cut down on transmission of cold or warm air outside and the heat from direct sun exposure.

In a booklet about the renovations, the Sisters write, "The motherhouse residences have been renovated to take full advantage of the latest technology available. The building products are comprised of many recyclable materials and nontoxic products." In addition, they have recycled approximately 92 percent of the materials removed from the motherhouse.

The motherhouse was built in 1963, and the renovations were completed almost two years ago. Currently, 82 sisters live in the building, and the leadership team and its support staff work there.

Referring to the new technology, Sister Mary said the entire motherhouse is wireless. There is little or no paper used, and everyone is on computers, even senior sisters, she said. To ensure that everyone uses computers, howto classes were offered to all the sisters; 130 sisters took the courses, said Sister Mary.

Ultimately, the new president, who is a former principal of Mount St. Joseph Academy, said she would like to see the sisters teach online, especially since so many of them are former teachers. It just seems like a natural progression, she said.

Rooted in community

While they are very proud of their building, the Sisters are equally proud of the work they do in the community, and the various ministries they accomplish every day. The Sisters of St. Joseph can be found working in local parishes, in local schools, at Franciscan Children's Hospital, at Boston College, at McNamara House in Allston, at St. Columbkille's and at Mount St. Joseph School.

In fact, said Sister Helen, their role in the community is very important to them. They have just completed a Chapter Year, a time in which they meet to discuss who they are and what direction they want to go in. At the conclusion of the Chapter Year, they elected their new leadership team, and also emphasized the fact, said Sister Helen, that "relationship is at the heart of our mission; relationships are our gift to the people."

Sister Helen, who joined the leadership team after several years working at Jackson Mann Community Center and at Jackson Mann School, said, "It is the Sisters' great desire to deepen our relationships with the people in this neighborhood, and to have more interaction with them." One example is the plan to offer more weekday Masses in their chapel.

"We will continue our original goal of reaching out to the neighborhood. And we aim to promote more harmony; that's our gift to the people," said Sister Helen.

Sister Mary added that the Sisters are currently conducting focus groups to determine current and future needs.

Responding to the needs of the time is part of our mission, said Sister Mary. "We have the energy and expertise to do that."

Teachers at heart

Sister Helen agreed, and gave as an example the Sisters who work with the Literacy Connection, an Allston-Brighton agency that provides tutoring and English as a Second Language instruction. She said the Sisters' gifted and extremely advanced educational background are a valuable asset to the Connection; the Sisters, she said, "are teachers to their fingertips."

Msgr. William P. Fay of St. Columbkille's would agree with that assessment.

"Historically, the Sisters of St. Joseph have been known for their extraordinary presence in education, and their generosity over the years," he said.

He added that the story of Brighton and the church couldn't be told without a chapter about the Sisters.

Besides being excellent teachers, they are dedicated to working behind the scenes, and helping the church function, Fay said. He credits the Sisters of St. Joseph for "pointing me in the right direction, and helping me see that my vocation was the priesthood."

Sister Helen praised the work of the Literacy Connection, saying that "anyplace, anywhere a student wants to learn, we will meet them and teach them." The program has an office but no classrooms; "our school building is really the whole city, everywhere. We never run out of space for Literacy Connection students, because we are without walls," said Sister Helen.

As an area councilor, Sister Helen is responsible for helping individual sisters find ministry opportunities, and helping them prepare and train for their ministries.

Does she miss the work she did at Jackson Mann? "I love my new job, and getting to know the Sisters better. Now, this is my work," she said. Sister Helen said she misses seeing the people, including staff and students, at Jackson Mann, but she knows she is welcome to visit them anytime. "It's like having the best of both worlds now," she said.

Besides Sister Mary Murphy and Sister Helen Sullivan, the other leadership team members are Lee Hogan, assistant president; Marilyn McGoldrick and Rosemary Brennan, general councilors; and Brenda Forry and Ellen Powers, area councilors.

Los Angeles Times

Author: Alissa J. Rubin
Dateline: ST. LOUIS

During Barbara Dreher's first year as province director of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, 27 elderly nuns died. No young women enrolled to take their place. Those who remained were in their later years, and the order lacked the long-term resources to care for them. A mortality study showed that the 350- year-old order was destined to disappear one day without a trace.

Dreher's leadership team took drastic action. They sold property and cut living expenses. They asked former parochial-school students and hospital patients served by the nuns to dig deep. They raised enough money to cover the order's future expenses and build a nursing home for aging sisters. They even launched a $10 million renovation of their stately 19th-century convent on the banks of the Mississippi, so their presence will still be felt long after the sisters themselves are gone.

"Imagine opening up the chapel to everyone, inviting everyone to come pray with us on Wednesday evenings," mused Dreher, a trim, energetic woman of 52 who could easily pass for a corporate executive. "The renovation enables us to say we're here to stay."

The Sisters of St. Joseph will not go quietly. Their mission now is survival, and their determination says much about what it takes these days to lead a religious life in deeply secular America.

In their long dark habits, white wimples and black veils, Roman Catholic sisters once were a familiar presence on America's urban landscape. More numerous than priests and as fearless as policemen, they did much of their work in poor immigrant neighborhoods, educating generations of children in parochial schools, nursing families in Catholic hospitals and running orphanages.

Today, only 80,000 Catholic women remain in religious life in America, far below the peak of nearly 200,000 in 1965. Of those who remain, half are older than 70, a quarter older than 80.

As the sisters have gradually vanished from the American scene, so, too, has the vast network of social services they administered. Hundreds of parochial schools that once served poor neighborhoods have closed, as have orphanages and other service projects run by sisters. Some of the work is carried on by secular and quasi-religious agencies, such as Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services. But something has been lost, in the view of academics and church officials.

"There was something about the dedication that the sisters brought to their work," said Sister Andree Fries, director of the National Religious Retirement Office of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. "I don't mean to suggest that laypeople aren't dedicated, too. But for the sisters, there was a certain passion for the mission."

By the 1960s, the traditional world of American Catholicism was breaking down. The women's movement was demonstrating that women could rise in professions once dominated by men. It was the era of the civil-rights movement, the Peace Corps and VISTA. Many idealistic young Catholic women saw new opportunities to serve in the secular world.

And the sexual revolution caused people to think twice about embracing celibacy. These and other social changes not only reduced recruits but also triggered an exodus from convents. Thousands of women who entered in the 1950s and 1960s simply walked away from religious life.

Dreher swam against the tide. She was one of five children in a Catholic family. Her father was a salesman for one of St. Louis's hometown companies, Anheuser Busch. Her mother was a housewife who later told Dreher she prayed that one of her daughters would become a sister.

Dreher chose the Sisters of St. Joseph because they had taught her in parochial school and she found them spirited and independent.

"They weren't the old barren, matronly women that people think of when they think of nuns," Dreher said. "These were real vibrant, gutsy women."

She took her first vows in 1966, at the beginning of the convent exodus. She was 18, full of hope, pride and ambition.

At the time, the order was one of the most prominent in the Midwest. The St. Louis division alone had about 1,500 sisters, and branches had spread to cities as far away as Los Angeles; St. Paul, Minn., and Albany, N.Y.

The order valued education for its members and paid for Dreher's undergraduate training in elementary education. The sisters also supported her while she got a master's degree in religious education at the University of San Francisco and a second master's in theological studies at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif.

But at the same time, Dreher saw many of her fellow sisters depart for lives in the secular world.

"Some of my best friends left," she said. Among the dilemmas faced by sisters was how to think about celibacy in a world where many of them now dressed as laywomen and worked alongside men.

"Many of us joined so young we had never dated. So in the 1960s and 1970s, when the United States was having a sexual revolution, we were having puppy love," Dreher said.

She struggled for several years before coming to the conviction that she could live a celibate life.

"I still remember the day I realized I would never have a child of my own. But I've discovered religious life is ... the way I can give birth."

Through the years, most nuns have been employed by local parishes as teachers, and most were shockingly underpaid. Even in the mid-1970s, a teaching job in a parish elementary school often paid no more than $1,200 a year. Once an order had paid the utility bills and bought food, there was often little left to put into retirement savings. And the government doesn't make up the difference: Retired sisters receive an average annual benefit of $3,300 from Social Security - one- third the national average.

Sister Mary Frances Johnson, financial manager for the Sisters of St. Joseph, said she saw the disaster coming years ago. "Our community has had actuarial studies done since the 1970s, but they weren't taken seriously because, you know, "God would provide,"' said Johnson, shaking her head.

When Dreher, Johnson and a third sister, Suzanne Giblin, were elected to the order's leadership in the early 1990s, they resolved to put their financial house in order.

Giblin focused on recruiting laypeople to become adjunct members of the order. That meant they could participate in some missions without taking vows of chastity, poverty or obedience. Today, the order has 110 associates - men and women - who not only work closely on projects with the sisters but also tend to make generous financial contributions.

Johnson, who has an MBA and a doctorate in chemistry, concluded that the order needed to sell some of its property.

To the sisters' relief, Johnson recommended that the order keep its mother house. But it sold other land and buildings, freeing up $5 million. Austerity measures came next. The leaders cut the living expenses allotted for each sister. They halted sabbaticals and reduced charitable contributions. In an even bigger departure, they decided to stop paying education expenses.

Johnson turned the sisters into aggressive fund-raisers. She got them to track down laypeople they had served over the years, assembling a sizable list of potential contributors.

"They've found people who were patients in our hospitals and students in our schools, and now they are bringing in $2 million a year," she said.

The sisters instituted an auction that brings in about $100,000 a year. They began sponsoring a golf tournament that raises about $60,000 annually.

But their biggest gamble was to convert a convent building into a nursing home and retirement community for aging sisters.

Retired sisters contribute their Social Security benefits and any pension income they have, and the center now operates in the black. More important, it enables older sisters to live with many of the people they have known for decades.

The hard work and tough calls paid off. Johnson invested the order's new funds in the booming stock market, and the sisters currently have about $100 million in the bank to help cover future costs. Dreher now feels comfortable encouraging younger sisters to do the kind of work they believe in, rather than taking jobs just to earn money for the community.

Still, nothing they have done can reverse the trends that point toward a day when the order will have too few members to survive.

When Dreher feels overwhelmed, she visits the convent's sandstone-walled chapel with its heavy, dark wooden pews and soaring classical columns. As she walks the length of the sanctuary, she looks up at the stained-glass windows for inspiration.

It is here, she reminds herself, that the Sisters of St. Joseph got their start with just a few nuns to help the needy, the deaf and the sick. It is here that they have come together to pray, to make difficult decisions and to open their convent to neighbors. It is here, she says, that they still have decades of service ahead of them, and it is her job to make sure that they - and she - stay focused on their mission.

"This is where I professed my first vows," she said. "My perpetual vows."

Copyright (c) 2000 Watertown Daily Times
Record Number: 0010250305

Allston-Brighton TAB (Needham, MA)

July 27, 2007

High school students learn of Sisters of St. Joseph Global Reach

Making connections between issues of the global village and the spirituality of Congregations of Sisters of St. Joseph may, at first glance, appear to be beyond the reach of high school students; however, this endeavor proved to be life changing when 26 students from Mount St. Joseph Academy in Brighton and Fontbonne Academy in Milton came together in New York City from July 11 to 15 with students from schools across the country sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph. The purpose of their gathering was to deepen their awareness of the gift of CSSJ spirituality and history and learn of its relation to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, a nongovernmental organization in general consultative status at the United Nations, presented the conference. During the participants conference, learned more about the mission and spirituality of the Sisters of St. Joseph and experienced how it is lived in the context of critical world issues affecting the global neighborhood.

The conference included daily prayer, a briefing at the United Nations and presentations by participating high schools. Additional input included activities and discussion on topics ranging from CSJ history and spirituality, Catholic social teaching and the Millennium Development Goals. The time together provided students of CSSJ secondary schools an opportunity to meet with each other, work together and return to their schools prepared to share the CSSJ global vision, mission and spirit with others.

When asked to comment on the first day's presentation, Stephanie Vasquez of Mount St. Joseph Academy said, "When I saw the picture of Earth from the moon, I realized how small we are and how we have to be so connected as neighbors locally, nationally and globally. Any one of us who may ever have felt put down or small or lacking in confidence now realizes that we are amazing people and we can do anything."

During the next few days others echoed Vasquez's sentiments. Students spoke of their desire to return home and make people more aware of what's going on. The conference offered concrete ways to take action through participation in the One Campaign; awareness of resources available at which is the United Nations global teaching and learning project; and time to create their own project to implement at school.

Of the many schools sponsored by Sisters of St. Joseph throughout the United States, 13 participated in this conference: Academy of Holy Angels, St. Paul, Minn.; Academy of Our Lady of Peace, San Diego; Bishop Kearney High School, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Carondelet High School, Concord, Calif.; Cretin-Derham Hall High School, St. Paul, Minn; Fontbonne Academy, Milton; Mount St. Joseph Academy, Brighton; Nazareth Academy, Rochester, N.Y.; Villa Maria Academy, Erie, Pa.; Mary Louis Academy, Jamaica Estates, N.Y.; St. Joseph High School, Brooklyn, N.Y.; St. Joseph High School, Lakewood, Calif.; and St. Mary's Academy, Inglewood, Calif.

Fontbonne Academy senior Michelle Murdock has known the Sisters of St. Joseph since elementary school but never realized that there were Sisters of St. Joseph all over the country and throughout the world. Many students were not aware of the global reach of the Sisters of St. Joseph or the impact the sisters have on world issues through their General Consultative Status as a United Nations Non-Governmental Organization. Students spoke with gratitude regarding their schools' teachings.

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (NY)

October 27, 2000

A holy calling celebrates 350 years

The Sisters of St. Joseph face an uncertain future with hope.


Their call has been to unite neighbors with neighbors and neighbors with God.

In western New York, this has meant the building of hospitals, schools, parishes and a distinguished college.

Busy shaping the community for so long, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester will come together for a bit of recollection Sunday, when they celebrate 350 years as a Roman Catholic order.

There will be stories about how the congregation was founded in LePuy, France, in 1650, how nine sisters lost their lives in the French Revolution ministering to the people, how in Rochester they set up 23 Catholic schools in 20 years at the request of Rochester's education-minded first bishop, the Most Rev. Bernard J. McQuaid.

For all of this history, however, the congregation - at least in Rochester - faces an uncertain future, as the ranks of the sisters continue to shrink and age.

"Religious orders in the past have risen and declined," said the Rev. Robert F. McNamara, diocesan historian. "You can look at it hopefully or dejectedly, but you're not looking at the truth until it comes."

At its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester, the largest order of nuns in the area, had about 1,000 nuns working in schools, hospitals and other ministries.

Today, there are 395 sisters, only 258 of whom are in active ministries locally. About 30,000 Sisters of St. Joseph minister around the world. Currently the congregation has just one junior sister - who has yet to take her final vows - and no women committed to joining the order.

The declines have been occurring since the mid-1960s, forcing the sisters to hand over to laity many of the ministries they founded.

Despite dwindling numbers, in some ways the presence of the sisters in the area has expanded. No longer is their ministry limited to schools, orphanages and hospitals.

These days, sisters are parish administrators, foster parents, therapists, Realtors, doctors and lawyers.

And they remain enthusiastic about the order's ability to remain vital and purposeful.

"We can't continue to say `if only,' " said Sister Janice Morgan, quoting Trappist monk and social critic Thomas Merton. "We have to be happy with the present."

Morgan, president of the congregation, said the sisters are more energetic and resourceful than ever.

The Sisters of St. Joseph helped change how nuns fulfilled their commitment to God. Until 1650, most orders of nuns cloistered themselves to help the world through prayer.

In the midst of war, famine, poverty and persecution in pre-revolution France, the Rev. John Peter Medaille saw a need for a different kind of avowed life in which nuns serve the people around them, as well as God.

St. Joseph, the "hidden saint," became patron of a new congregation that started with six women.

Rather than habits, they wore widows clothes so they could tend to the sick and poor in public without scandal.

Nine sisters were martyred during the French Revolution, and the congregation disbanded until 1801, when the church was allowed to organize in France again.

The sisters first arrived in the United States in New Orleans, in 1836, and Buffalo's Bishop John Timon requested their presence in his diocese in 1854.

Their first mission in western New York was a school for boys at St. Mary Church in Canandaigua.

When the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester was created in 1868, the sisters became essential in its growth because Bishop McQuaid required new parishes to have schools, and he tapped the sisters to run them.

More than 70 sisters still teach, primarily at the Nazareth schools.

Others minister in lesser known, but still powerful, ways. Since 1988, sisters Myra Monaghan and Anne Maura Morris have run Daystar, providing foster care for babies with serious illness or addictions.

Monaghan likes to tell the story of a girl, four months premature, who weighed just over a pound at birth and was close to dying.

She survived and 14 months later, while in the care of the sisters, began walking. "Her first sentence was, `I did it,' " said Monaghan. "We often say, `How little did she know how profound her words were.' "

The order is working on ways to attract new members, but Morgan acknowledges difficulties. Women, she said, now feel they can do the ministries without joining the sisterhood. And a cycle has developed - fewer sisters means fewer influences on potential sisters.

"It was their example really. They were caring and loving people," said Sister Jackie Stephens, recounting her calling while pursuing a nursing degree at Elmira's St. Joseph Hospital, which was once run by the sisters. "The visibility element in my time was a big draw." Stephens, who entered the order in 1961, now runs Sisters Care, which provides home services to the elderly.

Earlier this year, the order agreed to sell its motherhouse to neighboring Nazareth College, an institution the sisters founded but no longer oversee.

That will enable them to build a new motherhouse that can accommodate more retiring nuns.

But the new house will also include meeting rooms and administrative offices, for there is still much work to be done.

"I'm sure there are going to be new needs. Whatever happens, we seem to be there," said Morgan.

To meet those needs, however, the sisters don't plan to go it alone. They have energetically sought out lay volunteers to assist in their ministries.

"That is one of the ways we're going to walk into the future," said Morgan.

For more information:


The Sisters of St. Joseph will celebrate the 350th anniversary of their founding as a Catholic order Sunday. The day will begin with a morning prayer at 10:30 a.m. and the lighting of an 1868 oil lamp in front of the historic Saltensall Street House in Canandaigua, Ontario County.

At 1 p.m., the sisters will then re-create their journey in the Diocese of Rochester by traveling from Canandaigua in horse-drawn carriages and vintage cars to the motherhouse on East Avenue in Pittsford.

From there, they will take a bus to Nazareth Academy and walk from Nazareth to nearby Sacred Heart Cathedral for a prayer service, sacred music and dancing, recollections and a reception in the school hall. The service is expected to begin at 2 p.m. the reception will follow.


Beginning in 1854, the Sisters of St. Joseph opened 44 schools, orphanages and hospitals throughout the 12-county Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester that are no longer part of their ministries. But the sisters have hardly disappeared. Here's a look at some of the work the congregation sponsors today:

Nazareth Schools, prekindergarten through 12th grade.

St. Joseph's Neighborhood Center on South Avenue, a health care clinic that serves about 6,000 uninsured or underinsured people a year.

Daystar, a nonprofit foster home for seriously ill or drug-addicted newborns.

Morning Star, a nonprofit foster home for children with special needs.

Sisters Care, a program offering home services to the elderly or homebound.

Sisters of St. Joseph Spirituality Center, which welcomes guests for prayer and retreat.

St. Martin's Place, a facility serving hot meals and providing education programs.

Hope Hall, an alternative private school in Gates for children who have had difficulty learning in traditional settings.

Seattle Times, The (WA)

October 5, 2004

Pushing for peace, aging with grace
Author: Natalie Singer Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Despite their aging bodies, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace are getting out to make some noise in a quest for peace — and a comfortable place to grow old.

Outside the Seattle mayor's office, they gather in plush leather chairs. Stomachs growling, books on the Virgin Mary in hand.

On a 24-hour fast, they are protesting cuts in the city's human-services budget. Later, they'll head to a peace vigil in Bellevue to light candles, lift signs and march against violence. They feed the poor. Nurse the sick. Pray and nurture their relationship with God.

But the heart of their mission is this: protesting, letter-writing and agitating for peace and social justice.

"When I first joined, I thought I was there to pray and be a good girl," said Julie Codd. "Then I realized there was a lot more to do."

As they prepare to mark their 50th anniversary at St. Mary-on-the-Lake, their secluded Bellevue campus and the headquarters of the West Coast mission, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace find themselves at a crossroads.

Gray hair is turning silver. New nuns, who flocked to the order in the 1960s, are now a rarity. Their residence halls need elevators and other pricey renovations to accommodate aging bodies.

But just like when they arrived in Washington in the 19th century, the nuns have a plan.

• A capital campaign is under way to make sure nuns can continue to live out their days at St. Mary.

• New recruits representing a rainbow of cultural backgrounds are helping the community to diversify.

• And despite some members' creaks and wobbles, the sisters continue to push for peace, a mission, they say, that can heal the world.

Acres of history

For nearly 50 years, St. Mary-on-the-Lake has been at the heart of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace ministry.

A private drive leads to the 11-acre Bellevue campus on the shore of Lake Washington, blanketed with giant cedars and tranquil gardens.

The low-slung wood and brick buildings house offices, a dining hall, a library and about 30 of the Sisters' 85 West Coast members — most of them retired. Rooms are modest, with beds, desks and a few mementos.

There are two baths per hall, something that has become a problem lately for the elderly members, especially those with wheelchairs and walkers. Stairs also are a challenge for many.

"These buildings were built for college-age women," said Judy Johnson, administrator at St. Mary.

Today, a nun joins the Bellevue order only about once every two or three years, as opposed to handfuls at a time decades ago. And many of the new recruits already are baby boomers — not far from retirement themselves.

It's happening to religious communities around the country. A recent national study showed there are fewer than half the Catholic nuns there were 40 years ago.

The community's collective aging explains the rumble of construction equipment piercing the quiet outside. An elevator is being installed, along with structural upgrades that will help the nuns navigate more easily. There's money for improvements to the first building; sisters hope to raise the rest.

Inside the main house is a common room with white brick walls, mission wood furniture and a cane hooked over the couch. A rock fireplace gives warmth to sisters as they doze or read. In the next room is a small, unadorned chapel with a wall of windows overlooking the treetops and lake beyond. A gong made of recycled metals calls the nuns to prayer.

Nearby, in one of the site's historic buildings, is the Peace and Spirituality Center, which the nuns want to modernize in hopes of attracting more groups on retreat.

It's different from what many might expect in a convent — no soaring stone walls or vast collections of stained glass. No intimidating echoes. Just simple spaces filled with women and their history.

A tale of change

A black-and-white photograph on the wall of the library tells a tale of change.

Twenty-one girls stand smiling in a row, the oldest 23, most still in their teens. Hair is curled and topped with veils. Their slender bodies wear wedding dresses of white satin, beads and lace. The brides of Christ about to take their vows.

It was 1960, five years after St. Mary opened. The brides — the community's largest-ever graduating class — soon took off the gowns and donned identical nuns' habits.

"That was old theology," said Jo-Anne Miller, who was 17 when she entered the order. "To me, it was a big adventure," she said. "I just walked out of my bedroom and joined."

Along with the plain clothes, she got a world of daily silences, formal hierarchical titles and the serious work of teaching or nursing.

Today, Miller is identifiable as a nun only by the silver peace cross around her neck. She wears jeans and does graphic design.

Much of the relaxation in rules, including the elimination of habits, came with Vatican II in the '60s.

The church "no longer believes that nuns should be purer or holier than regular people," said Susan Dewitt, director of communications, who joined almost 15 years ago at age 50. Today, she said, a teenager would almost certainly be turned away.

The nuns are now encouraged to follow their own interests, said Codd, who entered in 1962. Today, she advocates on behalf of Native Americans and does watercolors.

Whatever their career, sisters pass their salaries on to the community and receive a stipend. That, plus any personal retirement savings, makes up about 55 percent of the community's $3 million annual budget, with the rest coming from donations and investments.

Journeying west

It was 1890 when two nuns journeyed west from New Jersey to Bellingham. Their task: find money for a hospital in a time when most women didn't travel on their own and even fewer oversaw business transactions.

They circled the lumber camps for donations and went to Alaska to beg for gold dust, according to the group's records. One year later, the nuns opened not just St. Joseph Hospital — which still operates today — but a school as well.

That first West Coast success reflects not just the sisters' determination, but also their distinctly feminist roots.

The order was founded in England 120 years ago by Margaret Anna Cusack, a Catholic convert born in Ireland. After immigrating to the U.S., she worked to educate immigrant Irish women, but faced criticism among some U.S. bishops for her focus on women's rights. She eventually withdrew from the order, but it continued.

Today, the order has three provinces, or chapters — on the West Coast, on the East Coast and in England. Most West Coast members are in Washington, but there are also sisters in Alaska, British Columbia, Oregon, California, Nevada and El Salvador.

Though the nuns have a working relationship with the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, they are not supported or supervised by the archdiocese.

Their dozens of ministries include social work, political activism, advocacy for immigrants, Native Americans and people with AIDS, health care and housing for low-income women and families.

They believe so greatly in their causes that some have willingly been arrested.

The most well-known is Miriam Spencer, who made headlines when, at 76, she served six months in federal prison for trespassing on government property during a demonstration in Georgia in 2000.

"Ex-con, that's me," Spencer jokes today, smoothing her white hair; a little old lady in fleece and Birkenstocks.

Codd said her social awakening came in 1984 in Washington, D.C., when she protested at an arms bazaar.

"I was just shocked," she recalled. "It was like a party. People were coming in limousines and fancy clothes to see these weapons of mass destruction."

Looking at the future

More than just their newest member, Amalia Camacho represents the sisters' future.

As director of religious education at Bellevue's St. Louise Catholic Church, she's nowhere close to retiring. With her golden skin, brown hair and seemingly endless energy, she's a stark contrast to the dozens of frail sisters in cardigans who slowly walk the halls of St. Mary.

Camacho, 56, takes her final vows next year. She came to the sisters after living a whole other life of her own — one in which she was married and raised a son. Like other nuns, she has a college degree, a master's in pastoral studies.

During the Vietnam War when her brothers went off to fight, she found herself grieving for people on both sides of the conflict. So she protested.

"I supported the troops, but not the war," she said. The violence of the time still makes her cry.

Today, Camacho reaches out to the Latino community, advocates on behalf of United Farm Workers of America and helps local janitors organize and connect with God.

It's part of a new focus on diversity that the nuns are hoping will boost their numbers and help the community stay relevant even as the bulk of sisters retire. Recently, Korean, Kenyan and Bolivian women have expressed interest in joining the order.

"In the '60s it was pretty much all Irish Catholic or Canadian women who came from the outside," Dewitt said. "This is really exciting. For a long time we've been wanting to branch out, and we're finally doing it."

Copyright (c) 2004 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.
Record Number: TUDO8F3F

Jersey Journal, The (Jersey City, NJ)

January 6, 2005

ESL with SSJ

Sisters of St. Joseph bring love of language, learning to Bayonne

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill, Pa., is one of the largest communities of religious women - or nuns, as they are called - in the United States.

Some 1,200 strong, they run their own college and a network of high schools and elementary schools along the East Coast.

Many of their members hold doctorates and work in a variety of special ministries and jobs, as well.

Yet in spite of all these accomplishments, they felt a need to provide more services for the poor, especially newly arrived immigrants to the United States.

With their motherhouse in Philadelphia and most of their sisters working there, they opened their Sisters of St. Joseph Welcome Center there in 2002. Its mission statement says that it will "offer opportunities that enable immigrants and others to improve their quality of lives through access to education, support services and programs leading to self-sufficiency."

With the success of that venture in such a short time, the community searched for another area, where their sisters live and minister, to start another program.

And they looked to Bayonne and southern Jersey City, where they run Holy Family Academy, staff three Catholic schools and have several convents and residences.

Sister Joan Krukoski, a Bayonne native and the director of religious education at St. Andrew's Church in Bayonne for 15 years, took on the task to see if there was a need in Bayonne and where it could be based.

They discovered that Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Bayonne, which offers Masses in three languages, had just hired a bilingual director of religious education and had surfaced parishioners and residents in need of learning English.

In October 2003, they were ready to begin.

"We had a lot of people interested," said Krukoski of the 90 people who signed up for the first class and 80 showed up.

Krukoski serves as a tutor and office assistant.

The director of the Sisters of St. Joseph Literacy Program is Sister Kay Coll, 70, another Bayonne native and certified social worker, who had just returned from spending three years working in Haiti and now works part-time with the Haiti Solidarity Network Northeast. She lives in Thea House in Newark with four other Sisters of St. Joseph.

Coll said that the first group showed great disparity in their knowledge of English and they were just interested in getting started so they broke the students up alphabetically.

Later on, the numbers dwindled to about 40 to 50 who regularly showed up on Mondays and Wednesdays from 7 to 8:30 in the evening at Assumption's school building, which no longer functions as a parish school.

Each student is asked to pay $25 for a textbook and workbook, but no one is turned away if they cannot afford the fee. Most of the students - ages 17 to 70 - come from Hispanic countries like the Dominican Republic, Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, and some from Poland.

Silvia Alvarado, 27, is one of them, though after just one month of classes, she still prefers to answer questions in English with the help her husband, Jorge, a native-born American whose family comes from Honduras.

"I love learning a new language to communicate with everybody," said Silvia, who eventually wants to qualify for her GED and then study accounting.

Jorge met Silvia at church in Honduras several years ago when he visited and they fell in love and communicated long distance until they married in October 2003. Silvia arrived in Bayonne six months ago to join Jorge, who works for K-Mart. He also tutors in the SSJ program.

Leticia Lasso gets special treatment and one-on-one assistance since her tutor, Sister Margaret Ryall, cannot get around so easily. So Lasso, 45, commutes each week to St. Andrew's Convent in downtown Bayonne, which houses active retired Sisters of St. Joseph.

Lasso, originally from Costa Rica, where she was a CPA and holds a degree from the Hispano-America University in Heredia, is married with three children enrolled in the Bayonne public schools. She loves Bayonne.

"I like everything: the people, the city, the traditions," she said. She also thinks Ryall is "very nice."

"She worries that my pronunciation is better," said Lasso who is learning grammar, pronunciation and conversation.

The program just started a new semester Monday so there is time for any one else to register in the program. They have expanded the number of volunteers assisting with the program and also hold a second evening of classes, on Wednesdays, at St. Henry's school building, also closed as regular parish school.

Right now, they are looking for a small, permanent space where they could base the operations of the program, according to Coll and Krukoski. Krukoski said they have found support in the Bayonne office of faith-based initiatives at City Hall.

Coll is glad to be back in Bayonne, which she considers "a special place." From her days as a student at Holy Family Academy, she noted that there are population changes and that many stores have left, but she is hopeful about the new development at the old MOT and loves the small town feel. Which she has contributed to by welcoming new waves of immigrants and helping them start their American dream.

Copyright 2005 The Jersey Journal. All Rights Reserved. Used by NewsBank with permission. Record Number: 050106_FAIT0106_WEB

St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)

April 19, 1997



Author: Maja Beckstrom, Staff Writer

Mary Kay Fortier-Spalding met the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet 16 years ago while volunteering at a homeless shelter the sisters run in Minneapolis. She was so taken with their mission and spirit that she quit her job to work for five years on the shelter's staff.

This year she took her relationship with the sisters one step further. In a ceremony attended by more than 100 family members, friends and nuns, she and three other women pledged their commitment to the community as associates.

``Quite simply I have fallen in love with you,'' a tearful Fortier-Spalding, 52, told the sisters at the public commitment ceremony two weeks ago at the Province Chapel in St. Paul. ``I have fallen in love with your passion for justice and your spirituality.''

As the number of priests and nuns continues to dwindle in the Roman Catholic Church, a new form of religious life is slowly taking hold. Some say it may change the face of religious orders for years to come. Lay people, often called associates, are affiliating with specific religious communities in record numbers to share the community's prayer life and ministries.

They don't take the traditional vows of poverty, celibacy or obedience. Instead, they promise to live out the spirit of the religious order in ways that their jobs and family circumstances will allow.

Numbers are hard to come by. But according to a 1994 study cited in the newsletter of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, more than 14,500 men and women were affiliated with 212 women's religious communities in the United States. Men's religious communities have been less likely to launch associate programs.

The movement started in the late 1970s as convents and monasteries sought to expand their mission into secular life, and after Vatican Council II encouraged lay people to become more involved in the church.

``People are looking at religious communities and saying here is a group whose whole life is dedicated to the pursuit of God. And I want to be close to that,'' said Sister Rosemary Jeffries, a Sister of Mercy from New Jersey who has studied the associate movement for a decade.

``They are seeking ways to deepen their spirituality. And if you want to be proficient at something, people are naturally attracted to people who are already proficient at it. It's as simple as that.''

Every religious community gives their associates different names and opportunities. Some associates are simply ``prayer partners.'' Others may join the sisters or monks for regular worship, retreats or they may donate money or volunteer at ministries run by the religious community.

Most associates are white, middle-aged women, although in recent years their ranks have broadened to include more men, younger people, people of color and even Protestants.

``We don't see them as someday replacing sisters,'' said Shirley Lieberman, who coordinates the consociates, as associates are called within the Sisters of St. Joseph St. Paul Province. ``We see the two groups as a weaving of strands together to form a new cloth ... ''

``I think this is a really exciting time in religious communities,'' she added. ``We're kind of the pioneers creating what the new religious communities are going to look like in the future.''

Welcoming spirits

Like many consociates, Mary Kay Fortier-Spalding met the Sisters of St. Joseph while working alongside them. In 1981, she began volunteering at St. Joseph's Hope Community, a shelter for women and children started by a Sister of St. Joseph in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.

``I was always amazed at the energy, the level of commitment, the centered spirituality, the welcoming spirits of these women,'' said Fortier-Spalding, a kindergarten teacher at Expo for Excellence Elementary Magnet School in St. Paul who lives with her husband in Maplewood. ``They became my friends, and I started sharing some of my own spiritual journey with them. As the years moved on, it made so much sense to become more involved.''

Fortier-Spalding talked about her desire to become a consociate with Sister Char Madigan, director of St. Joseph's Hope. Madigan was assigned as Fortier-Spalding's companion during an informal period of preparation. Before making her commitment, Fortier-Spalding attended a few sessions on the history of the order and an assortment of events and forums.

Today she interacts with the sisters about once a week. She sits on the community's membership committee, meets regularly with a social justice group of sisters and consociates and attends special worship services and events.

``Being a consociate encourages me to look for those places where I am needed, because that is one of their goals, to get involved with the community and touch as many people as they can,'' Fortier-Spalding said. The Sisters of St. Joseph in St. Paul started their consociate program in 1981. Although the consociates do not take vows, donate their salaries to the community or vote on policy, they are involved in nearly all other aspects of community life. Consociates sit on committees that recommend policies, and a consociate is even a consulting member of the province's governing council. Few other communities have given their associate members such access to the community's life, said Lieberman.

``I think because we're so new, it's like we're searching for our identity of who we are and how we fit in,'' said Lieberman, who herself has been a consociate since 1987. ``We've only been around since 1981 and the sisters have been around for centuries. It's like trying to become a blended family.''

Wishing to be grounded

Unlike the Sisters of St. Joseph, Benedictine monks and sisters have a long history of lay involvement. Lay people, called oblates, affiliate themselves with a particular community. But even this ancient tradition has seen a revival in recent years. Monks at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville and nuns at St. Benedict's Monastery in St. Joseph both run decades-old programs, with about 800 oblates between them.

The sisters at St. Paul's Monastery in Maplewood started their oblate program more recently, in 1980. In the last couple of years, more people than ever have called the monastery to inquire about the oblate program, said oblate director Sister Carol Rennie. Many were inspired by Kathleen Norris and her best-selling book ``Cloister Walk,'' which details her life as a Benedictine oblate. But Rennie thinks there is more behind the surge in interest.

``People are saying, `I feel so scattered, I feel so stressed,''' said Rennie. ``Well, most people aren't going to be able to do much about their hectic life. But they can become grounded, and they are looking to the Rule of Benedict as a way to be grounded.''

Oblate candidates at St. Paul's prepare for a year before making their final commitment. They meet together three hours every month to study and discuss the Rule of Benedict, the sixth-century document that still inspires Benedictine life.

Frank Brunnette, a customer service representative for a phone company, is one of nine people in the oblate program at St. Paul's Monastery. The group includes a Lutheran seminarian, a liturgical artist, a hospice administrator, a masseuse, and a biology professor.

Brunnette, a 42-year-old New Brighton resident, was drawn to the Benedictine sisters by their regular prayer life. Although raised Catholic, Brunnette fell away from the church in his early 20s.

About four years ago, he became enchanted with the autobiography of Cistercian monk Thomas Merton and wondered if there was a way that he, a married man with two daughters, could live out some of the values of monastic life. Pursuing answers, he took theology courses at the University of St. Thomas. Then he read about a column about the Benedictine oblates in a newsletter from St. John's University.

``I had to look `oblate' up in the dictionary,'' he recalled with a laugh. ``I found out that they were lay members of a monastic community, and I said, `That's it! That's what I want.'''

Brunnette will become an oblate in a ceremony this May. ``My whole outlook has changed,'' he said. ``Prior to this, my faith was pretty immature - you live, you die and you go to heaven - but God was not really a presence in my life. Now I have such a sense of this interactive God. I am listening for God and trying to see him in the simplest things.''

Prayer has also become a central part of Brunnette's life. He and the other oblate candidates pray from the same Psalter used at the monastery. He prays for 20 minutes in the morning and again before bed. ``It really helps to frame my day,'' he said. ``I feel bad when I miss a prayer.''

Although the associate movement is still fairly new among many religious communities, observers feel that it is here to stay. A gathering next weekend in Rochester of associates and associate directors from a number of Midwestern religious communities may provide a few more answers to lingering questions: What will it mean if associates someday outnumber vowed members? Should religious communities expect their lay associates to volunteer a certain amount of time to charitable works? How formal should the preparation period be? How can associate programs attract younger people?

``There is a tremendous hunger out there for spirituality, for connectedness,'' said Sr. Patricia Wittberg, a Sister of Charity who studies new religious communities as an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University. ``By tapping into this hunger, Catholic communities of women are providing something that is vitally important. I believe that hunger is why the associate programs are growing. And I believe it is too strong a phenomenon not to have a future.''


Here is a sampling of religious communities in Minnesota that have associate programs encouraging lay people to formally affiliate with the community's spirituality and ministries:

*The St. Paul Province of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet started a program for consociates in 1981 that has grown to 75 members. 690-7001.

*The Rochester Sisters of St. Francis started a program for cojourners in 1984 that has grown to 108 people. (507) 282-7441.

*The Mankato Province of the School Sisters of Notre Dame started an associate program in 1978 that now has 19 associates. (507) 389-4213.

*The Sisters of St. Benedict from St. Paul's Monastery in Maplewood began an oblate program in 1980 which has grown to 50 oblates. 777-8181.

*The Benedictines at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville started an oblate program in the mid-1920s that has grown to nearly 400 oblates. (320) 363-2011.

Copyright (c) 1997 St. Paul Pioneer Press
Record Number: 9704180376