Sisters of St. Joseph reflect on their myriad ministries
The following Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester are celebrating 75th, 70th, 60th, 50th and 25th jubilees in 2018.
For more than 40 years Sister Joanne Clark served in numerous Catholic schools, teaching young students. Her first mission started out at Sacred Heart School in Watertown in 1944. Having the privilege to teach piano and organ to students through those years was an added plus. St. Jerome in East Rochester was her final teaching assignment in 1984.
With her classroom days behind, she chose to enrich the lives of elderly sisters as a member of the SSJ ministry Sisters Care, spending time and sharing prayer with those special seniors.
Currently, Sister Clark spends her days involved with prayer ministry at the motherhouse in Pittsford.
“I am forever grateful for my calling to the Sisters of St. Joseph,” she said.
As a former business teacher, Sister Dolores Anne Huether is proud of having taught so many children the necessary skills for employment. Sister Huether credits her assignment as a secretary at St. Joseph’s Hospital for giving her the background to be an effective teacher.
“I loved being assigned to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Elmira,” she said. “I also enjoyed my years at Mt. Carmel High School in Auburn, where I taught business to both boys and girls.”
Sister Huether also taught at St. Patrick in Dansville, and St. Joseph’s Villa and Nazareth Academy in Rochester.
Reflecting on her 75th jubilee, she says she has learned to laugh a lot and be flexible. “I have received many blessings from living in community with the Sisters.”
Another facet of her gratitude comes from “sharing life with my nieces and nephews — a mix of many blessings, sorrows and joys.”
She is currently involved in the prayer ministry.
From 1946-85, the classroom and its supporting educational activities was Sister Joan McDowell’s (formerly Sister Jeromita) full-time occupation. Of these 39 years, Sister McDowell spent 32 at Nazareth Academy and seven at Geneva DeSales High School in Geneva. She described this time as “years in the company of enthusiastic youth and superb teachers.”
In “retirement,” Sister McDowell directed the congregational communications department for 10 years. She also enjoyed the opportunity of researching and publicizing works of Mercy — the ministries and activities of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Her communication skills continued as she served as photographer and publicity manager for Genesee Valley Orchestra and Chorus. “This happy connection meant new friends and enjoyable music events, including travel to record their performances in New York state and in Europe,” she said.
Now, she studies and creates colored pencil paintings, saying, “This provides an opportunity to share with art enthusiasts the same desire to reveal beauty, truth and goodness.”
Sister Marie Michelle Peartree joined the congregation from Sacred Heart Parish after graduating from Nazareth Academy in 1942.
“When I entered the congregation, I had hoped to become a nurse, but instead became a teacher,” Sister Peartree recalled. She taught at St. Patrick, Corning; Blessed Sacrament, Rochester; St. Mary, Auburn; St. James, Waverly; and St. John the Evangelist, Greece.
In 1962, the congregation sent Sister Peartree to St. Louis University for a degree in hospital administration. Upon her return two years later, she was asked to go to St. Ann’s Home as administrator.
“I loved teaching children – seeing them grow mentally,” she said. “However, 33 years providing for the needs of older persons and the staff who served them were very fulfilling, challenging and rewarding.”
She also notes that her life in community is a blessing and a life-giving experience. “Each sister’s presence and example has enriched and added something special to my life. For 75 years I am deeply grateful to God and to all who have touched my life and to all who have allowed me to touch their lives.”
“At age 17 I entered religious life, not really knowing what I was getting into,” said Sister Mary Agnes Tierney (formerly Sister Marie de Sales). “But God enters by a private door into every individual, calling her out of darkness into light. God took me by the hand and kept me.
“Over the years I’ve come to recognize the unconditional love that God has for me, ‘warts and all,’ to recognize it and to make it my belief. In his love, God has lifted me up and carried me through the years. The best of who I am has survived and become wiser. And for everything I have missed, I have gained something else.
“Over the years my prayer life has been enriched and matured and has been my main comfort and refuge as old age has confronted me with its innate problems.
“All my missions had joyous aspects and one of the hardest things was to pull up roots and move on to a new mission — where, after a time of grieving, adjustment would take place, new attachments would occur and then the whole syndrome would repeat itself — all for God’s glory.”
Sister Tierney taught at Sacred Heart, St. Monica and Nazareth Academy in Rochester; St. Pius Tenth in Chili; St. Stephen and St. Francis de Sales in Geneva; and Immaculate Conception in Ithaca.
Sister Catherine Mary Masten entered the congregation from St. Francis Xavier Parish in Rochester.
“My vocation came from my parents, who were very prayerful. My mother gave me a practical application of faith and showed me how to use it in my daily life, for example, be gentle and forgiving with people. My father taught us about honesty and keeping the Lord’s day holy,” she said.
Sister Masten was a teacher for 23 years and taught at St. Stanislaus and Corpus Christi in Rochester, St. John the Evangelist in Greece, St. Rose in Lima, St. Francis de Sales in Geneva, St. Mary in Canandaigua, Sacred Heart in Perkinsville, St. Agnes in Avon and St. Jerome in East Rochester. At the age of 40 she changed ministry to study art. She now is an accomplished artist and has participated in several exhibits.
“I enjoyed doing creative things with my students and always incorporated art and music in their work. This helped my students learn poise and confidence,” she said.
Sister Anne Michelle McGill began her ministry as a teacher at St. Alphonsus School in Auburn before moving to St. Anne School in Rochester. From there, she helped establish new schools at St. Jerome Parish in East Rochester and St. Thomas More Parish in Brighton. She was named principal of St. Rose School in Lima and then of Holy Trinity School in Webster. Sister McGill served as assistant superintendent of Catholic schools and also as pastoral associate at St. Pius Tenth Parish in Chili. She became the first pastoral administrator in the Diocese of Rochester at St. Gabriel Parish in Hammondsport. Following her retirement from pastoral ministry, Sister McGill became director of resident priests at the SSJ Motherhouse and worked on the Tanzanian Sister Exchange Program.
“I have learned so much from the ministries I have undertaken. I love the children, parents and parishioners at every parish I served, and have found my service as an administrator to be rewarding and a source of growth for me.”
Sister Mary Fatima Matrachisia says the Lord called her at a young age, and all she ever wanted to do was serve him and his people.
She entered the congregation from Corpus Christi Parish in Rochester. Her service has covered a variety of areas, including education, hospital work and home health care.
“As a community of women religious, we lead a prayerful life, making retreats and keeping close touch with God. This strong sense of spirituality has kept us close and thriving as a congregation. I’ve learned that with the grace of God you can do all things. Working closely with the Lord motivates you, keeps you in touch and able to face reality,” she said.
Sister Matrachisia’s ministries include St. Joseph School, Wayland; St. Anthony of Padua School, Rochester; Holy Apostles School, Rochester; St. Stephen School, Geneva; St. Anthony School, Elmira; Ss. Peter and Paul School, Elmira; Holy Trinity School, Webster; St. Michael School, Penn Yan; St. Joseph’s Villa School, Rochester; and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School, Brockport.
Sister Rosemary St. Peter (formerly Sister William Mary) has ministered in education and congregational leadership. Following her entrance from Holy Rosary Parish in Rochester, Sister St. Peter taught at St. Joseph, Wayland; St. Mary, Canandaigua; Blessed Sacrament, Rochester; and St. John the Evangelist, Greece. She was principal at St. Patrick, Seneca Falls; St. Ambrose, Rochester; and Holy Trinity, Webster. After education, she served in congregational leadership as president. One of her responsibilities was overseeing the congregation’s move from East Avenue to French Road in Pittsford. She is currently the congregational transportation coordinator.
“As a young sister, I was called to move from convent to convent, almost on a yearly basis. Each move required me to learn how to teach a different grade level and do work that I never thought I would be able to do. Those early years taught me to be flexible and stood me in good stead as a teacher, school principal, in congregational leadership and now in continued service to the community.
“The call to religious life, just as the call to every other vocation, requires me to be faithful to a life of prayer. Each day I ask for God’s continued grace to be faithful to the call to religious life, and to the daily call to serve Christ in those who cross my path.”
Sister Michaela Tennity started her ministerial work in education, working in the heart of the city of Rochester at Corpus Christi, St. Augustine and St. Bridget.
“As an educator, I touched the lives of many children through education and caring for many of their needs,” she said.
Sister Tennity later worked with the elderly at the Heritage of St. Ann’s Home, St. Joseph Convent Infirmary and then the motherhouse as co-coordinator. Her home parish is St. Margaret Mary in Irondequoit.
“My very first thought of entering religious life came as I sat in Loew’s Theater in downtown Rochester. I do not remember the movie, but I do recall thinking, ‘Is this all there is to life?’ At that time I was attending Nazareth Academy where I felt the Spirit of caring from the sisters. This motivated me to consider religious life,” she said.
Sister Dolores Bachman (formerly Sister Innocentia) entered the Sisters of St. Joseph from Holy Family Parish in Auburn.
“I was a classroom teacher for 49 years, serving in three different dioceses: St. Augustine, Rochester; St. Thomas More, Brighton; St. Mary, Elmira; St. Aloysius, St. Mary and Blessed Trinity, Auburn; St. Elizabeth, and Queen of Peace, Selma, Ala.; St. Paul, Oswego; and St. Francis-St. Stephen, Geneva. I am grateful for all the children, parents and teachers whose lives have touched mine.
“Since retiring from teaching in 2009, I continue to minster through the SSJ Sisters Care program and help with congregational services.
“God has blessed me and called me to a wonderful life of love and service, and for this I am truly grateful.”
Sister Clare Brown (formerly Sister Clarina) spent her early years in ministry responding to the needs of children through teaching, being a principal and eventually accepting the role of assistant superintendent for the Diocese of Rochester. Sister Brown also served on the congregational leadership team and currently continues a leadership role as a pastoral associate at St. Jerome Parish in East Rochester.
“Through many years in religious life, I have come to know God through the gifts of the individuals I have met through my ministries. Whether through their suffering, pain, joys or sorrows, I have met Jesus Christ. Their dedication to their family, friends and coworkers has been an inspiration for me and has brought me through my own difficult times.
“The Sisters of St. Joseph have enabled me through prayer, study, and work to enhance my own life in ways I never thought possible. Through community life, God has blessed me in ways beyond my imagining. Through their support in difficult times, the sisters have encouraged me to rise above these and find strength through prayer and community life. Through the community of religious life, the community of the church and God’s people, I have been blessed.”
“How fortunate and privileged I am to serve God’s people as a Sister of St. Joseph!” said Sister Nancy Burkin. “Those people include members of the Ogdensburg and Rochester dioceses and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet as we deepened our liturgical prayer; adults seeking to live out their baptismal commitment to service through the Centre for Ministries at Merrimack College (North Andover, Mass.); persons living with HIV/AIDS when there was no hope of survival as part of Our Community’s Concern (Somerville, Mass.); sisters and laypeople in the twilight of life at Catherine’s Residence (St. Louis, Mo.), The Sarah Community (Bridgeton, Mo.), and presently, at Villa Maria, Pa. What a gift this has been and continues to be!
“These ministries find common ground in the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph — that all may be one. It is in our liturgical prayer that we celebrate our oneness as the body of Christ, a body that exists to serve one another, especially those excluded and condemned by society and the church, as well as the weak, the afraid and the dying.
“I thank God and my sisters for the beauty and holiness that has been part of my life in both community and ministry.”
Sister Joan Cawley (formerly Sister Joanita) entered the congregation from Corpus Christi Parish in Rochester. She spent 22 years working as a teacher or principal in various schools in the Diocese of Rochester. She also was in parish work for 33 years as a pastoral associate or pastoral administrator. She ministered at St. Patrick, Seneca Falls; St. Margaret Mary, Irondequoit; St. Joseph, Penfield; All Saints Parish, Corning; Holy Name of Jesus, Greece; and Church of the Resurrection, Fairport.
Her current ministry is liturgist and sacristan at the motherhouse.
“I don’t know where the years have gone! My life has been blessed and graced by the people and events of the past 60 years that have challenged me and helped me grow as a person and a woman in the church,” Sister Cawley said.
“I entered the Sisters of St. Joseph from Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in Watertown on Sept. 8, 1957,” said Sister Mary Veronica Coseo. “I spent 15 years teaching elementary grades at several schools in North Country and in the Rochester area, including Mother of Sorrows and St. Francis de Sales.
“After teaching I became an aide at our old infirmary on East Avenue and then a physical therapy aide. It was renewing and rewarding.
“I’ve always wanted to be present in a special way to serve others. This includes visiting, reading, praying and doing little things for our beautiful sisters. This is my ministry today!
“I’m very blessed and thankful to serve. God has given me good health to serve where there is a need.”
Sister Mary Anne Coughlin (formerly Sister Mildred) calls teaching high school students at Nazareth Academy her “first real love.” Sister Coughlin taught journalism and publicity for almost 20 years. Before the Academy, she taught elementary school at Nazareth Hall, St. Bridget and St. Joseph’s Villa, Rochester; St. Jerome, East Rochester; and Mother of Sorrows, Greece. She was then called to do mission work in Brazil, which she describes as one of the biggest challenges she has faced as a sister.
“Leaving my family, traveling the great distance and communicating in another language to people who were hungry for the word of God was not only a challenge but a necessity. With the challenges came all the rewards, which I look back on with thanks,” she said.
Upon her return from Brazil, Sister Coughlin taught at Mt. Carmel and St. Agnes in Rochester and Cardinal Mooney in Greece. Presently, she is part of the instructional support staff at Nazareth Elementary.
“I have always been proud to say that I am a Sister of St. Joseph. Working with students, especially high-schoolers, I was enriched by them and their spirit. Now, going to Nazareth Elementary every day gives me new life,” she said.
Her home parish is Immaculate Conception in Rochester.
Sister Mary Anne Knight (formerly Sister Letitia) entered the congregation from St. Francis de Sales in Geneva. Sister Knight spent 40 years working at St. Joseph’s Villa, a home that serves emotionally disturbed children. She did a variety of duties, from switchboard operation to administration, where she helped organize the villa’s universal record keeping system. She is retired and spends her time volunteering at the motherhouse.
“I remember many special times spent with the band of sisters who entered when I did. During our walks down the ‘back road,’ we loved to pick apples at the apple orchard, have a little snack and share our troubles. Our ‘band’ was our family, especially during the beginning years and we will always have that bond.
“Thanks to my religious life, I have been blessed by the ability to extend my love toward many people. As a Sister of St. Joseph, I feel blessed to have many loving and supportive friends and opportunities for a deepening of my spiritual life.”
Sister Brian Madigan spent 38 years as an educator, serving as teacher and principal at several schools, including Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St. Stanislaus and Holy Rosary, Rochester; St. Alphonsus, Auburn; St. Michael, Penn Yan; and St. Mary, Waterloo. She also was the director of faith formation for St. Mary Parish in Rochester. Her home parish is Our Lady of Peace Parish (St. Stephen) in Geneva.
Sister Madigan recalls that the “needs of the day” 50 years ago were met through education and nursing. “Christ sends us to serve the poor. No matter what we do, we meet poverty, because all of us are poor in some way. It doesn’t matter if they come to your classroom or office, ring the front doorbell or call on the phone. Our eyes have to be open to the needs around us.
“During my ministry at St. Mary, I encountered a different kind of poverty, a different kind of need. In collaboration with Bethany House, St. Joseph Neighborhood Center and St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality, we tried to make a difference in the lives of those who live in the city. Their smiles and the gratitude they show enriched my life!”
In recent years, Sister Madigan’s ministry has been with those sisters living at the motherhouse: visiting them, spending time with them, reading to them and driving them to their appointments. “What a blessing it is to spend some time with them!” she said.
“We often say that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. I have lived with and known wonderfully dedicated women who have inspired me and taught me so much by their example. My life has been enriched because of our time together.”
For 46 years Sister Joan Marshall (formerly Sister Davida) ministered in the field of education as a teacher and administrator. In the Rochester Diocese, she worked at St. Monica, St. Bridget and Corpus Christi, Rochester; St. Mary, Auburn; St. John the Evangelist, Spencerport; and St. Thomas More, Brighton. She also spent time in Selma, Ala., as a teacher and administrator. She continued her ministerial work at the SSJ-sponsored ministry St. Martin’s Place, a place of hospitality that welcomed guests for a noon meal and companionship, until it closed in December 2017. Her current ministry is congregational services.
“My mission years in Selma, Ala., were privileged years. I met simple, faith-filled, open-minded people, unashamed to speak of their faith. I saw shacks as homes, outdoor plumbing, dirt streets and, at the same time, children in my classroom clean as a whistle. In Rochester, I saw the working poor — people just able to pay their current bills, with no means of saving for the future and at the same time, having high hopes for their children — a college education!
“Living in community with other Sisters of St. Joseph has always been a gift — a shared life of prayer, support, celebration and lifelong friendships.”
Sister Patricia Sullivan (formerly Sister Conchita) is manager of the Sisters of St. Joseph Gift Shop. Sister Sullivan finds meaningful religious articles, cards and gifts for the whole family to include in the shop. When present in the gift shop, she relates to customers, who often tell their stories, expressing their need for prayers from the sisters.
Before this ministry, she taught in elementary schools in Rochester, St. Agnes High School and Nazareth Academy, as well as Geneva DeSales High School in Geneva. Her home parish is Holy Rosary in Rochester.
“Having been educated by the Sisters of St. Joseph in elementary and high school, I was touched by the kindness and care of these women. Before entering the congregation, I turned to my kindergarten teacher for guidance.
“My commitment to the Sisters of St. Joseph is sustained through prayer, the support of my sisters with whom I live, and the many persons who have touched my life: colleagues and friends.”
“I am grateful to all the women and men with whom I have worked and taught over these 50 years,” said Sister Kathleen Navarra, who is currently missioned in Selma, Ala. “My walk with the Lord has led me to beautiful people and wonderful places. I continue to hold in my heart all my friends, family and sisters in northern New York, the Akwesasne Reservation, Rochester and the Black Belt of Alabama. The Edmundite Missions and my Tang Soo Do family are my present beacon of hope for our world. (The Edmundite Missions is based in Selma, Ala.,and provides food, clothing and shelter to poor and marginalized children and families, young adults and seniors of all faith backgrounds.)
“As the journey continues know you all have been a lamp for my feet and a light on my path (Ps.119) and are always in my prayers.”
“In the words of Father Pedro Arrupe, SJ, ‘Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything!’ My 25 years as a Sister of St. Joseph has been a wonderful love story with God, with my sisters in community, and with those I have accompanied in ministry,” said Sister Donna Del Santo.
“I have served as a nurse in the Monroe County Jail since 1995; coordinator of the SSJ Volunteer Corps since 1996; and as my congregation’s vocation director since 2003.
“My passion is to help youth discover God’s dream for them, through the lens of a call or vocation — whether it be to marriage, the single life or religious life.
“This life and all its aspects have blessed me and helped me to become a sister, in what our founder Jean Pierre Medaille, SJ, called: ‘The congregation of the great love of God.’ This life, which asks for your whole self, is a life worth living, and giving, to God and God’s people, whoever and wherever they are. Thank you to all who blessed me, by calling me ‘Sister.’”