Three long-time religious reflect on their years of service to the diocese

By Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer

Sister Rose Margaret Noonan, CSJ, Sister Celine Angelo, OSF, and Sister Eloise Emm, OSF, all have one thing in common — a passion for teaching.

Sister Rose Margaret, who will be 92 years old in March, taught in schools in the Albany and Syracuse Dioceses. The schools she taught at in Syracuse Diocese include Sacred Heart and St. Patrick’s in Utica, St. Aloysius in Rome and St. Anthony’s in Syracuse. “I loved teaching,” said Sister Rose Margaret.

Sister Rose Margaret was born in Glens Falls and attended schools in Troy where she graduated from Catholic Central High School. She went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics from the College of Saint Rose in Albany.

Bishop Thomas Costello remembers Sister Rose Margaret as his seventh grade teacher at St. Aloysius School in 1941 and then later during his high school years. “She was very popular,” recalled Bishop Costello. “She was assigned to the school along with other Sisters of St. Joseph and she was an inspiration to them.”

Sister Rose Margaret explained how she was called to serve as a religious. “It was strange because I never wanted to serve as a sister,” said Sister Rose Margaret. “I saw my mother’s beautiful marriage and that’s what I wanted to do — get married and have children.”

Sister Rose Margaret said she felt called to serve when she was a senior in high school. She said she attended a retreat at which a priest talked about vocations. “During the retreat, we prayed the prayer of the blind man — Lord, that I may see,” Sister Rose Margaret remembered. “The minute I said that prayer, I was convinced that it was a message from God.”

Before Sister Rose Margaret began to serve as assistant provincial superior of the Albany Province of the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1970, she worked in what was then called the Inner-City Office of the Syracuse Diocese. She visited the jail and served as a spokesperson for the people in the courts who had difficulty speaking English.

Sister Rose Margaret served as chaplain to Family Court for two years after that. “I loved dealing with the kids,” she said. “It was hard to leave. Some that I have helped have turned out to be wonderful people.”

From 1977 to 1993, Sister Rose Margaret served as parish minister at St. Mary’s Parish in Binghamton. She also served as pastoral assistant at St. James Parish in Johnson City until 2005. Sister Rose Margaret now volunteers at St. James, teaching Scripture classes and occasionally delivering a reflection. Her words at Thanksgiving garnered a standing ovation. She spoke about her belief that  women are perfectly capable and equipped to serve as priests.

“Her work in the Southern Tier has been awesome,” said Bishop Costello. “She’s been a tremendous model and a great help to the people.”

Sister Rose Margaret has found her life as a religious to be intensely gratifying. “It’s been a wonderful, wonderful life,” she said. “I feel a deep satisfaction in helping people and making their lives easier. I have also received tremendous support from all the friends I’ve made.”

Sister Celine Angelo, OSF, initially wanted to become an actress, but instead, taught for many years in the Syracuse and Albany Dioceses and in Hawaii. Sister Celine spoke with passion about her many positive teaching experiences. “I loved teaching,” she said.

Born in Marshall, Colo., Sister Celine and her family moved east, settling in the St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish in Utica, right before the end of World War I.

It was in 1925, when Sister Celine was 12 years old, that she felt called to serve as a religious. It happened when she attended a Little Flower Novena. “I looked directly at the Little Flower and that’s when I knew,” said Sister Celine.

Sister Celine entered the Sisters of St. Francis in 1928 at the age of 15. “I would relive my novitiate anytime,” commented Sister Celine. “My novice mistress, Sister Ferdinand, stressed the necessity of physical activities being combined with the spiritual.”

She explained how attending a diocesan normal school in Albany before attending Catholic University changed her life. “It was enlivening in every respect — it was delightful.”

Sister Celine also attended Syracuse University and Le Moyne College.

At 97 years old, Sister Celine has slowed down considerably. She spends her time answering correspondence, attending community prayer and participating in a prayer network.

Looking back on her 80 years as a Franciscan, Sister Celine relishes the friendships she has formed and her life in the convent. “I have known some wonderful sisters,” she said. “And I like the serenity and security of life in the convent.”

Sister Eloise Emm, OSF, retired last year from her position as vicar for religious for the Syracuse Diocese while at the same time celebrating her 70th jubilee as a Franciscan sister.

Sister Eloise was born in Syracuse and as a student of St. Mary of the Assumption on the north side of Syracuse, she admired the sisters who taught her so much that she wanted to be just like them. “They were always aware of me — they respected and loved me and wanted me to succeed,” said Sister Eloise.

Sister Eloise professed her initial vows in 1939 and her final vows in 1944.

A dedicated teacher, Sister Eloise’s first assignment was teaching second grade at Our Lady Help Christians School in Albany. In 1941, Sister Eloise taught first graders at St. Peter’s School in Riverside, N.J.

In 1945, Sister Eloise returned to Syracuse to teach at St. Anthony Convent and Convent School.

She received her bachelor’s degree in social studies from Le Moyne College in 1954, and her master’s degree and doctoral diploma in music from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. in 1958.

After returning to Syracuse in 1958, she helped establish Maria Regina College.

After traveling to Europe and teaching at St. Anthony’s Elementary and High School in Long Branch, Calif., Sister Eloise returned to Syracuse in 1971. She then became director of curriculum at the Catholic Schools Office.

In 1987, Sister Eloise became superior general. “I’ve been intrigued by the changes in our mission,” she said. “Presently we reach out to the poor, the handicapped and refugees.”

Sister Eloise was appointed vicar for religious twice — in 1991 and then again in 2003.

She is gifted with musical talent — she plays  the piano, organ, saxophone, harp and harmonica. In the 1970s, Sister Eloise served as director of the Singing Sisters, a group of 80 sisters who performed at schools in Syracuse, Watertown and Utica. “It was wonderful,” said Sister Eloise. She has also been responsible for the Franciscan community’s liturgical music.

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