A Call to Order?

June 19, 2003
A Call to Order?
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
Lay people and religious work together to help out a friend in need

PULASKI — “If I had a hammer” could have been the theme of the day as a group of people from varied walks of life gathered at a remote Oswego County homestead to pound nails and paint the exterior of an old farmhouse. The event was a collaborative effort of the Franciscans, the Daughters of Charity, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and just a bit of the Holy Spirit.

Brother Tom Purcell, OFM Conv., praised the joint venture as just one more in the new vision of religious orders working together. Members of each community began meeting months ago to plan a service project together. They decided on helping out a man whose barn had burned to the ground months before and who lives in the Town of Richland, an area poor in financial assets but rich in the talents of the Catholic community there. Sister Jeanne Karp, OSF, works in the Rural and Migrant Ministry in Oswego County so she is familiar with the area. She said so many people there can’t get to resources and sometimes it is best to bring the resources to them. Marianne Comfort, who is a candidate for the Sisters of St. Joseph, was there with Sister Mary Agnes Kehoe, CSJ. Both women were enjoying their time in the country after serving mostly in urban settings. “There is a sense of isolation in the rural setting,” Comfort said. “People can’t get out to get services and in the city people can walk to a clinic. Here people may not have gas, bus services or a way to get to the food pantry.”

Sister Mary Agnes works in the vocation’s office of her order based in Albany. She was skeptical at first about pulling off the collaborative service project. “Collaboration is becoming more and more popular, “ Sister Mary Agnes said, “just like the laity are collaborating more and more in parish life. We don’t think of it as his or her ‘turf’ anymore when we come together.” Since the week-long project offered religious men and women working alongside lay people, there was the option of discovering something about religious life during the process. Brother Tom, vocations director for the Immaculate Conception Province of his order, brought along a young man studying for the Franciscans, Will Doyle. Originally from Erie, Pa., Doyle said he was searching for something more than just a job after he graduated from college. In college, Doyle said, his focus was on academics and he lost sight of some other things that were just as important. He is working now to bring things “back into balance.” Doyle admitted that he might not be the best at painting or fixing up an old porch roof, but it was the sense of community and spiritual atmosphere the service project offered that interested him.

Kristin Greeley’s day job is as an attorney with Legal Services of Central New York. She took a week’s vacation so she could sleep, work, pray and play with the group. They stayed at St. Francis Farm in Lacona while they worked on the house. Life there is simple with prayer and discussion taking place daily. The collaborative religious group sent word to parishes all over Central New York about the service project and Greeley read about it in a church bulletin. She welcomed the opportunity to spend time living and working in community. “I know there is a huge need up here. It’s not a Third World country or Appalachia, but it’s right here in our own backyard,” Greeley said. “I read about the project and said, ‘Yeah, I need to do that.’”

For Sister Anne Marie Graham, DC, it was the idea of service and community that was appealing. She said she never imagined how well the group would gel within a few days’ time. “We work well together, we share together, we play and pray well together,” Sister Anne Marie said.

The service project surpassed what the organizers had hoped for and provided the religious communities the opportunity to work with lay people in a relaxed setting. For 20-year-old Amanda Klish, this experience might just lead her closer to a vocation. Klish is a student at Cazenovia College and hails from Oneida. She “wanted to see what it’s like” to be a woman religious. She certainly had a variety of orders available to observe. “I saw this as a source, a way to work alongside brothers and sisters. I didn’t really know what to expect. I had been to St. Francis Farm with confirmation but had never been part of a long-term service project.”

Seeing how much their work meant to the person they helped was a bonus for all the workers. And, combining service with vocations work was a good fit. Sister Mary Agnes said that vocations directors look for ways to be present to young people and to also make parents aware that a religious vocation is a viable option for their children, “so that they, too, would not be afraid of it, of a happy life for their son or daughter as a religious — if that’s the gift God offers them.”

Sisters Serve North Side Parish Through the Generations

by Kristen Fox

June 19, 2003

“Tell me, I may forget. Show me, I will remember. Involve me, I will understand.” These words are printed on a bookmark belonging to the six Missionary Franciscan Sisters Immaculate Conception Province at Our Lady of Pompei Church. Appropriately, their lives are a testimonial to this passage. Though retired, they are a prayerful presence at Our Lady of Pompei Church in Syracuse, preaching God’s love, demonstrating His compassion and welcoming people into the church.

The community has been ministering in Syracuse since September of 1919. The mission was opened in the city at the request of Pope Leo, who asked the order’s foundress, Sister Mary Ignatius Hayes, MFIC, to help minister to the large influx of Italian families moving to the U.S. They visited with the newly-resettled families and encouraged them to attend church and receive the sacraments. The sisters at Pompei were devoted to Our Lady of Pompei School in Syracuse, serving there until 1994. Sister Teresita Murry, MFIC, who came to Our Lady of Pompei in 1976, taught fourth grade and later became the school librarian until her retirement. Sister Teresita said that she loved her years of teaching because of the importance of playing such a crucial role in a child’s formation. She added that she was happy to be a librarian because of the ability to inspire a love of reading.

Sister Teresita recalled that one sister would often teach a variety of subjects. “In those days, one teacher did the whole bit,” explained Sister Teresita. “It was wonderful because you could really help with the child’s development.” One of the most important services the sisters now provide to the parish is preparing the liturgies for funeral Masses and providing grief counseling to the families of the deceased. Many people who have died are relatives, often grandparents, of the students the sisters once taught at Our Lady of Pompei School. Sister Margaret Mary Burke, MFIC, finds that having this personal connection makes a tremendous difference to the families during a very difficult time. “This can be a very hard time for the families of the deceased,” said Sister Margaret Mary. “It makes it pleasant if you know the families.”

All the sisters at Pompei keep very busy schedules and are engaged in a variety of ministries. Sister M. Francis Dabrowski, MFIC, is dedicated to pastoral care ministry at University Hospital. On any given day, Sister Francis sees about 30 patients, talking with them and offering them support. Sister M. Anicetus Tangney, MFIC, though suffering from macular degeneration, does not let her diminishing vision keep her from ministering to God’s people. Along with the other sisters, she brings communion to the sick and homebound. Sister Lucy Flaherty, MFIC, joined the community at Pompei last year. Identifying herself as not retired, Sister Lucy serves as liturgy chair at St. Cecelia’s Church in Solvay.

According to the sisters, with the passing of time have come marvelous changes to the school where they once taught and the community they continue to faithfully serve. They have watched as the grades at Our Lady of Pompei School have been built up, paralleled with an increase in enrollment. “It’s wonderful to see the school doing so well,” noted Sister Teresita. They have also seen the neighborhood, deeply rooted in Italian heritage, give way to a strong Vietnamese population. The sisters will continue to welcome new families to the community and to the church, said Sister Maureen Foley, MFIC.

Sister Maureen recalled one Vietnamese family with whom the sisters developed a strong bond. The family of six had just come to the U.S. and did not speak English. Settled in Syracuse, they were in search of a Buddhist place of worship when Sister Maureen extended an invitation to them to attend Mass at Our Lady of Pompei Church. “Someone questioned why I would invite them in because it seemed unlikely that the Buddhist family would come to a Catholic service,” explained Sister Maureen. “But I said, ‘If I’m not going to ask them in, then how will they become Catholics?’” Not only did the family convert to Catholicism, but they became extremely devout Catholics, pointed out Sister Maureen. Just a few years ago, two sisters became godparents to the parents who chose as their baptismal names Joseph and Mary. Their four children were baptized as well.

“They are a beautiful family and very faithful. We see them at Mass every Sunday and they come over to the convent and visit with us,” said Sister Maureen. “They are so grateful to us for welcoming them into the church.” Through acts such as this, the Missionary Franciscan Sisters Immaculate Conception Province at Our Lady of Pompei Church continue to manifest God’s love. Though they may no longer be young in the physical sense, they are still alive with joy and a dedicated commitment to their ministry –– telling, involving and showing everyone the spirit of St. Francis. “We are fortunate to have the opportunity to serve the community in so many ways,” said Sister Lucy. “Our work is extremely fulfilling.”

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