June 19, 2003
Love and Service
By Blessed Sacrament staff/ SUN contributing writers
Sisters Serve North Side Parish Through the Generations
“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.”