Angels Sent from Above

Oct. 20-26, 2005
Angels Sent from Above
The Daughters of St. Mary of Providence have arrived in Syracuse to work with people with disabilities. Sister Barbara Moerman,left, and Sr. Theresann Gehringer
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
New Program for Developmentally Disabled to Begin Soon Developmentally disabled people in the Syracuse Diocese are about to have their lives enhanced by two sisters from the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence Order.

Sister Theresann Gehringer, DSMP, and Sister Barbara Moerman, DSMP, came to Syracuse this fall to begin a catechetical program for those with special needs. Dennis Manning, diocesan director of Catholic Charities, and Mary Lou Coon, a parishioner at Holy Family Church, have worked through a planning process in order to bring the sisters here.

“As the administrator of the Office for Persons with Disabilities, I am extremely pleased that all our prayers and planning have been answered with the arrival of Sister Theresann and Sister Barbara,” said Manning. “The Daughters of St. Mary of Providence Order has a long and rich tradition of ministry to those with disabilities and their families. The sisters are presently in a period of prayer and discernment as to how to best serve the people of our diocese.

Their work will be throughout the diocese and not confined to any one county or community. I encourage anyone in our diocese to contact the sisters or myself to share their thoughts about how the sisters can best be of service”

“It’s truly a miracle,” said Coons. “God has helped me through my prayers before the Blessed Sacrament. The sisters are trained to work with the disabled and they really enjoy doing it. Sister Barbara and Sister Theresann bring so much to our diocese. Their goal is to reach out to the mentally retarded. If we don’t reach out to this part of the population, our Church is null and void. They are God’s gift. They are just as important as the rest of us and they are inspiring to me.”

The process of bringing the sisters here began approximately one year ago, when Coon attended a luncheon for persons with disabilities. Coon met Sister Mary Cepha, PVMI, who was teaching catechism to developmentally disabled persons at St. John the Baptist Parish in Rome. “I was inspired by what she told me about her job,” said Coons. “I was touched. I thought, ‘We need more of her.’”

Coons was intrigued by what she learned from Sister Mary. As a result, she investigated two other religious communities that served the mentally disabled— one in Pennsylvania, and the other in Vancouver, British Columbia. “I felt drawn to the sisters,” remarked Coons. “I thought it would be wonderful to have this in Syracuse. I prayed about it. I even asked the sisters to pray. Then I heard that the religious order in Pennsylvania was planning on expanding. I asked Sister Patricia McCafferty, DSMP, Provincial supervisor of the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence based in Chicago, if she could send two sisters to the Syracuse area to serve the disabled. She said that she would send them. “I know it happened because of all of our prayers,” Coons said.

Coons then contacted Manning about bringing the sisters to the Syracuse Diocese. At that point, Manning approached Bishop James Moynihan with the request. Bishop Moynihan approved the plan and was very supportive of the idea.

Coons approached Father Frederick Mannara of Most Holy Rosary Church in Syracuse to ask if he knew of any available housing in the area for the sisters. Father Mannara offered the use of Sarah House for the sisters’ lodging. “It was divine providence,” commented Coons.

Sister Barbara arrived here from Chicago, Ill., where she worked in a residential facility housing 96 developmentally disabled women. “I was taking care of 16 amongst the 96,” explained Sister Barbara. She found the experience enlightening. “I love working with the developmentally disabled,” said Sister Barbara. “I truly believe God put them on earth to show us how to love. They accept you for who you are — no matter what color you are, no matter what religion you are — they just love you and they expect you to love them. They love being around people and they are not ashamed of who they are. They have such a big heart and it’s just beautiful to see how they interact with other people. I love their presence — it’s a joy for me. I enjoy their gentleness, compassion and love for life. They really teach us a lot about what life is all about.”

In addition to ministering to the disabled, Sister Patricia asked Sister Barbara to take over the position of director of pastoral care at Holy Family Church in Syracuse. “The parishioners at Holy Family have been so welcoming and so loving, it feels as if I’ve been there for years,” said Sister Barbara. “I feel very, very blessed to be there.”

Sister Barbara is looking forward to working with the disabled. She and Sister Theresann attended the People With Disabilities Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse on Sept. 25. “I felt very much at home,” said Sister Barbara. “I went right up to the disabled and they came up to me — it was as if we knew each other. That was the first time I met them. We were able to meet some of their parents at the reception afterwards. I felt very much like I was back in Chicago.”

Sister Theresann came to this area from Vancouver, British Columbia. She provided catechism and ongoing instruction for people with special needs for 30 years. “When I was 16 or 17 years old, I knew this is where I would be,” said Sister Theresann.

Sister Theresann said that when Sister Patricia asked her if she would like to go to Syracuse to put all of her experience with the disabled in practice, she was excited. “It was a chance to service somewhere else and I had never been to New York before,” explained Sister Theresann. “Our mission is to serve the needs of special need adults. We involve them in the Sacraments, teach them catechism and we encourage them to get involved in their local parishes.”

“We would both like to bring the charisma of Blessed Guanella, who is the founder of our order, into the Syracuse Diocese,” said Sister Barbara. “Blessed Guanella wanted to reach out to the developmentally disabled and whoever may have been unwanted and unloved in the world, just to show the human dignity that these people had.” A welcoming reception for Sister Theresann and Sister Barbara will be held at Holy Family Church on Nov. 6 at 6 p.m., immediately following the 5 p.m. Mass.

Even though Sister Barbara and Sister Theresann are going to start their ministries within Holy Family and Most Holy Rosary Parishes, they are open to consulting with people in the areas of the diocese that they have not reached yet. “We are available for service,” said Sister Theresann. For more information about the program, call (315) 474-1745.

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