June 15-21, 2006
Called to serve
By Deacon Tom Picciano/ SUN contributing writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Sister Denise Marie Fallat, SSCM, leaves St. Joseph’s School after 26 years
ENDICOTT — A crowd of young students play outside on a warm June day. They’re enjoying themselves, shouting a bit and occasionally tapping the window as they run around. But the noise doesn’t phase Sister Denise Marie Fallat, SSCM, who’s been at the helm of St. Joseph’s school since 1980. Soon, however, she’ll be leaving the post to work in the development office for the Sisters of Saints Cyril and Methodius.
“My community decided that I should go to another ministry,” said Sister Denise. “I’m excited. I’m happy with my new assignment, looking forward to it.
“I think it is time now for me to repay the community and now start working for my community,” she added. “All these years I’ve been missioned elsewhere working for pastors, parents, students. It’s time for me to return and see what I can do.” Sister Denise Marie’s time has including time teaching in elementary schools and then high school for 10 years before coming to St. Joseph’s as principal more than two and a half decades ago. Shortly after her arrival, people kept telling Sister Denise Marie about a dream — to build a gymnasium and add another floor to the school. Ten years ago, the plan resurfaced again.
Then, on a very cold St. Joseph’s Day in March of 2002, Sister Denise Marie donned a hard hat and picked up a shovel alongside St. Joseph’s pastor, Father James Serowik. They broke ground for the new gym plus an area for science, computer and music labs. At $1.5 million, the project was quite an undertaking for the school and the parish. “I guess in a materialistic world,” Sister Denise Marie said, “The addition to the school was probably the climax of everything I have done. To be able to see growth. To be able to build.”
Sister Denise Marie feels that Catholic education offers a more important expansion than new buildings. “I can walk around and look at this other stuff, but if we haven’t left a mark on their hearts and their souls… “Probably my greatest joy would be the spirituality of the children that left here. That someone out there can say ‘I have grown in my faith,’” she said. “That they could walk away a better person. That someday they will get married and know the importance of their Catholic education and send their children through a Catholic education. And if they do not send their children through a Catholic education, that they can instill their faith in their children.” On a recent school day, Sister Denise Marie made time in her schedule to read to a class of youngsters. She has been at St. Joseph’s long enough to see the children of those who went to the school when she first arrived. She admits it will be hard to leave the St. Joseph’s family behind.
“It’s bittersweet. It’s not the easiest move I’ve ever made. I’ve moved around before, but because I’ve been here 26 years, I’ve become a part of everybody’s life. It is difficult,” she said. Sister Denise Marie didn’t seek out the development job. She had no idea that she would be called to do it. She questioned the move with her spiritual director, who asked her if she wanted the job. “I said no, that I didn’t really want it. Then you know what my answer was? ‘God is calling you,’” she said. “It didn’t take me long to say yes. When someone says to you ‘Then God is calling you,’ then you sit back and you say, ‘Isn’t that what my vows were all about?’” “God has blessed her ministry at St. Joe’s. Sometimes change is good as difficult as it is. She’s been here for a big part of the school,” said Father Serowik. “I think she believes in the value of Catholic education,” he said. “That Catholic education should be provided for the young people of St. Joseph’s Parish and our area.”
Father Serowik remembers working with Sister Denise Marie and the parish to get the new gym and classrooms built just four years ago. Overall, he describes her time at St. Joseph’s by drawing on a saying from his Boy Scout days, “to leave a place better than how you found it.”
“I think Sister Denise did that at St. Joe’s. She left it in very good shape, very good condition,” he said. St. Joseph’s Parish held a Mass and reception in Sister Denise Marie’s honor on Saturday, June 10. That’s just a week after the big bazaar at the parish, which included parents from the school raising money at the games tent. Next June, Sister Denise Marie won’t be the principal when the bazaar rolls around again. She’ll be working on a wider scale raising money for the sisters who have supported Catholic education for nearly 100 years in several states, including New York.
“I am excited about my new mission. I feel God is calling me,” she said. “And if I say yes, He is going to bless me. And that’s the way I have to go forward.”