Counting toward a century
By Kelly Homan Rodoski/ SUN contributing writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Most Holy Rosary celebrates IHM’s more than 90 years of service to the parish and school
On Sept. 1, 1915, four members of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) congregation in Scranton, Pa., arrived at Holy Rosary Parish in Syracuse (now known as Most Holy Rosary) to teach at the parish’s new school, which would open a week later on Sept. 8.
Today, 91 years later, four members of the congregation continue to serve at the parish and school, now known as the Bishop’s Academy at Most Holy Rosary. In those years in between, the sisters who ministered at MHR left indelible impressions on the generations of students they educated and spiritually nourished. Hundreds of members of the MHR community came together on Sept. 9 for a special Mass, concelebrated by Bishop Thomas Costello, MHR pastor Father Fred Mannara and Deacon Charles O’Connor, in recognition of the contributions of the IHM sisters over the years. Sisters honored during the celebration included several daughters of the parish who answered the call to religious life; sisters who ministered at MHR in the past; and the sisters who continue to live and work there.
The Mass opened with a reading of “A Tribute to the Nuns in Blue,” written by MHR alumna Edna Connor ’30. MHR alumni from different decades proclaimed readings. During his homily, Bishop Costello drew a timeline of how the parish grew in the early years, and talked of the special gifts with which the sisters enriched the parish and the school. “Well, Rosarians, how do you recognize them?” he asked those gathered. “As mentor, adviser, counselor, confidante, role model, inspiration, witness, exemplar, friend, advocate, guardian angel, taskmistress, challenger? Who are these sisters and who have they been to you?”
Bishop Costello spoke of the founder of the IHM congregation, Marie Alma Duchemin, who at 19 was a founding member of the Oblates of Providence. She left that order and traveled to Monroe, Mich., to join an order founded by Redemptorist missionary Louis Florent Gillet, and became known as Mary Theresa Maxis. She led the move of sisters from the congregation in Michigan to Pennsylvania, where she was challenged by the church hierarchy. “If it is her charism that defines you, then I recognize you as a community that is humble, simple yet dynamic, resourceful, daring, decisive and determined, self-starting and socially sensitive,” Bishop Costello said. “For me at least, you still model Theresa Maxis, recognizing and responding to the unfolding events and needs around you.” At MHR, the bishop said, the sisters taught students who went on to become judges, physicians and teachers; industrialists, business leaders and health care workers; presidential cabinet members, university presidents, clergy and religious; butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.
Father Ted Hesburgh, CSC, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., is an MHR alumnus. “When I think of my early years, what comes to mind most forcefully of all is the presence, the example and the teaching and the wonderful friendship of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” Father Hesburgh said in written greetings sent for the occasion. “I am especially grateful for your example of dedicated service to the Good Lord, your gift of teaching — which I also still enjoy here at the university, and the all-around wonderful example that strengthened my vocation to become a priest some day.”
Father Mannara said the sisters are a “stimulating presence” in the MHR community. “I have had the pleasure of working with the sisters for eight years. It is evident to me that Most Holy Rosary is a strong, growing, faith-filled community due in large part to the vital contributions the sisters have made through the years,” he said. “I continue to marvel at the gifts that they possess and share with all.”
Barbara Messina, principal of the Bishop’s Academy at Most Holy Rosary, said she “stands on the shoulders of giants” — the sisters who ministered at the school through the years. To the sisters that still minister at MHR — Sisters Mary Elizabeth Costello, Joan Ottman, Maria Grace and Theresa Thayer — “They are there to do whatever, whenever. I can depend on all of you to give our school your best.”
Sister Mary Persico, IHM president, accepted a spiritual bouquet from the school’s students on behalf of the sisters. She served her first mission at MHR, ministering at the school and sharing in parish life during the 1970s. “Being here nurtured my young vocation,” she said. “We are grateful to the four sisters here today who keep the tradition going.”
Three alumni, Leonard Markert Jr. ’43, Larry Horton ’59 and Amy Callahan ’03 shared some of their special memories of being students at MHR. “The sisters not only taught us the reading, writing and arithmetic, but taught us values as well,” said Markert. “We learned a lot about our faith from them.” “The sisters made MHR unique,” said Callahan. “Having them at the heart of the community is a gift that left a footprint on each of our hearts. … Though their numbers are not large currently, the gifts they have to offer are immeasurable.” At the conclusion of the Mass, Michael ’56 and Anne (Haedecke) ’52 Barry presented Sister Persico with a check for $14,000 on behalf of the MHR community, which the sisters will use to continue their mission. “Because of you, when we walked these halls of Rosary, we truly walked with God,” said Michael Barry. “And in saying that, I speak for thousands.”