June 1-7, 2006
Dr. Father, Dr. Sister
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Father Ted Sizing and Sister Grace Anne receive honors at Le Moyne Commencement
Le Moyne College’s 56th commencement on May 21 was a day of celebration not only for students but also for Father Ted Sizing, a priest of the Syracuse Diocese, and Sister Grace Anne Dillenschneider, OSF, assistant general minister of the Sisters of St. Francis based in Syracuse; both received honorary degrees of Doctor of Humane Letters from the Jesuit college.
Sister Grace Anne has been a member of the leadership of her religious community since the late 1980s. Before her ability to motivate others and willingness to serve in that capacity were revealed, Sister Grace Anne worked in various parishes and schools in the diocese. The past several years, however, have been most extraordinary.
Since 2000, the Sisters, founded in Syracuse and originally named the Sisters of the Third Franciscan Order, have worked diligently to find a way to make the most of their resources — physical, spiritual and fiscal. They combined with Franciscan sisters from two other Upstate New York congregations to form the Sisters of St. Francis last year. Sister Grace Anne was a key member of the group advocating the change.
“It was originally inspired by the desire to ensure that the Franciscan charism continue into the future,” Sister Grace Anne said. “We determined that together we could remain a viable and valuable community in the years to come. It’s a better use of our resources and it’s working wonderfully. We have our struggles but there is a very creative tension there that allows us to move forward.” Around eight years ago, the sisters’ leadership team was approached by the Franciscan friars who live on the north side of the city. Since then, they have been collaborating in various ministries serving the poor, marginalized, refugees and spiritually hungry in the area.
Those accomplishments aside, Sister Grace Anne can also count her trip to Hawaii in 2004 to retrieve the remains of Blessed Mother Marianne Cope as one of the highlights of the past several years. The sisters’ mission to have one of the community’s first religious canonized has also been something Sister Grace Anne has advocated.
For her lifetime of commitment and her dedication to the community, Sister Grace received her citation and honorary scarf from Le Moyne president Father Charles Bierne. She said she was “very surprised” at the honor. And Sister Grace Anne said any award or designation achieved is really accepted in the name of the Sisters of St. Francis because of their willingness to engage in the ministries of the community.
“Anything that I am recognized for isn’t done on my own,” she said.
Father Ted Sizing is known as someone who does things on his own as well as with his colleagues and the community. He has spent the 51 years of his priesthood serving others. From the inner-city parish of St. Lucy’s to the poor in Guatemala, Father Sizing has lived his life witnessing the Gospel. He continues in the same vein today and wouldn’t change a minute of his experience. Father Sizing actually attended Le Moyne for two years, the first two years of the college’s existence, before taking the advice of Father Andrew Brady, SJ, and giving the seminary “a try.”
“I told my parents not to get rid of my clothes because I’d probably be back in a couple of weeks,” Father Sizing laughed. “Well, I wasn’t. I loved it [the seminary].”
Father Sizing was ordained in 1955 and was assigned to St. John the Baptist Church on Syracuse’s north side where he spent nearly 12 years. The pastor of the church was then-Auxiliary Bishop David Cunningham. The two formed a great friendship that lasted for years. Father Sizing said he was lucky because Bishop Cunningham was the one who decided where priests were assigned. The bishop first approached Father Sizing about serving as a principal in a Catholic high school. “Well I was shocked,” Father Sizing remembered. “I waited a few hours and then I knocked on his door and said, ‘I appreciate your confidence in me Bishop, but I’m not too keen on working with youth.’ He looked at me and then asked, ‘Well then, what are you keen on?’”
Father Sizing told Bishop Cunningham he wanted to work in the inner city. His next assignment was St. Lucy’s on the west side where he served from 1966 to 1978. He loved the work and the people there, Father Sizing said. He met Father Ray McVey who began serving the parish at the same time. Famous for his life of service and frugality, Father McVey showed up the first day of the assignment at St. Lucy’s with all of his possessions in one box.
“I introduced myself and asked him where the rest of his stuff was,” Father Sizing remembered. “There was nothing in the car and he said he was carrying everything in the box. Well I couldn’t believe it!” That was the beginning of a long friendship and years of connection with the poor and an affinity for service that survives today. Father McVey went on to found Unity Acres where he ministered to homeless men who made their way to the rural compound in Orwell. After working in the community at St. Lucy’s fostering harmony during a difficult period of U.S. history, Father Sizing went to Our Lady of Lourdes where he found the people very generous and always willing to help in any way. But, he was anxious to broaden his experience and asked Bishop Frank Harrison for permission to serve with the Maryknoll Missions in the early 1980s. He had hoped to serve in Nicaragua but found there were no positions opened there at the time and after studying Spanish for several months went to Guatemala instead. There he discovered the happiness and faith expressed by those who have close to nothing.
“Again I learned from a happy group of people who taught me their depth of love in the midst of poverty,” Father Sizing said. He returned from Guatemala and served in the diocesan office of the Propagation of the Faith where he spent several years visiting parishes and speaking about the need at the various Catholic missions around the world. Father Sizing’s next move was in the mid-1990s when he left the diocesan office and moved to St. Francis Farm, a Catholic Worker community near Unity Acres. Groups of young people from high schools and colleges across the country came to St. Francis Farm to serve the rural poor and to experience living in prayerful community for a week at a time.
Chronic back problems led to Father Sizing’s departure from the farm and after successful surgery he was ready for his next assignment, his last before retiring at age 70. Bishop James Moynihan called Father Sizing and asked him to serve as diocesan director of the Office of Social Action Ministry. The year and a half served in the office brought many issues to the forefront of the diocese: the sanctions in place in Iraq, the death penalty, the Year of Jubilee in 2000 and the forgiveness of Third World debt among many other issues. Father Sizing has also traveled to Ft. Benning in Columbus, Ga., to protest at the School of the Americas.
For his unending work for peace, justice and Gospel values Father Ted Sizing was honored and humbled to receive the award from Le Moyne, a place where he began his journey so many years ago.