Love and devotion

Aug. 31-Sept. 6,06
Love and devotion
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Sisters of St. Francis celebrate newest members and welcome them into community

The Sisters of St. Francis gained more strength in numbers on Aug. 11 and 12 when they welcomed three women at the St. Anthony Convent Chapel. Sister Mary Frances Cannon professed perpetual vows and Sister Christine Ann Steigerwald professed temporary vows on Aug. 12. Sister Caryn Crook officially began her novitiate the evening before. Sisters Mary Frances and Christine are mothers and career women who made the choice to serve God with a commitment to religious life. Sister Caryn brings her experience with the Peace Corps and as a biological technician with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with her as she prepares for her life as a Sister of St. Francis. Sister Caryn’s home parish is Immaculate Conception in Fulton. Sister Ann Kenyon, OSF, has spent the last four years working with the sisters who are in the formation process. It’s a job she loves.

“It is a ministry that has challenges,” Sister Ann admitted, “but what a blessing and a privilege to walk through the stages with these women. It is very gratifying. By walking their journey with them, my life is enriched.”

She explained that Sister Caryn’s first year of the novitiate will be marked by an intense period of deepening spirituality and will be followed by a deeper integration into the Franciscan community. The Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse added to their community when two other Franciscan communities, Hastings-on-Hudson and Buffalo, joined them over a year ago. The original Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse came from the Philadelphia area in the 1800s. They split and formed their own community in accordance with the wishes of Cardinal John Neumann. There were actually six Franciscan religious communities that came from that same core group. Three of them are now back together with hopes that eventually all six may become one community.

The incorporation of the new communities was apparent at the Saturday ceremony for Sisters Mary Frances and Christine Ann. As part of the ceremony, Hawaiian leis were placed around the sisters’ shoulders reminding them of the sisters serving in Hawaii who could not be there in person, but in spirit. Sisters from all three locations were there to celebrate with them, along with family and friends. For Sister Mary Frances, the road to community was long and full of twists and turns. She is a convert to Catholicism by way of Southern Baptists, Episcopalians and Presbyterians. “I’m home now, though,” she said.

“My formation process began at birth,” Sister Mary Frances laughed. Soon after she converted to Catholicism she felt a call to delve deeper into her new religion and grow in her relationship with Jesus. “I knew of God and Jesus my whole life,” she said. “I knew OF them but when I began to KNOW Jesus, I hungered for a right relationship with him and with myself and my neighbors.” Sister Mary Frances spent 25 years teaching elementary school so naturally that’s where she felt her calling might be as a sister. That has not turned out to be the case. Now she serves as a chaplain at Crouse Hospital in Syracuse. She works with the families in the pediatric unit. “I love little ones,” she said. She walks the halls of the maternity wing and also helps families cope with their children staying in the Intensive Care Unit. Having taken her perpetual vows on Aug. 12, Sister Mary Frances will spend the rest of her life as a Sister of St. Francis.

Sister Christine Ann is also called to serve in pastoral care as a chaplain. As a temporary professed, she will now focus on studying for her particular ministry. She spent decades as a nurse while she was rearing her two adopted children. Now that they are grown, she is able to fulfill the commitment to Christ that she said she knew was part of her all along. Sister Christine had wanted to be a sister when she was younger and was part of an aspirant program at her high school in Chicago. “I feel we all have a calling. I feel I was meant to raise my children,” Sister Christine said. She’s been drawn to live in community with the Sisters of St. Francis where she feels there is focus and strength by living with women who are like-minded and yet interdependent. For now she is living in Williamsville near Buffalo working in the pastoral care program. She was able to try different options such as teaching and working with refugees before settling on chaplaincy, which she feels is a tie-in with her previous nursing experience. Sister Christine Ann is getting to know all the members of the Franciscan community. “My daughter introduces me as ‘My mother, the sister,’” she laughed. “How do you know something is a fit? In time you grow into the answer.”

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