Sister Laura Bufano is a leader in her congregation
By Connie Berry
Sister Laura Bufano, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet for over 40 years, said she fell in love with music and God at the same time. She grew up in Syracuse and attended St. Peter’s Church on James Street and graduated from St. Vincent de Paul High School. Sister Jerome Joseph at St. Vincent’s discovered Sister Laura’s musical gift and she’s been embracing it ever since.
“My decision to enter the congregation was inspired by the sisters who taught me,” Sister Laura said. “They were alive, human. They laughed, they cried and they danced.”
She said her love of liturgy was inspired by listening to Adam Smalley who traveled all around the diocese teaching about liturgy during her high school years. Sister Laura was a member of her school and church choir and considered both a music career and religious life when she was young. She decided to give religious life a chance and her family was very supportive.
Her parents were her strongest examples of faith, Sister Laura said. Her mother Stella died in 2005 and her father, Rocco died just a week ago.
“Our faith life as a family was strong,” she said. “Especially with my grandmothers.”
Sister Laura had no shortage of strong, faithful women as role models. Her mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when she was only 30 and she had an indomitable spirit in spite of the disease.
“I can remember my mother before her diagnosis and she was an incredibly fun person. Only her faith could have enabled her to live with that disease for so long,” Sister Laura said. “She had a gentle strength. My parents were the greatest example to me of faithfulness. Love is the soil in which the seeds of my vocation were planted.”
Although one side of her family was hopeful that Sister Laura would end up as an opera singer for the New York Metropolitan Opera — and even promised her a new Cadillac if she did — Sister Laura had other aspirations.
Those seeds first planted in her family have now taken root and are an important part of her life as a Sister of St. Joseph. Sister Laura is currently serving her far-reaching congregation as a member of the Congregational Leadership Team. The sisters have a leadership style based on collaboration and respect for the many ideas and gifts brought to the table. It’s an environment Sister Laura thrives in.
Her work in the Syracuse Diocese was all about empowering others to find a way to work together. Her positions in the diocese included serving as music educator at St. Anthony of Padua School in Syracuse’s south side and as pastoral associate at St. John the Evangelist in New Hartford and at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Liverpool. Sister Laura served in diocesan ministry as Co-director for Church Vocations from 1985 to 1990 and as director of the Office of Liturgy from 1993 to 2000. She served on the Albany Province’s leadership team for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet from 1996 to 2000 and then on the Province Executive Committee full-time from 2000 to 2004. Her role as liturgical ministry specialist with the Cortland County Pastoral Care Area began in 2004 and was a very productive and special experience for her. She left to take her leadership position within her congregation in 2008.
Sister Laura has a degree in music education from the College of St. Rose, a master’s degree in music education from Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam and a master’s degree in liturgical music from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Through the years, Sister Laura has been a frequent presenter at workshops and conferences, almost always incorporating song in her talks. “I can’t give a talk or presentation without including music and the assembly,” she explained.
A phrase or refrain from a favorite liturgical song will make its way into most presentations whether it be for a retreat for retired sisters, or workshops for priests and the laity. She still has a love of music and of God and both shine through her work.
Maryanne Marr is a member of St. Lawrence Church in DeRuyter and was a member of the team who worked to plan the future of the nine faith communities in the Cortland County Pastoral Care Area, or PCA. She explained that the group felt strongly that they should come together finding ways to collaborate especially in liturgical ministries. They decided to seek professional help in that area and they asked Sister Laura to bring her gifts to their PCA.
“Sister Laura’s leadership style is first and foremost prayerful and prayer-filled,” Marr said. “And she instilled in each meeting the recognition that we were operating in God’s presence and could move forward with God’s support.”
It was no easy task to work on reconfiguration plans as Bishop James Moynihan had directed the PCAs to do. Again, it was Sister Laura’s vision to plant seeds and empower others that helped the faith communities.
Father Jerry Katz came to the Cortland PCA at about the same time Sister Laura did and he enjoyed working with her. He said she was there to “advise, inform, vision, teach and guide us in our attempt to provide the best possible liturgical experience for the people.” He explained that Sister Laura did this by conducting workshops for lectors, Eucharistic ministers and cantors, by coordinating retreat experiences and by being present at each place on a regular basis.
“I think Laura inspires confidence and portrays herself as a person you can trust … a person you can say what’s on your mind to and not be put down if you hold a differing opinion than her own,” Father Katz said. “She has a remarkable ability to see all sides of a discussion and empowers people to come to a consensus in decision making.”
Sister Laura’s gift in successfully implementing a collaborative model in all she does is in part what brought her to her current role within the Sisters of St. Joseph. Her description of collaboration relies on “letting go of ego.” No easy feat.
“You have to come to understand what collaboration is,” Sister Laura explained. “It’s give-and-take without clinging to what your idea is and allowing others to put their idea in the pool. What you come up with is different than what your original idea was. It‘s letting go of ego and suspending judgment.”
As the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet minister in the Syracuse Diocese, in St. Louis, Mo., Los Angeles, Ca., Albany, St. Paul, Minn., Hawaii, Peru and Japan, they look at their own vision and future. The sisters have spent their lives empowering laity through education, social work, health care, advocacy, through their lay associates and friends.
“As we look today at our demographics we see it as an opportunity, not a problem,” Sister Laura said. “There are men and women embued with the spirit of the Sisters of St. Joseph living the Gospel and being a healing presence all over the world.”
The Sisters of St. Joseph will begin to celebrate their 175th anniversary on March 25, 2011. They have spent the last few years getting to know each other better by connecting all the communities and sharing the different cultures and gifts each province and vice province brings to the table.
The sisters minister in a variety of ways today. Sister Laura said there is a real hunger for spirituality today and the sisters offer mentoring, spiritual direction and retreat work as part of their ministry.
Sister Katie Eiffe, CSJ, recently left her long-time role as diocesan director of the Office of Faith Formation in the Syracuse Diocese. She is now in Latham, N.Y., home of the Albany Province. She has known Sister Laura for many years, since she entered the order in 1977. Sister Katie said Sister Laura was an “invaluable resource” to the religious education and faith formation ministry while she worked with her in the Syracuse Diocese. Throughout the years, Sister Katie has come to know Sister Laura as a co-worker, friend and sister religious.
“I came to know Laura as a woman passionate for Christ and deeply immersed in her own discipleship, witnessing to our CSJ charism of unity and reconciliation every single day,” Sister Katie said.
Sister Katie considers one of the greatest gifts of her community to be their commitment to God and the “dear neighbor,” and also their commitment to one another.
“We are deeply relational,” Sister Katie said about her community. “We are an amazingly diverse group of women and our community always strives to recognize the individual gifts that each sister brings to ministry.”
Sister Laura comes to her ministry of congregational leadership with her own passion of discernment. She doesn’t make decisions lightly. She asks God to lead her and she has certainly enjoyed the journey.
“What have I enjoyed the most so far? It’s hard to say. I’ve loved it all,” she said. “Being called to religious life is a mystery that defies description, and living it is an adventure.”