Preparing to move, Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities hold farewell Mass
It was a day for memories and for stories, a day for old friends to get together and say goodbye.
On May 10, members of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities held a Mass to say farewell to the St. Anthony Convent Chapel on Court Street in Syracuse. The sisters have called the convent home for more than 100 years, but the aging structure no longer meets their needs and would require more than $12 million in improvements to secure its structural integrity and prepare it for extended use. The congregation partnered with senior housing company Hearth Management Group in 2012 to build Franciscan Villa, a new residence on Buckley Road in Salina; sisters will begin moving there in June. There are some 150 sisters in the Central New York community, with about 75 living in the St. Anthony and Jolenta Convents on the Court Street campus.
In a ceremony prior to the Mass, members of the congregation placed key items on the altar: a white altar cloth; a candle, to symbolize the light of Christ; a picture of St. Anthony’s Convent; a pot of soil, to remember the court of St. Francis; a vow book that included the vows of every sister who had been part of the community at St. Anthony’s Convent; a cord, to symbolize the robe that St. Francis wore; a rule book of the Third Order of St. Francis; and an office book that governed their daily lives. “These gifts are symbolic of our lives as we leave a most loved and cherished place,” stated Sister Marise May, OSF.
Msgr. Neal Quartier celebrated the Mass and gave the homily. “We gather today not to cry that the time is over, but to smile at the many blessings since 1864. This grand dwelling place is holy ground.”
Msgr. Quartier gave a brief history of the campus that began in May 1864 when the original land for the Motherhouse was purchased for the sum of $7,500. Several nuns in the congregation smiled and laughed as Msgr. Quartier shared humorous stories and memories of the many sisters who had lived on the property.
“We give thanks for the celebrations and for the stories. If only this building could speak; if only the walls could talk what wonderful memories they would share,” said Msgr. Quartier with a smile. “It reminds me of the movie, ‘Casablanca,’ and the song, ‘As Time Goes By.’ As time goes by your faith and zeal never wavered, even when your pioneer spirit was tested. The faith and zeal of the hundreds of women who have kneeled here and taken vows, who did the work of the Master, never wavered. As time goes by we are grateful how God has worked in these buildings and in all of your lives.”
During a reflection that followed Communion, Sister Kathleen Osbelt, OSF, spoke of the many women who had been a part of the Motherhouse; the 737 sisters who professed their final vows at the chapel; the 673 sisters who were honored at funeral Masses; and the 15 women who served as general ministers. Sister Kathleen also explained that hundreds of Masses, jubilees and feast days were celebrated in the chapel.
“We lift our hearts in thanks. We thank God for the rooms of this house and the comfort and the security it has given us, and the joyous memories we have shared together. These are journeys ended and now journeys begun,” she said.
Sister Roberta Smith, OSF, general minister of the congregation, is looking forward to the move. “We needed to look toward the future and determine the best possible future for our sisters. We are moving the first wave of women in the first part of June, but expect to have the move completed by the end of June,” she said.
The move has created a unique partnership between the sisters and Hearth Management Group, which will provide on-site healthcare for the sisters.
“It’s been a great partnership and we all look toward a positive future,” stated Sister Roberta.
In addition to the new living facility for the sisters, the shrine and museum of St. Marianne Cope, a Franciscan sister who ministered in Upstate New York and Hawaii and who was canonized in Oct. 2012, will also be relocated. Currently located at the St. Anthony Convent, the future museum and shrine will be housed in a former radiology building on the campus of St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center in Syracuse.
St. Marianne’s remains, currently enshrined in the St. Anthony Chapel, will return to Hawaii where St. Marianne lived and ministered to patients with Hansen’s disease. Her remains, and the remains of Saint Damien de Veuster, who also ministered to Hansen’s disease patients, will be placed at The Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Hawaii. The new Syracuse museum and shrine will feature a relic of St. Marianne and will also provide greater space for exhibits, offices and a gift shop. An opening of the new museum and shrine is expected to occur this summer.
It is as Sister Kathleen stated: Journeys are ending at the Motherhouse and museum, but new journeys are about to begin for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities.