Each year the Diocese of Syracuse honors religious women who are celebrating milestone anniversaries. Here, the Sun profiles this year’s jubilarians and their years of dedicated service.
Sister Mary Ethna Kapfer, CSJ, is celebrating 80 years as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Born in Chadwicks, N.Y., and a member of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, she entered the novitiate of the Sisters of St. Joseph on March 19, 1937. Sister Mary Ethna received a bachelor’s degree in science from The College of Saint Rose and a master’s degree in general science from Syracuse University. She spent 72 years in the ministry of education in the Syracuse and Albany Dioceses as a teacher, administrator, and volunteer. In the Syracuse Diocese, Sister Mary Ethna taught at St. John the Baptist School and St. Vincent de Paul School, Syracuse; St. Patrick’s School, Binghamton; and St. Agnes School, Utica. She has been residing in Utica with the Sisters in the Eagle Street Community.
Sister Mary Ethna went to a rural school outside Utica and first learned of religious life when, as a seventh-grader, she heard a missionary priest speak. She initially wanted to be a Maryknoll Sister, but her mother was a widow with four young children, so Sister Mary Ethna chose a community closer to home. She is filled with gratitude for the gift of her vocation. “As I celebrate 80 years as a Sister of St. Joseph, I am so thankful to God for the call to religious life, and to my family for instilling in me the faith and for nurturing me along the way through 99 years of life and 80 years of religious life! I am also filled with gratitude for all the Sisters who mentored me and with whom I shared the joys and challenges of community life. My life has been filled with many blessings also from students, parents, teachers and friends. May God bless each of you!”
And Sister Mary Ethna’s secret to a long, healthy life? “Keep going; stay active and interested in people; travel; keep exposing yourself to new experiences and ideas; and pray always!”
To someone who might be considering religious life, Sister Mary Ethna comments, “I would say to talk with some sisters about what religious life is like today, find a spiritual director to talk with, and then pray every day for the guidance of the Holy Spirit!”
Sister Jane Frances Pfisterer, OSF, is celebrating 80 years as a Sister of St. Francis of the Neuman Communities.
Sister Jane Frances entered from St. Joseph-St. Patrick Parish in Utica in 1936. She attended St. Joseph School in Utica, where was taught by the Franciscan sisters. She attended Utica Free Academy, leaving after her sophomore year to enter the Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse. She has been a member since. She received her habit and name in 1937.
Sister Jane Frances attended The College of Saint Rose in Albany, receiving her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. She also has a permanent certification from New York State in Language Arts.
During her years of ministry, Sister Jane Frances taught kindergarten through 12th grade. In grades 9 through 12, she taught history and language arts, religion, and anthropology. Her teaching assignments were located in New Jersey, Albany, Syracuse, Utica, Oswego, and Long Beach, Calif. She received an outstanding teacher award in Oswego. She also served as superior at convents to which she was assigned.
Sister Jane Frances loved teaching, and she was always delighted by watching the light of comprehension come into the eyes of her students, because the students knew they were loved and they loved her back.
After teaching for 50 years, Sister Jane Frances ministered at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Utica for 23 years. She served as the Administrative Receptionist for CEO Sister Rose Vincent Gleason, OSF.
Her joy always was teaching the children about God but she loved all her ministries no matter what they were. She always has a smile and a cheerful disposition. Most importantly, she loves God, loves her Franciscan community and the sisters. Her prayerfulness and love of prayer are very important and most essential. She always said to young people who were contemplating religious life or the priesthood, “Have a love and desire for God and prayer.” At the present time, Sister Jane Frances resides at the Franciscan Villa in Syracuse.
Sister Raphael Fulwider, OSF, is marking 70 years as a Sister of St. Francis. She entered the novitiate in 1946. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Syracuse University and her master’s from the College of New Rochelle.
Sister Raphael taught in schools in Hoboken, N.J., and Albany, N.Y. She went on to teach Art at Maria Regina College on the campus of the Franciscan Motherhouse. During her years in ministry, Sister Raphael not only shared her talent in art with her students but also shared it with her sisters in community.
With a true artistic heart, Sister revels in the many colors in nature. In her room in the Franciscan Villa where she now resides, the pictures depicting the beauty of nature that she has painted mirror the scenes that she can see from her windows. This connection with God’s beauty is probably what makes Sister Raphael such a happy, welcoming personality. She also loves her cards, especially pinochle, which she will play any time she can.
Sister Mary Celestine McCann, OSF, celebrates 70 years as a Sister of St. Francis. A native of Camden, N.J., she attended the Convent School in Syracuse. She entered the novitiate in 1946 and began teaching in 1948. Over 51 years, Sister Mary Celestine taught in schools in Hoboken and Camden, N.J.; Albany, N.Y.; at Holy Trinity School and St. Daniel School, both in Syracuse; and at St. Mary’s School in Utica. She taught a variety of elementary grade levels over the years, but spent the majority teaching kindergarten and second grade, she said.
Sister volunteered at Stella Maris in Skaneateles for 22 summers before relocating there in 1999 and serving as a hospitality minister. Today, she resides at the St. Mary Chapel House in Baldwinsville, assisting in St. Mary’s Parish and St. Mary’s Academy as needed.
Taught by the Sisters of St. Francis in school, Sister Mary Celestine said that beginning in third or fourth grade, she’d say she wanted to be a sister. She was supported in her vocation by everyone in her family and the sisters at school, noting especially her eighth grade teacher.
Reflecting on her years of religious life, Sister Mary Celestine says she is “so grateful to God for all the wonderful blessings and graces he has given to me. Even before I entered the convent, I was blessed with beautiful family where the faith was simple but it kept us close to God.”
On discerning a call to religious life, Sister advises “stay close to our Lord and especially his Blessed Mother. Give yourself to him to use in whatever way he wants…. Just be open.”
“No matter what vocation you’re in, we serve God by just being his instrument of love and peace and compassion,” she added. “Take each day as it comes and do your very best.”
Sister Helen Palermo (Sister Anne Zita), CSJ, is celebrating 70 years as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Born in Syracuse and a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish, she entered the novitiate of the Sisters of St. Joseph on March 19, 1947. Sister Helen received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in reading, both from The College of Saint Rose.
Sister Helen was a teacher for 54 years in schools of the Syracuse and Albany Dioceses, including in the Syracuse Diocese St. Mary’s Home and St. Patrick’s School, Binghamton; St. Mary’s School, Oswego; and St. Vincent de Paul’s School and St. Ann’s School, Syracuse. In addition, she taught for BOCES and the ABC Learning Center in Syracuse and was a teacher for the homebound in the Syracuse Public School System. Sister Helen presently resides at Blessed Sacrament Convent, Syracuse.
In thinking of her jubilee, Sister Helen reflects, “I can’t believe I have lived long enough to celebrate 70 years in the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph! It means so much to think of God’s faithfulness to me all my life as well as the love and support of so many family members, friends and the hundreds of persons whom I have had the privilege of serving.
“My heart is filled with gratitude that God has blessed me with the gift of a vocation to religious life as well as the physical and spiritual gifts to live through seven decades! I think of my parents who gave me the gift of baptism and who nurtured my growth in faith. I think of so many faithful sister-friends: Sisters Annamae Kenny, Joan Sauro, Barbara Kuczynski, all the sisters I live with at Blessed Sacrament and so many more. All I can say is a great big ‘thanks’!
“I have seen so many changes in religious life and the Holy Spirit is always there guiding us. To any woman thinking of becoming a Sister of St. Joseph, I would say to listen to Jesus’ call in the Gospel to follow Him and focus also on Jesus’ promise that He will always be with us! It’s true!
“To be alive and well at age 90 and to be marking 70 years as a Sister of St. Joseph is an amazing gift from God. There have been ups and downs, for sure, but what a wonderful journey it has been!”
Sister Marie Bernadette Wyman, OSF, celebrating 70 years as a Sister of St. Francis, is a native of South Dorset, Vt. She entered the Sisters of St. Francis of the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin (Archdiocese of New York) in 1947 and professed final vows in 1952.
Graduating from Manhattan College (Bronx, N.Y.), Sister Marie Bernadette later earned master’s degrees in social work and modern languages from Fordham University and a master’s degree in theology from St. John’s University (Queens, N.Y.).
During her 70 years of religious life, Sister Marie Bernadette touched many lives in her various teaching ministries and especially at The Mission of the Immaculate Virgin (Mount Loretto, Staten Island) where she served in child care (1970-1972); and later was executive assistant (1978-1980); director (1980-1982); and was appointed by Terence Cardinal Cooke as executive director (1982-1990). Sister Marie Bernadette also ministered at St. Francis Hospital (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) as Director of Mission Effectiveness and later ministered in the Pastoral Care Department. She was Director of Religious Education at St. James the Apostle Church (Port Ritchie, Fla).
Sister Marie Bernadette was elected General Minister of her community in 1992 and re-elected as General Minister in 1995. Appreciating her Franciscan vocation, she pioneered the vision of enlivening the community’s Franciscan heritage. So she was delighted that on July 11, 2004, three New York State-based congregations of Franciscan sisters — the Sisters of St. Francis of the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin (Hastings), the Sisters of St. Francis Third Order Regular (Buffalo), and the Sisters of the Third Franciscan Order (Syracuse) — united to form a new congregation: the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities.
In 2014, Sister Marie Bernadette moved to the Diocese of Syracuse to live with sisters she has known along her journey, as well as some she is getting to know.
Sister Monica Zmolek, OSF, is celebrating 70 years as a Sister of St. Francis, having entered the order in 1947. The eldest of 11 children, she was born in Iowa and graduated from Notre Dame Academy in Omaha. She earned her bachelor’s from the University of Dayton Extension in Hawaii and her master’s from Manhattanville in New York.
Sister Monica taught in Hawaii for 15 years, served as director of religious educations in locations throughout Central New York and Massachusetts, and served two terms of leadership in her community. She also served as a parish minister at Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville, which she now does part-time. In this ministry, she works with bereaved families. “It’s wonderful to be able to do something for somebody in pain,” she said, and to allow them to know that somebody is with them on this painful journey.
Sister Monica said she first thought about a religious vocation when she made a retreat in high school, and she was ultimately drawn to the Sisters of St. Francis because she wanted to work on Molokai. She was able to spend time working there in the summers when she wasn’t teaching, caring for the blind. It was “an experience that I was most thankful for,” she said. She is grateful to her parents “for instilling a deep love for the Lord in us and the desire to do something in return.”
It’s hard to believe she’s marking 70 years, she said, “but it’s a real joy to think that I was able to be in this community that long and work with others who also were very giving and gifted.” To a young woman discerning a call to the religious life, she advises, “If you feel called by the Lord, go happily, cheerfully” and with hope and joy.
Sister Rose Bill, MFIC, is celebrating 60 years as a Missionary Franciscan Sister. Like her brother, Msgr. Ronald Bill, who is celebrating his 60th year of ordination, she grew up in a loving and faith-filled family. Her family inspired Sister Rose in everything she has done and accomplished, and she was taught from an early age the importance of ministering to those in need.
Sister Rose, a native of Liverpool, N.Y., was a member of Our Lady of Pompei Parish. She entered the Novitiate at Chestnut Hill, Mass., on Sept. 8, 1954, and was professed on Aug. 12, 1957.
She holds a bachelor’s degree from Fordham University, an MA in French Literature from Assumption College, a CAS in Educational Administration from Oswego State, and an MA in Theology from St. Michael’s College. She also studied at the Sorbonne on scholarship from the French Embassy. She did her CPE training at United Health Services in Binghamton, N.Y.
Sister Rose has authored and illustrated two children’s books. The Flower Lady shows children how to turn a negative experience into a positive one. Her second book, The Cookie Lady, teaches children to reach out to others, serve them, and bring them God’s love, and teaches them about the importance of kindness and compassion.
Sister Rose taught at Our Lady of Pity School in the Bronx; St. Clare High School in Roslindale, Mass., and Mt. Alvernia High School in Newton, Mass. She became principal and DRE at St. Charles Borromeo School in Syracuse, and later, principal at Our Lady of Pompei School, Syracuse. Subsequently, Sister Rose served two terms on her community’s leadership team. For the past 29 years she has been a Pastoral Associate at Holy Cross Parish, DeWitt.
Looking back, Sister Rose said, “This 60th anniversary isn’t so much about my vocation, my call, my life of service. That is part of it certainly, but not the main part. This jubilee most of all celebrates God, His call, His faithfulness, His mercy, and His overwhelming Love. These gifts have been the anchor of my personal and my religious life, and a magnet drawing me ever closer to God and His people. He has been the compass that guides me and has kept all things both good and bad in perspective.”
Sister Maureen Denn (Sister Mary Edward), CSJ, is celebrating 60 years as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Raised in Utica, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish and a graduate of St. Francis de Sales High School, she entered the novitiate of the Sisters of St. Joseph on March 19, 1957. Sister Maureen received a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from The College of Saint Rose and a master’s degree in Spanish from Case Western Reserve University.
Sister Maureen began her ministry in the field of education and taught religion and Spanish in schools of the Syracuse and Albany Dioceses, including, in the Syracuse Diocese, St. Lucy’s High School, Syracuse, and St. Francis de Sales High School, Utica. In addition, she was in parish and catechetical ministry at St. Bartholomew’s Parish in Norwich, Our Lady of Angels Parish in Endwell, and St. Agnes Parish in Utica. For nearly 30 years, Sister Maureen was chaplain at Faxton-St. Luke’s Healthcare, Utica. Presently, she is a funeral-ministries assistant at Nunn & McGrath Funeral Directors, Utica.
Sister Maureen reflects on the influences on her life as a Sister of St. Joseph: “My call to consecrated life was strongly influenced by my parents and the location of our family home. We lived proximate to Our Lady of Lourdes Church, School, Convent and Rectory in South Utica. The priests and Daughters of Charity were our beloved neighbors, there for us in good times as well as sad. As a youngster and teenager, I was deeply impressed by their dedication to God and joy in ministry. This same attraction continued as I was educated in high school by the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Throughout these many years, I have been consistently sustained by God’s generous grace, my religious family, my family of birth, friends, colleagues and those whom I have been privileged to meet in ministry.
“The journey of these past 60 years has been a cornucopia of joy, stimulating, and growth-effecting challenges and a constant eye opener of the presence of the Spirit of our loving God. We sisters responded to the mandate of the Second Vatican Council and prepared ourselves to attend to the needs of our “dear neighbor” by diversifying our ministries. We strive to live in authentic communion with ALL of creation.
“For any woman who is questioning a call to consecrated life, I highly recommend frequent communication with a skilled spiritual director who will help you discern if you are, in fact, being called to serve God and others in this particular vocation. It is also important to schedule quiet and alone time in your day in order to be attentive to the voice of God and how the divine presence is manifest in your life.”
Sister M. dePaul Juliano, OSF, is celebrating 60 years as a Sister of St. Francis. A graduate of St. Francis de Sales High School in Utica, Sister dePaul entered the Franciscans in 1956. “I wanted to serve God; I wanted to do something special,” she recalled, and she had a wonderful influence in her aunt, who was a Franciscan sister.
Sister dePaul ministered in education for many years. She served at St. Joseph Elementary in Camden, N.J.; St. Francis Elementary in Trenton, N.J.; Our Lady of Angels Elementary in Albany; Assumption High School in Syracuse; St. Anthony High School in Long Beach, Calif., as vice principal, science department chair, and teacher; Bishop Cunningham High School in Oswego as vice principal and principal; Rome Catholic in Rome as principal and area superintendent for the diocese; and St. Augustine Regional School in Ocean City, N.J. as principal.
Since 2008, Sister dePaul has been a pastoral associate at St. Mary’s and St. Peter’s Churches in Rome, visiting parishioners in nursing homes and hospitals and at home, and assisting in the parish as needed. Sister loved her years of teaching and administration and had wonderful staff no matter where she went, she said. “I still have a heart for the young people,” she added, “but I love what I’m doing with the elderly.”
Sister dePaul is a 2016 graduate of the diocese’s Formation for Ministry program, a past regional associate for the National Catholic Educational Association, and certified by the National Youth Sports Coaches Association. She loves travel, music, reading, and sports.
“It feels wonderful looking back” on her years of ministry, she said. “It was the grace of God that got me through everything.”
Her advice for young people discerning a call? “If they want to do something special for God, they should look into religious life.”
Sister Philip Marie Klein, OSF, marks 60 years as a Sister of St. Francis. A daughter of Syracuse, Sister attended Assumption Catholic Academy. She professed her first vows in 1959 and her final vows in 1962.
At the beginning of her missionary life, Sister Philip Marie taught school in Hoboken, N.J.; St. Peter’s, Utica; and at the Convent School in Syracuse. Sister Philip Marie’s life journey took a turn and she became interested in nursing, so she studied and became a Practical Nurse in 1972 while residing at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Utica. Her passion for nursing was evident as she worked with patients, listening to them, and sharing their stories — a time in her life that brought her much happiness.
When the Franciscan Villa opened in Syracuse, Sister Philip Marie went to live there, giving her time to rekindle her friendships with all her sisters living there. Sister is also an animal lover — in fact, she claims that after nursing, animals are her second passion. As a follower of St. Francis, who loved all of nature, this love for animals certainly fits her calling as a Franciscan.
Sister Mary Catherine Rayo (Sister Annette Francis), CSJ, is celebrating 60 years as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Raised in Syracuse and a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish, she entered the novitiate of the Sisters of St. Joseph on March 19, 1957. Sister Mary Catherine received a bachelor’s degree in business education and a master’s degree in education, both from The College of Saint Rose.
For the first 22 years of her religious life, Sister Mary Catherine taught business subjects in schools of the Syracuse and Albany Dioceses, including in the Syracuse Diocese, St. Lucy’s High School and West Side Catholic in Syracuse and Notre Dame High School in Utica. She also served in clerical positions for various organizations and agencies, including the Catholic Schools Office of the Eastern Region. For the past six years, Sister Mary Catherine has been a clerical assistant at Thea Bowman House, Inc., Utica.
Sister Mary Catherine reflects gratefully on the support she has received in her 60 years in religious life: “There were many influences on my decision to be a Sister of St. Joseph. When I graduated from high school, I began working in the Personnel Office of the Carrier Corporation. Interestingly enough, all of the staff of about 20 people were either Catholic from birth or converts to Catholicism! It was a great working environment. I used to discuss my vocation with one of my co-workers who was also interested in religious life but later married. I began to attend daily Mass at Blessed Sacrament Church and sat behind the Sisters. I’m sure that was also an inspiration to me.
“My mother was very supportive of my decision to enter religious life even though I know it was difficult for her when I actually left home. I didn’t tell my father until it was closer to the time of departure! All those with whom I worked were very encouraging and supportive of my decision.
“In my 60 years in religious life as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, I have experienced much love and support from my Sisters in community and from the individuals with whom and to whom I ministered — as teacher, secretary, payroll clerk, and office assistant. The time has flown by!
“Religious life is a wonderful vocation! To anyone who might be discerning such a call from God, I would say, ‘Pray, pray, pray! God will answer!’”
Sister Maryann Argus, OSF, is marking 50 years of religious life.
A native of East Syracuse and St. Matthew’s Parish, Sister earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Catholic University and her master’s in secondary education, mathematics major, from SUNY Oswego. She is a CompTIA A+ Certified Hardware/Software Technician — the first religious woman to earn that certification, she said — and a Microsoft Office Trainer and Microsoft Office Master.
Sister Maryann’s teaching career began with teaching catechetics to children at Hancock Air Base. She went on to teach at St. Peter’s, Riverside; St. Rose of Lima, North Syracuse; St. Paul,’s Whitesboro; Notre Dame, Utica; All Saints, Syracuse; Bishop Ludden, Syracuse; Oswego Catholic High; and Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, where she has served for 26 years.
Sister Maryann said she had never thought about teaching at all when she entered the order, but that’s where she was needed. Her superior told her “God will provide,” she recalled, “and he did!” On the other hand, she had always wanted to become a Franciscan sister. She got her love of animals and nature from her father, she said, and then she learned about a saint called Francis. Her teachers at St. Matthew’s were sisters, she said, and “that’s what I wanted to be from whenever I can remember — the whole focus was to become a Franciscan sister.”
Reflecting on her jubilee, Sister Maryann said “it doesn’t seem to be 50 years,” and noted one of the biggest challenges she faces “is to set aside the work and the technology and get the time for just quietly being in God’s presence.” She schedules time to unplug — and encourages others, especially young discerners, to do the same. For those discerning, she advises “unplugging and taking the time to listen to what God says… You will know, because your heart will speak to you: ‘This is what I have to do.’”
Sister Lois Ann Barton, CSJ, is celebrating 50 years as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. A member of St. Matthew’s Parish in East Syracuse and a graduate of St. John’s Catholic Academy, Sister Lois entered the novitiate of the Sisters of St. Joseph on Aug. 12, 1967. She received a bachelor’s degree in French from The College of Saint Rose and a master’s degree in French from Middlebury College.
Sister Lois began her religious life as a teacher of French at Catholic Central/Seton Catholic Central High School, Binghamton. She also was director of religious education at St. Anthony’s Parish, Endicott; resource center administrator and director of religious education for the Southern Region of the Syracuse Diocese; and a spiritual director. In addition, Sister Lois served the Sisters of St. Joseph as director of candidates and temporary professed. She is presently program director at The Sophia Center for Spirituality in Binghamton.
Sister Lois remarks on the many persons who have served as her mentors in religious life: “When I look back over my 50 years of religious life for influences on my vocation, I have to go even further: back to my parents and the Sisters of St. Joseph, both in Boston and Syracuse, whose love for God and care for me has been an organic element of my entire life. I must add as well the wonderful Sisters of St. Francis at St. Daniel’s School in Lyncourt who took me into their hearts as a junior high ‘transplant’ and gave me a deep love for all things Franciscan.
“As a person who entered the convent in 1966 on the cusp of monumental change in religious life, I could not have conceived of the shifts that would form congregational decisions and opportunities over five decades. Gratitude is the thrust of my life as I look both back and forward. I see now the workings of the Spirit in all the ministries I have been graced to exercise, learning all along what it means to be part of the ‘Congregation of the Great Love of God,’ striving to love all persons without distinction. This has been possible for me through the example of so many amazing women who have lived the life before me and with me in local community, on committees and boards, at annual gatherings and in our many celebrations. I have learned also from ministry partners, our lay associates and others who show me the love of God in daily life.
“Facing now an unprecedented diminishment in numbers, I am gratified to look to our younger sisters whose hope for and love of this life has not diminished. They are now my teachers about willingness to engage in change for the good that can come of it and the challenge that can make us strong. I would recommend this life to anyone whose heart is calling her to reach out to the ‘dear neighbor’ in moving the world toward unifying love.”
Sister Pamela Conte, OSF, is celebrating 50 years as a Sister of St. Francis. She grew up in Jeannette, Pa., moving to Syracuse at 14. She attended the Convent School for high school, meeting the Franciscan sisters there and entering the community after graduation.
Sister Pamela holds degrees in education, pastoral ministry, counseling, and psychology. Her service has included the ministry of education (as Sister Mary Joy) at St. Mary’s, Minoa; St. Margaret’s, Mattydale; Our Lady of Sorrows, Vestal; St. James, Syracuse; and St. Peter’s, Riverside, N.J.; pastoral ministry at Immaculate Heart of Mary, Liverpool; the care and support of the sisters in Syracuse and Mount Vernon; and counseling in Maryland and Virginia. In 2014, she became Regional Minister with the sisters in Mount Vernon. Since 2016, she has served on her congregation’s Leadership Team in Syracuse.
Reflecting on her 50 years of religious life, Sister Pamela says the words that come to mind are gratitude, wonder, joy, and Alleluia. “I am really grateful for all the wonderful people I’ve been able to minister with and find God in,” she said.
To a young woman discerning a call to the religious life, she advises: “Spend time in prayer every day, listen to what the Spirit is saying within you, and look for the Holy Mystery everywhere.”
Sister Mary Melanie Jaworski, CSSF, is celebrating 50 years of religious life. Born in Syracuse, she attended and graduated from Sacred Heart School, where she was taught by the Felician sisters.
“That certainly influenced my life,” she said. “As I experienced and witnessed their life of dedication and caring for us, it inspired me to be like them,” she said, not only as a sister but also as a teacher.
She grew up in a wonderful family and parish, she said, and was “blessed to have parents who always encouraged me and led me to participate in all the activities of the parish and of the school.” The sisters, the life of the parish, and her family are what have brought her to this time of celebrating 50 years as a religious sister, she added.
Sister Melanie has taught in schools in Buffalo, Salamanca, Olean, Binghamton, and Cheektowaga; she served as principal in three schools in Buffalo; and in 1992 returned home to serve as principal at Sacred Heart School — a great grace, she said. Today she serves in parish ministry and as catechetical leader at the Basilica.
Special experiences during her time at the Basilica include traveling to Italy for the canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII and to Poland, where she was able to visit the motherhouse where her order’s foundress’ remains are.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 50 years, Sister Melanie said. “I’m very grateful for the experiences of meeting people [and] ministering alongside people,” including sisters, priests, laypeople, Felician associates, she said. “It’s a gift; it’s a grace,” she added.
To a young woman discerning a vocation, her advice is to pray, spend time with sisters in their community and ministry, and “hold on to that thought and follow through with it.
Sister Catherine Michael Napier, OSF, is celebrating 50 years as a Sister of St. Francis.
She grew up in Syracuse in a family of six, graduating from Most Holy Rosary in 1966 and entering the order in the same year. She earned her bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Maria Regina College and her nursing degree from D’Youville College.
Sister Catherine has worked at St. Joseph’s Hospital, at the infirmary at Jolenta Hall, and at St. Francis Medical Center in Hawaii. She returned to the mainland and began working at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Utica, where she has continued to serve for 37 years. She has worked in many positions and units over the years, and currently serves in a quality professional position. When not working, Sister Catherine enjoys spending time with her family in the Adirondacks, kayaking, swimming, and hiking.
Sister Catherine said she knew she wanted to pursue religious life after high school, citing the examples and encouragement of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who taught her at Rosary. She also always wanted to be a nurse, which is what led her to the Franciscan community, she explained.
The time has gone by quickly, Sister Catherine said, and she’s had many wonderful opportunities and met many lovely people through her ministry. To a young woman discerning a call to religious life, she advises finding a spiritual advisor as well as a vocation minister in order to get involved in the life of the community. “If you have that inspiration, always try it out,” she said.
Sister Linda Ann Palmisano, OSF, is marking 50 years of religious life. A native of Syracuse, she attended Blessed Sacrament School and the Convent School, graduating in 1966 and entering the Sisters of St. Francis that year.
She attended Maria Regina College and D’Youville College, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing. She later earned her master’s in health care administration from Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I.
Sister has served at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Utica; the infirmary at the motherhouse; for 20 years at the Mercy Health and Rehabilitation Center in Auburn, working in a variety of positions including staff nurse, assistant administrator, and administrator; and at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. For more than 10 years, she has worked in Loretto’s PACE CNY program, providing spiritual care to members.
Sister Linda Ann said she was struck by the charism of the Franciscan sisters who taught her in high school, recalling them as cheerful and joyful. She considers her greatest blessings her vocation, her family, and her ability to work in healthcare, she said.
Her advice for anyone discerning a vocation is “to go with your heart…. talk with somebody you trust, and pray that God gives you the grace to do whatever his will is for you.”
Sister Mary Ellen Shirtz, CSJ, is celebrating 50 years as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Raised in Syracuse and a graduate of St. Anthony’s High School, she entered the novitiate of the Sisters of St. Joseph on Aug. 12, 1967. Sister Mary Ellen received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from The College of Saint Rose and a master’s degree in education from SUNY Oswego.
Sister Mary Ellen served in the ministry of education in the Syracuse Diocese for 30 years: at Bishop Grimes High School as teacher of mathematics, dean of students and registrar; at Bishop Ludden High School as development director, associate principal and president; and in the Catholic Schools Office as area superintendent of schools for the north and west regions. In addition, Sister Mary Ellen was parish minister at St. Joseph’s Parish in Camillus.
Sister Mary Ellen comments on both those who inspired her to enter religious life and who have supported her to persevere on this faith journey. “I grew up as one of six children, so the concept of community was familiar to me. When I finally started at St. Anthony of Padua School in seventh grade, my new community included the Sisters of St Joseph. They inspired me to cultivate a closer relationship with my Maker!
“While spending quiet time in church after school hours, I discovered my heart’s desire was to serve God as a religious sister. During my 50 years as a Sister of St. Joseph, I have been supported by my spiritual director, Father John Costello, family, friends, my CSJ community and so many other people I have encountered in my ministry.
“The years just creep up on you! Fifty years as a Sister of St. Joseph! I have been part of an amazing group of women who always strive to serve the ‘dear neighbor’! For anyone discerning a call to religious life, I would first encourage them to seek out a mentor, either a religious sister or a priest, someone to travel with them during the discernment process. My other advice is to be open to hearing what God is asking of you!”
These profiles were compiled through phone and email interviews, archive materials, and provided material. Special thanks to Sister Mary Farrell, OSF, and Sister dePaul Juliano, OSF, for providing profiles of several Franciscan sisters, and to Sister Mary Rose Noonan, CSJ, for providing profiles of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Photos of jubilarians were provided by the congregation’s Communications Office or the jubilarian.