In honor of National Catholic Sisters Week March 8-14, and in conjunction with the Year of Consecrated Life, the Sun asked readers to submit personal reflections on how a special sister
influenced his/her life. The response was so overwhelming that we chose to create a two-part tribute series. Check out the Sun’s issue on March 19 for more tribute letters. Please note that original letters may have been edited due to space constraints.
Sister Donna Driscoll, MFIC
Submitted by Lisa Cappuccilli Smith
A few years ago I asked our son, “What is [the] first memory that you have?” He went on to tell me that it was 9/11, which was a few days after the start of kindergarten at St. Charles Borromeo School [formerly on West Terrace Road in Syracuse]. He told me that Sister Donna instructed all the teachers to bring them over to the church where they all would be safe. That is exactly how I felt that day and the whole seven years that Lucas was at St. Charles with Sister Donna as the principal.
Sister Donna had a sense of leadership covered with love for each and every one of the children, as well as her teachers, staff and parents. Sister Donna always made God the center of our children’s lives in both education and extra-curricular activities. Sister Donna’s focus was always on what her Franciscan teachings taught her, to love children, to love the poor and to always hold her community close to heart. I’m proud to call Sister Donna my friend and someone I will always be eternally grateful to for having given our son the Catholic Education as a foundation that I wish all children could have.
Sister Mary Catherine Burns, OSF
Submitted by Kathleen M. Cahill
[Editor’s note: Kathleen enclosed in her nomination a composition written by Shannon in 1998 about Sister Mary Catherine teaching her how to write cursive. As Shannon struggled, Sister Mary Catherine told her, “You can’t try to do something. You either do it or you don’t. Try’ is an imaginary word that was made up by someone who was afraid.”]
I have five children and the youngest was Shannon Kate Cahill Power. They all attended St. Mary’s School in Minoa. Shannon had just finished second grade when we were transferred to Troy, N.Y., and she entered into third grade at Our Lady of Victory grammar school.
To set the proper time frame, Shannon was born on May 9, 1974 in Bridgeport, N.Y. Shannon married at 19 and had three children and a full-time job and her husband was an active U.S. Army man deployed for a year at a time to Korea (twice), Afghanistan and Iraq. She attended college at night. She graduated cum laude. Can you imagine how much Sister Catherine Burns inspired her to never give up and never “try” to give in?
Sister Mary Catherine Burns was a great friend of mine and started all my kids out from kindergarten to eighth grade. I went to school almost daily with the kids and volunteered and Sister kept me busy too.
Sister Anna Theresa Perriello, MFIC
Submitted by Sister Rose Bill, MFIC
When I think of which Sister has influenced my life, Sister Anna Theresa Perriello, MFIC, immediately comes to mind. It is not [just] because she was a creative and exciting teacher at Our Lady of Pompei School for many years, principal at St. Charles School, director of curriculum development for the Syracuse Diocese and teacher at Mt. Alvernia High School in Newton, Mass. My memory of Sister was one of a kind, loving and happy person with a wholehearted laugh, who when I was a student in the eighth grade at OLP School, my friends and I could go to see to have a good time, share thoughts and questions. She made each person feel special and loved by God. It was not so much what she said but the Franciscan joy that she radiated. You just wanted to be in her presence. Her classroom and the convent were open to us. There was an atmosphere of welcome — come as you are. As I reflect, it was her happy spirit and the hospitality of the Community there that attracted me to the Missionary Franciscan Sisters.
Sister Anna is retired from active ministry now but is still spreading joy to all in her unique ways.
Sister David Marie Kelly, OSF
Submitted by Donald Schalk & family
On behalf of myself, my wife and sons, I’d like to publically express our admiration and gratitude for Sister David Marie Kelly.
Our family ha d the privilege of meeting Sister David over 30 years ago when we registered our oldest son at Immaculate Conception School in Fayetteville. We are thrilled to reflect on the fact that all five of our sons went on to be sixth grade students in her classroom.
Sister David was the perfect blend of faith, hope, love, humor and discipline in her classroom. She wanted each student to develop and use their God-given talents fully, not just for self-improvement and growth, but that they would grow hearts of kindness, as well.
Sister David’s heart of compassion was most evident during our family’s loss of our son, Teddy, in 1994 while a sixth grader at I.C. School. She tenderly stood by our family with kind words, memories and many hugs. We remain good “snail-mail” friends to this day.
Once we moved away to Pennsylvania, Sister David kept our family informed regarding the path to sainthood of Sister Marianne Cope. We keep Sister Marianne’s novena card close by as we pray daily for our “special needs” grandson for her intercession.
So, even though the miles are between Sister David and our family, she is always close by in our grateful hearts. She is one-of-a kind and a very special person.
Sister Antonia Legnetto, OSF
Submitted by Wendy Ryan
Sister Antonia Legnetto is truly an inspiration to me! She is currently the administrator at a retirement home for priests of our diocese. Sister ensures that the home runs smoothly on a daily basis. She oversees the staff, does the grocery shopping and other necessary errands, bakes wonderful pies, makes sure repairs and the bills are taken care of and a multitude of other tasks that go into running a large household.
But what is so remarkable about Sister Antonia is her care and concern for every priest that walks through those doors. She treats each priest with dignity and respect. She gets to know them as individuals and gets to know their families. She is family to them. They celebrate birthdays and holidays with special food and beautiful decorations. She goes out of her way to bring them to doctor’s appointments if needed or stays with them in the emergency room. They know they can count on her. At age 78, her incredible energy and positive attitude are simply amazing!
I feel truly blessed to know Sister Antonia as a co-worker and as a friend. She is a beautiful person who has blessed the lives of so many.
Sister Mary Ann Fetcho, CSJ
Submitted by Ellie Selwach
I am writing this regarding Sister Mary Ann Fetcho, CSJ. Last year she helped me with my husband who was totally bedridden for two years. Sister is retired but in touch with all the people she has known all these years when working at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Liverpool. Whenever she can help someone, she is there. Hospital visits, helping her Sisters to get clothing for those incarcerated, shopping, etc.
Sister Mary Ann has been there for me during my husband’s illness, and then when he died and I became ill she helped me physically and spiritually until I got on my feet after surgery. God blessed me when he put her in my life. She is my angel.
Sister Maureen D’Onofrio, CSJ
Submitted by Patricia Hunt
“Faith is caught, not taught.” That phrase has played over and over in my head and in my life for over 25 years now. I first heard it when Sister Maureen D’Onofrio, CSJ, became pastoral associate in my parish, then simply
St. Ann’s, Syracuse, now affectionately St. Charles-St. Ann’s. She brought with her immense enthusiasm and a smile more readily associated with her mother’s Irish roots than her father’s Italian heritage.
Sister Maureen quickly immersed herself into both the spiritual and social activities of the parish. She nurtured the early sprouting of RCIA at St. Ann’s. She was passionately excited about the rich faith sharing that went on in those sessions among both team members and those nudged by the Holy Spirit to “come and see.”
But Sister Maureen didn’t stop there. Her congregation — the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who had taught me in grammar school — were heeding the call of Vatican II to go back to their roots of working and praying with a group of laywomen in the early years of their founding in Le Puy, France. The order decided to re-establish such a lay association to help them carry on their ministries and charism of unifying love for “the Dear Neighbor.” When asked to surface names of women who might be interested in such a venture, Sister Maureen offered mine.
At the first meeting I attended, I felt this was the answer to the deep inner calling to what the sisters refer to as “the more.” Sister Maureen has been with me, and has also nurtured other CSJ Associates, on this journey with the Sisters of St. Joseph. I hope she will be present at the CSJ Provincial House in Latham this June, as I celebrate my 25th Commitment to share with the sisters in the call to bring God’s unifying love to all persons without distinction.
Sister James Peter Ridgeo, OSF
Submitted by Georgina Amadio
I am writing to honor Sister James Peter Ridgeo. I am very proud to say that Sister “J.P.,” as she is known by many, is my biological sister.
With her love of sports and music she spent a lot of time with my three sons and my granddaughter as they grew up, having a very loving and positive influence on them. She has always been there to help me and my family in our moments of joy and also in our trials. Despite her busy schedule as a Sister, she always was ready to make time for us.
As she is also a registered nurse, she has spent many years caring for the sick and underprivileged in Kenya, Africa; St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, Utica; St. Joseph’s Hospital, Syracuse; Gingerbread House Day Care in Syracuse; and currently at the Poverello Health Center on North Salina Street in Syracuse.
With her love of animals and nature, and always being ready to help others, she has depicted the life of St. Francis very closely in her vocation.
It has always been an honor to say that “My sister is a nun.” I shall always be grateful to God for blessing me with such a very special sister. I pray that God will grant her many more years to serve Him and others and she does so well. Thank you, “NeeCee” (a family nickname).
Sister Melanie Jaworski, OSF
Submitted by Beverly J. Galtieri
Sister Melanie belongs to Sacred Heart Basilica and is the only sister there at the present time. Sister is ten sisters wrapped up into one. Where there is work, new or ongoing, etc, she is always on board to do more than her share. You name it; she will work hard getting things done. Between religious education, different church projects to raise money for the church, and upkeep of the altar, etc., she is there. Sister also sings in the Young Peoples’ choir and also helped Father Baranski organize the first Children of Hope Adoration Hour in Syracuse three years ago. Sister sees work to be done and gets involved with various functions of the church where help is needed, including its annual fundraiser and feeding the poor. She is active in religious education and is loved by the children and church members. We all appreciate and rely on Sister Melanie.
Sister Myra Richards, OSF
Submitted by Tim & Carolyn McCarthy
Our aunt, Sister Myra Richards, is a wonderful person with so many talents and so much love to give. Her family, including brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and her friends have been blessed to have her as our inspiration and example. She has been a Sister of St. Francis for over 60 years!
Sister Myra is a teacher, leader, musician, and storyteller extraordinaire. She taught in our Catholic schools, including at St. Joseph the Worker in Liverpool. She led the Volunteer Office at St. Joseph’s Hospital for many years and coordinated the efforts of hundreds of volunteers. She visited inmates in jails, cared for sick Sisters, and helped all in need. Sister Myra has boundless energy. She rode her bike or moped all over Central New York to bring cheer and smiles to others from Auburn to East Syracuse.
Sister Myra has a gift for music. She has entertained so many people with her singing, piano and accordion playing through the years. She prays for us every day. We are blessed by her grace! Thank you, Sister Myra, for all you do.
Sister Theresann Gehringer DSMP
Submitted by Elizabeth Garn
For the last three years I have been blessed to work with Sr. Theresann Gehringer in the Faith Formation office at Holy Family Parish in Syracuse. It has been a pleasure to not only work with her, but to get to know her personally through the many different activities we have both participated in with our Faith Formation and Youth Group students and staff. Sister is a quiet woman of faith with a wonderful sense of humor. She is an example of Christ to me in so many ways.
Sister is a wonderful listener and when we have had quiet time together I have shared a few of my heartfelt concerns with her. She replies with reassuring words of hope.
One of Sister’s greatest loves is being a caregiver, especially for those special lives who require special attention. Outside of the Faith Formation Office, sister has also cared for a special woman several days a week. I am a mother of a special needs child and I know how valuable it is when you find someone like Sister to care for your loved one.
One of the most beautiful things about Sister is her surrender and trust in the Lord. She leans on Christ for her strength, keeping a smile on her face. She is a wonderful example to me and to those who have been blessed to know her. I thank God for all of the special times we have shared.
Sister Brigid O’ Mahony, MHJ
Submitted by Meghan Nally, 17
If I had to pick people in my life who I know I can rely on, look up to, trust and who I know have got my back, I would have a select few. I can probably count them all on one hand in fact. One of those people is Sister Brigid. I am beyond grateful to have someone as amazing as she is in my life.
I have known Sister B for the past three years and have come to know her very well over the past year. Being a teacher at school, students are drawn to her because of all her wonderful qualities. You can’t keep us out of her room during the day, and many students in their free time come to her room just to hang out. In her class I have learned a lot, more than I ever have out of a textbook. She talks to us about the Church today and subjects that matter to us and apply to our lives. We come to her class excited to learn and listen. She relates very well to the kids.
Loving, kind, caring, compassionate, understanding, trustworthy and selfless is an appropriate use of adjectives to accurately describe Sister B. When I’m around her I always feel taken care of. I have this sense of peace within me.
I can talk to Sister about anything and I know that she’ll be there to listen and to help. Her door is always open to anyone and she’s always there to listen. But most of all, whenever I’m around her I feel this overwhelming sense of love, of being loved. It’s a truly special gift. When she embraces you, you feel like the most loved individual alive. There’s almost no words to describe it. She goes out of her way to check on us and make sure we’re okay or to see how we’re doing.
I recently took a trip to Haiti with Sister Brigid along with 19 other students and five adults. It was something I’ll never forget. It was an eye-opening experience and it changed my perspective on so many things. I have been humbled and I was blessed to be able to go. While we were there I got to see Sister at her finest. She worked tirelessly from the time we arrived to our departure. At the orphanages the children flocked to her, they truly loved her. She spread her love to everyone we came in contact with, and still took care of all of us at the same time. Somehow she managed to check on us and make sure we were all okay all the time. She was very patient with us all and understanding.
Sister B is a role model for me personally. She embodies many characteristics I admire and she has helped me grow in faith. She’s a mentor to me and many of my peers. It’s hard to encompass and describe her in one short note. She’s made an impact on me in my life and for others as well. She’s truly an inspiration.