Congregation making masks, communicating with outside world

Submitted by  Sister Mary Rose Noonan, CSJ

In light of the serious and escalating nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and to keep their most vulnerable sisters as healthy as possible, St. Joseph’s Provincial House in Latham, home of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, has been closed to visitors with all Masses, events, and activities canceled.

Nothing, however, keeps the sisters from ministry! During the week of March 22, several sisters participated in making protective masks for sisters, neighbors, and members of our maintenance and housekeeping staffs to wear during their necessary trips to the grocery store, pharmacy, post office, etc.

The large community room became a mask-making center with sewing machines and tables arranged according to social-distancing suggestions — at least six feet apart! While the homemade masks are no substitute for the high-grade N95 masks that are the most effective devices to filter out germs and bacteria, the sisters’ masks are triple layered, tripled stitched, pleated washable cotton with sturdy elastic straps that do give extra protection for everyday errands.

As life continues in “lockdown,” sisters at the Provincial House are also busy keeping in touch with family members, friends, and other “isolated” seniors by telephone, email, videoconferencing, and snail mail, assuring them of thoughts and prayers during these trying times.

And for these dedicated and creative senior sisters, their lives in community and their years in ministry clearly reflect the call in their congregation’s constitution: “With the strength that comes from our life together, we turn beyond ourselves to serve a world in need.”

Here is a sampling of what sisters with a Syracuse Diocese connection say about the sewing project they are doing:

Sister Margaret Vincent
“In my spare time away from my nursing career, I have sewn for some of our senior sisters. However, I have never been involved in making masks for healthcare prevention. This event was a privilege and a blessing. It is an opportunity for our sisters to continue their lives of service even in the midst of isolation and social distancing.”

— Sister Margaret is a native of Oswego and St. Mary’s Parish. She has spent her years of ministry as a registered nurse and now is on our Community Life Team, the sisters who take care of the needs of our Seniors.

Sister Maureen Mastine
“I believe on some level we are all connected and, by the simple task of making masks, the result will hopefully affect both mask makers and recipients in a positive way. I am making the masks with the intention too that whoever might wear them will experience a little more love and concern.”

— Sister Maureen Mastine grew up in Syracuse and was a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish. Recently retired, Sister Maureen was a physical therapist and a teacher of preventative health.

Sister Maureen Rainone
“Making the protective masks has been a meaningful experience of sharing community life and reaching out to help others. I was one of the sisters using the sewing machines. Having not used one in several years, I had to call Sister Martha, our expert, to come and fix the problem! Needless to say, she came to the rescue many times each day, and each time, she would say, ‘Just call me Sister Fix-It!’”

— Sister Maureen is originally from Syracuse and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. She recently retired from her years of ministry as a teacher, principal, field supervisor, director of religious education, and parish outreach worker. For the past 22 years, Sister Maureen was chaplain at Lourdes Hospital and Good Shepherd-Fairview Home, both in Binghamton.

Sister Patricia Gibson
“We had a great time working six feet apart, cutting, pinning, folding, pressing with the real experts sewing on the machines — and all the while easy-listening music played softly in the background and our wonderful food-service staff provided ice water!”

— Sister Patricia Gibson is a native of Syracuse from Most Holy Rosary Parish. Now retired at the Provincial House, she spent over 40 years in education as teacher, principal, and area superintendent of schools in the Eastern Region of the Syracuse Diocese. She also served as a parish minister at St. Vincent de Paul’s Parish, Syracuse, and was a regional superior for the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Sister Genevieve Joseph Ciszek
“The simple task of cutting material to make a mask was for me a prayerful experience. Sharing the pain, suffering, and grief of people all over the world connects us with love and compassion. I am praying that this virus will leave our world soon.”

— Sister Genevieve Joseph Ciszek grew up in Utica in Holy Trinity Parish. Now retired, she spent 30 years in education as teacher and principal, including several years in Syracuse diocesan schools in Utica, Syracuse, and Endwell. Before she came to the Provincial House to serve on the Community Life Team, she was a chaplain at St. Luke’s Memorial Hospital in Utica.

Sister Karen Gaube
“I was very grateful to be able to do even some little thing to help others directly affected by the coronavirus. My little task was part of making the prevention masks. It was especially meaningful to me to share this small effort of outreach with our sisters. I personally know two people who live at a distance from me who have had to be quarantined.”

— Sister Karen was born and raised in Binghamton in St. Paul’s Parish. She began her years of ministry as a teacher in several areas, including in the Syracuse Diocese schools in Rome, Syracuse, and Utica. Sister Karen also spent many years in parish ministry. She retired to the Provincial House in 2017 after serving 27 years as a parish minister at St. Catherine of Siena/St. Francis of Assisi in Binghamton.

Sister Maureen Murphy
“Coming together at a time when we were away from ministry and somewhat confined gave us an opportunity to reach out to our neighbors in need of protection. I was able to use my skill of sewing and join with other sisters, separated by six feet of distance in our huge community room!”

— Sister Maureen was originally from the Albany Diocese but is well known in the Syracuse area because she served for 15 years as a pastoral associate at Blessed Sacrament Parish.

Sister Martha Marie McCaffrey
Sister Martha Marie is the “Just call me Sister Fix-It!” in Sister Maureen Rainone’s quote. Sister Martha Marie graduated from St. Patrick’s High School in Syracuse in 1946 and was a good friend and classmate of Father Jim Kennedy of the Syracuse Diocese. Father Jim is retired and lives in Syracuse. Sister Martha Marie will be 91 and is an amazing woman who was in charge of all the sewing machines used in the mask project!

Sister Mary Rose Noonan, CSJ, is the Communications Director for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

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