Remembering our invitations to religious life.
With thanks… Sister Veronica Weygand, MFIC
Similar to many of the Sisters, I also grew up in a very Catholic family but my family was in rural Minnesota. Because we lived in the country, travel anywhere was measured in miles and was almost always by car. Our small country parish did not have a school so the Sisters from Belle Prairie came on Sundays during the year and for two weeks each summer and taught “catechism”. Belle Prairie was 17 miles away and my Dad often helped with driving the Sisters back and forth. This was my first experience with Sisters and as far back as I can remember, they always struck me as happy and very down to earth – “normal people”!
My parents wanted us to have a Catholic education so my mother drove us Belle Prairie, which meant she drove a total of sixty eight miles every day – much of the time on bad roads and in typical Minnesota temperatures. She wouldn’t leave the house in the winter until it “warmed up” to -25F. That meant that a few days each winter we either didn’t go to school or left late – a real treat on occasion!
I always loved school and determined at a young age that I wanted to be a teacher. For me, that idea was sometimes synonymous with being a Sister since all of the teachers I knew were Sisters. School in Belle Prairie always meant small classes – both in Our Lady of the Angels Academy and later in Mother Ignatius High School. Besides receiving an excellent education, it also meant that we got to know the Sisters as people – real, caring and for the most part – fun people. That meant that when I seriously began to consider religious life, I never considered another community.
For me, being a Sister meant being a Missionary Franciscan Sister of the Immaculate Conception. I learned that if I entered, I would need to go to Boston. When I told my mother about it she asked if I couldn’t go to a community that was closer and mentioned a few groups in the mid-west. I calmly and firmly told her no, that I couldn’t enter those communities because they weren’t “our” Sisters in Belle Prairie. She accepted my explanation and I often think about how good my parents were to let me go off on a plane, halfway across the country. Going to school in Belle Prairie also meant that I grew up hearing about and learning about Mother Ignatius, (Elizabeth Hayes) our foundress. We learned an appreciation for her and knew that “the log cabin” was something special. She too, always seemed down to earth and real and I loved that quality about her.
In the 47 years since I entered I have had the usual ups and downs and sometimes bumpy patches but my overall feeling has always been one of deep gratitude for being part of this community. I was able to follow my childhood dream and teach for many years. I was also stretched and blessed to have many other ministries along the way as well.
My family is still in Minnesota and when I go on vacation I usually am able to visit the graves of the seven Sisters buried in the Belle Prairie cemetery. I feel deep gratitude for those Sisters and all of those who lived and ministered there over the years. Several of my teachers are still living and it is always a treat for me to see them. Religious life is different in many ways today and congregations face new challenges. The essence however, is the same – to be able to focus on my relationship with God and minister to those most in need, in community with other women who desire the same. When I think back to what drew me to our community, it was the joyful, down to earth quality of the Sisters I met in Belle Prairie. For them and for my Sisters with whom I now journey, I give thanks!
My Journey to the Missionary Franciscan Sisters by Sr. Margaret Mary Treacy, MFIC
My vocation to the Missionary Franciscan Community had an early beginning. My father told me that, as a toddler, he took me to church. I wandered off and went into the Sisters’ chapel where I met one of them. My father found me there and he hoped that that would be my destiny. I have no memory of this
When I was about seven years old, I went to the shrine of St. Rita in our parish, and there I was so struck by the saint’s statue, that I made up my mind that I wanted to be like her when I grew up. Years later in my early teens, I saw from my classroom window, two Sisters who were visiting the cemetery, I noticed they were wearing brown habits and I was anxious to meet them. The teacher invited them to our classroom. That was all I needed, listening to Sister Angelica and Sister Nativity, I felt my prayers were answered. Soon I was in touch with Mother Scholastica who arranged dates and other details for my entrance. On September 29th, 1948 my family said goodbye to me and I boarded the train for Mullingar. To my surprise, another girl from Co. Clare was also coming to Bloomfield. It was so nice to have the company of Sister Magdalen Teresa.
I was a postulant for nearly a year and received the brown habit in August, 1949. The next big step was a journey to Rome, where I received my formal training in the Franciscan way. Rome was more exciting than Mullingar as the novices were privileged to visit the Vatican and some of the magnificent churches. We were honored to be present at an audience of Pope Pius XII and at the canonization of St. Maria Goretti, as well as the Proclamation of the Dogma of the Assumption. My first profession of Vows took place in August 1951. Soon I would be on my way to the USA and a time of study at Mt. Alvernia, Newton.
It was an adjustment to be in the USA after my life in the cool climate of Ireland. But there was plenty of excitement meeting the other Sisters and waiting for my first assignment, which took me to our Catechetical Center in Binghamton, NY. There I professed my final vows with Sisters Eileen Sweeney and Patricia McNulty.
After sixty years, I do reminisce. I have fond memories of teaching in Union City, NJ, Syracuse, NY, Savannah Beach, GA and in Florida. Kentucky was my last assignment before retiring to Tenafly, NJ. I have more time for prayer and contemplation while I wait for my final journey. God has been with me all the way and He is faithful to His Promise of Eternal Life. Jesus, I trust in You!
THE STORY OF MY VOCATION by Sister Helena Walsh, MFIC
It was the year 1946 when my brother Jim was ordained a Salesian priest. The family participated in this unforgettable religious experience and it had a profound effect on me. But I was only 16 then and had two more years of high school to complete. One of those summers Jim took me to Bloomfield, County Westmeath where I met one of the Sisters who had come home to Ireland for vacation. She didn’t mention vocation, probably never thought I was material for such a calling, but I was so impressed by her that the thought of becoming a Franciscan Sister began to grip me.
During our senior year we had a school retreat given by a Jesuit, who interviewed all the seniors. I was not overly pious – had no raptures or saintly ambitions. However, I told him what my aspirations might be and was advised to think about three communities, and on Pentecost Sunday, to make a decision. I had met Mother Scholastica, another one of the Franciscan Sisters, and the missionary thrust was appealing. So in the fall of 1948, I left home, traveled to our Novitiate in Bloomfield, and met about eight other postulants who would become my class. Incidentally, four students from my high school class entered different communities. A fine crop that year! To this day, I’ve had no regrets. My call was from God who offered me an invitation to come and see.
After sixty-plus years, I thank God for the many opportunities I’ve had. Coming to the States was an adventure, but there were challenges too. There was some culture shock, the summers were so hot and I was far from home and wouldn’t see Ireland for another ten years. We studied and eventually were sent on the “missions”. My years were spent teaching in catholic schools and in religious education. I taught in Newton, MA, in Syracuse, Binghamton and Brooklyn, NY and in Philadelphia. I treasure the memories of all the students, teachers, parents and priests who have enriched my life, as well as the Sisters who encouraged and inspired me. Thanks to God for giving me this call to the Missionary Franciscan Sisters.
FROM THE BEGINNING by Sister Monica Hayes MFIC.
Born into a devout Catholic family, in Mountmellick, County Laois, Ireland my mother a daily communicant and my father a quiet, peaceful man, religious practices including the daily praying of the Rosary was part of my childhood menu. Educated by the local Presentation Sisters who acquainted us with their Postulants and Novices – girls from their near-by Secondary School surrounded at home and in school with religion, thinking of becoming a Religious one day was easily imaginable. It became my desire and goal.
While still quite young, a Bishop from China came to Ireland to visit the various schools promoting mission work. Even though ours was only a Primary School, he spoke to us. From that day on, I was determined to be a Missionary, go to China despite the fact that I didn’t know anything about it or where it was located. It was far away and that was sufficient to satisfy my longing for missionary work, at that time.
When I was in Secondary School, a Missionary Franciscan Sister came to our town seeking girls interested in Religious Life: this was my opportunity to become a missionary. My application was accepted and October 4th of that year, 1936, twenty-two of us went to Bloomfield Juniorate Mullingar, Ireland, to begin preparation for Religious Life. August 1937, we were given two weeks’ vacation with our families. When it was time to go to Rome, four of us were given the bad news that we were to remain in Ireland until later. Instead of us, four older girls had been recruited and the Roman Convent was not large enough to accommodate all. What a disappointment and shock!! Fortunately, February 1938 brought good news. Several of the newly professed sisters were needed for ministry in Egypt and a few Postulants were leaving the Community. The Sister who accompanied the Postulants came to Bloomfield and she brought us to Rome, on her return. Rejoice! Rejoice! No one realized the joy and happiness in my heart that day.
July 2nd 1940, we pronounced our vows. December of that year, three of us were chosen to go on the missions, disappointment again, not to China but to the missions in the U.S. “But hope springs eternal”. We were delayed, however, in getting on our way. The voyage of the Italian liner on which we were to sail was cancelled; the ship was sunk later-World War 11 had begun. We went to Lisbon, Portugal where a smaller ship was available and we embarked. The trip was an eventful one: mid-Atlantic we encountered a severe storm, suddenly, about 2:00 am a huge wave struck the liner turned it on its side and all the passengers were thrown from their bunks and everything was in disarray. Immediately, another larger wave struck from the other side, righting the ship – lucky for all of us! The Captain told us it was the closest to sinking he had ever been. The older Sister with us, said, “Sisters, get dressed, we will go down with our Habits on us”! She must have thought that God wouldn’t recognize us in our night attire if we sank!. It was quite stormy sailing for some time, after that. Unexpectedly, another ocean surprise and trauma awaited us. Coming close to New York our port of entrance, the liner was speeding to the amazement of everyone. Having docked safely, the Captain had the explanation – we had been chased by a German submarine. God was surely on our side all the way!
My first assignment on the missions was the Bronx, New York taking the census of the Parish, making the Altar Breads for Church, starching and ironing the guimpes we wore in those days. Next year, 1941 Elementary Education became my responsibility for the next thirty-eight years beginning in Chester,
Pennsylvania and continuing in Mount Alvernia, Massachusetts; Little Falls, Minnesota; Pittsburg, Pennsylvania; Milton, Massachusetts; Belle Prairie, Minnesota and Seminole, Florida. They were delightful years and a marvelous experience. My longing for China had evaporated.
A whole new world opened before me in 1979. The Pastor with whom Sister Eileen Hurley and I worked in Seminole petitioned Sister M. Angelica, then Provincial, to allow us to join him in Grove City, Florida, to where he had been assigned by the Bishop to initiate a Parish. Grove City was certainly a misnomer for the place, a real grove but no city. Angelica and her Council acquiesced to Father’s request. August 1979, I was in the Grove. Two years later, September 1981, the Grove had disappeared replaced by Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.
Monica’s classroom days were ended, Parish work and my responsibilities differed greatly from my school days and my new ministries were : Director of Religious Education; R.C.I.A; Moderator of the Third Order Franciscans; preparing Liturgies for the installation of members into the various Church Groups; readying Documents for people desiring to have their cremains interred in the Memorial Garden; filing all transactions and reports accurately; arranging flowers and decorating the Church for special occasions; keeping Church bulletin board captions current, attractive and inspirational; from time to time aiding with the Sunday collection and recording the individual contributions into the computer. Forty years passed unnoticed in that rewarding and fulfilling atmosphere.
Most grateful for God’s Call to Religious life, presently, I am a very happy, relaxed, retired person living in our beautiful, comfortable, recently refurbished Convent, Newton, MA. keeping myself busy. Again, the Eucharistic Liturgy begins the day and trivial things follow – knitting and/or crocheting for the poor, reading and continuing my artistic work of making all-occasion cards. Since all work and no play would make Monica a dull girl, I play two or three games on the computer and access the internet daily to keep in touch with international events so:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit finds joy in God my Savor” Luke 1:46
“HOW DID I GET HERE?” by Sr. Marie Puleo, MFIC
As a young girl I was fascinated by the wonderful sisters who taught me in grammar school. They were outstanding teachers and I loved to spend time with them. I found myself playing school as “Sister Bernadette” (the movie “Song of Bernadette” was newly released) and wishing that I could be a sister. As I graduated from the eighth grade Sr.Wendrona, CSJ, told me that she believed I had a vocation to religious life. I smiled and said: “yes Sister!” Off I went to a Franciscan High School.
I loved the Franciscan spirit of the sisters at my high school but with a little money in my pocket from a part-time job and a new boyfriend, I forgot all about my eighth grade teacher’s prediction. I had decided to be a high school Spanish teacher. During my college years, every now and then I felt a little tug at my heart saying that maybe God was asking more of me but I dismissed those thoughts very quickly. I had developed a love for travel and surely that was not part of religious life. During the semester break of my junior year of college I went on a college- sponsored trip to Europe that brought us back to school two days late for the start of the second semester. As I walked into my first class I was so surprised to see a Franciscan Sister there. I recognized the modified habit from my high school days and immediately began a conversation with her, catching up on the news about my former teachers.
As the weeks went on I noticed even more of the sisters studying in the library. Alas, those thoughts about becoming a sister began to resurface as did Sr. Wendrona’s little nudge. There were many questions to be asked and answered. I had a strong faith but did I really want to be poor and obedient? Did I want to have a family of my own? As I grappled with these questions a missionary priest came to our parish to ask for financial assistance for his ministry. During his homily he spoke about religious life and vocations and said: “it is not that there are fewer vocations but there are fewer people who think they might have a vocation and are willing to say, ‘I will try.’ ” At that moment, in that church, I said “yes”!
Forty-two years later, I live a full life as a Missionary Franciscan Sister. Through my life in community and ministry I have experienced God in profound ways as a teacher, administrator, care-giver for people with HIV/AIDS, pilgrimage leader and spiritual director. I remember with deep gratitude the sisters from St. Clare High School who modeled for me a Franciscan way of Gospel living. Their love of God, each other, their students and all of creation continue to inspire me and call me to deepen my commitment to this way of life.