The month of May gives us the opportunity to remember both Mary, mother of Jesus, and all other women who have left imprints on our hearts and souls — our mothers, of course, but also beloved grandmothers and aunts, teachers, doctors, neighbors and dear friends. All the women who have journeyed with us in life can be remembered during the month of May.
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By Sr. Princess Mary Dawson, MHSH
The call is the motivating force that beckons us forward, no matter the doubts and fears. We are called to keep moving with the forces of the times as they change around us. We must trust that we are being led and are being called to lead. We must not give into our fears or false beliefs about who and what we are or what we can or cannot do. There is a force within us that guides and protects us no matter the unjust systems we confront in life.
We have been called from the beginning of time to be the birthing force of change in our world. We must not let apathy pin us to our seats but move onward, trusting even when the path forward isn’t clear.
The history of so many people who believed in Christ is full of accounts of humanity being moved to change. These peoples followed the guidance and prompting of God and courageously risked their very lives to see changes in vast systems of belief.
We are women who are meant to be unconstrained by the belief systems passed down by others. Instead, we must stand tall as we walk like Christ into a sinful world seeking, like Christ, transformation for all God’s peoples.
By Sister M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH
One of my assignments in recent years was transporting our older Sisters to medical appointments. One of those Sisters, now some years deceased, had undergone a cancerous tumor removal. I took her to her surgeon a few years later for a routine check-up.
Somehow, we got to telling the surgeon all the kinds of ministry we had engaged in over the years. She may have asked where we had taught, assuming that all Sisters work in schools, but of course Mission Helpers don’t usually do that. So, we went on with some enthusiasm about home visiting in country places, supplying needy families with what they needed, etc. The surgeon was quite attentive. At a pause, she said, “I wish I had time for a ministry!”
As if we had rehearsed it, the other Sister and I said in unison, “But you do!” She looked surprised, so we went on: “You care for all these people with cancer, encouraging them to deal with it, follow all the after-care protocols – that’s all ministry – even if they eventually don’t recover! Everything you’re doing is ministry!”
All three of us, I believe, left that brief encounter pleased with our lives and happy with each other. The other Sister, who had considerable dementia, probably forgot all about our conversation after a few minutes, but I doubt the surgeon (still in practice) ever has, and I certainly haven’t! It was a gift and a grace to each of us.
At our annual congregational meeting in June, Mission Helpers celebrated seven Jubilarians. Ranging from 25 years through 75 years, collectively these Sisters have dedicated 375 joyful years of service to the people of God. Last week we profiled four Jubilarians. In this issue, we profile Sr. Dolores Beere, Sr. Barbara Wills and Sr. Mary Margaret.
Sr. Dolores Beere – 75 Years
Born and raised in Baltimore, Sr. Dolores entered the Mission Helpers Community in 1942. Within the first years, her ministry began to focus on the deaf, beginning at the Mission Helpers School for the Deaf in Irvington, Maryland.
“I took to that ministry right away,” Sister Dolores recalled in a 2012 interview. “The Sister I worked with was quite the talker, and she talked and signed at the same time, so I learned quickly.”
In 1948 she was called to Puerto Rico and taught at St. Gabriel School for the Deaf, the first such facility on the island, begun by the Mission Helpers in 1902.
Following a year there, Sr. Dolores moved on to serve in New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, West Virginia and New York. In all these places, she managed to minister to the deaf in the community, even if that wasn’t her primary ministry.
Assigned to the Diocese of Detroit in the Apostolate to the Deaf in 1969, Sr. Dolores and the Cardinal established what was essentially a parish totally devoted to the deaf community. Finally she was able to work with the deaf full time, establishing a seniors’ program and training deaf Eucharistic Ministers and lectors. “I was determined that the deaf would be able to do everything in the church that anyone else could do,” she said.
She served there for 16 years. Returning to Baltimore in 1985, Sr. Dolores established a relationship with the deaf community in the area. Well into her 90s, she held monthly luncheon meetings for a group of deaf seniors; she usually did the cooking and baked the bread. Now, at age 94, she lives at Mercy Villa, but comes to Mission Helper Center once a month to meet with the deaf.
These words from scripture (John 10:10) have motivated her ministry: “I have come to bring you life and to bring it in abundance.”
“That’s what I want to bring to the deaf—I want them to live their lives to the fullest.”
Sr. Barbara Wills – 65 Years
A native of Baltimore, Sister Barbara first met the Mission Helpers while attending Baltimore’s Catholic High School. “Sister Justina came to talk with us about vocations,” she says, “and I visited the Motherhouse for a day of recollection. I thought that if I ever entered a religious community, it would be the Mission Helpers. I loved children, and I knew the Sisters ran orphanages and worked with children.”
Still, it was seven years before she joined. During that time, she worked for Studebaker, the automobile manufacturer, first in Baltimore, then in Washington, D.C., before joining the Mission Helpers in 1952.
By the time she began her ministry as a Mission Helper, the orphanages had been closed, “But,” she says, “I loved being a Mission Helper from the beginning.
I sent my clothes and suitcase home on the very first day, and never, ever thought about leaving. I loved it. And I still do.”
She has taught religion at all levels from elementary school to programs for adults, serving as Director of Religious Education (DRE) in many parishes and dioceses in Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, New York, Colorado and Arizona.
“I loved it out west,” she says, “especially Arizona, where I worked with the same priest in three different locations. I had children’s classes—pre-school through high school, and adult education, which I especially loved.”
She served for 39 years as the Mission Helper Archivist, painstakingly maintaining the records of the Community’s long history and the lives of the hundreds of women called to service as Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart. Anticipating the sale of the Mission Helper Center, the Archives have been moved to Catholic University of America’s Archives in Washington, D.C. The Archives staff at CUA has praised Sr. Barbara’s diligent and meticulous care of this historic treasure.
Sister Barbara holds a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a master’s degree in Doctrinal Theology from LaSalle University in Philadelphia.
Sister Mary Margaret – 60 Years
Growing up in Indiana, Sister Mary Margaret says that one of her early memories was a “strong nudging that kept coming back to me. I knew I wanted to spend my life with what is really important, and that seemed to be knowing that God loves us and that we are invited to love God in return.”
After researching religious communities specializing in teaching religion, the name and spirit of the Mission Helpers stood out, and she entered the Community in 1957.
Most of Sister Mary Margaret’s ministry has been in diocesan or parish missions with a focus on religious education. She has served in Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana and Texas where she visited small, rural parishes where a priest was rarely available.
“There weren’t many Catholics in those areas,” she recalled in a 2007 interview. “We had adult classes in which we just taught the basics of the Bible and prayer. We visited the people in their homes; everyone was so open and faith-filled, hungry to learn more about their faith.”
She remembered another special mission in Baltimore: “I had the unique opportunity to spend time in St. Martin’s parish, where our foundress Mary Frances Cunningham began. We rang every doorbell and welcomed the people to the parish. Some of them remembered our Sisters from the old Biddle Street convent, and a few had even known Mother Demetrias!”
Sister Mary Margaret holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a Master’s degree in Catechetical Theology.
To read the profiles of our other 2017 Jubilarians, click here.
Part 1 of 2
At the annual gathering of the congregation in June, the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart celebrated the jubilees of seven Sisters. Ranging from 25 years through 75 years, collectively these women have devoted 375 years in joyful service to the people of God.
In this first of two installments, we profile Sr. Princess Mary Dawson, Sr. Celeste Burgos, Sr. Clare Walsh and Sr. Susan Engel.
Sr. Princess Mary Dawson – 25 Years
Sr. Princess Mary was born and raised in Philadelphia and began to think about religious life during her high school years at West Catholic Girls High School. There were Sisters from various communities at the school, and she began to visit them and participate in prayer days and weekend retreats.
She visited the Mission Helpers and felt more “at home” with them than with other communities. She joined the Sisters for a two-week Vacation Bible School program in Hattiesburg and Lucedale, Mississippi, and became even more interested in joining the Community.
“I saw the Sisters in action there—having fun and sharing our love of God. I was particularly taken by their hospitality and acceptance of the people they served—they were down to earth and just themselves no matter what they encountered.
Sister Princess Mary joined the Mission Helpers in September 1992. She trained as a Medical Assistant and worked in healthcare in Altamonte Springs, Florida, before becoming a teacher’s aide at a Child Care Center there. She has also served as an advocate for the elderly homeless and was a residential caregiver in Boston and in Baltimore.
She says that her most meaningful ministry so far is the one she has had since 2012 at Catholic Social Services of West Alabama, where she manages the food pantry and assists in many other services to the poor.
“This ministry has helped me grow in so many wonderful ways,” she says. “It is my responsibility to ensure that there is enough food and other supplies to share with the poorest of the poor who come to us.
“I am privileged to be able to serve these sisters and brothers, and I feel blessed daily because I feel valued here. I am serving God where it really counts.”
Sr. Celeste Burgos – 50 Years
Sr. Celeste was born in Puerto Rico and joined the Mission Helpers in 1967.
In her early years she worked in parishes in Hispanic communities in Florida, Arizona, Baltimore and New York, followed by five years as an assistant for Catholic education to the Archbishop of Venezuela in Barcelona and Caracas.
In 1984 she was called to ministry with the Hispanic community at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston. As director of religious education and pastoral associate to the Hispanic community, Sr. Celeste spent more than 22 years teaching religion to children and young people, conducting RCIA programs and preparing deacons and laity to teach religion at all levels.
Since 2007, she has been the Pastoral Associate and Social Services coordinator for the Hispanic Community at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where she serves the critical needs of the growing and underserved Hispanic members of the parish. Most of the 250 families are undocumented and are very wary of seeking help from official agencies; instead they turn to the church and to Sr. Celeste.
She conducts bilingual catechetical programs for pre-school through confirmation; oversees the liturgies at the church, works with the choirs, and often sings at weddings and quinceaneras.
As the only Spanish/English translator in the community, she frequently serves in an advocacy role, communicating with immigration lawyers and other local officials on behalf of the Hispanic people.
In looking back over 50 years of service, Sr. Celeste believes that she has learned as much from the people she has served as they have learned from her.
She has a B.A. in Theology and a master’s degree in Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry.
Sr. Clare Walsh – 50 Years
Born in Stoneham, Massachusetts, Sister Clare grew up in Wakefield, just north of Boston. She went to public schools, was active in the CYO and taught religious education while in high school.
She thought about religious life but didn’t want to teach. “I didn’t want to be in an institution,” she says, “and I wanted to be with lay people.”
A magazine advertisement for the Mission Helpers caught her eye—the featured Sister—Sister Felicia—“had a warm, open and loving expression. Also I was impressed that they were a Community without walls—no institutions.” She entered the Community in 1967.
Early ministries in religious education and faith formation took her to North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and upstate New York. In 1980 she returned to Boston and joined the staff of the New England Medical Center, serving as Director of Pastoral Care for eight years, and helping develop and co-lead the Ethics Consultation Center for 19 years.
Feeling that she was being called to something else, in 1999 she enrolled in the Jesuit School of Theology, earned a Master’s Degree in Spiritual Direction, and served for three years at the Center for Religious Development, a Jesuit training center for spiritual directors.
After serving on the founding committee of The Jesuit Collaborative, in 2005 the Jesuit Provincial asked Sr. Clare to be the Provincial Assistant for Ignatian Spirituality and the Associate Director of the Jesuit Collaborative where she served until 2015.
Today she teaches a practicum in spiritual direction at Boston College; she also offers spiritual direction and directs retreats in the Ignatian tradition. Recently, she felt a “nudge” to do something that she had no formal preparation for—fundraising to support the Mission Helpers’ commitment to the Asylee Women Enterprise.
“For 50 years I have loved loving God and being loved by God,” she says. “And I am so grateful that God has surrounded me with my Mission Helper sisters, women of the heart, as well as loving family and friends who do this so well.”
Sr. Susan Engel – 50 Years
Sr. Susan was born in Hollis, New York, and joined the Mission Helpers in 1967. At the time she was a buyer for an upscale women’s clothing store on Long Island, where life, she recalls, “revolved around the clothes you wore, the people you knew, the places you went and the things you owned. I wanted something else.”
She spent a volunteer year with the Mission Helpers among the poor in North Carolina. “Those Sisters were happy, full of life and did an unusual ministry,” she says. “They had the freedom to roam. And they did. They went out and worked among the people.”
In her first 18 years as a Mission Helper, Sr. Susan lived in 9 different states doing faith formation at the diocesan level and a summer in Germany giving workshops for a Master Teacher Program, sponsored by the Army.
In her last 32 years, as Pastoral Associate, at Annunciation Parish in Rosedale, Maryland, Sr. Susan’s faith has been influenced and shaped by the joys and sorrows in the lives of parishioners; by the 8 talented pastors and skilled staff with whom she has worked.
During those 32 years, Sister has also served as a Counselor at the Archdiocesan Counseling Center and is currently on staff for the Baltimore Marriage Tribunal. While fulltime in the Parish, Sr. Susan also served the Mission Helpers as Vocation Director, Novice Director and Treasurer.
“Fifty years ago, she says, “religious life, the Catholic Church and Society were vastly different than today. None of us ever knows what lies ahead, but how fortunate I am to have met the Mission Helpers and spent all these years among an amazing group of women I call Sister. We are still roaming around out among the people of God!”
Sr. Susan has a B.A. (Summa Cum Laude) in Philosophy and Theology from Loyola College and a Master’s Degree (Summa Cum Laude) in Behavioral Science from The Johns Hopkins University.
Mission Helpers join in call to the US presidential candidates to end demeaning rhetoric and use language that preserves the dignity of fellow citizens in the “tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good.”
Read more: Leadership Conference of Women Religious ( LCWR )
A Reflection for Ash Wednesday by Sister Donna Fannon, MHSH
A few months ago I accompanied my nephew on a campus tour geared to prospective college students. The tour was led by an upper class student who belonged to a group called “College Ambassadors.” The student was welcoming and enthusiastic. He was trying to give a positive impression of his college as he walked backwards leading us through the campus in hopes that some young people in our group would be moved to apply for admission. My nephew seemed impressed and was listening to every word.
As the tour continued, I wondered what kind of an impression I have made on the people I have encountered over the years. In particular I was remembering the many international students I met as a campus minister. I recalled how my experience with them had helped to broaden my understanding of so many cultures around the world as well as how interconnected we are within the global marketplace. Then I remembered the times I have traveled abroad, and I wondered what kind of an impression I had given others about the United States. Continue reading “How are we doing as Ambassadors for Christ?”
A Reflection by Sister M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH
I’m folding laundry and I come across the heavy cotton canvas pastry cloth that was my mother’s. It’s mine now, and I use it three times a year at least: Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, when I make a pecan pie from scratch (scratch and a lot of butter) for our Community dinners.
pastry cloth, and learning to roll out dough on it, is one of my earliest memories. It was in good shape about 70 years ago, but it is definitely showing its age now!
Maybe we’re having our own little race to the finish line: Will it outlast me? Will I go first? Am I as beat up as it is?
Using that cloth, I kind of work around the holes, and we get along fine. It’s not a marriage that the cloth and I have, but it gives me an insight into the tolerance and forgiveness necessary for a marriage to last—or for a Community to hold together as it’s members age.
Focus on the holes and the fraying edges, the weak spots, the little stains—or get on with doing all that can still be done: a pie, an outreach to someone frazzled, a chuckle over some crazy caper of years ago.
We may just make that finish line together. Tuck the pastry cloth somewhere in my coffin. Just in case….