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“For the love of God…” were the words that launched the founding of our congregation, the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart. It is this same love of God that compels us to condemn the acts of violence against truth and democracy that we witnessed in our nation’s Capitol.
As citizens of the US, we were shocked but not surprised, that the rhetoric of hate that shapes the leadership of our country, permeated its very marrow, resulting in the needless death of 6 people and acts of domestic terrorism against the democracy we cherish.
Since 1890, we have partnered with people of color, with immigrants, refugees, and those seeking asylum in our country. Engraved in our hearts is the suffering they have endured and the hope they cling to – to live in a democracy supported by a constitution and a rule of law that sees all people as God sees them.
Words and behavior matter.
We call on all elected leaders, by voice and by vote, to condemn the violence and vandalism that erupted in our cherished institution and the hateful rhetoric that incited it.
We call on all Church leaders, by voice and behavior, to guide us to our best selves. Speak the truth of the gospel, offering hope that God is indeed with us.
We call on ourselves to look closely at our words and actions, to repent of complicity that leads to division, to seek transparency in our witness.
The way forward is not clear. We grapple with much that divides us. “For the love of God”, let us begin anew the conversation.
-January 11, 2021
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.
In anticipation of Mother’s Day we invited sisters and staff to share brief memories of their mothers. In these reflections our posters recall moments of tenderness and joy, express appreciation for special talents that their mothers possessed and describe those personal characteristics of their mothers that they admire to this day. As you read these reminiscences we invite you to reflect on your own mother or mother figures in your life, and give thanks for the love, nurturing and good example that these women have given you. Let us also remember those mothers in areas of the world wracked by war, natural disaster, oppression, disease and poverty. We commend all mothers to the love and care of Mary – mother, teacher, healer and disciple. __________________________________________________________________________________
I think of my mother often during these spring days when all the flowers are in bloom. In a household of twelve, on an artist’s salary, there was no money for extras or frills, but my mother could make us feel rich and elegant just by decorating our large living room with bouquets of dogwood and azalea. Her love of beauty and sense of celebration that she taught us still enrich my life today.
–Sister Jane Geiger, MHSH, loving daughter of Antoinette Fuchs Geiger
When I was about four years old, on a beautiful summer day, Mom (Emily Viola) and I were in Prospect Park having a picnic near the lake. As we sat together Mom picked up some beautiful fresh green grass. She then started to teach me how to make a doll out of these stems of grass. To this day I treasure this memory of Mom and me together.
–Sister Madeline Gallagher, MHSH
No specific word or incident captures the “who” of my mother, Anna, for me. It was the example of her unconditional love and trust in God and humanity that helped mold the “who” and “how” of what my family and I are today. Thank you, dearest one.
–Sister Agnesine Seluzicki, MHSH
My mother, Catherine, was a model of steadfastness and fidelity. Her life was unalterably changed when my dad contracted polio in the early 1950’s when my brother and I were quite young. Her own “yes” to God and her family was tested in ways she could not have imagined. Through it all she was a loving, generous and faith-filled wife and mother.
At age 58, my mother, Jeannette, retired with my dad to Florida to enjoy the Gulf and play golf. She made time to tutor migrant children, give food to beggars on the street and always be a compassionate heart for the needy. At age 90, she continues to bring food to the church pantry for the needy. [Sr. Susan (left), Jeannette Engel (mom), and her sister Joanne.]
–Sister Susan Engel, MHSH
I’d like to take a moment to honor my mother, Mildred Lucian. Although she passed away three years ago, not a day goes by without me thinking of her and missing her. She was my rock and my best friend. I truly miss our “talks” and visits to the beach. God bless you Mom and may you rest in peace. Your loving daughter, Karen
My mother, Rosalie, was a woman of deep faith. She taught my family and me about the gentle love of Jesus, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the grace-filled love of God. Mom always treated others with respect and dignity. She saw Jesus in the other. This is the message she gave to us – love one another as Jesus would love you. She was a great witness to me, my family and to so many people.
–Sister Loretta Cornell, MHSH
Many, many years ago as I searched for a religious community to consider as a life choice, the young priest who was helping me spoke of a group of Sisters he had ministered with. He said of them: “Each one treats you like she’s your mother.”
That gave me a new slant on women religious. So I drove from West Virginia to Baltimore to meet these “mothers.” They were the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart and I liked their many qualities. Here I am today at the age of 92 still trying to emulate and imitate them, all the while using the personal qualities they developed in my initiation and my life with them in Community.
–Sr. Joanne Frey, MHSH
Welcome to the [first] blog of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart. We are delighted to have this new resource to share thoughts with old friends and new. Each week during Advent we will be posting a selection of reflections and observations on the liturgical season. In future postings, we will share our thoughts on current issues in ministry and religious life, significant events in the Mission Helper Community as well as reviews of books and movies. The postings will be written by Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart and our associates. We invite comments from our readers.
-Sister Loretta Cornell, President, MHSH