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.