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.