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Franciscan VOLUME 5 • FALL 2016

Guides on the

Path of Change A Publication of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities

Dear Friends, EDITOR

Cheryl Aughton

Peace and all good!


Rochelle A. Cassella

It is very fitting that this message to you, dear friends and


been some rather large changes in my life recently. For the

Cheryl Aughton Michelle Basista Daniel Buddie Rochelle A. Cassella Sister Marianne Ferguson Martha Frey Nancy Light Cynthia Munschauer Sister Marcella Nachreiner Roxanne Sopchak GRAPHIC DESIGN

Deborah Allen


Rochelle A. Cassella Daniel Buddie Sister Marianne Ferguson Martha Frey Nancy Light Chuck Wainwright CIRCULATION

Jodi Hagan Sister Rose Marie Colasurdo Sister Donna Zwigart CONGREGATIONAL OFFICE OF MISSION ADVANCEMENT

Rochelle A. Cassella 315.634.7092, VOCATION OFFICE

Sister Caryn Crook, 315.751.6819 EDITORIAL OFFICE

Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities 960 James St., 2nd Floor, Syracuse, NY 13203 If there is a change that needs to be made, we want to do so. Please return your correct address to us, or contact Jodi Hagan by email at or phone 315.634.7015. In addition, let us know if we have misspelled your name, sent you more than one news magazine or if you want your name removed from our mailing list.

donors, is in an issue focusing on transitions. There have first time in more than 20 years, I am not involved in the leadership of my congregation and I don’t yet know what my next ministry will be. Not knowing my next step is a different approach for me. My time in leadership has been about looking forward and planning for what is to come. As councilor and general minister for the Sisters of St. Francis in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, I planned for the future of a diminishing congregation. This eventually resulted in the union of several orders of Franciscan women to form the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities. The leadership teams of which I was a part soon learned that the work of pulling together this much larger community was more difficult than the dream of doing it. Now, with a foundation firmly in place and plans underway for the community’s future, I felt it was time to begin a new phase of my life. I am leaving the sisters in more than capable hands. The new general minister, Sister Barbara Jean Donovan, has considerable administrative experience and she will be backed by a team of sisters with diverse talents and many abilities as well as a skilled lay staff at both the congregational and regional levels. My advice to them is to always be flexible and to maintain a lightness of heart even in the presence of the most difficult challenges. My immediate plans are to take some time to catch my breath, to reflect on all these experiences. I am going on a Franciscan pilgrimage, an opportunity to refresh my spirit and reconnect with my Franciscanism. I’m looking forward to rejoining the sisters in Mount Vernon, New York when I move back there and then I will explore options for a ministry. As I move into this unknown future, I think of St. Teresa of Avila and her prayer that is so appropriate for me and all of us facing transitions: Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God never changes…

Sister Roberta Smith, OSF General Minister and the

Leadership Team

Statment of Direction

Franciscan VOLUME 5 • FALL 2016

Rooted in the Gospel and energized by the Spirit of St. Francis and St. Clare, we seek to be women of vision living in right relationship with God, one another and with all creation. 2004 Founding Chapter

Mission Statement Rooted in the Gospel we are sisters to all, serving with reverence, justice and compassion.

12 Alverna Heights Empowers Youth and the Ecosystem

The goal of Franciscan Spirit is to reflect what it means to live the Gospel as Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities in our everyday lives. The spirit of Franciscan life is best described as: a joyful attitude, simplicity of heart, giving praise and thanks and greeting all with peace. Our hope is that concepts like these will come alive in the people you meet in this publication we call Franciscan Spirit, and that you will be inspired to partner with us in our mission.

13 Sisters’ Journey with God

Award Winning Franciscan Spirit

2 Guides on the Path of Change 8 Jackie Pyrdek-Woodward in Her Own Words: A Year That Changed Her Heart Forever

14 Change is Good for Those in Need 16 Sister’s Own Experience Helps Those in Marriage Transition 18 General Chapter: A Journey with the Spirit 24 To Everything There is a Season 25 Celebrating Our Jubilarians

2014 National Catholic Press Award: first place, general excellence, religious order magazines from the Catholic Press Association of the U.S. and Canada 2012 best in show, and best publication with a gift envelope awards from the National Catholic Development Conference

On the Cover Sister Colette Walter visits with Robert, a resident of Francis House in Syracuse, New York.

26 Meet Our Partner in Mission 28 In Prayerful Memory 29 Upcoming Retreats and Events

Franciscan Spirit is published three times a year. Printed on recycled paper using soy-based inks.

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Guides on the Path of Change

Our lives are full of change. Change happens when something “new” starts or something “old” stops. Change is never easy. As humans we prefer the comfort of normalcy — ”the way things are.” However, when we go through changes in our lives, we rise up transformed and in many cases, better than we were.

Change can leave people feeling uncertain and vulnerable. Our sisters have been there to help many people through their personal transitions, offering the assistance and support that many people facing change need. Through our ministries as nurses, counselors, teachers, just to name a few, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities are committed to helping people adjust to new conditions. Our namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, experienced a significant change as he abandoned his life of luxury for a life devoted to Christianity. As Franciscan women, we too, respond to God’s invitation to change and grow beyond ourselves as we move forward in our journeys. Patience and prayer can help us navigate the changes in our lives. The Serenity Prayer written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr is one of the most widely spoken prayers in the world. People from all walks of life pray it as a way to ground themselves as they go through change.

God ... grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. May we remain patient and surrender to the Divine as we move from the familiar to the unknown and a bigger world is revealed.


p Sister Kathleen Osbelt visits with a resident.

p Sister Colette Walter with a resident in the original living room of Francis House.

Francis House: Fullness of Life at the End of Life


ichaels Avenue on the north side of Syracuse, New York, looks like any other quiet, residential street. The third house on the left has a quaint covered porch with a white railing. It is surrounded by a perfectly groomed yard with blooming shrubs and seasonal flowers. A small sign that reads “Francis House” marks the driveway. There’s another porch at the rear of the house and when you enter, you smell home-cooked food and freshly baked desserts. It feels and looks like home. Indeed, for the past 25 years, Francis House has been the final earthly home for more than 2,500 people.

Founded by Sister Kathleen Osbelt and the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities in 1991, the mission of Francis House is to provide a home and an extended family for persons with terminal illnesses and to give them dignity in death, surrounded by the unconditional love of God. “Within every person is the longing for fullness of life. It is love that brings forth that fullness,” says Sister Kathleen. “That’s why Francis House began — that persons may be given a full life until death.” continued on page 4

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Nancy Light, Francis House’s executive director agrees. “We welcome people to become part of our family. We don’t dwell on when the “time” might come, but live every day,” she says. “People at perhaps the most vulnerable time in their lives choose to put their trust in us. It is a tremendous responsibility and a great privilege.” Sister Kathleen began dreaming about Francis House when she was a hospital chaplain and journeyed with a young woman diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. It was the 1980s and a diagnosis of HIV at that time was very grim. With few places other than an acute care setting available, most people with the illness lived their final days in a hospital. The young woman Sister Kathleen knew spent her last Christmas, Easter and birthday in a hospital room. Aware that many others who lacked resources or family did not have the option of dying at home, Sister Kathleen approached her congregation. The Sisters of St. Francis provided a two-family house; community volunteers made it ready to accept the first residents. The first resident of Francis House came from the hospital. He had long ago lost his job and his family. He was homeless and completely alone in the world. When she found him crying one day, Sister Kathleen asked if he was in pain. He shook his head and responded, “I can’t believe that I could be loved this much.” Within two months of that first resident’s arrival, Francis House expanded from four bedrooms to six. Seven years later the demand for service had grown so much, a single story was built onto the


house, adding two more bedrooms and a kitchen, great room and chapel to the original structure. In 2003, a second, eight-bedroom home was built right next to the existing Francis House; the houses are connected to ease access for staff and volunteers. With 16 bedrooms, capacity now is complete. Residents receive 24-hour care from a staff of trained caregivers who are supported by more than 450 volunteers. Volunteers, “the heart of our home,” says Sister Kathleen, receive 10 hours of training in communication, the physical and spiritual aspects of dying, mission, history and household basics. The experiences gained at Francis House have helped hundreds of volunteers in their own lives. “Many volunteers share that their time at Francis House helped them to care for a loved one at home,” says Nancy. Because Francis House is home and visiting family so very often includes several generations, there is a children’s corner in the great room, a special place where children may read, color and play with toys. Family pets, those dear friends who bring a special kind of unconditional love to the bedside, are always welcome. There are comfortable chairs, and family members and spouses receive coffee, snacks and meals. Francis House is now positioned to share its experience in a more formal way. “We have been blessed,” says Nancy. “We are anxious to pay those blessings forward.” In March, Francis House and LeMoyne College in Syracuse hosted a teaching day entitled, “Living the Final Chapter; A Symposium for Compassionate Care for Persons at End of Life.”

t The large great rooms at Francis House allow residents to visit with family and loved ones as well as volunteers and staff.

With 250 health care professionals in attendance, the day focused on end of life care and the Francis House model. In addition, Francis House is developing a resource center which will include a website with information about Francis House, end of life care issues and information for people who are contemplating starting a Francis House model of care in their community. As director of mission outreach, Sister Kathleen oversees this resource center.

“This year has been a wonderful year of celebration,” says Sister Kathleen. “We are grateful to all of our donors, volunteers and staff for years of dedicated, compassionate and loving care. We are most grateful to our residents and families who have truly blessed us with their trust. We look forward to continuing to serve our brothers and sisters in need at the end of life.”

Caring for the Caregivers:

Francis House Sponsors Symposium for Those Who Minister with the Dying


t is truly God’s work — helping those who are making life’s final transition. Our belief in Jesus Christ buoys us in that we know their earthly suffering is over, but working in an environment where pain and loss are commonplace can take its toll on even the most positive of people. Last March at “Living the Final Chapter: A Symposium for Compassionate Care for Persons at the End of Life,” keynote addresses actually focused on the need for caregivers of the dying to care for themselves.

Dr. Robert Wicks has worked with medical professionals and caregivers across the globe from war-ravaged countries to those working in palliative care settings. Mixing his serious topic with humor and personal anecdotes, Dr. Wicks emphasized the need for caregivers to spend time on self care in order to continue to serve others. “My concern is not that you don’t care enough, but that you care too much,” he told the several hundred attendees. “You are not required to carry all burdens.” continued on page 6

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How You Can Help The obituary notice began, “Rose, 74, passed away peacefully at home, at Francis House.” Therein lies the essence of this sponsored ministry of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities: that Francis House is home to those in their final days. Unconditional love is at the foundation of all that is done at Francis House. Everyone who volunteers, provides care or supports the ministry shows that love every day to the residents. The core values of the home — compassion, unconditional acceptance, respect and dignity — are lived out in ways both seen and unseen each day. Francis House is a private home and receives no state or federal reimbursements. Our ministry relies on fundraising efforts and the work of volunteers. To learn more about how you can help Francis House, visit the website at


Among Dr. Wicks’ recommendations is that caregivers find a time every day to focus completely on themselves. He told attendees that he spends his time in silence, solitude and gratitude for all the good that he has in his own life. “We are compassionate to others and we need to be compassionate to ourselves as well,” he said. The day closed out with R. Ann Fitzgerald Ober, RN, PhD, who spoke about how to have healing conversations and difficult conversations by being attentive to non-verbal communications and being present in the conversation — connecting on a sincere personal level at the conversation’s start and conclusion.

Crosskeys Human Services Celebrates 40th Anniversary


t has been a year of celebrations for Crosskeys Human Services in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. Throughout 2016, Sister James Ann Germuska, the founding chief executive officer and the Crosskeys team are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the agency’s founding. Earlier in the year, Sister James Ann celebrated her 60th anniversary of religious life and received the Salt and Light Award from Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Greensburg.

much to people – caring for the unfortunate, the disenfranchised and dealing with mental health problems,” she says. “A person with a mental disability can achieve anything that he/she could achieve without the disability if given the proper medication and opportunity.” A celebratory dinner featuring employee service awards was held June 10. Sister James Ann says she looks forward to the future at Crosskeys. “I’m challenged when I can learn something new and be on top of it.”

Crosskeys is a non-profit organization offering senior adult and mental health services to residents of Fayette County in eight locations. Countless adults have been served through Crosskeys’ seven programs which include residential and day programs, social rehabilitation, supportive housing and two senior adult centers. For Sister James Ann, this ministry is at the heart of what it means to be a Franciscan. “We owe so

IS GOD CALLING YOU? Sister Caryn Crook, Vocation Minister 315.751.6819,

p Steve and Jackie Pyrdek-Woodward with their son, Gabriel.

Jackie Pyrdek-Woodward in Her Own Words:

A Year That Changed Her Heart Forever


quipped with her degree in early childhood education, Jackie Prydek of Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania was eager to begin her career as a teacher. When she discovered she was able to use her gifts and talents to serve a vulnerable group of children in Pittsburgh through the Change A Heart Franciscan Volunteer Program, she knew it was a perfect fit. As she began serving with the program she expected to change the lives of the children she served. Little did she know that


while serving and living simply in community with other members, her own life would be permanently transformed.

Describe a typical day at your service site. For two consecutive years (2009 through 2011) I volunteered as the older toddler teacher at the Northside location of Angels’ Place, a non-profit center that provides child care at no charge to single, low income, full-time student parents.

I would wake early to catch two buses into the Northside and guide the learning and development of five to six toddlers through creative lesson planning and all types of play. I also built rapport with parents who juggled countless concerns. My days would include both joys like big hugs, dancing to silly songs, and huge advances in my students’ development and frustrations such as parents avoiding responsibilities, neighborhood teens vandalizing the yard, and child behaviors that were difficult to manage. I would close the building with a fellow teacher and reverse my bus trip home to my community’s duplex in Lawrenceville (the first year) or take the bus to our second year living quarters within the convent of the Sisters of the Holy Spirit in West View.

How You Can Help Change A Heart Franciscan Volunteer Program is a one year service experience that empowers young adults to live simply in community while serving a vulnerable population. Members are matched with a nonprofit organization in a full-time position that directly serves a vulnerable population in the areas of education, health care, social services or children and youth. A sponsored ministry of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, Change A Heart members live the Franciscan values of service, simple lifestyle, community and spirituality.

DONATE What did you find most rewarding about your years with Change A Heart? My placement at Angels’ Place offered me a supportive environment with seasoned teachers and friendly, humorous staff that viewed me as a professional and encouraged creativity in my teaching. Monthly in-service days, special events, shared meals, and holiday celebrations all melded the staff and client families into a larger, extended family that I have not experienced in any other child care setting since. My teaching skills, classroom management skills, communication skills, and knowledge of child development all grew in leaps and bounds here while being tempered with a new awareness of myriad aspects of a child’s life outside the classroom. It was during these two years that I truly learned what was involved in being a teacher and it wasn’t just teaching. continued on page 10

$1,250 pays for one year of networking memberships to assist in recruiting new Change A Heart volunteers $250 provides retreat and formation experiences to one volunteer member $100 feeds a volunteer member for one month $50 provides a two-week bus pass for members to get to their service sites $25 provides additional supportive services to members

JOIN US AT OUR BENEFIT GALA Come to the Cabaret Saturday, Oct. 22 at Sts. John and Paul Parish in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. Learn more at FALL 2016 9

The goodbye party this extended family, both coworkers and clients, threw for me on my last day was an enormously rewarding blessing.

What was the most challenging aspect of your years? It was a struggle for me to live in intentional community. Sharing living quarters with siblings and college roommates did not prepare me as thoroughly as I had expected for the experience of sharing meals, chores, plumbing disasters, a vehicle, money and other resources, community outings, spiritual journeys, time, and so much more. Differences in methods of communication, views on faith, tidiness expectations, food preferences, even ideas of fun led to some real challenges both years and it wasn’t an option to throw my hands up in the air and walk away without spending some serious time thinking through potential solutions, even if I didn’t always love the options.

How did your service years influence your spirituality? Upon entering my first year of Change A Heart, I would have characterized myself as an agnostic, at best. I didn’t think God, religion, spirituality, or absolute morals were essential to serving others. I had a vague sense that it was “right” to give a year of my life to helping others after some eyeopening alternative spring breaks in college. I figured I could skate around the spirituality aspect of the program for the most part without having to seriously engage. Simplicity, community, and service, those I could do and three out of four wasn’t a terrible score. Then retreats started, prayer nights with my community began, conversations with my community members transpired, service in an organization staffed with almost all Christians 10 FRANCISCAN SPIRIT

started, encounters with women religious who had devoted their entire lives to service in God’s name occurred … there was no skating around spirituality. I was forced to: 1. be honest with myself about what I believed, what I didn’t, and why and 2. acknowledge the possibility that my “logic” was faulty, maybe even due to pride. I started to attend a friend’s church, listened in on a Christian Apologetics group and allowed myself to admit that I was a little befuddled. I was amazed that so many of these Christians I was getting to know had joy in tough times, were forgiving grievances that I would certainly have held onto, were acting in such contrary ways to what society had told me was the best way. They actually had answers to my faith questions, and even had questions about my beliefs that I could not answer! Eventually, because of the Change A Heart program at the time, I realized that God had somehow softened my heart, opened my eyes, and clearly demonstrated my need for his saving grace and sturdy foundation. I had tried valiantly to resist God, but it was a battle I am now very glad to have lost.

What did you like about living in Pittsburgh? I was pleased to discover that Pittsburgh had a ton of opportunities for free or very inexpensive adventures. My community members and I were able to swing dance, join a dragon boating team, kick box, practice yoga, hike, take in live music, watch movies in the park, ice skate, help refine newly developed outdoor games, and so much more on our tight budget.

What advice would you give someone who was considering Change A Heart? Change A Heart will change you. The sometimes unpredictable people you serve, the community members with whom you bond over shared trials, and the unique opportunities provided by retreats and simple living will not allow you to have the same heart you started with, so don’t expect to know exactly who God will craft you into through this year.

What are you doing with your life now? How has your experience with Change A Heart affected your life choices following your service year? After my time with Change A Heart, I taught in two other non-profit child care centers, learning that, though all aspects of child care centers can differ widely, children still have the same essential needs from their teacher. Then, I was given the opportunity to nanny for, and grow very close to, several families over the next few years. Becoming involved in the families’ lives while educating and caring for these children was powerful for me, reminiscent of aspects of the atmosphere at Angels’ Place. Today, I am still happily nannying. My husband Steve and I enjoy spending time with our toddler son, in whom I hope to instill the values of Change A Heart: spirituality, simplicity, community, and service.

Become a

Change A Heart Member THE IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE AND THOSE YOU SERVE IS MORE THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE. Change A Heart Franciscan Volunteer Program is a 12-month service experience that empowers young adults to live simply in community while serving a vulnerable population. Through Change A Heart, young adults serve in the ministry of their choice and grow personally, professionally, and spiritually. From serving the hungry to providing free health care to nurturing young children, members serve in a variety of fields in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania region including: • Education • Health care • Social services Learn more and apply at

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Alverna Heights

Empowers Youth and the Ecosystem


t doesn’t take long to get the sense that Alverna Heights in Fayetteville, New York has a major role and impact in both developing our ecosystem and the youth who are working to maintain it. The collaboration of Sister Margaret Patrick Fay and Onondaga Earth Corps (OEC) Executive Director Greg Michel brings youth from inner Syracuse, New York out to this beautiful location each summer to help them understand the relationship between people and our “urban ecosystem.” OEC engages young people in the Syracuse area in hands-on “community and environmental service learning” projects and trains them for future jobs and careers in environmental fields. Throughout the summer, teens and young adults develop their leadership abilities and learn how to analyze situations. The most important part of the project, however, is to prepare these youths to solve complex problems and implement strategies that will improve their communities. The two groups — teens 15 - 18 and young adults 19 - 25 both take part in spring through fall tree crews, spring planting, and summer outreach for planting and water conservation projects.


p The OEC ‘class of 2016’ gathered at Alverna Heights in July.

Greg has long used Alverna Heights for his initial training. He calls the nature and spiritual retreat center owned by the sisters an “ecological nirvana.” He loves its peacefulness, its expansive area, and its proximity to Green Lakes State Park. The training begins with two nights of camping out but “not in the extreme,“ as Greg says. Alverna Heights’ quiet atmosphere, showers and swimming pool are the perfect backdrop for icebreaking and team-building among the group participants. Mornings begin with a group get-together, calisthenics, and a discussion of the day’s work projects. Orientation includes consideration of how OEC intertwines community and service. It also looks at what natural communities are like and how what happens in nature impacts decision-making back in the city. It’s all about service – how these youths can improve and contribute to their communities. It’s a mission and a ministry that reflects that of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities. Greg is enthusiastic about the like-mindedness of OEC and the sisters. “That loving support of the Sisters of St. Francis and Sister Margaret … with both organizations being non-profits, there is a deep-rooted relationship that goes well beyond its buildings, amenities, landscape, and the funding and collateral both get out of this partnership.”

t Sisters Eugene Marie and Emeline Schneider

Beauty Amidst Change Sisters’ Journey with God Brings Them Back Together


uring their more than 90 years as siblings and Sisters of St. Francis, Sisters Emeline and Eugene Marie Schneider have approached the many changes in their lives with grace and a positive attitude. Their eyes shine and they smile when they talk about the turns their lives have taken, the role God’s providence has played, and the road ahead. The most difficult transition was the first one. “Leaving home was the hardest,” Sister Emeline says, recalling how their widowed father made the difficult decision to send his beloved girls from their home in New Jersey to live at the convent school in Syracuse, New York. There, the sisters attended classes together, were inspired by the Franciscan

sisters together and answered their calls to religious lives. They separated for some time to serve in education ministries throughout the country, teaching and administering at schools in New York, New Jersey, and Ohio before reuniting in California and then serving together in Florida. This spring, Sisters Emeline and Eugene Marie responded to God’s call to begin another new journey — to rejoin their sisters in Syracuse at Franciscan Villa, where they are seeking new opportunities to be of service. “Each transition has its beauty,” explains Sister Eugene Marie. “There are always things to get used to, but you do your work and get on with it,” says Sister Emeline. “Having my sister with me is a bonus of God’s generosity.”

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Change is Good for Those in Need


t’s a change that many of us can relate to as we age — rightsizing our homes and downsizing what we own. And so it is with the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities. While saying good-bye to the region houses, convents, mission houses and a retreat center hasn’t been easy, the closings have had unexpected surprises and many positive outcomes, especially for those who live in poverty.

was aware of a church that needed a pipe organ. The end result — the Hastings-on-Hudson organ found a new home at Hartwick Evangelical Lutheran Church in upstate New York. Anthony Scalisi, president of the church council, said parishioners are grateful for the sisters’ gift. “Music is an important part of our worship. Our former organ was in poor condition, so this donation is truly appreciated,” he says. In an odd personal twist, Anthony remembers visiting his aunt who volunteered at the World’s Fair Vatican Pavilion, noting, “It’s likely I heard this organ being played at the pavilion.”

Congregational Facilities Director Martha Frey says divine intervention seemed to occur almost daily. “It was as if the right person was in the right place at the right time,” she says. A good example is finding a home for the What about all the other pipe organ from the former assortment of ‘stuff’ from the Immaculate Conception Congregational properties? convent in Hastings-onThey were dealt with in ways Hudson, New York. The true to the sisters’ Franciscan organ was a gift to the values of caring for the sisters after it was used in environment and helping the Vatican Pavilion at the the poor. p Some of the sacred vessels that were donated to the 1964 World’s Fair. “The Nicaraguan Mission Project. cost just to dismantle the Furniture, several commercial organ was $20,000 and pipe organs aren’t easy to lawn mowers, a pickup truck, a utility vehicle, resell,” Martha notes. She contacted someone she equipment, power tools, hand tools, and cleaning knew who specialized in pipe organ restorations; he supplies made their way to western New York and 14 FRANCISCAN SPIRIT

western Pennsylvania to be put to good use in the sisters’ regional houses there, saving the congregation from having to purchase new items. Rather than ending up in a nearby landfill, nearly 40 twin box spring and mattress sets from the former Stella Maris Retreat Center in New York are now in use in Pennsylvania. Artwork pieces, table lamps, furnishings, bedding and linens, and kitchen wares are in the Franciscan Villa in Syracuse, New York, giving that new home some familiar objects. Sacred vessels from the closed property received special attention. Since canon law prohibits their sale, the sisters connected with the Nicaraguan Mission Project, a nonprofit in western New York that would transport the items to Nicaragua and distribute them to poor parishes. Sister Anne McNulty provided Martha with “invaluable” assistance, cataloguing and preparing for transport patens, chalices, ciborium, monstrances, altar cloths and vestments along with household items. “Receiving such items of value, beauty and ‘specialness’ touches our people deeply,” Project Director Ann Marie Zon said of the parishes and poor benefitting from the donation. “They have the most gratitude, respect, and wonder that goods so precious should come to them.” People in poverty and nonprofits in the areas where sisters live also benefitted from donations of furniture, household goods and books. In Syracuse, the Rescue Mission made good use of the sisters’ gifts. “Donated goods are a critical source of funding for the Rescue Mission’s work. In fact, more than half of our revenues come from the sale

Filling Gaps in the Sisters’ Story In addition to aiding the poor, the moves from the large convents provided a perfect opportunity to fill gaps in the congregation’s archives. Important pieces of the community’s history — including the sisters’ personal, regional or congregational stories — were identified as sisters and staff sifted through cupboards and closets and storage areas, many of which had not been opened in some time. “These artifacts, paper documents, and photographs help the Congregational Archives tell the story of the Sisters of St Francis in two ways: by embodying memory related to events and traditions, and helping to explain aspects of consecrated life in a unique way,” says Charlene Martin, congregational archivist. “The materials will stand as evidence of the sisters’ many contributions to the communities where they lived and ministered long after the last sister has passed.”

or salvage of donated clothing, furniture and household items,” said Kendall Slee, Rescue Mission spokesperson. “The sisters’ donation of goods provides meals and shelter for the hungry and homeless right here in Syracuse. I hope the sisters understand how grateful people are for their generous donations.” Martha reflected that she often felt God’s presence during the various closings. She recalls one of the continued on page 16 FALL 2016 15

p A crew from the Syracuse, New York Rescue Mission packs up some of the donated items.

most memorable experiences, one that took place during the estate sale at Stella Maris. “The elevator had stopped working and I was trapped there. Of all the things that could have been with me, I was there with a life-size statue of Jesus. It didn’t seem to be a coincidence! I looked at the statue and thought, ‘What are you trying to tell me?’” When the elevator door opened, Martha says she felt that the message was to “let go and let God.” “I’d like to think this was a sign of God’s blessing on this particular transition,” Martha says.



eparation and divorce are among life’s most stressful transitioning events. Not only do they affect the individuals in the marriage, they also impact children, extended family and friends and often, personal finances. Sister Anne Marie Saphara knows that firsthand. Before becoming a Sister of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, she had been married, divorced, raised her son on her own and then had her marriage annulled in preparation for entering the community. In looking for a ministry to supplement her work as a graphic designer for the congregation, she contacted Deacon Dean Brainard, director of the separation and divorce program for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, New York. “In my email I said that I had no background in sociology or psychology or counseling, but that I wanted to help in any way I could,” Sister Anne Marie relates. That email was an answer to Deacon Dean’s prayers — literally. A staffing change had left Dean in need of additional support. “I was at Alverna Heights, (spiritual retreat center operated by the sisters in Fayetteville, New York) walking through the woods there and praying that I could get some help.” The next morning, Dean said he received Sister Anne Marie’s email. “Sister Anne Marie came to us through divine intervention. She’s truly a gift,” he says.

t Sister Anne Marie Saphara shares her artistic skills with the congregation as a graphic designer and her personal experience as a volunteer.

Sister’s Own Experience

Helps those in Marriage Transition In addition to using her graphic talent and marketing skills to help spread the word about the diocesan programs to help people deal with the pain of ending a marriage, Sister Anne Marie serves on the committee that plans an annual retreat weekend. Sessions deal with a range of issues such as finances, grief, single parenting and exploring annulment. Her real gift, however, may be in her understanding of the transitions that group members face. “Her experience with separation and divorce gives her a sensitivity to what these people are going through. She’s compassionate, more present because she can relate directly to their pain, their confusion and their grief. And she does so without judgment because she’s also walked that path,” says Deacon Dean, who also has first-hand knowledge of divorce.

“People are surprised when they learn that I’m a sister, but then they become very comfortable with me,” she says, noting that they have no problem calling her sister even as they talk about her divorce. At the annual fall retreat, Sister Anne Marie will share with the group all the details of her story. “Everyone’s story is unique to their situation but everyone feels the pain and grief,” she says. And she will share with them perhaps the hardest lesson she learned during this one of her many life transitions. “A lot of people feel guilty about their divorces. The hardest thing for me after my divorce was to forgive myself,” she says. “I tell everyone what I had to learn. You have to forgive yourself.”

As a woman religious, Sister Anne Marie also shows people that there is still a place in the Catholic Church for people who are separated and divorced. FALL 2016 17

Gene A Journey

2016 CHAPTER DIRECTIONAL STATMENT We, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities courageously hold to the spirit and values of St. Francis and St. Clare in the midst of current day chaos and uncertainty. We remain rooted in the Gospel and serve with reverence, justice and compassion. Desiring to be faithful to this call we will • proclaim and live our Franciscan presence and mission in our ministries and our community life. • govern ourselves using the principles of collegiality and subsidiarity. • accept our responsibility to attain financial sustainability. May the Spirit breathing in and through us lead us on our journey into the future.



he Spanish poet Antonio Machado once said, “There is no path; the path is made by walking.” This is the journey on which we, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, have embarked. We are on a historic and blessed path “made by walking” in the spirit of Sts. Francis and Clare. Their journeys involved discomfort and delight, loss and renewal as well as hopefulness. And so it is for us as we walk the path. Each religious community lives the Gospel according to a determined spirit or charism. This charism comes from the founders (Sts. Francis and Clare for the Sisters of St. Francis) and has been taken up by a group of disciples who formed the first community. It has been continuously reinterpreted throughout the years according

ral Chapter with the


to the needs of the church and society and cultural situations. In calling all religious institutes to undertake an effort of renewal, Vatican II designated the century old institution of the General Chapter as the instrument for carrying out this task. Although Chapter is part and parcel of our lives as sisters today, for those outside of religious life it might seem like a secret event veiled in mystery! So, here is a little more information about Chapter. I am drawing on my brother Redemptorists who provide a wonderful introduction on General Chapter. The General Chapter is a visible expression of a fundamental sense of democracy that lies at the heart of religious life. This democracy is based on the radical equality of all the members by virtue of their baptism and their religious consecration, hence their common vocation to be prophets or spokespersons for God. In this sense, a General Chapter resembles more the gathering of Mary and the apostles at Pentecost than a modern parliament or congress. The participants in the General Chapter gather in the name of Jesus Christ, confident that his Spirit will help us to accomplish our work.

By Sister Marcella Nachreiner What are those tasks? The General Chapter must first take an honest look at the state of the congregation ‌ This examination should then lead the Chapter members to face honestly certain discomforting questions: are we faithful to our mission or have we slid into mediocrity? What is the Lord asking of us today? How are we being asked to change? The General Chapter will also offer specific directives for the whole congregation as it proposes a path to help members live their vocation authentically. Finally, the delegates will elect the leadership of the congregation for the next term. From July 5 to 12, we the Sisters of St. Francis celebrated our General Chapter, which occurs every four years. This is not only significant for the community, but also for the church and the world. At this special convocation we examined our lives as Franciscan women religious by discussing concerns, direction and hope for our future; we also cast a look of love and compassion on the world around us, in which we live and to whom we minister. Mindful of the rapid cultural changes we are experiencing in our day, we worked at creating continued on page 20

FALL 2016 19

initiatives that will respond to the needs of the underserved (migrants, trafficked persons) and worked creatively to reverence and protect the environment — “our common home” — and focused on living simply, witnessing to our vow of poverty. Our mission of service keeps us from being closed in on ourselves. Topics related to peace and justice, the needs of society — especially the poor, the aged and the ill, the role of the laity, our families and our friends were part of our prayer, discussion and covenant of service. Chapter, therefore, is a family gathering undertaken in an atmosphere of continual prayer and great fraternal love; it is a way of entering into communion with the people of God who are with us on pilgrimage. At the time of Chapter, delegates placed themselves in a situation of listening. They listened first of all to the Word of God. Secondly, they listened to what members are experiencing, perceiving and saying. And just as importantly delegates listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church today as well as what the signs of the times are saying. Having listened, delegates took time to share with one another for it is through the words of others that the word of God is transmitted. This balance between attentive, non-judgmental listening and authentic personal sharing called communal discernment bring about decision-making. The key questions at the heart of


the communal discernment were: What is God saying through the group? What will serve the greater good of the whole community? What can we say together that will move us forward as a group? Following what is referred to as the chapter of affairs was the chapter of election. At this time, delegates let themselves be guided by the Spirit to choose, not the persons they like best or who will be the best administrators, but the ones who seem capable of directing the community in the pursuit of its mission and the continuing reading of the will of God. The mission of the women elected to leadership is to carry out the decisions of Chapter and governance of the congregation for the next four years. Thus, a General Chapter is a significant moment in the life of the community. A Chapter is a journey in faith guided by the Spirit. In the preparation, during the meeting itself and in the living of its guidelines, it is a paschal process, a renewing event for the community. It is a time to celebrate what God has been doing among us and a time to embrace the calls of the present and the future.

p Sister Roberta Smith delivers the congregation’s Leadership Report.

p Sister Catherine Noecker signs the 2016-2020 Directional Statement.

New Leadership Named


he Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities elected four new members to their leadership team and re-elected two members for a second term during the congregation’s General Chapter held in Syracuse, New York, July 5 through 12.

Sister Barbara Jean Donovan will serve as general minister. A native of Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania, she entered religious life in 1967. She earned a master’s degree in healthcare administration and a master’s of education in library science. She is a former administrator and chief executive officer for several hospitals in Pennsylvania, Illinois, West Virginia, Kentucky and New York and has overseen operations of adult day care centers.

Sister Louise Alff was elected as assistant general minister. A general councilor on the last leadership team, Sister Louise is active in the congregation’s peace and justice initiatives which include efforts to end human trafficking and promote immigration reform. continued on page 22

FALL 2016 21

GENERAL COUNCILORS Sister Pamela Conte most recently served as regional minister to sisters in the East Coast region. She entered the congregation in 1966. She earned degrees in elementary education and pastoral counseling and is a licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist. Sister Patricia Larkin has held several leadership positions within the congregation, including regional minister, general councilor and community minister. She has served as the formation director for the Brady Faith Center and Alibrandi Catholic Center in Syracuse, New York, and as a teacher and a social worker at Covenant House in New York City. Sister Patricia most recently served as co-director of the Franciscan Associate program in the Central New York region.

Sister Jeanne Weisbeck served as the treasurer during the last leadership’s administration. She holds two masters degrees and has served in ministries as a teacher, principal, parish business manager, hospital administrator and chief executive officer. Sister Donna Zwigart of Millvale, Pennsylvania earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and taught at various schools in Pennsylvania before holding positions in health care administration and medical technology. She has served on the congregation’s Financial Advisory Committee and worked in fundraising as part of the Mission Advancement department. She is active in the community’s programs to preserve the environment.

New team members officially took office during a Sept. 17 installation ceremony at Holy Cross Church in DeWitt, New York. Their terms run though 2020.


Sister Barbara Jean Donovan: In Her Own Words


ister Barbara Jean Donovan was chosen as general minister for the congregation at the General Chapter held in July. Her four year term, and that of the five councilors who also were chosen, began Sept. 17. Dear Friends,

My life has been in transition since July 10, when the sisterdelegates at our General Chapter chose me as general minister. I was indeed “surprised by the Spirit” but I am grateful to the sisters for their offers of prayerful support and help. I am privileged to have been called to be a servant leader. I have immersed myself into the business of our community since then, learning whatever I can from our current leaders and congregational lay staff. I have great respect and gratitude for those who shouldered this great responsibility for the care of our sisters and for the congregation’s legacy. They have been more than willing to give me their support. I am committed to the future of our community, a community that for so long has focused on service to others. My main focus as general minister will be

to energize our sisters for mission, according to their current abilities and talents, especially the mission of prayer. No matter our age or physical limitations, all our sisters engage in prayer. People trust in our prayers; our prayers are what people request of us the most. I never underestimate the power of prayer — it is and has changed lives. The future will require us to make many changes. But one area where I don’t anticipate much change is in my leadership style. In my previous ministries of administration in hospital, nursing homes, retirement homes, education, formation and community leadership, I have always kept the same style. I see myself as the leader of an orchestra, whose role is to bring out the talents of the musicians. With them, and supported by the prayers of the sisters of our community for whom I have a great love, we will make beautiful music far into the future. Sister Barbara Jean Donovan FALL 2016 23

To Everything There is a Season A Reflection by Sister Marianne Ferguson


he author of Ecclesiastes says “Everything that happens in this world happens at the time God chooses.” One of the most beautiful moments as the day transitions into night occurs at sunset. Part of the delight in viewing sunsets are the varieties that occur due to the cloud formations. Color and beauty will always call forth the emotions of wonder, awe and gratitude. Sometimes storms obscure the sun, or clouds veil its power, 0r it appears changed by pollution or dust, and that can cause us to lose faith that the sun will return. When that happens we need to recall the words of Ecclesiastes —the one constant in all this change is God. We can say with St. Paul that now we see through a glass darkly, but a time will come when the obscurity will be gone. We are often challenged by fear of the unknown as we witness and engage in life’s transitions; however, as we watch times, people and places change, we can determine that hindsight can be a most beneficial gift. Just as hindsight restores our faith in the return of the sun, so can meditating on the gifts of our Loving God, who gives us consolation that the One constant in our lives will never abandon us.


Blessings to our sisters who are celebrating milestones in religious life this year.

Celebrating Our Jubilarians

80 Years

Sister Dolores Neunder

70 Years

Sister Rose Marie Wilson

Sister Mary Kevin DeTore

Sister Edward Marie Seubert

Sister Grace Knauber

Sister Barbara Kardos

Sister Regina Rosaire Ruth

Sister Beatrice Venditti

Sister Alvera O’Grady

Sister Theresa Ruth

Sister Marcia Barry

Sister Louise Alff

Sister Mary Walheim

Sister Geraldine DeLuca

Sister Barbara Bogden

Sister Jeanne Weisbeck

Sister Alicia Damien Lau

Sister Beth Niederpruem

(went home to God July 5, 2016) Williamsville, New York

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Williamsville, New York

Williamsville, New York

50 Years

Syracuse, New York

Syracuse, New York

Honolulu, Hawaii

Syracuse, New York

(went home to God Aug. 26) Syracuse, New York

Syracuse, New York

Williamsville, New York

Williamsville, New York

Syracuse, New York

Mount Vernon, New York

Mount Vernon, New York

Williamsville, New York

Williamsville, New York

Williamsville, New York

FALL 2016 25

Mission Advancement

Meet Our Partner in Mission:

Bernie Pistillo A Loving and Prayerful Relationship


ernie Pistillo is a partner in the San Francisco, California office of Morrison & Foerster’s federal tax group. He has provided tax advice to many of the world’s largest corporations, investment banks, hedge funds and other financial institutions. He has traveled throughout the world during his very demanding and successful career. Through it all, he has also taken time to play an integral role in the lives of our sisters. Bernie was raised in Omaha, Nebraska. Following his mother’s death in 2002, Bernie found a note by her bedside that he had never seen before. It read, “The Sisters of St. Francis need $4.2 million.” He wondered to what sisters she was referring. He soon learned that it was our sisters in Williamsville, New York, and his mother had been interested in our Adopt A Sister Program. Bernie decided to make a gift to our congregation in her memory. Soon after his gift was received, Sister Marian Rose Mansius, then general minister, sent Bernie a personal thank you letter informing him that his gift had been used to name a beautiful stained glass window in the chapel “In Loving Memory of Eleanor Pistillo.” Bernie was very touched, and a special relationship with the sisters was formed.


Bernie’s life is filled with changes — moves from London to New York City to San Francisco. He escapes from the mergers and acquisitions, private equity funds and other international transactions at a home he owns in Arizona. No matter where he travels, he always stays in touch with Sister Marian Rose. Sister Marian Rose also has gone through many changes in her life. She grew up in Lancaster, New York, and professed her final vows on July 1, 1963. She spent 11 delightful years ministering in Puerto Rico, where she became bilingual, and then served as a teacher and principal in Illinois, Ohio, and Florida before finally returning to western New York. In 2001, she was elected general minister of the congregation, a position she held until 2004 when she was elected into the leadership of the newly formed Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities. She moved to Syracuse where she continued to serve in demanding leadership positions for eight years. In 2012, she returned to Williamsville where she serves as coordinator of life’s services. Despite the many twists and turns in their lives, Bernie and Sister Marian Rose have maintained what Bernie calls “a complex and beautiful relationship.”

B ook


L ife

“To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.” THOMAS CAMPBELL Throughout our lives, we are deeply influenced by the people we have loved. Whether it be family members, friends, our sisters or those who have embraced us in some significant way, our lives are indeed reflections of those we have loved and those who have loved us. p Sister Marian Rose Mansius and Bernie Pistillo

“We have formed a multi-dimensional relationship,” Bernie says. “We have become close personal friends. There is also a spiritual side that we share, and part of it is unspoken as well. Sister Marian Rose has a mothering influence on me. She watches out, loves, cares and prays for me. I really do believe that she was sent to me by my mother.” Sister Marian Rose describes Bernie as a deeply spiritual person. They share prayers and spiritual books, and have gone on retreats together. “I appreciate our friendship on all levels,” she says, “the spiritual as well as the personal. I love Bernie dearly, and pray for him every day. We also like to share happy moments, especially when Bernie comes to visit. Our sisters always look forward to seeing him, and we are so appreciative of his love and generosity, supporting us in so many ways!” Bernie has a very demanding lifestyle, and is grateful to have someone looking out for him, especially during the joyful and difficult times. “Sister Marian Rose helps me put things into perspective, even in my very, very busy moments,” he says. “We talk, email, text and communicate very regularly, and that keeps our bond strong.” It definitely is a very loving and prayerful relationship, and one that will last for a very long time.

On Nov. 2, All Souls Day, and throughout the month of November, we will display a Book of Life at the chapels in each of our regional houses. The books will contain the names of our sisters and other cherished loved ones who have passed away but are still remembered in the hearts of families and friends. We will ask people entering our chapels to read the names in the books and to pray for these special people who certainly are not forgotten, and for whom we will offer special prayers and remembrance. If you would like to have your loved ones remembered in prayer, please use the envelope enclosed in this magazine. We will make sure their names are included in our Book of Life. We also invite you to come visit and pray with us. Our chapels are open to the public every day and you are welcome to join our sisters for Mass. Complete this form and return in the enclosed envelope. Dear Sisters, please include the following names in your Book of Life. We wish to have them remembered in the prayers of your sisters and others: NAME(S)

Requested by: NAME ADDRESS


May God bless you and your loved ones always! FALL 2016 27

In Prayerful Memory

Sister Norma Mihalko

Sister Mary Rosaire Miraglia

July 19, 1922 – January 28, 2016

September 7, 1927 – June 15, 2016

Caregiver, catechist, social worker Syracuse, New York

Teacher, education administrator, pastoral care, congregational superior general Poughkeepsie/Syracuse, New York

Sister Jane Fisher

Sister Dolores Neunder

December 17, 1918 – March 1, 2016

November 16, 1918 – July 5, 2016

Teacher, pastoral care minister

Registered dietitian, instructor

Millvale, Pennsylvania

Williamsville, New York

Sister Patricia Garrigan

Sister Winifred Guinan

September 23, 1931 – April 22, 2016

August 30, 1932 – July 27, 2016

Hospital chief executive officer, assistant administrator and laboratory manager

Registered dietitian, instructor Syracuse, New York

Millvale, Pennsylvania

Sister M. Antoinette Campiere

Sister Juliana Whitefield

November 12, 1920 – August 3, 2016

February 12, 1929 – May 1, 2016 Teacher, director of religious education, school librarian

Teacher, pastoral care minister Williamsville, New York

Williamsville, New York


To read the full text celebrating the life and legacy of a particular sister, please visit If you do not have Internet access, send your request with a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the editorial office.

Upcoming Retreats and Events

OCTOBER 2 Creation Celebration

Alverna Heights, Fayetteville, New York

1 – 5 p.m.

Celebrate the feast of St. Francis and enjoy crafting, exploring nature, playing games and touring our beautiful retreat and nature center. There will be something for everyone!

Donations accepted.


to the


Patrick Meehan

25 Annual Spaghetti Dinner

Our Lady of Peace Roman Catholic Church, Clarence, New York

11 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Eat in or take out a great spaghetti meal, all to benefit our sisters. This event also features our “Nun-Sweeter” bake sale, theme baskets, and more!

22 Change A Heart Gala

Sts. John and Paul Parish Cardinal DiNardo Center Sewickley, Pennsylvania 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. Proceeds benefit the Change A Heart Franciscan Volunteer Program. Tickets: $50 per person, or $350 per table of eight. For more information and sponsorship opportunities, contact: or call 412.821.0861.

Offering: $10 adults, $5 children under 5

Contact: Cynthia Munschauer 716.632.2155, ext. 687


13 ­ Benefactor Appreciation Day

Celebratory Masses and receptions, in thanks and honor of friends and benefactors of our sisters, will be held at:

Franciscan Villa, Syracuse, New York

St. Mary of the Angels, Williamsville, New York

Mount Alvernia, Millvale, Pennsylvania

Personal invitations with details will be mailed in October. RSVPs requested.

#GivingTuesday is coming Tuesday, November 29th!

FALL 2016 29


to the


Patrick Meehan

Saturday, October 22, 6:30 p.m.

Sts. John and Paul Parish, Cardinal DiNardo Center 2586 Wexford Bayne Road, Sewickley, Pa. 15143 Join us as we celebrate changing hearts in the Pittsburgh region with a cabaret night of song and fun including tables dressed in your favorite musical theme, live entertainment, hors d’oeuvres, libations, desserts, silent auctions, live auction, prizes and more! Best dressed musical character wins two tickets to: A musical night at Pittsburgh CLO. $50 per person, or $350 per table of eight For reservations, visit

Proceeds benefit A ministry of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities