Catholic Sisters Week 2021

March 8-14, 2021

Catholic Sisters Week is an annual celebration of Catholic sisters that takes place from March 8-14. It began in 2015 as a part of National Women’s History Month and it is now an official component of Women’s History Month. It was authorized by Molly Murphy MacGregor, co-founder of National Women’s History Project, who was educated and deeply influenced by Catholic sisters. The initiative is now under the direction of Communicators for Women Religious (CWR). This year's theme is Celebrating Traditions, Changing the World. 

We will be featuring a different sister story here each day through March 14, so be sure to check back to read them all. We hope that you will be inspired by how these HM Sisters live their mission of bringing more abundant life to God's people.

As part of Catholic Sisters Week 2021, t
he HM Sisters have accepted the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) Region IV’s Challenge to End Hunger. This collaborative effort to serve those in need and bring awareness to the increase in food insecurity has over 80 congregations of Catholic sisters and other organizations participating across the country.

To meet the challenge, the HMs will be making monetary donations to local organizations addressing hunger and food insecurity. Each individual sister has also been challenged to either make a donation to a local organization, collect food for a local food pantry, or contact their local, state, and federal representatives to advocate for policies that increase access to food. Join us and help make a difference in your local community.


Sr. Mary Ann Spangler

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Sr. Mary Ann Spangler currently serves as a spiritual director with a focus on companioning young adults and underserved populations. She works with several local colleges to offer Busy Student retreats (now online!) to help young adults develop their spiritual lives. She keeps in touch with them after they graduate, and she enjoys being able to be a long-term, consistent person in their lives.

Sr. Mary Ann came to work with young adults in 1999 after being invited by the HM Community to serve in vocation ministry. She had been ministering in education for almost 30 years as a teacher and administrator at that point and she felt she would enjoy assisting those in discernment.

“I did the vocation ministry and really loved it,” said Sr. Mary Ann. “After eight years of focusing on the vocation piece, I began to work with the campus ministers doing the busy student retreats and got to know a lot of young adults.”

After the community formed a vocation team, Sr. Mary Ann transitioned to her current ministry fulltime. She is also a staff member for the Spiritual Direction Formation Program at Villa Maria Education and Spirituality Center.

With the pandemic most of her retreats have moved online, which allows a little more flexibility to her offerings. For example, she was able to help organize a bible study group at the request of one young man, and they have participants from several states able to attend via Zoom.

Through a grant from the HM Community, Sr. Mary Ann is also able to provide items that support these young adults in their prayer life and on their faith journeys. She keeps in touch with many after graduation and often provides a listening ear when something comes up in their lives that they need to talk about.

“It’s just such a blessing to be available over the long-term and be a consistent person in these people’s lives,” Sr. Mary Ann said. “They move on and then something bubbles up in their life and I can check back. They really are grateful to be able to walk and talk through it as it unfolds for them. Just being present for those seeking and searching—it’s very holy ground. I’m always amazed by the insights of the young people I serve. There’s always something new, and God continues to surprise us and gives us the gifts we need to do what we do.” #sistersofhm #catholicsistersweek #villamariapa


Sr. Cathy McConnell

Sr. Cathy McConnell serves as a pastoral associate at Sacred Heart Chapel in Lorain, Ohio where she has many responsibilities, including evangelization programs, working with parents and godparents preparing to baptize their children, and coordinating scripture study for people in the parish to name a few. She’s been at the parish for the past 13 years, but the pandemic has challenged them to adapt their approach to many aspects of church life.

“The idea is that even though we’re in a time of pandemic, we still have to keep doing what we always did,” Sr. Cathy said. “We have to provide evangelization; we have to provide a way to enter the church. One thing I learned is that church is always a place where we expect people to come to us—come to Mass on Sunday, come to the office if you need anything—and it’s very hard for the parish structure to jump to the fact that we need to go out to them. We’ve had to be a fast study on a lot of things, and we’ve moved so many things into Zoom.”

Sr. Cathy knew from a young age that she wanted to be a sister and that she wanted to work in Hispanic ministry.

“What brought me into Hispanic ministry is that I had a high school classmate who taught catechism to Puerto Rican children at Our Lady of Lourdes on the east side of Cleveland. She invited me to go with her one day,” Sr. Cathy said. “As I was listening to her teaching the children the Hail Mary in English, they were saying ‘Hail Mary, full of grapes,’ and those kids just captured my heart. I thought, this church is the body of Christ, this church is flesh and blood.”

After entering the HM Community, an encounter with a sister who served on the Cleveland Diocesan Mission Team and Sr. Cathy’s own experiences with the way the Hispanic community was treated in other parishes only reinforced her dedication to pursing that path. She started attending local community colleges while she was working as a teacher to keep up her Spanish and ended up at Sacred Heart Chapel in Lorain for the first time. She was able to study at several language schools in Puerto Rico and Mexico, and eventually joined the Diocesan Mission Team and served in El Salvador for seven years.

After she came back from El Salvador, she worked with Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees in Maryland for a time before returning to ministry at Sacred Heart Chapel.

“In the Latin church, it starts with the heart. You have to feel like you belong first; you have to feel loved and trusted and part of it. Then you can teach theology and scripture and all these things to make it bigger and better. But it always starts with personal relationship. I love introducing people to Jesus. Very often in our culture, religion is something on the side—something extra—and for many people, they don’t need it,” said Sr. Cathy. “To be able to talk to people where they’re at and share with them and then to be able to introduce to them the meaning of life that we have because of Jesus and Christianity, there’s just no joy greater than that.” #sistersofhm #catholicsistersweek #villamariapa

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[From Left to Right]: Sr. Pat Flores, Bishop Nelson Perez, and Sr. Cathy McConnell at Sacred Heart Chapel in Lorain, Ohio.

Sr. Judy Dohner

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Sr. Judy Dohner currently serves as a case manager at Guadalupe Social Services in Immokalee, Florida where she works with all who need assistance, but especially the Haitian population. She acts as a translator and helps with rent, utility, and food assistance. After serving in Haiti for 17 years, she wanted to use her knowledge of the language and culture to help immigrants wherever God needed her to be.

“My whole life has been graced just following Jesus,” Sr. Judy said. “I worked as a nurse in community hospitals for the first half of my life. In my 25th year, I went on sabbatical and during the sabbatical I made a 30-day retreat. I had always, in my whole religious life, been unsettled by the comfort level that I lived; it wasn’t the way I read the Gospel. So, I made the 30-day retreat, and on that retreat, Jesus said to me, ‘when are you really going to follow me?’ because he knew that I could not just be in institutions; I couldn’t keep saying ‘where are the poor?’”

That 30-day retreat experience put her on the path that eventually led her to Haiti and kept that question—"where are the poor?”—in her mind along the way.

When she finished her sabbatical year, a Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR) migrant health project out of Washington, D.C. found her making her way to Immokalee for the first time.

“I traveled with the migrants,” said Sr. Judy of her experience. “You didn’t have a place to live. You just went and worked at the migrant clinics and you had to find your own place to live. It was wonderful! Just what the Gospel says!”

When she arrived in Immokalee, she worked in a clinic there for a time before she went back to Washington, D.C. to assist the sister who had overseen the migrant health program.

“Suddenly I’m in DC for two years and I’m seeing the White House and the Lincoln memorial, and then I said ‘where are the poor, Judy? You’re doing it again.’ So, I started going out at night and serving at Dorothy Day Houses—serving the poor on the streets of Washington.”

That became a theme for her wherever she served. When she felt the question “where are the poor” come to her mind, she knew God was telling her it was time to find the next place she could be of service. She ended up in Immokalee again for over a decade before she went to Haiti.

“As soon as I got off the plane [in Haiti] and I saw the poverty and I saw the malnutrition, I said this is my next place. Sr. Ruthmary [Powers] was the major superior at the time, and I went to her and said God wants me to go to Haiti. I was there 17 years, where I ran a hospital twice, ran a clinic, worked with two religious congregations of Haitian women, and ran a clinic in the mountains. It was just wherever God sent me.”

In 2018, she felt that question come to mind again, and she knew it was time to move on. Immokalee, it seemed, was calling her once more.

“God has directed my whole life,” Sr. Judy said. “And I knew I had to come back where I could be of service. Going back to the Villa and being in Ohio when I had the skills and I knew so much about the Haitian culture wasn't where I needed to be. So, we take food out to the elderly [Haitian population in Immokalee], and they just love that I speak Creole and they love that I can talk to them. They want to know where I was in Haiti, and it’s knowing you’re a ministry of presence as well as being of help. That’s what I enjoy most about my ministry—the people I get to serve. I’ve learned more from them than I ever gave, both in Immokalee and Haiti.” sistersofhm #catholicsistersweek #villamariapa


Sr. Pat Fesler

Sr. Pat Fesler has been a grief support specialist with Higgins-Reardon Funeral Home for 20 years, where she celebrates funerals, facilitates grief support groups for all ages, and meets with people one-on-one to offer support after the death of a loved one. There have been many adjustments in her ministry since the pandemic began, but Sr. Pat appreciates that she is still able to offer support to families as they journey through their grief.

“I’ve been in pastoral care for 38 years and being able to journey with a person [through their grief], listen with an open heart, and take them where they’re at is the most important part of what I do,” said Sr. Pat.

Although the pandemic has changed the way she does some things, Sr. Pat says other things remain the same. She still meets with people in person, but they observe proper protocols to keep everyone safe. Many funerals are still private for immediate family only, but again, they still observe masking and distancing rules.

“Grief has heightened because of COVID,” Sr. Pat said. “I still find people telling me that they have not been able to be with their loved one when he or she is dying, especially when it’s somebody that is in a facility or hospital. Hospitals, at least around here now, are allowing one visitor per day and they are allowing end of life visiting, but I am finding that some facilities are not. That makes it very hard for families because they don’t really get to say goodbye.”

Her grief support groups have moved into the virtual space as well, though she approaches each person who has lost a loved one in different ways. Some are “Zoomed out” and prefer phone calls, especially the elderly. Sr. Pat will often drop them a card in the mail to keep in touch. “Families need someone to walk with them and to be able to journey with them,” said Sr. Pat. “Having an outsider—that person who will walk with you in that pain—is very important because they listen to you in a very different way than your family will listen to you.”

Serving in her ministry has also helped Sr. Pat deepen her own faith and realize that she and others who serve in this ministry need to take time for themselves to be the best support they can be for families going through the grieving process.

“It’s helped me get more in touch with my faith—who God really is and that I can’t do this every single day without God at my side giving me the strength to do it,” she said. #sistersofhm #catholicsistersweek #villamariapa

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Sr. Anne Victory

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Sr. Anne Victory has been with the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking in Cleveland, Ohio, since its founding in 2007. The Collaborative’s mission is education, advocacy, and connecting services on behalf of trafficked persons. Sr. Anne first served as a volunteer and then moved into fulltime ministry as the director of education in 2010. She gives presentations, trains others to speak about human trafficking, and helps build and maintain relationships with local organizations such as law enforcement, healthcare, social service, religious, and business groups to spread awareness of the issue.

Sr. Anne first heard the words human trafficking when she attended a conference on immigration with several colleagues. “We had no idea what it was, and we were pretty horrified when we found out,” she said. “But we didn’t know if anything was being done about it. Representatives from several local religious communities and some of our colleagues decided then and there that we better figure this out and work together to address it because nobody can do it alone.”

When the Collaborative was founded, Sr. Anne was just ending her term on the HM Leadership Team and wasn’t sure what she should do next. She thought she might return to nursing, but wasn’t sure that it was the right path.

“I had been away from the practice of nursing for eight years,” Sr. Anne said. “That’s a long time to be away from all the technological changes that had happened in the practice and it would take me a long time to get up-to-date and able to function effectively. So, when this position became available, it was just obvious to me that this is where I’m being called. I decided to take it on and do it. I really believe that we are called to live the Gospel and work with other people to bring about more abundant life, especially to those on the margins—and those who have been trafficked are definitely on the margins.”

Speaking on the topic of human trafficking to different groups is one of Sr. Anne’s favorite things about her ministry. The challenge of tailoring her approach to her audience is one she loves to meet. During the pandemic, switching her focus to virtual presentations has brought its own issues since some groups aren’t equipped for that space, but she finds solutions to meet the need. And she’s always learning something new working in her ministry.

“I have learned ever more deeply of my deep passion about Gospel values and social justice issues and how they merge and come together—and really need to. And that I could speak out. I’m basically quiet and shy, and when I’m passionate about something I’ve found that I can speak about it. I especially learn the most from those who are survivors. Their resilience and their courage to keep working on the issues they have suffered and the trauma they have endured really gives me a lot of hope for the future that they will be the ones who can credibly help others understand what has happened to them and why it’s so necessary that we as a society make a difference on the issue.”

Learn more about the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking by visiting their website https://www.collabtoendht.org/. #sistersofhm #catholicsistersweek #villamariapa


Sr. Carolyn Capuano

Sr. Carolyn Capuano has served as Vice President of Mission and Ministry at Cleveland Clinic Mercy Hospital (formerly Mercy Medical Center) in Canton, Ohio since 2003. As part of her ministry, she ensures that the moral principles of Catholic teaching defined in the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care are central to everything done at the hospital and its affiliated health centers and physician offices.

She works with departments and committees to plan and implement different outreach initiatives and programs, such as monthly Lunch and Learns and summer day camps, that benefit the local community and extend the healing ministry of Jesus to all.

“This ministry has lots of variety,” Sr. Carolyn said. “It calls me to be in the board room one day and in the inner city with friends and neighbors on another. I’m a life-long learner so the challenges of health care to address the total well-being of others energize me.”

Prior to beginning her ministry at the hospital, Sr. Carolyn was serving at Villa Maria Retreat Center but felt that God might be calling her to do something different.

“I love the variety of the work and that it enables us to offer a hand up to many people, thereby helping to join in Jesus’ mission of bringing abundant life to others, especially those who are poor. It is a privilege to serve with so many genuinely compassionate and Mission minded people. Our HM community strongly supports so much of the outreach in my ministry and this brings me joy and great connection with my HM Sisters. If you think you might be hearing the whisper of the Lord in your heart, calling you to serve others in the vowed life or to join with others in direct service, pay attention and move towards action.” #sistersofhm #catholicsistersweek #villamariapa

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Sr. Carolyn Capuano (second from left) with some of her colleagues at Cleveland Clinic Mercy Hospital.

Sr. Millie Ely

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Sr. Millie Ely currently serves as a board member at Mercy Health Youngstown as a Sponsor Director where she ensures decisions align with the organization’s Mission of bringing the compassionate ministry of Jesus to the community and serving those in need. She is a member of several committees, including the Executive and Governance committee and the Strategy Committee.

“I have always enjoyed being a part of the healing ministry of Jesus,” Sr. Millie said of her board service. “The health care ministry seed was planted during my novitiate upon hearing our community had a need for pharmacists.”

After completing her pharmacy degree at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Sr. Millie practiced hospital pharmacy for eight years. In response to a call for Sister Administrators, she had the opportunity to study healthcare management—a field she has served in for over 50 years. One of the things she likes best about serving on the Mercy Health board is interacting and working with talented individuals in the local community.

“There have been so many blessings in meeting and working with wonderful, committed, and dedicated individuals. With the grace of God, we can do more than we ask for or imagine," she said.

Sr. Millie also keeps herself busy in several volunteer capacities, including as a Eucharistic minister for several churches, as part of the finance committee at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Youngstown, and as a member of the Trumbull County Guardian Angels, a program of the Trumbull County Probate Court to reach out to the elderly and disabled in the county.

Due to the pandemic, most of Sr. Millie’s in-person ministry has been suspended or shifted online—especially her board service. Zoom meetings have become a staple for her work with both the Mercy Health board and DOY Catholic Charities. She also keeps in touch with the seniors she visited as a Eucharistic minister and as part of the Trumbull County Guardian Angels through phone calls and cards.

“Serving in my ministry has helped me to see the goodness of God in each person,” Sr. Millie said when asked about how her ministry impacts her own faith. “It adds a deeper respect for each individual created by God whether it is a patient, health care associate, doctor, volunteer, or board member. God’s love comes to every one of us in the graces and blessings of each day.” #sistersofhm #catholicsistersweek #villamariapa