Catholic Sisters Week 2022

March 8-14, 2022

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 2022,
the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) Region IV issued a Care for Earth challenge in the spirit of Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato Si'.

Members of the HM Laudato Si' and HM Land committees have provided special reflections to bring awareness to some of the Laudato Si' Action Platform goals. We will be collecting these reflections on our website as well as posting them on our social media.


Sr. Elaine Schindler

Sr. Elaine Schindler has made some adjustments during the pandemic, but she continues to be a supportive presence to all she meets. She visits with sisters in the healthcare unit, keeps up with telephone calls and notes to raise spirits, and mentors young women through Girls Hope of Pittsburgh.

A lifelong educator, prior to the pandemic Sr. Elaine was volunteering at Cleveland Central Catholic High School as a push-in where she assisted individual students in the classroom. Without the technology to assist the kids when schools went virtual, Sr. Elaine had to step back from that role and is hopeful that she will be able to return soon.

So she turned her attention to other things she could do while everyone was isolated—which turned out to be keeping in touch with people through the mail and over the telephone.

“I felt very grateful for opportunities to be of assistance and just do anything I could to keep in contact and bring God's love and goodness through the mail to others who needed it,” Sr. Elaine said.

Once things began opening back up, Sr. Elaine started visiting with sisters in the health care unit and arranging outings with other sisters. She is a volunteer driver for events like First Friday Club luncheons.

Sr. Elaine also mentors young women through her work with Girls Hope of Pittsburgh, a residential program that helps young people succeed academically despite tough situations. Sr. Elaine lived and worked in the Girls Hope house for eight years and keeps in contact with those who have graduated from the program.

“I'm their grandma/cheerleader person,” said Sr. Elaine. “They call me for big life events—if they're going to have a little one or they're going to get married. The contact is more frequent if there's something difficult going on—like a parent may go to God. I do that on an informal basis, but on a formal basis, I am also a mentor. That means I work with a young woman in the girl's house. I try to have some contact with her two or three times a month, and it might be as simple as going to get a coffee together. I think one of the learnings during Covid for me was that the joy in life comes from being able to serve and to give. I am most truly in myself when God provides me the opportunity to be present with others and share the love that God has shown me.”

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Sr. Maryann Golonka

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Sr. Maryann Golonka has plenty to keep her busy these days. She serves on several boards of directors, contributes to spiritual life and liturgies at the Villa, and dabbles in writing her own music.

Though she currently serves as the sponsor director at Mercy Health Youngstown, Sr. Maryann has been involved with the board of directors there since 2010. She also serves as the chair of the Quality and Patient Safety committee.

“It’s my job to make sure what’s happening is according to Catholic healthcare teaching and the directives of the Catholic Church,” she says of her work with the board. “We're reflecting the healing ministry of Jesus, so I really get into the point—how does this decision affect the people that we are trying to serve? If we don't do this, or if we do that, will those people feel abandoned?”

Sr. Maryann also serves on the board of the Laurel Lake Foundation in Hudson, Ohio, where she is the chair of the Grants Disbursement committee.

At the Villa, Sr. Maryann is active in leading Word services, preparing reflections, cantoring for Mass, and filling in as a musician for services in Magnificat Chapel as needed. Prior to the pandemic, she coordinated Villa events, such as Harvest Day and Nativity Display, and the Adopt a Site program.

Though what she really enjoys doing is writing music. Her love of music has been a lifelong passion influenced by her Polish heritage, and her grandparents really fostered that interest.

“When I was six years old, my grandfather decided I should take music lessons,” Sr. Maryann said. “He brought home an accordion and made arrangements [for the lessons]. Every Saturday morning, my grandmother would take me to downtown New Castle to the music store and I would have my lesson.”

Well, after six months she had mastered the instrument and her grandfather had to buy her a larger one!

Now this is 1952 and this accordion cost $500,” Sr. Maryann related. “My grandfather was a laborer. He paid $5 a month for that accordion until he paid it off. I still have it and I do dig it out every once in a while.”

She began writing her own music when she was in the novitiate. While helping with the retreat ministry and doing tasks such as setting up the environment for Mass, Sr. Maryann recalls one of the other sisters wishing there was specific music for the upcoming Feast of the Transfiguration.

“I thought about that, and I read the readings and wrote something,” she said. “I threw this thing together and I presented it to the sister, and I said, ‘Oh, I wrote this, what do you think?’ Well, she decided to use it, so that was the beginning.”

Sr. Maryann has continued to write throughout the years, sharing her pieces at various parishes she’s attended and also at the Villa. Her most recent works are a children’s praise song she wrote on retreat last year and a composition using the text from another HM Sister’s original prayer. She would like to eventually publish her music, but according to her she has a unique writing style that makes it a little difficult to translate to standard formats.

One piece that really resonates for her is the refrain in a song she wrote while on sabbatical in North Carolina a number of years ago. After a difficult drive full of setbacks, her retreat director told her to write a song about it. What she produced not only speaks to her experience of making it to the retreat center, but also to a universal human experience.

“We are all on a journey. At times the road is smooth,” the lyrics read. “Sometimes the road is rough and winding. God will not leave us. We'll be shown the way.”

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Sr. Ardath Blake

Sr. Ardath Blake has served in several ministries over the years. She began as an educator and then moved into parish pastoral ministry. It was while she was serving in pastoral ministry that she became aware of the importance of providing people a space to reflect on things going on in their lives, so she began training to be a spiritual director. A sabbatical after leaving parish ministry reinforced that decision, and she felt called to pursue it.

“I went to an Ignatian spirituality center in Wales, and I spent three full months there,” Sr. Ardath said. “During that time the focus was, of course, on our own prayer, but then we had experiences in working with others in terms of spiritual direction. The staff greatly affirmed the fact that I should do this all the time—that there definitely was a calling, and it was very rewarding to journey with people.”

Sr. Ardath currently serves at Villa Maria Education and Spirituality Center (VMESC) where she coordinates directed retreats, offers one-on-one spiritual direction, and presents at other program offerings, such as Coffee and Contemplation. She also coordinates a Spiritual Direction Formation program for those who wish to become spiritual directors. This three-year program is offered through VMESC.

“The real thing with this ministry is that you really know it's God doing it, and you just have to keep seeking to be receptive to the spirit so you hear what needs to be picked up on during a session,” said Sr. Ardath. “You’re helping the person discover, so it's always letting the spirit guide it. You realize what a privilege this is. And in doing it you're greatly enriched because you find out about life experiences that you can't have, but you can help people find how God is working with them through the experiences that they do have.”

Sometimes those who seek spiritual direction are sorting through a particular issue, but Sr. Ardath has a few people she’s journeyed with for many years. It just depends on the person and their circumstances, and it’s all fulfilling to Sr. Ardath.

“It's delightful to be able to affirm others, to encourage others, and just to give them that safe space where they can talk about what's going on inside them—whether it's a positive thing or a troubling thing,” she said. “My own prayer life is very important and necessary because I can't be a spiritual director without also receiving spiritual direction. It’s all about being attentive to God and letting God work through you.”

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Sr. Janet Burkhart

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Sr. Janet Burkhart has always been an educator. From teaching her younger brothers to teaching in schools on Native American reservations in Arizona, her ministry has taken her to many different places and different people over the years.

When she entered the HM Community, Sr. Janet thought she would serve in grade-school education her entire ministry. But she soon learned that God had other plans for her.

While filling in as a junior high school teacher, Sr. Janet felt the call to continue teaching at those grade levels, which she did for many years. Listening to where the Spirit was drawing her has led Sr. Janet to teach in many different places to diverse populations, including poor neighborhoods and Indigenous people in Arizona.

“Over these many years in ministry I have loved teaching kids this age,” she said, “but about six years ago I was called to work with children of all ages, especially with nature education.”

This led her back to Ohio, and she now serves at Villa Maria Education and Spirituality Center (VMESC) in Villa Maria, Pa. working with youth through summer camp experiences and farm-based environmental education. She also helps with hosting other groups attending conference retreats or other programs.

“I love the wide variety of people who come to partake in individual or group experiences,” Sr. Janet said of her work at VMESC. “My experience with people from different cultures and expressions of faith helps me to be open to the people who come to VMESC and to be open to their expressions of faith. I find that I am willing to try some new ways of ministering to people who come to the Villa, and that I keep learning so many things as I work with others. I have been and continue to be impacted by all of my past experiences as well as the blessings, challenges, adventures, and gifts of each day.”

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Sr. Maureen Piersol

Sr. Maureen Piersol currently ministers at Cleveland Clinic Mercy Hospital in Canton, Ohio. She is a nurse and serves as an RN Transitional Care Coordinator where she helps patients and their families arrange for the care they need after a hospital stay.

“This involves negotiating with insurances to provide the patient with needed home medical equipment, arranging a skilled nursing facility, inpatient rehab, home health care, and hospice,” Sr. Maureen said. “Currently, with the pandemic raging, this has been a challenge. Many of our Covid patients are requiring respiratory assistance, and there have been times when home O2 supplies and BiPap equipment have been in short supply.”

Sr. Maureen has always been interested in medicine and working with others. “Combine these two concepts with a desire to serve God’s people, and you have the foundation of a nurse,” she said. For many years, she provided direct patient care, but she began to feel that she could do more by moving into the work she currently does.

“I thrive on the fast pace of hospital life,” said Sr. Maureen. “I enjoy working with the patients and their families. I love listening to their stories and experiences. It never ceases to amaze me the different ways people approach and overcome the challenges that life throws at them.”

Her years in healthcare have truly strengthened her faith, especially navigating through the challenges that Covid has brought these past few years.

“Each day I minister, I ask God to hold my hand as I enter the hospital. The hospital is a different place than what it has been for most of my nursing career. Each day is filled with new and different challenges,” Sr. Maureen said. “My faith has been strengthened by the resilience and compassion I have seen in my coworkers. They have shown me the face of God, donned in face masks, face shields, scrub caps, gowns, gloves, and booties, as they continue to compassionately care for the vaccinated and unvaccinated. I would ask that you please continue to pray for all healthcare workers. We are exhausted, and it has been two long years. We need your prayers and support. If you are not vaccinated or haven’t had your booster, please, please just do it.”

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Sr. Mary Catherine Blooming

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Sr. Mary Catherine often uses her local library to help her research the tools she can use to help those in need.

A chance encounter has led Sr. Mary Catherine Blooming to walk with a family through their homelessness for the past three years. But it wasn’t a chance encounter she says—God put her there at the right time to help.

“I met them when I was emptying trash after a summer enrichment program at my school,” said Sr. Mary Catherine of their first meeting. “They had just lost the housing they had been provided during a renovation job and had all their belongings in a plastic bag. They asked me if I could drive them to a bus stop that would lead to the downtown area where they could get help.”

After that first meeting, Sr. Mary Catherine went on to help them get assistance and find an apartment. She has journeyed with them through the struggles and setbacks of getting back on their feet since that meeting in 2019, and she has learned a lot about navigating government services along the way. This has led her to seek other ways to help those in need.

Since her retirement from teaching, Sr. Mary Catherine volunteers with the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Pittsburgh, where she helps assess clients to receive rent and utility assistance. She is also training to volunteer at a local women’s shelter. Once she completes the required hours, she will be able to work on-site. For now, she collects supplies to distribute to women in the shelter.

“My faith has become more practical—how God will work a small miracle every other day if you need it,” Sr. Mary Catherine said of what she’s learned through this work. “If you're operating in the middle class where you don't need anything, you're not going to notice it as much. But when there's nothing there and God provides something, then you blink and it just happens. You say, oh, okay, that's how it works. I’ve learned that I'm a person who is not afraid to approach other people, and that there's a solution to every problem if you ask for help. The HM spirit is the spirit of looking for people that are on the margins and helping them. Maybe someday you will be the person standing by a dumpster at the right time to make a difference to someone in need.”

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Sr. Jeanne Thurin

Sr. Jeanne Thurin was working in parish office administration when she felt God nudging her to consider a new ministry. Conversations around the future of religious life and think tanks with young adults set up by her house mate, Sr. Mary Ann Spangler, led Sr. Jeanne to discern whether she should move into young adult ministry. The answer to that question was yes, and she began a spiritual direction formation program last summer to facilitate that goal.

Now, in between her spiritual direction formation, Sr. Jeanne is employing many of the organizational and computer skills she used in her previous position to engage in young adult ministry. She’s currently part of a committee that’s planning a Young Adult Convocation to be held at the Villa in July, and she’s enjoying the creative aspects that it’s bringing out in her.

“It seemed like a very easy fit to slide over, and I knew I was going to be helping Sr. Mary Ann,” Sr. Jeanne said. “I think because I'm more intimately involved in this ministry now, creativity and ideas come up all the time and I’m having fun.”

As part of her spiritual direction formation program, she’s also working monthly with a directee and providing retreat opportunities for college students at local universities.

“One of the biggest things I've learned is that young adults have more creativity, energy, thoughtfulness, and eagerness to move into the future than I ever thought. I find it very stimulating and exciting to learn that about them, and it makes me personally very appreciative and thankful. We sisters respond to the signs of the times, and one of the signs of the times now, I think, is young adults and working with young adults—helping them on their spiritual journey. It seems like so many are seeking God, seeking spirituality. Some are lucky enough to find an avenue for it and others are struggling. So I'm hoping we can reach some of the ones who don't readily have an avenue.”

An unexpected benefit from moving into young adult ministry is that working with them has taught Sr. Jeanne new things about herself as well.

“I've learned to appreciate the wisdom that I have from experience now—from multiple different experiences—and the wisdom of age. And it's OK to share it. I'm also learning a lot about my own spiritual journey and where I need to grow based on trying to both learn how to companion people, but also how to companion myself and let myself be loved by God as I want others to be loved by God.”

Learn more about the upcoming Young Adult Convocation in the summer issue of the HM Voice, which will be published in May.

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