Sister Spotlight Archives
Paul’s Run Bell Choir
On June 5, 2023, the Paul’s Run Bell Choir presented their spring concert. Nine of the thirteen participants were
SBS: Sr. Katherine Chazotte , Sr. Pat Downs, Sr. Carol Eden, Sr. Juliana Haynes, Sr. Roland Lagarde, Sr. Amedee
Maxwell, Sr. Geraldine Mikulec , Sr. Jean Olmstead and Sr. Lorraine Stein.
The concert can be viewed below from the Paul’s Run Facebook page.
Sr. Nathalee Bryant
Sr. Nathalee serves at St. Katharine Drexel Preparatory School in New Orleans. She was recently featured on Fox8 in New Orleans.
Sr. Jean Ryan
By mid-October of 2019, I, along with Sr. Zoe Brenner and Sr. Marilyn Ross, gathered to begin the work of “re-founding” The Desert House of Prayer in the St. Michael area on the Navajo Reservation. Sr. Genevieve Allen recently retired from the Desert House, but with faith, the three of us stepped up and out, trusting that we also, at this time in history, were called to minister with love to the many people that would enter into our lives.
Our ministry would be similar to those who had walked the path of the “House of Prayer” with Sister Genevieve. From the very beginning, we were aware that our call would also be “contemplative” but, each of us would also move out and more into the life of the parish or into the homes of the people in the area.
However, by early 2020 due to the Coronavirus, we were stripped of our ideas and goals of being involved by the “lockdown” that was strongly enforced here on the Navajo Reservation. We took the lockdown very seriously since the virus was very prevalent on the reservation and within our local area. Daily we struggled with the question both communally and within our own hearts: “What was God asking of us at this time of tremendous need?”
Then, God did respond, and in April 2020 we received a phone call from Alight, an organization that provides humanitarian aid and relief to those in need. In their history, Alight had frequently partnered with religious women in many third-world countries. They had heard of the devastation that the virus had inflicted on the Navajo Reservation and felt a need to open a new ministry in the United States here on the Navajo Reservation.
At first, we were hesitant. But as we conversed with the local people and others, we realized that there was a tremendous need for the basic items of food and water. Many of the residents on the reservation do not have electricity or even running water. For us who were fortunate enough to live close to the border of the reservation, it was a 25-mile drive to Gallup for a supermarket. But for most of the Navajo people, the trip to “the big city” required lots of time and gas. This trip was becoming very difficult for many families.
Thus, we began delivering boxes of food and water and within about 4 months had delivered over 200 boxes of food. This required lots of time and planning since many of the homes that were in desperate need are scattered miles apart. One afternoon found two of us driving as far as Pinon, Arizona, about 80 miles away.
Almost from the beginning of this endeavor, we had individuals who volunteered to help. Thus, after 3 to 4 months of hard work, the question was: How do we thank everyone who had been so generous and worked so hard throughout this time?
Here on the reservation, “mutton stew” is the most popular dish, but everyone knows it must be fresh. Thus, we arranged to buy a sheep, and with help from two volunteers and the lady we bought the sheep from, we spent a good part of a day butchering and packing meat for our 75+ mile drive back home where everything had to be refrigerated.
The next day found a handful of us at the church hall preparing the mutton stew. Later in the day, we said “thank you” to each and all of our volunteers as they arrived for their “pick-up meals.” And finally, at the end of a very long day, we had about 50 bowls of stew and bread left over – as we had hoped – which we delivered to the local hospital to thank our first responders for their service and commitment to the people here on the Navajo Reservation.
Sr. Jane Nesmith
Sr. Jane Nesmith has been an African American Catholic since age 8 when her family converted so the children could attend Catholic school. “My father was determined we would have good educations and none was better in his eyes than the local Catholic school. I never looked back on my faith or education in the many forms it has taken me throughout my career,” she said.
In December 2022, Sr. Jane will be joining the Diocese of Cleveland as the new Director of African American Ministry. “My Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament are simply thrilled. Many of the sisters at our retirement community expressed their delight that we are returning to the Diocese of Cleveland where many of them have served,” Sister Nesmith said.
Father Damian Ference, the vicar for evangelization and Director of Parish Life and Special Ministries, described Sister Nesmith as “a joyful missionary disciple who comes to us with great pastoral experience and wisdom.” She has served as a teacher, campus minister, pastoral associate, executive director, pastoral life coordinator, chaplain, instructor, and most recently, vice president of her religious community. Among the places she has ministered are Pennsylvania, Jamaica, West Indies, Evansville Indiana, Louisiana, and Seattle Washington.
Sr. Jane wrote the book “Feed the Multitudes,” a personal testimony of the ways God blessed one community with methods to revitalize an inner-city parish. She also produced a rosary CD, “Mysteries, A Soulful Rosary Experience,” and co-edited a rosary booklet highlighting work by a Black artist and quotes from St. Katharine Drexel.
In this new role, Sr. Jane will carry out advocacy for the concerns and needs of African American Catholics by providing support to the Diocesan Race Relations Committee, Diocesan Gospel Choir, the Diocesan African Catholic community, and the Catholic schools and institutions that serve the greater African American community. The office also communicates with various offices in support of issues relating to African American Catholic ministry and serves in an advisory capacity to the bishop’s staff regarding matters of concern to African Americans.
“But when all is said and done, I consider my greatest claim to fame as being a child of God,” Sister Nesmith said, adding, “As I often say, God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.”
Sr. Zoe Brenner
Sr. Zoe lives at the SBS Desert House in St. Michaels, AZ. She came to the Southwest in 2001/02, first at St. Michael Indian School for 8 years as a Theology Teacher, Campus Minister, Dean of Students, and substitute principal for a few days at a time. In 2010, she moved into parish ministry. The ministry involved working at three or four different sites within 20 miles of each other. Three of the sites had Sisters already present, so she helped where needed.
Then came the pandemic. Churches were closed, masks were worn, and there were long lines at the grocery store and other stores because of access limits. Sr. Zoe moved to the Desert House in 2019 to be in the community with two other SBS, Sisters Marilyn Ross and Jean Ryan. Despite this, Sr. Zoe remembers thinking during some of the months of the pandemic, “what can I do, what can we do?” Being over 70, they were told to be cautious.
In the parishes of the Apache District, they decided to have a phone reflection each Sunday during the pandemic, and 60 or so people called in each week. They also had drive-throughs for people to pick up missalettes, palms, and ashes as a way of celebrating at home. People outside the Navajo Nation started sending funds to help the Navajo people buy food, and Sr. Zoe picked up 15 boxes at 7:30 in the morning and with help of parishioners delivered them to people in need. This grew into a Food Pantry which continues today. It is set up like a grocery store, so people can make a choice on what they want to eat. More than forty families are served on a regular basis.
Living an active parish life is still a challenge. As of October 2022, the community is still called by the Navajo Nation to wear masks inside and church services at one of the churches are in the parish hall because we need the distancing space. Children and adults have not had the opportunity for instruction for Sacraments, so hopefully, Sr. Zoe will be able to start classes again soon.
Sr. Lynn Marie Ralph
Sister Lynn Marie Ralph, SBS has been a member of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for 39 years. She is one of eight children born in Newark, NJ, and has an identical twin sister, Sister Patricia Ralph, SSJ who is a Sister of Saint Joseph, Chestnut Hill, PA. Growing up, it was her twin sister who always wanted to be a nun. Sister Lynn Marie always felt that this was not her calling. However, God does work in mysterious ways. At the age of twenty-three, Sister Lynn Marie while on a retreat at the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament motherhouse experienced emotions that were unsettling. It was on this weekend retreat that she said yes to God in answering the call of becoming a nun. It was a burden that was lifted off of her. It was a huge sense of peace that she had experienced like no other.
Sister Lynn Marie’s first mission experience was in San Carlos, AZ on the Apache Reservation. She experienced a culture that taught her the appreciation of a group of Native American people that embodies who they are and whose they are as children of God. They welcomed sister with open arms and she, in turn, welcomed them into her life.
As the years progressed, Sister Lynn Marie spent her ministry years in Harlem, NY, New Iberia, LA, Birmingham, AL, New Orleans, LA, Memphis, TN, and now in Philadelphia, PA. She loved being a Teacher, Principal, Director of Religious Education, and now a Pastoral Care Assistant at Redeemer Health in Philadelphia, PA. This ministry gives sister the opportunity to be with the elders as Eucharistic Minister, a listening spirit, and taking time to meet so many people. As part of the Pastoral Care office, Sister Lynn Marie has the opportunity to be in ministry with Chaplains of diverse religious backgrounds that includes Priests, religious sisters, Baptist Ministers, and Catholic and Jewish Rabbis.
Sister Lynn Marie has given retreats, days of reflections, women’s bible study, and enjoys writing reflections. Currently, she is a member of the National Black Sisters’ Conference and is on the Board of Trustees for the Tonya Dorsey and New Vision Foundation which enable students to receive scholarships for their success in the performing arts.
Sr. Marianne Poole
Sister Marianne Poole recently celebrated 60 years as a Sister of the Blessed Sacrament. Her journey as an educator has taken her through inner-city schools in New Orleans, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Washington, DC, Harlem, and Santa Fe. She’s visited the Caribbean, the Baltics, Greece, and Italy. Sr. Marianne currently works at Smithson Craighead Academy, a charter school in Tennessee, as a teacher’s aide. “It’s a delight,” she said. “I get a chance to work with the children, help them, listen to them. You know, the whole idea is that you’re there for them. As long as I can be part of these children’s lives, I want to be.”
Sr. Marianne entered the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament because she was so enthralled with the diversity of the congregation, the commitment, and the joy. “You always feel it’s a path. What is God calling you to? And you listen. So, I listened and I’ve been totally blessed. It’s been 60 years of, I have to admit, a good time. I’ve met wonderful people. I’ve had an experience of going all over the world.”
After working a year in the private sector, Sr. Marianne took her first steps into religious life and entered the Congregation in 1961. She professed her final vows in 1969. She said one of the great highlights of her life was being in Rome for the canonization of St. Katharine on October 1, 2000.
“In Rome, you walked around, and you met people that you worked with in New Orleans, in Philadelphia, in Cleveland; people from Xavier University, and everybody was associated with St. Katharine. So, there was this camaraderie around her and her mission and spirit.”
Sr. Elena Henderson
From the age of seven, Sr. Elena Henderson, SBS, RN, ACSW, LCSW, knew she was going to be a nun. Answering ‘the call’ has been an amazing adventure that she never imagined. Below are just some of her ministries as an SBS.
Her first mission was at a clinic in Harlem in the late ’70s. She continued her ministry with S.O.M.E. (So Others Might Eat), initially to help work on the team from groundbreaking the home to moving in residents in Washington, DC. The facility was filled in one month and continues to operate today.
When she left this program, her next ministry was the Nurse/Counselor at People With Hope with an HIV population. Oh, the stories she could tell! People died and suffered, yet, it holds some of the fondest memories of laughter and joy she experienced in any ministry.
During this time, she was working on a committee to look at the reuse of the historical SBS Virginia property where two schools were operated for Black and Native Americans until the ’70s. She worked with four other Sisters there to establish FrancisEmma, Inc. to preserve and protect the land.
Sr. Elena’s current ministry began in January 2007 with Bon Secours Hospital System in Virginia. She continues to minister with Bon Secours Mercy Health and St. Mary’s Hospital with the primary focus of visiting Catholic patients and families to make sure they have access to the Sacraments, spiritual assessments, and support as needed.
Sr. Annette O’Donnell
From childhood, Sr. Annette O’Donnell was made aware of the lives of missionaries. Her uncle was a Dominican priest and was ministering in China. Her parents were active in fundraising for the missions. When she first felt called to give herself to the Lord as a Religious, Annette chose the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, because she had those Sisters in school and admired their prayerfulness and dedication.
As a Sister of St. Joseph, Sr. Annette taught middle school for 15 years between 1956-1971. She enjoyed coordinating the Eucharistic Crusade Movement, where children would study the Sunday Gospel, observe the Lord, and choose to imitate him in some way.
In 1984, Sr. Annette was feeling called to work with Native Americans, and In God’s providence, she found St. Catherine Indian School. She taught at the school until 1987, when her spiritual director, and the two communities, discerned that she had a second calling to be a Sister of the Blessed Sacrament. It was during this transition period that Sr. Annette asked to have an experience in the Black community. She was missioned to Xavier University, working in the Writing Center and assisting in the campus ministry program. At the end of the five-year transition period, Sister made her final vows as an SBS.
While teaching at Xavier University of New Orleans, Sister also began studying for her doctorate. Sister Annette completed her Ed.D. and received an Arizona Community College Certification in several areas. As a result, she taught for 16 years as an adjunct faculty member of Navajo Community College.
Around 2007, having problems with her legs and feet, she went to the Motherhouse for treatment. After some treatment, Sister Annette began working at the Mission Center giving retreat days and workshops, assisting in the Communications Department, and forming a St. Katharine Drexel Faith-sharing Circle. She also publishes her blog monthly, Companions on a Faith Journey.
Today, with the wonderful new means of communicating the message of Jesus, St. Annette rejoices that she, and others, too, can be missionaries despite limitations. Wearing the joyful smile for which she is well known, Sr. Annette comments, “Praise the Lord!” She is surely proof that when a heart is called to ministry, one always finds a way.
Sr. Theresa Chato
parish life during a time of social distancing and illness. She is an active minister to the community through volunteering at her local food bank and sharing her love for the Lord with children, parishioners, and community members alike.
Sr. Theresa is the director of religious education at Our Lady of Fatima Parish where she uses social media and video technology as tools to keep the parishioners connected. She reaches out to provide resources such as virtual Mass, prayers, and reflections for those who cannot make it in person to worship. Fostering personal relationships with those she encounters is the heart of Sr. Theresa’s mission.
From Global Sisters Report, by Peter Tran, 12/7/20. To read more, click here https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/coronavirus/news/food-banks-firewood-and-outreach-sisters-minister-navajo-amid-pandemic