Sisters represent combined 485 years of religious life



CHARLESTON — It was a fitting occasion on a most appropriate day. A eucharistic celebration of the Queenship of Mary on Aug. 22 honored nine jubilarians of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, women observing 485 years of combined service in religious life.

Celebrating 65 years in the community were Sister Mary DeNeri Faase, Sister Mary Clement Fine, Sister Mary Helen Grobusky, and Sister Marcella Zwingmann. Marking 50 years were Sister Rosemary Boyd, Sister Mary Cyril Murray, Sister Jean Marie O’Shea, and Sister Maureen Tzinieris, while Sister Nancy Purdue observed 25 years of religious life.

Twenty priests from across South Carolina served as concelebrants in the liturgy, highlighting the importance of the historic event. Bishop Robert J. Baker, in opening remarks, extended his thanks on behalf of his brother priests, all people across the nation, and all whose lives have been touched by the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy.

Perhaps illustrative of a bygone era, three of the honorees have siblings who also entered religious life, counting two priests and a nun among additional vocations in the family. And the mother of another jubilarian, Sister Mary Helen Grobusky, is considered the matriarch of St. Francis Church in Walhalla, and a Mass is said in honor of her each Mother’s Day at the parish.

In his homily, Bishop Baker said that he recently dropped by the OLM Motherhouse on James Island with his mother and family members and that all came away with a sense of the warmth and hospitality and deep faith of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy. “How special we know you have been to our diocese since the days of your foundation by Bishop England, and how precious you are to us today.”

A recent profile article in Charleston’s The Post and Courier newspaper about Sister Mary Cyril Murray, who had at least two dozen family members at the Mass, was mentioned by Bishop Baker. The feature detailed many of the duties overseen by her at Christ Our King Church in Mount Pleasant.

The bishop listed a litany of other ministries performed by the OLM nuns. Some of these included Catholic schools, hospital ministry, nursing care, counseling, religious education programs, senior ministry, parish choirs, RCIA teams, and nursing homes. As the 12th ordinary of Charleston paused to catch his breath, he smiled and replied, “I could go on forever.”

An avocation of Sister Mary Clement Fine  gardening  wasn’t cited by the bishop, but the nun has used her agricultural skills to feed a convent in Aiken.

Midway through his comments, Bishop Baker asked each of the jubilarians to stand as he called their names to rousing applause from their congregation.

As the clapping calmed down, the bishop shifted his emphasis to the days of “retirement.” He said, “Your religious life takes on a different form at that point, but it doesn’t end. As you know, there is no retirement from being a consecrated religious. The witness goes on and on and on.”

The bishop said, “Perhaps one of your unique contributions to the church is to remind the rest of us, many of whom retire from regular labors at 65 or even earlier and consequently live lives in reasonably good form much longer, that the spiritual life goes on. We never retire from serving the Lord and his people in one way or another.

“So many people  including us priests  can get lost and confused with the prospect of so-called retirement. I believe people in consecrated life should speak loudly and clearly a bold message to those in retirement. Those years can be the best of years, the most productive of years spiritually, if one lets them.”

Speaking directly to the sisters, Bishop Baker said, “Your ministry of prayer  the greatest of ministries  is vital for people in more active kinds of apostolates who would flounder without your prayers.”

Knowing the OLMs are already involved in serving the church in a variety of creative ways, the bishop asked if he could be so bold as to suggest a few more.

“Could you perhaps consider giving days of recollection to priests, seminarians, religious, and lay men and women; assisting as spiritual mentor or director to them; continuing to tutor in our schools or in after school hours; helping in school offices; corresponding with people in prison or on Death Row, telephoning or writing to our legislators for proper legislation for life issues, immigration efforts, for family life, proper programming on TV?” the bishop quizzed.

In addition, he also enlisted their help to organize prayer-networks for clergy, seminarians, religious sisters, brothers, and priests, praying for the vocation shortage, family life, the sick, the impoverished, those abandoned, shut-ins, people on Death Row, marriages in peril  the list goes on. “You know it better than I,” Bishop Baker nodded.

“God has plans for us. Sister Anne Francis has plans for you. Your bishop has plans for you as well,” he laughed.

The bishop concluded by saying, “God bless you for saying ‘yes’ to that challenge 65, 50, and 25 years ago. God bless you for saying ‘yes’ to that challenge today!”

Prior to giving the closing blessing at the end of the liturgy, Bishop Baker called Sister Anne Francis Campbell, the order’s general superior, forward to assist him in presenting a white long stem rose and gift to each of the honorees. “Let’s thank them for all the work they do for the diocese and the universal church,” the bishop said as participants stood to give the sisters a prolonged standing ovation.