The 19th national annual appeal for the Retirement Fund for Religious will be conducted in parishes December 9-10. Coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, the appeal benefits the projected $9 billion retirement liability of the nation’s religious orders.
The funds help retired religious around the Diocese of Charleston who live out their vocations in varied ways, ranging from contemplative prayer to teaching, counseling and social ministry.
Here is a look at the work of three women religious in South Carolina:
Sister Joan Kobe, DW, has worked as the minister to Hispanics for three churches in the Upstate since 2002: St. Andrew Church, Clemson; St. Francis Mission, Walhalla, and St. Paul the Apostle Mission, Seneca. She serves an estimated 300 Hispanic families in Oconee and Pickens counties.
Since joining the Daughters of Wisdom more than 40 years ago, Sister Joan has worked as a teacher in Maine and New York, pursued a degree in theology in Boston, and worked as parish administrator at churches in Mississippi, as well as in McCormick and Abbeville, S.C. When she was hired to work in the Upstate, she did not know Spanish, but said she arrived with a desire to learn and to help members of the burgeoning Hispanic population.
“My story is like that of most women religious who get involved in doing things they never thought they’d do,” Sister Joan said in a recent interview. “You name it, and we do it.”
Over the years, she’s worked toward becoming fluent in Spanish by studying dictionaries and grammar texts, and speaking Spanish with people she meets. Her duties range from planning Spanish liturgies to connecting members of the Hispanic community with programs that can help with everything from financial assistance to immigration concerns. She also tutors those who are learning English.
“It’s difficult work but rewarding, and the people have been wonderful,” she said. “Many of them are grateful that I’m attempting to learn Spanish. I go to court with them, struggle with them. I’ve found lawyers and social services for them, and I’m using what I know of the state to help put them in touch with what they need.”
Sister Joan said most of the people she works with come from Mexico, but she also works with families from El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia and Puerto Rico.
The biggest challenges, she says, are twofold: helping to fulfill both the spiritual and material needs of Hispanic Catholics, and working to help other members of the community to overcome prejudices against the new immigrants moving into the area.
“I’d like people to realize that there is one church, and one Baptism, and people are people,” she said. “Jesus calls us to be together as one church.”
Sisters Johnna Ciezobka, CSSF, and Susanne Dziedzic, CSSF, have been helping the needy in Kingstree and Williams- burg County, one of the poorest areas in the diocese, for the past 16 years.
They are both members of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice, also known as Felician sisters.
“We came here to do outreach work, and we both developed the program we have today through listening to people in the community to find out what was needed,” said Sister Susanne in a recent interview.
The St. Ann Catholic Outreach Center, located on Thorne Avenue in downtown Kingstree, offers people everything from food to clothing to medical assistance, including help getting eyeglasses, dental care and medication. Beginning in January, the center will offer a tax assistance program that allows people who meet income requirements to have their taxes prepared free of charge, according to Sister Susanne.
There is also an after-school program that offers tutoring and homework help for students from kindergarten through sixth grade. Annually, the two sisters host groups of college students who spend their spring break repairing homes for needy homeowners.
On the last Tuesday of each month, the outreach center hosts the Blessed Angela Meal, a lunch for the needy which feeds an average of 100 people. During the meal, legal aid workers are available to provide assistance with a variety of problems.
St. Ann Church sponsors two of the meals each year, and other Kingstree churches sponsor the rest. Sister Susanne said the meal and other programs at the outreach center have become ecumenical over the years as more churches realize the problems of the needy in Williamsburg County. Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist and other denominations work with the sisters on a regular basis. The two women also work as co-directors of music and religious education for St. Ann Church.
Anyone needing assistance from the outreach center or wanting to offer assistance can call (843) 354-9415.