In an age of broken promises, some people show that being faithful to promises is possible, Bishop McManus said Sunday.
He was preaching at Mass at St. Paul Cathedral before presenting the annual Retired Religious Awards to Sister Rosa Maria Serra, of the Xaverian Missionary Society of Mary; Sister Marie Therese Flattery, of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, and Sister Anne Marie Boudreau, of the Sisters of St. Anne.
These sisters took literally Christ’s words from the Gospel, following him by embracing forever the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, the bishop said. Their perseverance gave them freedom to serve others.
Religious made enormous contributions to the Church in the United States – in schools, hospitals, orphanages and social ministries – often without recognition, he said. They did it because they saw each person as created in God’s image and likeness, redeemed by Christ, having dignity from conception to natural death, he said.
Addressing those present and those watching the Mass on television, the bishop decried Question 2 on November’s ballot, which invites Massachusetts voters to legalize physician-assisted suicide. This “Death with Dignity Act” is poorly written, deliberately confusing and morally flawed, he said. Among other flaws, it requires that the supposedly terminal illness, not suicide, be listed as the cause of death.
“That is a lie,” Bishop McManus said. He said Catholics should be in the forefront of working for the right to life, compassionately caring for the sick, not helping them end their lives.
Religious retire from active ministry, but never from the call to consecrated life, Sister Paula A. Kelleher, Vicar for Religious and a member of the Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph-Springfield, said in presenting awardees. She said the award is given to an individual who manifests the charism of her community, and the entire community is honored.
The stories of the religious are reported by William T. Clew.
A vocation to religious life: ‘I think you get it at home’
When she was a little girl, Mary Therese Flattery didn’t like to go to Mass.
“I used to faint,” she said.
But when she was revived, she felt fine and wanted to go rollerskating with her friends. Nothing doing, her mother said. No Mass, no skating.
That youngster has been to plenty of Masses since then. She is Sister Mary Therese Flattery, SND, (pictured with Bishop McManus at left) who entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur 61 years ago.
She grew up in Ascension Parish and attended Ascension elementary school and Ascension High School, an all-girls school long-since closed. When she was still in school her family moved and they became part of St. Paul Parish, she said.
When she was a teenager, she said, she looked into being a flight attendant. She said she thought it would be fun to fly everywhere and see lots of sights. But flight attendants in those days had to be a certain minimum height and could not wear glasses.
“So that went out of me,” Sister Mary said with a smile.
But the idea of a vocation as a nun stayed with her. She said she got that from home and from her mother. She also remembers that, when she was very little, she used to lay on the bed and listen to her father pray the Rosary. She said she was taught by the Sisters of Notre Dame in school, and she read about St. Julie Billiart, who, with Francoise Blin de Bourdon, founded the Order in 1804 in France. But as for the vocation, “I think you get it at home,” she said.
No one in the family ever preached vocation to her or suggested that she become a nun. But when she decided to enter the convent her family was happy for her, she said. Her sister Muriel, a fine 10-pin bowler, said that if she won the Massachusetts state bowling championship, she would give the money to Mary to pay her expenses to enter the convent. She did win the championship in 1951 and kept her promise.
Mary entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur on Aug. 1, 1951. Her brother joked, “I hope you don’t faint every day at Mass.”
Three years later she took her first vows June 1, 1954. She moved from Waltham to Brighton, where she stayed for three years.
She worked in her community, taking care of the Sisters who were ill or infirm. She moved to Providence, came back to Waltham to take final vows in 1959, then returned to Providence. That year the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, which had a Boston Province and an Ipswich Province, formed a Connecticut Province, which included Providence. Sister Mary moved to Fairfield, Conn., and then, in 1963, to Manchester, Conn. She moved back to Fairfield in 1979.
She then moved to Saratoga, Calif., for a year of service there. In 1981 she returned to Worcester and into a new job. She became a librarian at Our Lady of the Angels School. When the convent there closed, she said, she moved, in 1994, to Leominster, to the Julie Country Day School, which was run by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. She worked in the office there. When that school closed in 2001, Sister Mary went to St. Bernadette School and Parish in Northborough, where she continued to do office work and extended day work, caring for youngsters who came to the school after classes until their parents came for them.
In August this year she left St. Bernadette and now lives at the Notre Dame Long Term Care Center. Her sister Muriel also lives there and Sister Mary said she visits her in the afternoon.
She said there is more to do at the Center than she can keep up with. Among other things there is entertainment and bingo. She said she plays bingo but might quit.
“I don’t win,” she said.
Sister Mary also makes fudge on special occasions for residents at the Center and in Julie House in Windsor, Conn., a facility for retired Sisters. And when Bishop McManus visits St. Bernadette School and the convent there, she makes a chocolate cake for him to eat there or to take home.
‘I always wanted to be a teacher, I wanted to be a nun-teacher’
When she was in the second and third grades in an elementary school run by the Sisters of St. Anne, Sister Ann Marie Boudreau used to pretend she was a teacher.
She said that when she came home from school, with her parents watching her through a window, she would line up her imaginary students, scold them if they got out of line, “ the way the nuns did,” she said with a laugh, and lead them into their imaginary school. She said she even used to pull her coat up over her head like a veil in a nun’s habit.
“I always wanted to be a teacher,” she said in a recent interview, “but I wanted to be a nun-teacher.”
She was born in Newton, one of six children, three boys and three girls. She and a brother are the only ones still alive, she said.
After she finished elementary school she entered St. Anne Academy, also run by the Sisters of St. Anne.
When she graduated at 17 years old she joined the Sisters, entering their novitiate in Lachine, Quebec, Canada, just outside Montreal. Two years later she professed her vows in the Order.
She stayed in Montreal teaching English in both elementary and high school, with most of her work in high school. She said the system was different in Quebec. The schools were run by a Catholic Commission, a Protestant Commission and a Jewish Commission and were paid for by the government. She, of course, taught in Catholic schools. In order to qualify to teach in Montreal, she studied for, and received, a superior diploma and an “A” diploma, she said.
She taught in Montreal for 23 years, she said. Then she came back to the United States and taught in Lynn for a year. She then moved to Holy Name High School in Worcester, where she taught English literature and writing. She also received a bachelor’s degree in English from Anna Maria College, which was founded by the Sisters of St. Anne in Marlborough and then moved to Paxton. Later she earned a master’s degree in English from St. Michael’s College in Winooski, Vt., and a master’s in Library Science from Villanova University in Pennsylvania.
She also volunteered each July for four years to work at a clinic run by another nun on the DelMarVa (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) peninsula, serving migrant agricultural workers. She said she drove patients to doctor’s appointments.
She left Holy Name and spent a year working in the Anna Maria College library and, later, a year at the library at Nichols College in Dudley.
Then, she said, she studied in the Clinical Pastoral Education Program and became a certified chaplain.
At the time there were no jobs in that field in this area, she said, so she went to Reading, Penn., where she served for three years as a chaplain in St. Joseph’s Hospital. She returned to New England and worked at Elliot Hospital in Manchester, N.H., where she stayed for four years.
She then came back to the Worcester diocese and was chaplain for the Providence Houses in Southbridge, Worcester and Millbury. After that she worked for 10 years as a chaplain with the Pastoral Care Department at St. Vincent Hospital.
She became ill about a year ago and has been at the Marie Esther Health Care Center in the Sisters of St. Anne convent in Marlborough, where she is continuing rehabilitation.
She said she wants to be cleared to drive a car again because she wants to go back to St. Vincent Hospital one day a week and volunteer as a chaplain to see new hospital admissions.
“I like that work,” she said.
Msgr. Peter R. Beaulieu, diocesan director of Mission Integration and Pastoral Care, said Sister Ann Marie was a great asset and was very popular with the staff and the patients.
“We’ve kept the seat warm here for her,” he said.
She has been a professed Sister of St. Anne for 62 years.
“I loved my teaching and my chaplaincy work,” she said.
‘Missionaries never retire, there is plenty to do’
Sister Rose Marie Serra, XMM, who is known as Sister Rosetta, said she wanted to be a nun “all my life.”
She grew up near Salerno, Italy, one of seven children. During World War II, she said, there was food rationing, but her family always had enough to eat.
“We never suffered,” she said.
In September 1943, American and British troops landed near Salerno with the objective of capturing Naples, farther north.
She said her family lived far enough out in the country so that they were not touched by the fighting. But they could hear the explosions in the city and they sometimes closed window curtains so as not to show any light.
She said she used to visit her brother, Rocco, who was studying for the priesthood at a nearby Xaverian seminary. She said the seminary had pictures of their missions in China.
When she saw those pictures, she said, she decided she wanted to be a missionary Sister and go to China. In 1944 an American woman, Celestine Healy Bottego, who had moved to Italy, and Xaverian Missionary Father James Spagnolo collaborated to start the Xaverian Missionary Sisters of Mary (XMM) in Parma, Italy.
Sister Rosetta entered the Congregation at Parma in 1948 and professed her first vows in 1952. In 1954, she accompanied Mother Celestine to Petersham, where they established the first Xaverian Missionary Sisters of Mary convent in America. Another Sister was supposed to come with them, Sister Rosetta said, but she was sick and wasn’t able to come until sometime later.
For Sister Rosetta there was one problem.
“I didn’t speak English, not one word,” she said.
She studied English at Maria Assumpta School, an all-girls high school in Petersham, taught by the Sisters of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. The school is now closed. She also studied in Rome for two years. As more Sisters came to the convent in Italy, they did pastoral and mission work in and around Petersham.
In 1964 the Sisters moved to Worcester and bought property at 242 Salisbury St., their present address, and continued their pastoral and missionary work.
Bishop Flanagan asked the Sisters to minister to the growing Spanish community in the area, she said. So two Sisters went to Puerto Rico to learn Spanish. Later others did the same.
Sister Rosetta was not one of them. But she soon had to learn Spanish. She was sent in 1970 to Guadalajara, Mexico, to start a community there. The community does pastoral work and teaches religious education in the poor sections of that city.
The community that Sister Rosetta started “from scratch,” she said, has grown. There now are four communities, a novitiate, two missions for indigenous people and one mission for vocations and pastoral work. Sister Rosetta said there have been about 20 vocations there, and two of the Sisters are now in Worcester.
She spent almost 30 years in Mexico. She returned to Worcester in 2004 and, she said, had to relearn English. Since then she has done pastoral work at Immaculate Conception Parish, taught religious education and caries out administration duties.
“Missionaries never retire, there is plenty to do,” she said with a laugh.
Her brother, who was ordained a missionary priest in that seminary near Salerno, never did get to China. The Communist government had closed that country to the Church. He came to the Xaverian Shrine in Holliston. He was here for a year or two while Sister Rosetta was here and they were able to visit one another. He then was a missionary in Sierra Leone in Africa for 23 years. He now is “in heaven,” Sister Rosetta said. A sister Amelia, is a Xaverian Missionary Sister of Mary in Rome.
Sister Rosetta said she is happy with her path in life. “It’s a blessing,” she said. She doesn’t believe that we are born again, but if she were, she said, “I would do it all over again.”