Catholic Free Press

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  • Oct
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Retired Religious

Posted By October 17, 2013 | 1:02 pm | Lead Story #1

The 14th annual Mass honoring Retired Religious in the Diocese of Worcester will be held at  11 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, at Christ the King the Parish, 1052 Pleasant St., Worcester. Diocesan Retired Religious Awards will be given at the Mass to Sister Lorraine Normand, SASV; Sister Jacquelyn Alix pfm; and Sister Theresa Khen Doan, MPV. Stories about their journeys to religious life and their ministries follow. The awards, which were started by Msgr. Edmond T. Tinsley, aim to keep the cause of the sick and frail elderly religious in the forefront, according to Sister Paula  A. Kelleher, SSJ, diocesan vicar for religious.

Sister Jacquelyn Alix, pfm

WORCESTER – As a teenager, Sister Jacquelyn Alix, pfm, remembers going to visit her aunt who lived at Saint Francis Home on Plantation Street.
Her aunt’s room was just above the sisters’ recreation area, and, even from a floor above, she could sense the joy that permeated the building.
“You could hear them laughing,” she recalled. “There was just something about the way they interacted with each other. There was a family spirit.”
At the time, Sister Jacquelyn didn’t realize she’d eventually have a vocation. But others who knew her weren’t surprised when she was called to religious life.
“I think everybody but me expected that’s what would happen in my life,” she said.
Sister Jacquelyn said the seeds of her vocation were planted in her Catholic elementary school. “When we were in the eighth grade we automatically became Children of Mary,” she explained. “I became very active in that group. I enjoyed going to church.”
When she was 17, she enrolled at Becker College. At that point, she began to consider devoting her life to God. “I started really thinking about where this is all going,” she said.
She entered the Little Franciscans of Mary for the first time in 1960, but left in 1961. She then lived at home and worked as a secretary. She re-entered in 1965, and said this extra time on the outside was a good learning experience.
“I’m very happy that I did that because once I did re-enter, I knew what I was getting into,” she said.
An only child, Sister Jacquelyn said her parents were supportive. Her mother, in particular, was very devout. “No way would she ever go to bed at night without praying the rosary,” she said, noting that her mother was “a good example of a Christian woman.”
She and her parents were also involved at their parish in Webster.
Sister Jacquelyn was attracted to the Little Franciscans of Mary because she liked the spirit she had observed amongst the sisters she met. She also didn’t want to be a teacher, and many of the other orders were focused on teaching.
“I wasn’t sure where my gifts were, but they weren’t there,” she said. “I always tended more toward the secretarial/commercial type things.” Sister Jacquelyn earned a degree in the medical secretarial field before entering the convent.
For 30 years, she was administrator at the Saint Francis Home, the same place she had visited her aunt as a teen. Presently, she is the treasurer for her community. And, for four years, she served as a pastoral assistant at St. Mary Parish in Jefferson.
At Saint Francis Home, now Saint Francis Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, she is still responsible for scheduling Masses that residents can attend, and she arranges for the flowers to be placed on the altar.
Sister Jacquelyn has also served on a number of local boards and committees at the diocesan, parish and city level.
“I kept myself busy,” she said. “I enjoyed that.”
Reflecting upon her years as a religious sister, Sister Jacquelyn said it’s a fulfilling life if this is what you are called to do.
She said the Little Franciscans of Mary place a big emphasis on community life. She said sisters from her community live at three different locations in Worcester, but make it a priority to meet once a week for “a meal and prayer and just hanging out.”

Sister Lorraine Normand, SASV

WORCESTER – Sister Lorraine Normand, SASV, spent 40 years teaching, working at different schools in Canada and in the United States.
But one day, in particular, stands out in her mind. It was in 1953, she was at Maria Assumpta Academy in Petersham. Everyone heard an unmistakable rumble. They could also see a huge black funnel overhead.
“The tornado came right above our school and touched ground,” she recalled. The tornado announced its presence with a very loud noise that accompanied the funnel cloud. “It went right over our property,” she added, noting that it caused widespread devastation in the surrounding area.
Sister Lorraine has also taught in Southbridge, Salem and Lowell, after joining the Sisters of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, an order she was already familiar with.
As a teenager, she attended St. Joseph High School in Salem, staffed by Assumption sisters. They had a profound effect on her formation and her eventual decision to devote her life to God.
She was also attracted to the fact that this was a teaching order, because that’s what she felt called to do.
“I admired the Sisters of the Assumption and felt that I wanted to join the order, but especially to be a teacher,” she said. “I wanted to be a teacher like them.”
However, she can’t pinpoint any one sister who might have played a leading role in helping her discern a religious vocation.
“I think I admired most of them because they were kind and gentle and good teachers, she recalled.
She joined the order in 1946 and professed her first vows in 1948, the same year she began teaching English-speaking high school students at a boarding school in Nicolet, Quebec. Although Sister Lorraine is fluent in French, these students were Americans and needed instruction in their native language.
Later, she returned to the United States, where she resumed her teaching career.
During her time with the Assumption Sisters, Sister Lorraine has earned a bachelor’s degree from Emmanuel College and a master’s degree in guidance and psychology from Assumption College.
“I just love teaching math and science,” she noted.
“I was very happy as a teacher, I guess I’ve been happy all the time,” she said, reflecting on her more than 65 years in religious life. “I’ve been happy all the time. I’m also happy with what I’m doing now. Yes, the Lord has blessed me.”
Since 1988, she has served as the regional treasurer for all Assumption Sisters living in the United States. “I enjoy it very much,” she said. “It can be challenging at times, but always interesting.”
“It means seeing to and making sure that all the sisters have everything necessary for their personal or ministry needs,” she explained.
Although it’s kept her very busy, Sister Lorraine said living her religious vocation has been a very fulfilling path.
“For anyone thinking about religious life it has to be a choice based on your deepest aspirations,” she said. “You have to truly believe in religious life because there are many challenges.
“I can only say that I believed and I’ve been happy,” she added.

Sister Theresa Khen Doan, MPV
WORCESTER – Sister Theresa Khen Doan, MPV, came to America by way of a fishing boat. Communists had taken over Vietnam, and she fled in fear for her safety.
She and 75 other refugees climbed into a small vessel and spent two days and nights on the open ocean.
They were rescued by a Norwegian crew, who asked them who they were and where they were going.
“We are Vietnamese,” they said, explaining they were seeking asylum in a free country.
The Norwegian ship was sailing for Thailand, and the wet and hungry fishing boat passengers were welcomed aboard. They crew fed them and allowed them to take a hot shower.
The refugees with relatives in the United States were allowed to come here. Sister Theresa had a sister living in the United States, so she was able to immigrate. The remainder of the refugees settled in Norway.
Sister Theresa’s first home was in Springfield. Then, in 1977, the late Msgr. Leo J. Battista, former director of Catholic Charities, heard her story while visiting Connecticut. He then invited her to work in Worcester.
In April of 1978 she joined the Catholic Charities staff as program administrator for the Refugee Resettlement Program, a position she’s held ever since.
Before leaving Vietnam, Sister Theresa ran an orphanage that housed more than 2,000 children. However, this was closed during the Communist takeover.
“They threw us out,” she said. “They took the children. The younger ones, we don’t know where (they are.)”
She said Communist officials made life very difficult for religious sisters. “They don’t trust us,” she said.
“My friend directed another orphanage,” she recalled. “They took him away and he never returned.”
Sister Theresa left her order, the Lovers of the Holy Cross, based in Saigon, when she came to America. In Worcester, she lived with the local community of Venerini sisters, waiting to see if anyone else from her order would immigrate. But that didn’t happen.
So she requested to transfer to the Venerini order, to which she now belongs.
During her first years in Worcester, Sister Theresa worked largely with Vietnamese refugees. Now, however, people are no longer fleeing Vietnam, although newcomers still arrive.
Today, much of her work involves helping other ethnic groups adjust to life in a new land. She currently works with people from Iraq, Somalia and other African countries. In the main hallway at Catholic Charities on Hammond Street, where she still works full time, hangs a framed picture of Sister Theresa at the airport, welcoming a family from Kosovo.
Sister Theresa, at 81, also has a second job translating from Vietnamese to English at a local hospital.
Although she is now a Venerini Sister and a daughter of Saint Rosa Venerini, and has made four trips to the mother house in Rome, she maintains contact with a group of sisters from the Lovers of the Holy Cross.
“Nowadays it’s easy,” she said, explaining that everyone has email. “I connect with them all the time.”