Has a Religious priest, Sister, Brother impacted your life?
By: By Jennifer Willems
EDITOR’S NOTE: Across the nation this weekend people are being encouraged to offer support for the Retirement Fund for Religious. Last year more than $28 million was raised — including $132,478 from the Diocese of Peoria — to offer direct assistance to 477 religious institutes.
But we know these dedicated women and men are remembered far more often than this one particular weekend each year. In fact, they often become valued friends and mentors and are held dear for a lifetime.
In Bishop Jenky’s letter promoting the collection, he notes “most of us can probably recall some Religious priest, Brother or Sister who has made a positive impact on our lives.” Who is that person in your life? We invite you to tell us about them briefly and we’ll share them here and possibly in print. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For now, here are remembrances of six to “prime the pump.”
A “LIVING WITNESS” — FATHER PLACID HATFIELD, OSB
One of the people who had a significant impact on the life of Father Jeffrey Laible, pastor of Holy Family in Lincoln and St. Mary’s in Atlanta, was Father Placid Hatfield, OSB, of St. Bede Abbey in Peru.
“He was very instrumental in getting me ore interested in the faith and in my own discernment in the priesthood,” Father Laible told The Catholic Post.
Father Placid was the director of Teens Encounter Christ when Father Laible was at Spalding Academy in Peoria and “many of us were inspired by his holiness and his vitality.”
“He brought such life to that program and for us as young people what it meant to be Catholic,” Father Laible said, adding that Father Placid not only encouraged him to think about priesthood but went to talk to the diocesan vocations director, now known as Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, about him.
As important as what he said was the “living witness” he gave, Father Laible explained.
“He was a happy priest — he enjoyed what he did. He was very authentic. He was a joy-filled man,” said Father Laible. “His love for the TEC program just permeated and enriched that program.
“Those were very inspiring qualities for me — that you could actually be happy and be a priest,” he said.
In addition to TEC, Father Placid served on the faculty of St. Bede Academy, was involved in parish ministry, and was co-director of Cursillo and the permanent diaconate program. He was 75 and in the 52nd year of monastic profession when he died on May 6, 2005.
Father Laible also had words of praise for the Springfield Dominicans, who were his co-workers at St. Malachy’s Parish in Rantoul for 10 years and currently minister in Lincoln.
“I could talk about both the Dominicans and Father Placid for a long time,” he said.
Rantoul continues to be served by Sister Mary Paulette Jorge, OP, Sister Mary Sara Koch, OP, and Sister Mary Anita Tapioca, while the Lincoln community benefits from the presence of Sister Mary Lou Owens, OP, and Sister Margaret McCormick, OP, according to Father Laible.
“It has been a tremendous blessing for me,” he said, noting their dedication and devotion to the faith.
“FUN AND FAITH-FILLED” — SISTER MARGARET MULLIN, BVM
Sister Kathleen Mullin, BVM, the pastoral associate at Sacred Heart Parish in Moline, found inspiration in her family of origin and family of faith.
She said Sister Margaret Mullin, BVM, a cousin, grew up in Davenport, Iowa, and worked for several years before entering the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dubuque, Iowa. An elementary school teacher and principal, she served most of her active ministry years in the inner city of Chicago and St. Louis, Sister Kathleen said.
“Relational and innovative, she applied her belief in the good of each student and staff member and her business skills in her teaching, administrating, grant writing and being a parish leader,” Sister Kathleen told The Post.
Not only did Sister Margaret emphasize academics and the fine arts, but she involved parents in school programs.
“Good at networking, she helped provide opportunities for the gifted, the needy, the struggling for everyone,” Sister Kathleen recalled. “She was a generous mentor for many, including this younger cousin. I knew her as compassionate, fun and faith-filled.”
A stroke brought her back to the motherhouse in Dubuque, where she died.
LIFE LESSONS — SISTER LORETTA MARQUETTE, SSCM
As a teenager, Sister Mary Robert Morton, SSCM, found a mentor and friend in Sister Loretta Marquette, SSCM. Their long relationship started with a job interview at Mercy Hospital (now Provena Covenant Medical Center) in Urbana.
“Because of that, I had interaction with our Sisters,” said Sister Mary Robert, superior of the Mercy Community of the Servants of the Holy Heart of Mary in Champaign and director of pastoral care at Provena Covenant.
In addition to working at the hospital for three summers, Sister Mary Robert finished her high school education at the community’s Holy Family Academy in Weaverville at Sister Loretta’s suggestion.
“She knew that my mother had died. She tried to find a setting that was appropriate for me and yet getting me home often enough to be with my father,” Sister Mary Robert remembered.
“It opened an opportunity for me — that was the great thing,” she said. “If Sister Loretta hadn’t interested me in going to our boarding school I wouldn’t have known our Sisters and the whole dimension of living with them.”
The older woman also impressed her young friend by what she did outside her job of working with the teenagers and volunteers at the hospital.
“One of the ways she volunteered was as a patient visitor,” Sister Mary Robert told The Post. “In some way that had an influence in my decision to be in pastoral ministry.”
As their lifelong relationship drew to a close, it was Sister Mary Robert’s turn to spend time at her mentor’s bedside and visit with her.
“MY FIRST COMMUNION SISTER” — SISTER MARILYN HETTINGER, OSB
For Father Ronald Margherio, OSB, that person was Sister Marilyn Hettinger, OSB, his “First Communion Sister.” She was Sister Mary Mark in those days, recalled the priest who is now vocation director at St. Bede Abbey in Peru and chaplain at St. Bede Academy.
“There are formative people in your life, like your First Communion Sister. There have been other teachers and Benedictine monks, too, but there’s something about when you’re little and they set you in the right direction,” he said.
Father Ronald said there was no Catholic school in Ladd when he was growing up, but the Sisters of St. Benedict from Nauvoo (now Rock Island) lived two blocks from his family home. “When my mother baked, there was always something for the Sisters.”
They would come into his public school in full habit each Wednesday to teach religion for an hour to the many Catholic students there. While that would be unheard of today, no one objected then — most of the teachers were Catholic, too.
“I loved the Benedictine Sisters we had,” Father Ronald told The Catholic Post. “I can remember all of them.”
Sister Marilyn made an impact in his life because of the personal interest she took in him, he said.
“She made me feel like an individual — I’m sure every student felt the same way,” he explained. “Throughout my life we would keep in touch and she would remember those things.”
And he carried that lesson with him into his own teaching ministry.
“I learned that you treat kids as individuals and not as a class or group and to make them feel like they are special,” Father Ronald said. “A lot of kids don’t feel that way, I think.”
As an adult he got to know Sister Marilyn as a friend when he served on the board of directors for St. Mary Academy in Nauvoo. She was subprioress there for four years and prioress for eight and when it came time for her to celebrate her 50th anniversary of consecrated life he was there.
Father Ronald said he was also honored to be asked to read her poetry before it was published.
The longtime educator, who also served as associate director of religious education for the Diocese of Peoria from 1982 to 1984, died on July 3 of this year, but her influence remains.
“If I had not been formed well for First Communion by Sister Mary Mark, I wouldn’t be sitting here today, with a student smiling at me from across the room,” Father Ronald said.
“SHE JUST EXUDED JOY” — SISTER VERONICA SHUNICK, OSB
Another Sister of St. Benedict, Sister Veronica Shunick, was remembered as a special mentor by Sister Phyllis McMurray, OSB, the current prioress of St. Mary Monastery. She said she would often see Sister Veronica when she went to Mass with her mother at Holy Family Church in Peoria.
“She had a beautiful smile — it was very warm and friendly,” Sister Phyllis said. “She just exuded joy.”
She also found Sister Veronica to be very much at peace and that peaceful demeanor “drew me right in.”
It was Sister Veronica who invited a high school-aged Phyllis McMurray to have dessert with the Benedictine community one evening and then to St. Mary Monastery in Nauvoo to see the Sisters.
“I saw them in a different way. I was from a close-knit family and their family spirit just stood out,” Sister Phyllis told The Post. “Our community is known for its hospitality and that’s what I saw. It was palpable.”
As a young teacher at St. John’s School in Bradford, Sister Phyllis received a classroom visit from Sister Veronica, then associate superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Peoria. The tables were turned a few years later, when Sister Phyllis was the principal at St. Mary’s Academy in Nauvoo and visited Sister Veronica’s art class.
“She was always as gracious as could be,” Sister Phyllis said. “You would never know that she had once evaluated me. That’s the way she was — a very humble person.”
Sister Phyllis said what she learned from Sister Veronica was to put your all into whatever you were doing. “When she did something she didn’t do it halfway,” Sister Phyllis said with a gentle laugh.
“She had high expectations of people, but at the same time she gave them a lot of encouragement.”
Sister Veronica was 86 when she died on April 25, 2009, at St. Mary Monastery. Among her legacies is the art and environment she created for the monastery chapel.
“ONE OF MY CLOSEST FRIENDS” — SISTER MARY PAUL MAZZARONA, OSF
Sister Mary Paul Mazzorana, OSF, had just received her doctorate in English when Mary Davidson had her as a teacher at the preparatory school for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception in West Peoria.
“I had never encountered a teacher who had that degree of enthusiasm and expertise in her field,” said Davidson, a retired teacher who lives in Boulder, Colo. “I probably had never had someone who had a Ph.D.”
But it was more than her academic accomplishments that made an impression on the future teacher of American and British literature — just like her mentor.
“She made every single second of class time really thrilling, just absolutely thrilling,” Davidson told The Post. “I had no idea I would end up in the field I ended up in, but I cannot describe how powerful it was to have her as a teacher in my life.”
Several years later, when Davidson was teaching at Bradley University in Peoria and Illinois Central College in East Peoria, Sister Mary Paul enrolled in one of her courses in French conversation.
“Your class is just marvelous,” she told Davidson, who replied, “Where do you think I learned those skills?”
As her children grew, Davidson said Sister Mary Paul became a family friend and now ranks as “one of my closest friends for life.” They have kept in touch through letters and “I think she was quite pleased to have a student who went full bore into the (same) field,” Davidson said.
She added that she was impressed by the work Sister Mary Paul did as vice president for her community, also known as the Heading Avenue Franciscans, and as co-administrator of St. Joseph’s Home for the elderly in Peoria.
“I’m amazed that she could take those teaching skills and turn them into geriatric administration,” Davidson said. “I’ve tried to emulate that myself — move my career in different directions when I needed to do so.”
Highly demanding in the classroom, Sister Mary Paul also had a great sense of humor, she recalled.
“No one forgets a good teacher,” according to Davidson. “She’s in my top 1 percent.”
Sister Mary Paul currently lives in Mother of Peace Home, which is located at Immaculate Conception Convent in West Peoria. Sister Mary Ann Mehuys, OSF, administrator, said Sister Mary Paul continues to be in close contact with her sister in Spring Valley and takes part in meals and evening prayer with her Franciscan Sisters as she is able.
“Occasionally her sense of humor reminds us of Sister Mary Paul in her earlier days,” Sister Mary Ann said.