Beloved retired religious continue to inspire; national collection this weekend
In her day, Sister M. Alphonse Husak, DSF, was a force to be reckoned with.
Calm and competent as a nurse, she was often called in the middle of the night to help mothers during labor and delivery or assist with emergencies at St. Francis Hospital in rural Mountain View, Missouri. She spent 45 years there as director of nursing before retiring to the motherhouse of the Daughters of St. Francis of Assisi in Lacon.
Brother George Matsuoka, OSB, has spent much of his 74 years at St. Bede Abbey working with the guest master and in the bakery, housekeeping and print shop. What he is best known for, however, is his smile and outstretched hand as students arrive at St. Bede Academy in Peru each morning and leave at the end of the day.
Now the eldest members of their respective religious communities, Sister Alphonse, 96, and Brother George, 97, may not be as visible as they once were, but their example and love continue to inspire the people with whom they interact and share their lives.
“It’s not what work you’ve done. It’s not your education necessarily. It’s how you lived out your faith and hope and love, and the greatest of these is love,” said Sister M. Michael Fox, DSF, who worked with Sister Alphonse as a young nurse. She sees her mentor daily at St. Joseph Home of Lacon, where Sister Alphonse now resides.
Sister Alphonse and Brother George are two of the people who benefit from the Retirement Fund for Religious. The annual appeal, which was established by the U.S. bishops in 1988, will take place in parishes around the Diocese of Peoria this weekend.
More than $840 million in basic grants and direct care assistance has been given to religious communities in the last 30 years. The National Religious Retirement Office was able to provide $25 million in direct care assistance to 360 religious institutes with funds from the 2017 collection alone, including $117,560 donated by people in the Diocese of Peoria.
“We are just so very grateful for any support for our elderly Sisters because of what they gave, which was their whole life,” said Sister Michael. “They need so little. It’s not that they need anything materially. They just need care and that’s what they receive, with dignity.”
PRAYER IS VITAL
Born Nov. 25, 1922, in Sebechleby, Slovakia, Katherina Husak entered the Congregation of the Daughters of St. Francis of Assisi in Prievoz, Bratislava, when she was 17. She received the Franciscan habit on Aug. 15, 1942, and took her first vows two years later.
As a young professed Sister she served as a nurse assistant with her community at Zilina State Hospital.
When the mother general came to the convent and said she was looking for some Sisters to travel to the United States to establish a province there, Sister Alphonse raised her hand. “Come on, let’s go,” she said to Sister Ludmilla Roman, and they became part of the pioneering group of 15 that settled in central Illinois.
The monks at St. Bede Abbey in Peru welcomed them and the women religious worked there as they learned English and prepared to build their motherhouse and nursing home in Lacon. Sister Alphonse professed her perpetual vows while at St. Bede in 1947.
After completing three years of nurses’ training, Sister Alphonse passed her state boards for licensure on the first attempt, according to Sister Michael, and then went to minister at St. Francis Hospital in Mountain View.
Her long nights assisting mothers and babies and handling emergencies never took her back to bed, but to the chapel, Sister Michael remembers.
“She never sought attention or thanks. She was selfless,” Sister Michael told The Catholic Post. “She gave everything to God, his work, never neglecting her spiritual duties.”
That is why Sister Alphonse has impacted those around her, Sister Michael said.
“She lived a deep prayer life and still does today. She is remembered being in prayer in adoration for ample hours. Her prayerfulness is bearing fruit today,” according to Sister Michael.
Even now, Sister Alphonse makes the chapel her first stop of the day and returns often.
“If she is ever ‘lost’ the staff knows where to find her,” Sister Michael explained. “It is vital for her to pray.”
Due to memory loss she has forgotten how to read her office book and no longer uses her rosary, but “prays with her being. She is just there, attentive, quiet, still focused on our Lord.”
Sister Michael acknowledges that one might be tempted to fight back, but said Sister Alphonse is going through the aging process with acceptance and trust in God, knowing that he is still guiding her.
A SIMPLE HANDSHAKE
Brother George was born in Chicago on Aug. 27, 1921, and professed his vows on May 17, 1944. He has retired, but can still be seen around the school.
Father Ronald Margherio, OSB, chaplain at St. Bede Academy, said that even though Brother George isn’t at the entrance to greet students every day, the community came up with a unique way to make sure his presence is still felt.
A bronze statue of the diminutive monk with his right hand extended was commissioned with funds raised by John and Karen Duncan, Gary and Lana Peterlin, and Frank and Fran Zeller. It was sculpted by artist and St. Bede alumnus Larry Johnson and dedicated as part of homecoming activities in September.
“I think what makes him memorable is that he would smile and talk to all of them,” Father Ronald told The Post. “Even though they might have one of the monks in class, there’s not as many as there used to be. So he was the one-on-one contact with the kids and the local community.”
“Having him here reminds you that St. Bede is a family and there’s always someone there for you to talk to,” St. Bede senior Kate Plankenhorn said of Brother George.
Malcolm Roebuck, also a senior, said his interactions with Brother George taught him that something as simple as a handshake can change someone’s day for the better.
“I’ve learned that it is important to greet everyone you see with a smile and make them feel welcome,” according to senior Ben Gensler.
“It brightens my day seeing him around,” senior Naomi Ochuba said of Brother George. “It’s kind of nice when we’re in the cafeteria and he pops up out of nowhere. It’s a good comforting feeling.”