By CECILE SAN AGUSTIN
PASSAIC - Whether it is to serve the poor, educate the young, care for the sick, pray for God's people or spread the Good News, religious sisters were chosen by God to be a witness of his love. In dedication to their service, the diocese held its annual Religious Jubilee Mass at St. Mary Church here May 17.
Jubilarians celebrating anniversaries of 75, 70, 65, 60, 50, 40 and 25 years were in attendance at the Mass, at which Bishop Serratelli presided, with many priests from the diocese as concelebrants.
The music was led by Filippini Sister Patricia Pompa, principal of Villa Walsh Academy in Morristown, and Sister of Christian Charity Mary Edward Spohrer, diocesan chancellor/delegate for religious, whose office coordinated the event.
In his homily the bishop told the religious, "Before the world was created, God chose us in Christ. He determined we should become his adopted sons and daughters through Jesus and he has lavished on us every spiritual blessing."
The bishop recalled the life of St. Paul who once wrote a 220-word run-on sentence about his discovery of Christ's love for all and how his words mirrored his life. "Paul didn't stop, he didn't pause. His life was a continual pouring out without a pause."
Similar to St. Paul's life, religious sisters, according to the bishop, "accepted the call to live in such a way that others truly come to know our dignity. In His call to salvation in Christ Jesus, you have caught something of an enthusiasm in your life. You truly believe that Jesus Christ is the one savior, the one mediator between God and us. And so you give your life to know him, to love him and to serve him with undiluted commitment."
The bishop told the jubilarians, "In your religious communities, you have served without pause, without interruption year after year. Jesus, indeed as he says in the Gospel, has called each of you to be his friends and on the day of your profession, you gave a resounding, 'yes' to his call. A 'yes,' you have repeated every day in your religious life.
"Jesus continues gracing us with a special intimacy of himself because he loves you, yes, but because he loves us and through your consecrated life, he offers before us, a constant witness of his Gospel and the truth of true dignity of himself."
He ended his homily by saying, "So today, we join with you, with your religious communities, with your family and friends, we join and thank God for you in the words of Paul himself, 'Blest be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with you and every spiritual blessing in truth.'"
Following the bishop's homily, those in consecrated life made a renewal of the commitment to their vows of chastity, poverty and obedience through the intercession of the Blessed Mother to continue serving God's people faithfully.
Near the end of Mass, the bishop thanked the religious and expressed the need for their work now more than ever in today's world. He said, "Your witness is extremely important today for the life of the Church and your prayers are absolutely essential for the health of the Church in the modern world. We face many problems today. Many Catholics don't know the faith so we need to teach the faith."
Calling for religious to continue being evangelizers of the faith, the bishop said, "In many ways, religious sisters can do many more things than priests and bishops can do."
He offered two challenges to the religious: to pray and to come before the Blessed Sacrament. The bishop said, "More things are accomplished by prayer than this world imagines. Also, what a great gift we have with Jesus in the Eucharist. It shows how much he longs to be with us and how much we should long to be with him."
Following the Mass, a reception was hosted by St. Mary Parish and Msgr. John Demkovich, pastor, in the parish hall where the religious joined together in fellowship.
At the Mass celebrating 75 years in religious life was Filippini Sister Anna Maiorano. She said, "The day is so beautiful it adds to the joy for today. Many of our sisters who I live with in Villa Walsh are celebrating too."
When asked if she was happy today, Sister Maiorano said, "After 75 years, I should be happy. I wouldn't change one day of it."
Retired from active ministry, Sister Maiorano says it is through her prayer that she continues to serve especially every day during her community's holy hour. Sister Maiorano said, "What I love about religious life is the peacefulness and happiness of all the sisters around you and when you're living with sisters serving God, it makes one family."
For Sister of Christian Charity Pierre Koesters, who is celebrating 70 years in religious life, the occasion was magnificent. "It's wonderful to be here and I have loved every single minute of religious life. It's just great to know you have given all that time to the Lord and the Lord has kept us faithful and that's a big grace."
Sister Koesters, who has served in New York, Pennsylvania and overseas in Argentina and Italy, currently serves in the archives at the Sisters of Christian Charity motherhouse in Mendham. She also volunteers on Tuesdays at diocesan Catholic Charities Straight and Narrow's La Vida day care center.
Also celebrating were Sisters of the Sorrow Mother Diane Marie Duprey and Joan Phillips. Sister Duprey is celebrating her golden anniversary this year and has served as an educator and a counselor. She expressed love for her community and said, "I love the simplicity of the Sisters of Sorrowful Mother and their charism in their hospitality and work for the poor."
Celebrating 60 years, Sister Phillips who has served at St. Mary School in Denville and currently is serving at St. Clare's Hospital in Denville, said, "I feel very happy and blessed that the Lord has blessed me all these wonderful years in religious life and has given me good health."
Salesian Sister Mildred Zanetti, celebrating her 65th anniversary, felt, "very happy to be together with all the other sisters celebrating their jubilees."
For more than 20 years, Sister Zanetti has helped countless students at Mary Help of Christians Academy in North Haledon, receive their driver's license. Her skill in driving is still used today in her community as she runs errands or gets her fellow sisters around town at 88 years old.
"To serve others has been the most important part. My aim when I entered was to do good for others through the Almighty," Sister Zanetti said.
This year's celebration featured four sisters currently serving diocesan elementary school principals as 50-year jubilarians. They are Filippini Sister Marie Antonelli at Holy Spirit School, Pequannock; Presentation Sister Carol Melsopp at St. Peter the Apostle School, Parsippany; Filippini Sister Jo-Ann Pompa at St. Gerard School, Paterson; and Presentation Sister Margaret Murphy at St. Andrew the Apostle School, Clifton.
Sister Murphy, who has been principal at St. Andrew's for 20 years, said, "I can't believe it has been 50 years but when you're having fun, time flies."
She is especially grateful to her religious community for being a support. She said, "My community has brought things out of me that I didn't always know were there and allowed me to do things that maybe I wouldn't have had the opportunity or courage to do."
Sister of Charity Winifred Marie Sagendorf, who celebrates her 60th year in religious life, gave advice on the longevity of commitment to religious life - simply "slow down. Things will catch up with you anyway so just slow down." Sister Sagendorf, who turns 89 next month, is a retired nurse but has stayed close to a healthcare environment, currently volunteering her time at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Paterson.
Dominican Sister Margaret Charles Kociolek, who is marking her 60th year, still serves in parish work at Sacred Heart in Dover. "I visit the homebound, work with RCIA and do clerical work in the parish office there."
Sister Kociolek also worked at the former Pope Pius XII High School in Passaic and in New York. She said, "I think it's wonderful to have served for so long and I keep going as long as God gives me the grace."
At the end of Mass the bishop told the religious that this is a diocesan celebration he is always eager to attend and he again thanked the religious communities for their years of service.