July 12, 2011 by Sarah Jenkins
Sister Marcia Allen writes about summertime — and it’s a busy one for the Sisters of St. Joseph. Discover Camp, a fact-finding visit to El Paso, two new sisters and the annual celebration of jubilarians, all packed into 16 pages. Check out all of those plus our regular features, including our calendar of upcoming events. The downloadable PDF is created in two-page spreads so you can see the Discover Camp photos and the color photos of the jubilarians exactly as they appeared in print.
CLICK HERE to download the entire issue.
June 28, 2011 by Sarah Jenkins
In December 2009, Sister Jeanette Wasinger — then working as a spiritual director for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, Calif. — was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer that had spread to the liver. She decided against aggressive treatment that might prolong her life, and her doctor thought she might survive until Easter — so she came home to Concordia to die. A year and a half later, she is still very much alive, and very much changed by that “gift” she received in the doctor’s office.
On June 28, 2011, Sister Jeanette spoke to the Sisters of St. Joseph gathered at the Nazareth Motherhouse about her journey. Although, as she says, she talks about death every day, this was the first time she spoke to a group about what her diagnosis has meant in her life.
Below are three mp3 files, numbered 1, 2 and 3, and each about 8 minutes long. To listen to Sister Jeanette’s entire presentation, just listen to them in order.
June 20, 2011 by Sarah Jenkins
As Dr. Danette Toone nears her first anniversary as president of Cloud County Community College, she is clearly proud of both the college and the community she’s become a part of. She’s also convinced that she has the background, the energy and the enthusiasm to tackle any challenges that lie ahead.
She brought that conviction to her presentation Monday evening as part of the 2011 Concordia Speakers Series at the Nazareth Motherhouse.
Toone was raised in Brookville, Kan., just southwest of Salina. After her father was killed in a car wreck when she was 8, her mother — then in her 30s — went back to school at Marymount College and graduated with a degree in social work. “I saw a strong woman raising three children without state aid,” she told her audience. And she would return to her mother’s story throughout her talk as she emphasized the importance of access to education for even the most “non-traditional” students.
Her own path to a college presidency has been similarly non-traditional, she said.
Instead of following what she called “the normal pathway to a presidency” — through instruction, as a faculty member and then dean and then vice president — Toone “came up through economic development.”
Before taking over at Cloud on July 1, 2010, she was vice president of academic and community initiatives at Temple (Texas) College, where she has been since 1998. She received bachelor’s degrees in finance and economics from Washburn University and a master’s degree in finance/management from the University of Texas at Odessa. She received a doctorate of education administration and community college leadership from the University of Texas at Austin in 2009.
“A community college is a critical piece of economic development,” she said. “I’m not sure most people think of it that way.”
She noted that Cloud, with campuses in Concordia and Junction City, has about 150 full-time faculty and staff members. There are another 175 part-time faculty and staff working on one of the campuses or at the 39 high schools served by Cloud, she said.
“They pay taxes, they buy groceries,” she noted. “That’s economic development.”
Added to that is the money spent by students while attending school at the Cloud County and Geary County campuses. One solid number she cited was roughly $2 million a year in purchases by students shopping at the Concordia Walmart.
“If you think a community college is not important, think what Concordia would be like without it,” she said.
But while she said Cloud does an “amazing job of getting students here,” that’s not enough. “It’s not just about opening the door; we also have to ensure our students are successful.”
She noted that about 70 percent of incoming Cloud students have “deficiencies” in at least one area of reading, writing or math, and they require extra attention to succeed. That means more focus on individual learning plans and “developmental” or remedial classes, particularly in reading.
“The old ‘vo-tech’ model doesn’t exist anymore,” Toone said. “This is a high-tech world, and even the burger-flippers at McDonald’s have to read and use computers.”
The mission of a community college, she said, is to “provide the scaffolding” from where a student is today to where he or she needs to be for success in life.
She cited a recent analysis by Georgetown University that estimates 482,000 new jobs will be created in Kansas by 2018 — and 75 percent of those will require some sort of post-secondary education. “Figuring in the jobs that already exist,” she added, “by 2018, 64 percent will require post-secondary education” of some type.
One example of the kinds of new jobs that will exist, she said, is wind energy, where Cloud has been a leader with its associate of science degree. The program was recognized earlier this spring as one of seven in the country to receive the American Wind Energy Association Seal of Approval.
Toone gave the fifth of eight scheduled presentations in the 2011 Concordia Speakers Series. The free public talks were an outgrowth of the Community Needs Forums that were held throughout 2009 and 2010 and hosted by the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Upcoming speakers in the series include Cloud County Convention and Tourism co-directors Susie Haver and Tammy Britt on July 18 and Concordia City Manager Larry Uri on Sept. 26.
June 18, 2011 by Sarah Jenkins
Friday was a full day for Discover Campers at the Nazareth Motherhouse, but what camp would be complete without a cookout?
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So the campers and sisters from throughout Concordia gathered on the lawn for an evening of games, conversation, hot dogs, hamburgers, s’mores, team cheers — and a spirited standoff with water balloons.
But even after all the outdoors fun, their day was not done yet. The campers ended the evening with a movie and more discussion before heading to bed to be rested for another full day on Saturday.
For photos from earlier in the day Friday, CLICK HERE.
June 11, 2011 by Sarah Jenkins
Music and storytelling were the orders of the day Saturday as descendants of Orphan Train riders and other visitors came to the Nazareth Motherhouse as part of the Ninth Annual Orphan Train Reunion in Concordia.
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The reunion began Friday morning, with most events at the Morgan-Dowell Research Center, which is part of the National Orphan Train Complex and Museum in Concordia. But late Saturday morning the program shifted to the Motherhouse, with the Sisters of St. Joseph as the hosts. The morning program of “Riders Stories” was followed by lunch and then a special presentation of “Riders on the Orphan Train.”
The presentation combines music with photographs, audio and video, and was created by Alison Moore and Phil Lancaster, both of Austin, Texas. Moore, an author and musician, included a reading from her upcoming novel about the Orphan Train as part of the program.
Before the program began, two descendants of Orphan Train riders shared short stories. Judye Ruffo of Lincoln, Neb., talked about her mother, Ann Harrison, who at 102 was not able to come to Concordia for the reunion. Harold Dupre of Opelousas, La., told the story of his father, who was one of about 100 orphans who were sent to Louisiana in 1907.
Between 1854 and 1929 an estimated 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children were placed out during, what is known today as, the Orphan Train Movement. The name is derived from the children’s situations, though they were not all orphans, and the mode of transportation used to move them across 47 states and Canada.
When the orphan train movement began, it was estimated that 30,000 abandoned children were living on the streets of New York City.
The National Orphan Train Museum is housed in a renovated 1917 Union Pacific depot located just a couple of blocks north of downtown Concordia. To learn more, CLICK HERE.
To learn more about “Riders on the Orphan Train” by Alison Moore and Phil Lancaster, CLICK HERE.
June 7, 2011 by Sarah Jenkins
HAYS, Kan. — Don’t mistake this unassuming patch of earth on Ash Street for so many other unloved neighborhood lots. This small patch — roughly the size of a smallish bedroom — has been tilled, composted, fenced, planted and now watered with tender loving care. And the fruits of its harvest will benefit the Parish Food Pantry of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.
When Sister Janet LeDuc, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, moved into the Ash Street house last summer, she almost immediately realized that its yard would be the perfect place for a small community garden.
So in early March she mailed a letter to parishioners asking for their help. Donations of time and materials came in from both individuals and groups: The St. Joseph Knights of Columbus put up the simple 4-foot fence, Northwestern Printers donated a waterproof sign and others showed up to till, then re-till and add compost and new soil. Just after Easter Father Gilmary Tallman and Sister Janet gathered with several of the volunteers for a blessing of Saint Joseph’s Garden. And not long after that, Alton Ashmore arrived, tomato plants in hand.
Providing fresh produce to the Parish Food Pantry is just half the mission of the small garden, Sister Janet said. Her other hope is that the project builds a community of people interested in gardening as well as local self-sufficiency, sustainability and service to their neighbors.
June 7, 2011 by Sarah Jenkins
June 5, 2011 by Sarah Jenkins
With a special Mass, music and memories, 15 Sisters of St. Joseph celebrated their 850 years of love and service in Jubilee celebrations Sunday.
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The day began with Ascension Sunday Mass, celebrated by Father Jack Schlaf, in the Sacred Heart Chapel at the Nazareth Motherhouse. But the focus was on the 15 women celebrating the anniversary of the date they were received into the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.
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FOR PHOTOS FROM THE JUBILEE MASS, CLICK HERE.
AND FOR EVEN MORE PHOTOS FROM THE DAY, ALL BY DOTTIE MOSS, CLICK HERE.
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The annual jubilee celebration is timed to coincide with the congregation’s June Assembly, so as many Sisters of St. Joseph as possible are in Concordia to take part.
The “matriarch” of the 2011 jubilarians is Sister Margaret Ann Buser, who celebrates her 75th anniversary, while Sister Pat Eichner was the youngest julibarian as she celebrates her 25th anniversary.
After a gala dinner with family and friends at the Nazareth Motherhouse, the Jubilarians were honored with a special program that featured a “singalong” with songs from each of their reception dates as well as news headlines and congregational highlights from those years.
The Jubilarians honored Sunday were:
Sister Margaret Ann Buser, who was born in Halstead, Kan., and was received into the congregation on March 19, 1936. Sister Margaret Ann was a teacher for many years in towns throughout Kansas, and in Silver City, N.M., and Grand Island Nebraska. She also worked for 11 years with the Marriage Tribunal for the Grand Island Diocese and then another decade with the Stephen Ministry there. She came to live at the Motherhouse in 2004.
Sister Rose Moos, who was born in Hays and received on March 19, 1941 (70 years ago). She taught at schools in Kansas, New Mexico and Nebraska from 1945 through 1971. She then served as a school librarian in Leawood and Salina, Kan., before moving to Wakeeny, where she was the religious education coordinator and was served as a senior companion. In 1994, she returned to Concordia to serve for three years as the assistant to the administrator of St. Mary’s Convent, before moving to the Motherhouse in 1997 where she continues to serve sisters as a seamstress.
Sister Marquita Murguia, who was born in El Paso, Texas, and received on March 19, 1941 (70 years ago). She was a teacher from 1943 through 1972, serving at schools in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. Then she returned to El Paso as an art teacher at St. Joseph’s Hospital there. Since 1988, she has been artist in residence in the El Paso Diocese, working in a variety of mediums, including encaustic paintings, acrylics, sculpture and jewelry.
Sister Cecilia Green, who was born in Herndon, Kan., and received into the congregation on March 19, 1951 (60 years ago). She was a teacher from 1954 to 1975 at schools throughout Kansas and then spent a year in parish ministry for several small Kansas towns. In 1977, she retuned to the Motherhouse where she continues to serve today as sacristan and as a driver, mail carrier, maintenance worker and gardener who is also responsible for decorating for special events and holidays.
Sister Rosalyn Juenemann, who was born in Leoville, Kan., and received into the congregation on March 19, 1951 (60 years ago). She taught school from 1953 to 1973 in Chicago and a number of Kansas schools. From 1973 to 1987 she served in parish ministry in Glenwood Springs, Colo., and then in Greenleaf and Clay Center, Kan. Sister Rosalyn returned to the Motherhouse in 1987 as coordinator of sisters’ services, and then was elected to the congregation’s Executive Council. She was later a pastoral associate or parish minister in Colby, Junction City and Chapman, Kan. Since 2006, she has lived and served in Plainville, Kan.
Sister Geraldine “Gerry” Milke, who was born in Hays and received into the congregation on Aug. 15, 1951 (60 years ago). During her long career in nursing, Sister Geraldine served in hospitals in Salina, Atwood and Manhattan, Kan., Belvidere, Ill., and Grand Island, Neb. In 1996 she returned to Concordia as a nurse at St. Mary’s Convent and the Nazareth Motherhouse. She retired from nursing in 2008, but continues to serve sisters as a part-time Motherhouse receptionist.
Sister Francis Margaret Otter, who was born in Clayton, Kan., and received into the congregation on Aug. 15, 1951 (60 years ago). From 1953 to 1995, she taught first grade and primary grades in Chicago; Concordia, Manhattan, Junction City, Herndon, Oakley and Plainville, Kan.; and El Paso, Texas; and was responsible for starting Montessori kindergartens in Leawood and Salina, Kan. After retiring from teaching, Sister Francis Margaret was the religious education coordinator in Plainville, Kan., until 2004. Then she came to the Motherhouse, continuing to serve in a wide variety of ways: giving tours, leading the Rosary and Litany, distributing mail, preparing food trays for sisters, helping with recycling and handcrafting items for the Nazareth Gift Shop.
Sister Anne Martin Reinert, who was born in Seguin, Kan., and received into the congregation on March 19, 1951 (60 years ago). She served as a nurse in hospitals in Manhattan, Kan., El Paso and Concordia from 1952 to 1983. Then she moved to Junction City, Kan., where she served as a nurse at the hospital and at St. Clare House for Women and Children until 2002. Sister Anne Martin then returned to Concordia as a nurse at the Motherhouse for several more years. In 2008, she began her current mission as community life coordinator for the sisters who live at Mt. Joseph Senior Village in Concordia.
Sister Leah Smith, who was born in Junction City, Kan., and received into the congregation on March 19, 1951 (60 years ago). She taught school from 1953 to 1974 in Salina; Chicago; Silver City, N.M.; Gladstone and Lake Linden, Mich.; and Grand Island, Neb. Then she returned to Concordia where she served as receptionist at the Motherhouse for six years. Beginning in 1980, Sister Leah’s primary service has been as an artist and craftswoman working from her home in Concordia.
Sister Carmella “Carm” Thibault, who was born in Damar, Kan., and was received on Aug. 15, 1961 (50 years ago). She served in the Registrar’s Office at Marymount College from 1962 to 1969 and then taught school in Leawood, Kan., and Fairbury, Neb., for 11 years. In 1981, she returned to Concordia to assume a variety of vocational duties for the congregation and then served as a staff member at Manna House of Prayer until 1995. Sister Carm then served for eight years on the congregation’s Executive Council and as a regional coordinator. In 2004 she moved to Salina as a pastoral minister at Sacred Heart Cathedral, and she continues that service today.
Sister Janis Wagner, who was born in Walker, Kan., and was received on Aug. 15, 1961 (50 years ago). She was a music teacher from 1963 to 1968 in St. George, Ill., and Park, Kan., and then served as the area religion coordinator for a number of northwestern and western Kansas parishes. In 1971 she moved to Salina and served in the religious education office of the Diocese, and then in 1973 went to Manhattan, Kan., as religious education coordinator and music teacher. She served in a team ministry for several small Kansas parishes from 1975 to 1977, and then spent a year as a campus minister and organ instructor at Marymount College and a year serving in the Office of Worship for the Diocese. In 1989, Sister Janis became pastoral associate and music director for the St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Salina and remained there until taking on the same duties in Manhattan and Ogden, Kan., in 1994. From 2005 to 2007, she returned to the Motherhouse as liturgy coordinator, and then served as pastoral associate and music minister in Clay Center, Kan., from 2007 to 2009. In late 2009 she returned to the Motherhouse, again as liturgy coordinator.
Sister Jodi Creten, who was born in Escanaba, Mich., and was received on Aug. 15, 1961 (50 years ago). She was a teacher in Silver City, N.M., Chicago and Boonville, Mo., from 1963 to 1980. She then returned to the Motherhouse, first to assist with renovation projects and then to serve as director of Stafford Hall from 1984 to 1987. In 1989 she was named resident services coordinator at St. Thomas Manor in Eastpoint, Ga., and a year later began providing elder care. Since 2001, Sister Jodi has served as a caregiver with Home Instead Senior Care in Atlanta, where she lives.
Sister Judy Stephens, who was born in Denver and was received on Aug. 15, 1961 (50 years ago).. She taught primary grades in Chicago and Silver City, N.M., from 1963 to 1968, and then served in a religious education cooperative program in Clyde, Clifton, Clara, Morrowville and Washington, Kan., until 1973. After that came two years on the initial development team and as a part-time admissions counselor at Marymount College. Then Sister Judy moved to New Mexico, where she served as a youth minister in Bayard, Central and Hurley from 1975 to 1979. She spent the next four years as a pastoral minister in Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico, before returning to Concordia and Manna House of Prayer in 1983. There she worked with Central American refugees in the Sanctuary program, and then in 1990 and 1991 she served with the Guatemalan Education Center, Salina. From there, Sister Judy moved to a farm in Tescott, Kan., where from 1991 to 1999 she began a new ministry in ecology/preserving the land and growing organic food. From 1991 on, she also served as a medical interpreter with Catholic Charities of Salina. Then, in 2008, Sister Judy was elected to the congregation’s Leadership Council and she moved back to Concordia for those duties.
Sister Marilyn Wall, who was born in Aurora, Ill., and was received on Aug. 15, 1961 (50 years ago). She was a schoolteacher in Fairbury, Neb., Manhattan and Salina from 1965 to 1969, and then taught biology at Marymount College until 1975. In 1977, she became a social worker at St. Hospital in Concordia and remained there until 1981 when she was named a spiritual director and associate retreats director at Manna House of Prayer. In 1987 Sister Marilyn was elected to the congregational Executive Council, and served in that role for four years. Then, from 1991 to 1994, she served in parish ministry in Salina and with the Office of Laity for the Salina Diocese. Her parish ministry continued in Oberlin, Selden and Leoville, Kan, where she served from 1994 to 2002. Then she moved to Washington, Kan., and continued parish ministry there and in Morrowville, Hanover and Greenleaf, Kan., until 2009. She now lives in Wilson, Kan., and serves as a pastoral associate there and in Dorrance and Holyrood, Kan.
Sister Pat Eichner, who was born in Ogallala, Neb., and was received into the congregation Sept. 7, 1986 (25 years ago). After serving as a youth minister in Salina from 1991 to 1993 and in North Platte, Neb., from 1993 to 1999, Sister Pat went to Gothenburg, Neb., where she served as pastoral minister from 1999 to 2006. Then she came to Concordia where she serves as finance officer for the congregation.
June 2, 2011 by Sarah Jenkins
Two women who couldn’t seem more different spoke with one voice Thursday afternoon when they became the newest Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kan.
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In a Mass at the sisters’ Nazareth Motherhouse, Jan McCormick of Chapman, Kan., and Sharon Hayes of Kansas City, Mo., professed their vows as agrégées – a new form of membership in the 128-year-old congregation of Catholic women.
The 57-year-old McCormick graduated from Chapman High School and immediately went to work. But after nearly a decade, she enrolled at Cloud County Community College in Concordia and eventually graduated from Marymount College in Salina with a bachelor’s degree in psychology with an emphasis on chemical dependency. During her two years in school in Concordia, she met several Sisters of St. Joseph. But it was at Marymount — then operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia — where she really connected with them, she said. And when she went to work at St. John’s Hospital in Salina — then also operated by the sisters — she came to know even more about them.
By 1999, McCormick had moved back to Chapman and there she met Sister Carolyn Juenemann who was starting a CSJ Associates program. “I joined it, and it was life-giving and there was a real connectedness,” McCormick recalls.
She went to work in the Army’s substance abuse program where she is now a risk reduction analyst, yet her real passion was her deepening commitment to her CSJ Associates group.
Meanwhile, Sharon Hayes had only a passing knowledge of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.
Hayes, 65, had felt called to religious life very early. Born and raised in Denver, she joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. (The two congregations, along with nearly 20 others in the U.S. and Canada, share a history but are today separate and autonomous.)
Just out of high school, Hayes joined the Carondelet sisters and then attended Fontbonne University in St. Louis and then Avilla College in Kansas City, with majors in nursing and minors in psychology and theology. She went on to the University of Arizona to earn a master’s in science in physiology and nursing.
Then, after seven years as a Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, she made the decision to leave the congregation.
“For Catholics, the 1970s were crazy,” she says now. “The Church was modernizing but that meant tremendous upheaval in religious life. I left to search…”
It also meant a career in nursing, with ever increasing responsibilities, and a life in the Kansas City area.
And while no longer a member of the Carondelet sisters, “I stayed very close to members of that community for all those years,” Hayes says. “In some ways, I was always part of them, and they were always part of me. I didn’t know the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kan., but the broader Sisters of St. Joseph connection went back to when I was about 6.”
Unbeknownst to Hayes, the Concordia sisters had come up with something that would make that connection even stronger.
Over several decades, the Sisters of St. Joseph who shared roots in the original 17th-century French congregation — which includes both Concordia and Carondelet — had been studying their early history. In Concordia in about 2005, there was particular interest in a form of membership called “agrégées,” a French word that means attached to.
An agrégée — pronounced ah-greh-ZHEY — was a woman who undertook the same work and mission as the original Sisters of St. Joseph in LePuy, France, but for various circumstances could not take the traditional three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Instead, she made a single vow to be faithful to the congregation and to God.
After deep study, the Concordia sisters introduced agrégée membership and accepted the first candidate in 2006. Sister Rosabel Flax of Ness City, Kan., became the first professed agrégée in 2008, and three others soon followed.
Several of the Concordia sisters talked with Jan McCormick about agrégée membership, “but I didn’t know if I wanted to give up my Associates group,” she says with a laugh.
Ultimately, McCormick decided to become an agrégée candidate, to see if she was called toward religious life. But she remained unsure — until the fall of 2010.
McCormick had spent a couple of years as the driving force in organizing the St. Joseph Orphanage Reunion that was held last October in Abilene, and at the end of an exhausting and exhilarating day at St. Andrew’s Church, she finally knew the direction she needed to take. “That was the turning point,” she says. “I knew then that these were the women I wanted to be part of.”
About the same time McCormick had starting planning that orphans’ reunion, Hayes was attending a retreat with the Carondelet sisters in St. Louis. It was December 2008 and Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Concordia sisters and one of the “pioneers” in creating the agrégée form of membership, was giving a presentation on two programs offered at Manna House of Prayer in Concordia. Both of those programs focus on the history and original mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph — and both explain agrégée membership in depth.
Hayes signed up for the spring program on the spot. “I’d never heard of the word ‘agrégée’ before, but I loved what I heard. It was consistent with how I lived my life,” says the retired nurse who now volunteers as a medical advocate.
On Jan. 1, 2010, Hayes became an agrégée candidate.
As candidates, each has a mentor for study and prayer. They have also worked with Sisters Better Moslander and Marcia Allen, who were principally responsible for designing the agrégée orientation program.
And McCormick and Hayes worked together to plan a vow ceremony that fit both of them.
“When Sharon and I first started talking about it, we knew we wanted it to be simple,” McCormick said on the day before the ceremony. “We wanted a weekday Mass without much hoopla.”
“We’ve done what we’ve done our whole lives without ‘credentials,’” Hayes added. “I’d rather walk the walk louder than I talk the talk.”
That, says Moslander, reflects the true origins of the agrégées, as well as the potential for the newest members of the Sisters of St. Joseph. “It’s a different kid of religious life for 21st century Catholic women,” she said. “We and the people they serve are truly blessed.”
With Hayes’ and McCormick’s professions Thursday, there are now six agrégées and five candidates among the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.
To learn more about the agrégée program, CLICK HERE for more information.
June 1, 2011 by Sarah Jenkins
Twenty-year-old Cindy Ponce has only one complaint after living among the Sisters of St. Joseph at Manna House of Prayer in Concordia for five months.
“There’s no one my age,” says the Belize native who’s studying business at Cloud County Community College. “I would like to have friends here to hang out with.”
It’s a mild complaint, one very much overshadowed Ponce says by all the good things about living at Manna House, but still one the sisters there have taken to heart. And it explains, in part, the creation of a new program to begin late this summer.
The sisters and staff at Manna House are turning one wing of their landmark building at East Fifth and Olive streets into St. Joseph Scholar House, a residence hall for women students from the local college.
“Cindy was living with us, and we were thinking about ‘community’ for her,” explains Sister Julie Christensen, at 29 the youngest member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia and one of the women who live at Manna House. “This just felt like something we could do.”
Sister Julie’s “this” is a program that focuses on education, service, leadership and “being your best person,” she says. At the same time, it gives young women students of all faiths — many, like Ponce, away from home for the first time — a chance to grow and learn about themselves without many of the distractions prevalent in dorm life on campus.
When the opportunity to attend Cloud arose, Ponce was living with her parents and three siblings and attending Sacred Heart Junior College in San Ignacio, Belize, a tiny country tucked below Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula with Guatemala to its east and the Caribbean on its west.
She had gotten to know Christa Schmidt, a young woman from Axtell, Kan., who was working in Belize, and then met Christa’s parents, Giles and Roxie Schmidt. The elder Schmidts sponsored Ponce to come to the United States to attend Cloud, where their younger daughter Abby is also a student.
But living in the dorm at Cloud was too expensive, so the Schmidts worked out an arrangement with Manna House: Ponce has been there since January, and helps with chores and other shared tasks.
The cultural adjustment was not that difficult, Ponce says. Belize is the only Central American country that has English as its official language, so that was not a barrier for her. And she comes from a big family — another three siblings had already left home — so she was used to sharing her quarters.
She was also familiar with Catholic sisters. As a Catholic herself, she says, “I knew some sisters (in Belize) and I thought they’d be like that.” But she recognizes that some people may still harbor stereotypes about women religious. She says some of the other young women she’s met while at Cloud may be hesitant about even coming to visit her at Manna House, “but I tell them, ‘They are way more different than what you think!’”
Ponce says it took her just a couple of weeks to get over feeling like a “guest” of the sisters. “It didn’t take long for me to adapt to being here,” she recalls. “I just told myself this is home.”
And as she got more comfortable, she got to know the Manna House sisters and staff better. “I guess I didn’t expect them to be so funny, so caring and so loving,” she says now. “Yet I always have my own space. Whenever I want to do something on my own, there’s always a place for it.”
That’s the kind of experience the sisters hope other young women will have as residents of St. Joseph Scholar House.
There are rules — maintaining a grade-point-average of 3.3 or higher, sharing some chores (including cooking and kitchen duty), making a commitment to community service, as examples — but there are also the benefits of always having a quiet place to study, of being a part of a small community of women who care deeply about each other and of sharing a college experience with fellow students who are equally interested in their education and their place in the world.
There is also a benefit of cost: The fee for St. Joseph Scholar House is $1,800 a semester, compared to $2,150 for the least expensive dorm package at Cloud.
“We have so often worked with people in mid-life and older,” says Sister Betty Suther, administrator of Manna House. “This shifts us to younger people and allows us to share what we have with them.”
For Cindy Ponce, it seems to be working. She decided to take a break from classes this summer and is staying on as a volunteer at Manna until school begins again in August. She helps with meals — including making her favorite Belizean dish, rice and beans with chicken — plus working in the garden at the Nazareth Motherhouse, weeding the flower beds that surround Manna House and doing whatever other tasks the sisters need.
She has another two semesters at Cloud before she decides whether she’ll continue at a four-year school or return to Belize to begin a career.
Until then, Manna House is home. “Sister Betty met me when I first got here and welcomed me; she told me to make myself comfortable,” Ponce recalls with a laugh. “I am still welcomed and still comfortable.”
To learn more about St. Joseph Scholar House, go to www.mannahouse.org or call Sister Julie Christensen at 785/243-4428.
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