It’s all about connections

August 5, 2021 by

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia has a long history of involvement in western Kansas. But over the years, as Catholic schools closed, health care systems changed and many sisters retired, fewer and fewer active connections to western Kansas remained.

Sisters Philonise Keithley and Denise Schmitz aim to change that as they put down new roots in Hoxie, Kansas, this summer.

They’ll be joining Sisters Bev Carlin and Loretta Clare Flax, both based in Hays, Kansas, in increasing the sisters’ presence in western Kansas.
Both sisters are based out of Manna House of Prayer in Concordia, Kansas, a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

“We’re with Manna House, but we are missioned for western Kansas. We call our apartments at Sheridan Estates ‘Manna House — West,’“ Sister Denise laughed.
For Sister Denise, who had formerly lived and worked for years in the rural community of Norton, Kansas, the move to the Hoxie area was like going home. For Philonise, who spent her life in a large city, it was more of a dramatic change, but she said she couldn’t be happier with their reception.

“Everyone has met us with open arms,” Sister Philonise said. “They are thrilled that we are here.”

While living in a large city Sister Philonise noted that she was surrounded by many more people, but that often you didn’t really even know your neighbors. In Hoxie she’s found that everyone seems to know everyone and they have quickly been made to feel a part of the Hoxie community.

The idea to have more sisters back in rural western Kansas has been an active discussion for months, however the two sisters finally made the move in June. They both live in Sheridan Estates, a one-level residential senior facility owned by Wes and Casey Bainter. The location allows them to be active with the residents in that location, as well as be centrally located to be involved in the Hoxie community.

“Our charism and mission is all about connecting with people. We bring each other closer to God,” Sister Philonise said. “Denise and I are gaining so much out of our time in Hoxie already. It’s enhanced our prayer life.”

While the sisters are still settling in, they are already getting involved in the community and making plans for the future.

“Our mission is our presence,” Sister Philonise said. “It doesn’t matter what job we do to accomplish that mission. We’re ready to help.”

A recent example was a “rhubarb party” in the common room at the residences. The sisters gathered residents together and they chopped and processed rhubarb to share. They’ve also established a prayer service. Sister Denise has been busy baking cookies for the residents and plans to continue making her jellies and jams — in fact she already has connections there for chokecherries and sand plums.

While the sisters are newly transplanted, they are looking forward to spending time with the community and parish members and exploring how to meet their needs.

Sister Denise said they hope to share their energy and enthusiasm and create a deeper connection with the western Kansas community.

In the meantime, the sisters stay connected with the sisters at Manna House thanks to modern technology including Zoom.

“Manna House keeps us grounded,” both Sisters Philonise and Denise agreed. “All the sisters there have contributed to this mission in some way.”

Their living arrangements were selected with the goal of easy access so that other Sisters of St. Joseph would be able to easily come out and assist or visit.

“The sisters are excited. Several have already been out to Hoxie,” Sister Denise said. “We expect many more to come as we get established.”

Sister Philonise said that whenever they discuss their mission in western Kansas with the sisters at the Motherhouse they get excited — especially those sisters that have lived or worked there in the past.

“They are all very interested in us, what we are doing and where we are staying,” Sister Philonise said. “So it’s not just us, we’re all there.”

“We hope to have an open house in September or October and have many of our sisters out to meet the community.”

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