Lunch participants learn about anti-poverty ‘Circles’

February 23, 2012

An anti-poverty initiative that brings together struggling families and community mentors might be a way to help people in Concordia, those attending Thursday’s “working lunch” at the Nazareth Motherhouse learned.

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Jennifer Stull, who works in the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Initiatives office, has been researching the national Circles Campaign, which to date has programs in 62 communities across 23 states. In Kansas, Stull said, there are Circles operating in Newton, Hutchinson and McPherson.

“This idea connects everything we’ve been talking about today,” Stull told the nearly 40 people attending the lunch, which was the 17th session in the Community Needs Forum, a process that started in the fall of 2008. The idea from the very first has been to bring together people from throughout Concordia to identify what participants see as the greatest needs in the community and then work to seek solutions.

From the start poverty has been a major concern. But, noted Sister Jean Rosemarynoski, attempts to tackle the issues surrounding poverty in Concordia have “sputtered” despite continued concern for people living in poverty.

Stull said that the Circles campaign is designed to recruit “people who are tired of living in poverty” and who are willing to “take a very tough look at their lives” in the intensive program. Those people are the Circle Leaders, who are then joined by Circle Allies — volunteers from middle-classes or higher-income families who mentor and support the Leaders as they set goals and work toward them.

Stull said one of the strengths of the Circles design is that while it recognizes the importance of the “safety net” of social services that exists for families living in poverty, the long-term goal is for families to no longer need those services.

Speaking to representatives from social service agencies attending the lunch, she said, “Your services are there to help people facing tough times, and the Circles help them change their lives so the times aren’t as tough.”

Stull said that the Sisters of St. Joseph are researching how the Circles work, especially in Newton, Kan., which has had the program in place for about two years. A contingent of sisters from Concordia plan a trip to Newton in the next week or so to learn more.

Stull said there are still many questions to be answered about how the program works, how participants are recruited and how it’s all funded.

She will present a more detailed report at the next working lunch on May 16.

There were also a variety of updates and announcements at Thursday’s lunch:

  •  Signature sheets for the 2012 Civility Pledge will be circulated beginning today. In each of the past two years, the Concordia Year of Peace Committee has collected signatures on the pledge for “civility in public discourse,” and has then published those signatures in space donated by the Concordia Blade-Empire. The deadline for turning in signatures is March 30, and the signature sheets are also available to download as a PDF. CLICK HERE to go to that site.
  •  On March 12, at 7 p.m., there will be free public presentation titled “Social Hosting 101,” which will look at the law and potential consequences of hosting parties where alcohol is served to underage drinkers. This is the first in a series titled “Alcohol and Drug Information 101,” which will be on the second Monday of each month and will cover a variety of topics about drug and alcohol use and abuse. Jim Kerr, a member of the Cloud County Chemical Dependency Committee that’s sponsoring the series, encouraged parents and young people to come and learn more. The free presentation will be at Cook Theatre at Cloud County Community College.
  •  There are still three plots available in the Concordia Community Garden of Hope, according to coordinator Cecilia Thrash, who works at Manna House of Prayer. The garden is on the northeast corner of the Motherhouse property and plots cost $13 to rent for the entire growing season. Weather permitting, the garden will open this year on March 15, Thrash said. For information or to sign up for a plot, call Manna House at 243-4428.
  •  The county extension office is again encouraging Concordians to take part in Walk Kansas, an eight-week team fitness program that begins March 18. Information is available at the extension office in the Cloud County Courthouse.
  •  The annual Nazareth Motherhouse Spaghetti Dinner is set for Sunday, March 25. Dinner will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., plus there will be prize drawings, live musical entertainment, grab bags, a bake sale and guided tours of the historic building. Tickets in advance are $8 for adults and $4 for children 5 to 12. (Kids 4 and younger eat free.) To reserve your tickets, call or email the sisters’ Development Office: or 243-2113, ext. 1223.
  •  There’s a Cancer Support Group that meets on the third Tuesday of each month at the Motherhouse, and Jane Wahlmeier encouraged those attending the working lunch to spread the word about the group. It’s open to any cancer patients and cancer survivors, their family members and their caregivers. For information on the group, call Wahlmeier at 243-2113, ext. 1101.



Congregation names Leadership Council

February 6, 2012

Sister Marcia Allen

Sister Marcia Allen has been re-elected as president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

She was named to the position Monday as the congregation’s three-day “Senate of Elections” came to an end. The Senate — the Concordia congregation’s highest deliberative body — convenes every four years, and the schedule depends on the agenda. This Senate began in November 2011 with an assembly of all the sisters in the Catholic religious order and then concluded this week with the Leadership Council elections.

Sister Marcia will serve on the Council with six other elected leaders. Five of those six are completing their first terms on the council and were re-elected for another four years.

The new term will begin on July 1.

For Sister Marcia, a native of Plainville, Kan., the 2012-16 term will actually be her fourth stint as president. She was first elected in 1987 and then re-elected in 1991. Under the congregation’s Constitution, there is a limit of two consecutive terms as president. But she was elected again in 2008.

Sister Marcia was received into the congregation in 1959. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Marymount College and a master’s degree from Kansas State University. Later she earned a doctorate in applied ministry from the Graduate Theological Foundation in Mishawaka, Ind.

The other council members re-elected Monday were:

  • Sister Jean Rosemarynoski

    Sister Jean Rosemarynoski, who was elected vice president. She is currently the congregation’s Development Director and has served the last four years on the council. A native of Wichita, Sister Jean was received into the congregation in 1994. She received a bachelor’s degree from Washburn University and master’s degrees from Kansas State University and St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. Prior to her election to the council four years ago, Sister Jean served as communications director for the congregation. Previously she was a special education teacher, served on the Cloud County Resource Council and was a staff member at Manna House of Prayer in Concordia.

    Sister Beth Stover

    Sister Beth Stover, of Beloit, Kan., who has served since 2008 as vice president. She was received into the congregation in 1960. She received a bachelor’s degree from Marymount College and a master’s from St. Louis University. Before being elected to the council in 2008, Sister Beth was program director for the North Central-Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging. Before that she had served as director of laboratory services in hospitals, as administrator of the Nazareth Motherhouse in Concordia and as executive director of Catholic Charities of Salina.

    Sister Anna Marie Broxterman

    Sister Anna Marie Broxterman, of Baileyville, Kan. She has been a Sister of St. Joseph since 1959 and earned a bachelor’s degree from Marymount College and a master’s degree from Regis University in Denver. The longtime vocation director for the congregation until her election to the council four years ago, Sister Anna Marie earlier served as a hospital nurse, as a staff member at Manna House of Prayer in Concordia and as a campus minister.

    Sister Judy Stephens

    Sister Judy Stephens, who is originally from Oakley, Kan. She was  received into the congregation in 1961 and earned a bachelor’s degree from Marymount College and a master’s from the University of Detroit. She served in the Hispanic ministry for the Catholic Charities of Salina before her election to the council in 2008. Previously she had done similar work in Silver City, N.M., and Palomas, Mexico, and was on the staff of Manna House of Prayer in Concordia.

    Sister Mary Jo Thummel

    Sister Mary Jo Thummel, a native of Plainville, Kan. A Sister of St. Joseph since 1959, Sister Mary Jo received a bachelor’s degree from Marymount College and a master’s from Creighton University in Omaha. Before her election to the council in 2008, she was the pastoral associate for St. Francis Xavier Parish in Junction City, Kan. Previously she had served as an elementary school teacher, parish minister and retreat director.

Sister Therese Blecha

The new member of the council is Sister Therese Blecha. Originally from rural Republic County, Kan., she has been a Sister of St. Joseph since 1963. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Marymount College, master’s degrees from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and Kansas State University, and a doctorate in chemical education from Kansas State. She is currently the administration accountant for the Sisters of St. Joseph and also teaches and tutors part time at Cloud County Community College. She has also taught chemistry and science at other colleges and served as general treasurer for the congregation from 1994 to 2008.

Sister Regina Ann Brummel, who has served on the council since 2008, did not seek re-election.


Two weeks in Kansas: A new experience for novices to share

January 24, 2012

Sister Liberata Pellerin, center, can't resist checking on the supper being prepared at Manna House of Prayer Jan. 21 by Sisters Mary Preenika Dabrera, left, and Monique Like Siswoyo.

The differences between Mary Preenika Dabrera and Monique Like Siswoyo are striking.

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Preenika was born in Sri Lanka, the island nation off the southeast tip of India. The youngest of three children, she remained there until she was 18, when she emigrated to the United States. She arrived in New York City and, after learning English, attended college and worked in a variety of customer service jobs. Now a soft-spoken 30-year-old, she is thoughtful as she answers questions about her life.

Monique was born and raised on the island of Java in Indonesia. One of five children, she left her home country in 2003 to study in the Netherlands for a year. Then she came to the United States, landing in Los Angeles, where she worked as a sushi chef, a retail sales woman and as a beautician at Macy’s. Outgoing and chatty, she laughs easily when English trips her up.

But there are also notable similarities. Did we mention that they are Sister Preenika and Sister Monique?

Sister Monique Like Siswoyo

Together they make up the 2011-12 “class” of novices in the Sisters of St. Joseph. And this month they have come to Concordia after life journeys that have taken them literally thousands of miles from where they began.

Their two-week stay with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia is part of their education as novices to understand that the Sisters of St. Joseph extend beyond just their individual congregations.

About a dozen years ago, the U.S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph — a cooperative organization of more than a dozen independent congregations that share a “genealogy” that began in LePuy, France, in 1650 — created the yearlong “novitiate” program, in which novices from all the congregations live and learn together. The idea, according to Sister Anne Davis — one of two federation novice directors and herself a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet who lives in Los Angeles — is to ensure that novices have a foundation in understanding the congregation’s history and mission, and to have a “peer group” of other sisters about their same age and experience. (For a related story CLICK HERE.)

Sister Mary Preenika Dabrera

For Preenika and Monique, that means they have each other to share this journey in religious life.

Preenika (pronounced PREE-ni-ka) recalls meeting Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, N.Y., for the first time about four years ago.

“They helped me to listen to the Holy Spirit and discern God’s call in my life,” she says, explaining what led her to enter the congregation as a postulant in September 2009. For the next year and half, Preenika lived with seven sisters in St. Patrick Convent in Long Island City, N.Y. By then she felt she knew God’s call for her: “I am certain that this how I want to spend rest of my life,” she said. She became a novice in the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood in May 2011, and last August she moved to Chicago to the house near Midway Airport that is the new home of the federation novitiate program.

While the Federation was deciding on a new location, Preenika had to wait to see where she would be going next. “I was dying to go to California,” she admits with a self-conscious laugh, “but I ended up being in Chicago.”

(She is not at all self-conscious about explaining the head scarf she now wears, laughing at the suggestion that it might have cultural significance to her. “It’s just fashion,” she explains lightly. She recently cut her hair very short and the scarf keeps her head warm in the Midwest winter.)

Upon arriving in Chicago, Preenika met fellow novice Monique, who first saw a Sister of St. Joseph of Orange, Calif., in a hospital lobby wearing a business suit. “I was surprised,” Monique recalls. “I never saw a sister wearing regular clothes.”

In fact, at the home in Java, Monique rarely saw sisters at all. There Catholic women religious live monastic lives in convents — and in habits — and do not reach out to the “neighbor” with apostolic works like Sisters of St. Joseph do.

And a life of reaching out to serve God and the people appealed to her; in July 2010, Monique entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange as a postulant. In August 2011, she, too, moved to Chicago to be a part of the federation novitiate program. And the eight-month program includes their two-week stay in Concordia at Manna House of Prayer, where classroom work has focused on Ignatian spirituality, mysticism, centering prayer and the spirit of the Sisters of St. Joseph, among other topics.

But the Concordia sisters planned the schedule to include regular breaks from the classroom. There have been trips to very rural communities, a chance to volunteer at a local women’s center, being part of a packed house for a performance by the U.S. Air Force “Brass in Blue” band, a stint in the communal kitchen to create a supper of Asian cuisine and even a showing of  “The Wizard of Oz.”

“There’s just been a nice rhythm to the days,” said Sister Bernadette Dean, the other federation vocation director and a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph who lives in Nazareth, Mich. “We focus here (in the classroom) and then we are able to go out and experience Kansas.”

And that has been quite an experience for Preenika and Monique, who have always lived in much more urban environments. When asked if she could live someplace like Concordia, Preenika says yes — but first she would have to learn to drive; she has always lived where she can rely solely on public transportation.

When Monique is asked if she could live in a city of 5,000 population, her response is one of surprise: “That many?” she asks before breaking into laughter. “Where are they all?”

She may have a chance to meet a few more Concordians before she and Preenika, along with Sisters Anne and Bernadette, all head back to Chicago. Their novitiate program continues until May, when Monique will go back to Orange, Calif., and Preenika will return to the sisters of Brentwood, N.Y.

Monique will then begin preparation for professing her first vows, and expects that ceremony to be in July. Preenika has another year as a novice but expects to profess her vows in 2013.

They each understand that this is a different journey than that taken by most women in today’s world. But they are also clear that this is a journey that they are called to, and that fits them.

“Everyone asks, ‘Why do you want to be a sister?’” Preenika says. “No matter how I tried to answer it, people are not satisfied with my answers. If I tell them, ‘God loves me so much, so I want to serve God’s people and bring them closer to God,’ they don’t understand it. (But now) I am sharing my life with people who understand me well.”

Or, as Monique explains, “I see God’s people from many different backgrounds and challenge myself for opening my heart to create spaces for them. I love being a part of this inclusive community of God’s great love.”



Georgia woman joins congregation as agrégée candidate

November 23, 2011

On hand for the agrégée reception were, from left, Sister Diane Brin, Sister Helen Mick, new candidate Crystal Payment, Father Bill Hao, Sister Jodi Creten and fellow candidate Dian Hall.

Crystal Payment of Douglasville, Ga., became the newest candidate for Agrégée membership in the Sisters of St. Joseph during a simple ceremony Sunday (Nov. 20).

She is the seventh woman currently in the process to become an agrégée, a form of membership in the congregation that dates back to its founding in 1650 and that was revitalized by the sister in Concordia in 2006.

From left: Crystal's daughter-in-law Patrice, son Andrew, Crystal, granddaughter Megan and daughter Julie.

Crystal was received by Sister Diane Brin of Rome, Ga., representing the Leadership Council of the congregation, as well of her two mentors, Sisters Jodi Creten and Helen Mick of Atlanta. Also on hand was Dian Hall, an agrégée candidate who lives in Cartersville, Ga. The reception took place at All Saints Catholic Church in Dunwoody, Ga.

Crystal’s spiritual director, Father Bill Hao, gave her a special blessing at the end of the service.

The term agrégée — pronounced ah-gre-ZHEY — comes from the French for “attached to” or “aggregated with.” It is a form of membership in the religious congregation that dates back to our founding in 17th-century France, when Sisters of St. Joseph were either canonically vowed “principal sisters” or so-called agrégée or “country” sisters. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia re-established — and revitalized — this form of religious life in 2006. Today there are six women who have professed the vow of fidelity to God and to the congregation as agrégées.

Crystal and the other candidates will spend up to three years studying, both with their mentors and other members of the congregation, and ultimately  deciding if this form of religious life fits them and their spiritual needs.

For more information on the agrégée movement, contact Sister Bette Moslander at 785/243-4428 or

Or, for an archive of all our news about agrégées, CLICK HERE.


Neighbor to Neighbor receives $4,000 from QuiltFest

November 16, 2011

Gerry Pounds of Glasco, right, talks about her idea for a quilt show to benefit Neighbor to Neighbor, during a reception at the center Tuesday evening.

Volunteers and committee members were on hand Tuesday evening (Nov. 15) as the KS 150 QuiltFest Committee gave Neighbor to Neighbor $4,000 that was raised during the first-ever event in October.

Susie Haver of the Cloud County Convention and Tourism office said people from 33 Kansas cities and towns and nine states had visited the QuiltFest exhibits.

Gerry Pounds of Glasco, who came up with the idea of a quilt show to benefit the women’s center in downtown Concordia, presented an oversized check to Sisters Jean Befort, Pat McLennon and Ramona Medina during a simple reception at Neighbor to Neighbor.

The center opened in May 2010 at 103 E. Sixth St. and is operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia for women and women with young children. In addition to the three sisters, its staff includes a growing cadre of volunteers.

There is never any cost to the women taking part; all the programs are offered free, with funding coming from a handful of grants and individual donations. The QuiltFest marked the first time proceeds from an event directly benefited the center.

Gerry Pounds of Glasco presents the oversized $4,000 check Tuesday evening to the Sisters of St. Joseph who operate Neighbor to Neighbor.

Pounds, who is an avid and experienced quilter, wanted to do something to help the center and more than a year ago began recruiting volunteers to put together an event. That group — which ultimately included Susie Haver and Tammy Britt of the Cloud County Convention and Tourism office, Sister Betty Suther of Manna House of Prayer, Linda Houser of Jade Travel, Marsha Doyenne of Fabric Essentials and quilter Bonnie Strait of Jamestown — developed the idea of the two-day QuiltFest held Oct. 7 and 8.

A total of 216 quilted items, including about 180 full-size quilts, were exhibited at the Nazareth Motherhouse and at Living Hope Foursquare Church in Concordia. There were also quilting demonstrations, a vendors’ hall, an evening social and a “quilters’ thrift shop” as part of the event.

The QuiltFest’s featured event was the dinner and quilt auction Saturday evening, where 20 pieces had been donated for sale. Those donating quilts were asked to give at least a portion of the proceeds to Neighbor to Neighbor.

Bidders ultimately anted up more than $6,000 for the items, and took home pieces ranging from a Northcott Flower of the Month tabletopper and a Baby Cat child’s quilt to king-size and antique quilts in an array of designs and colors. The featured item of the evening was a Harley-Davidson quilt made and donated by Sister Betty Suther.

On Tuesday evening, Gerry Pounds said the QuiltFest Committee plans another event in two years, but no date or details have been set.

Sponsors of this year’s event included the Knot-Tea Ladies Quilt Guild of Glasco, Cloud County Convention and Tourism, Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Stained Glass Stitchers of Concordia, Concordia Lutheran Church and Living Hope Foursquare Church.

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