By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
INDEPENDENCE — The Feast of the Nativity of Mary, Sept. 8, was a most appropriate day to celebrate the 780 years of combined service offered to the church by 15 women religious.
It became all the more poignant that morning when the host community, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist, witnessed the passing of one of their own into eternal life.
Franciscan Sister Mary Celine Engeman was honored four years ago at this very event as she celebrated 60 years of consecrated life, selflessly committed to Jesus and his people.
Although her death came after years of failing health and was not unexpected, her community still set aside that mixture of grief over losing a beloved sister and celebration for a life lived splendidly in order to welcome the sisters and their guests celebrating significant jubilees, as well as Bishop Robert W. Finn who came to celebrate with them.
“They have taught in our schools, worked in hospitals and homes caring for the sick and dying, advocated for the poor, bringing the Gospel message of hope to us all,” Bishop Finn said in his homily during the jubilee Mass.
“The message of healing and grace has become a special commission to some of our religious communities. And clearly, it is a daily part of all your lives,” he said.
Sister Mary Celine, 81, first came in contact with the Franciscan community that would become her own while a child attending St. Francis Academy in Nevada.
Entering the community in 1949, she taught for 40 years at several schools in the former Diocese of Kansas City and the later Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. They were St. Mary’s in Nevada, Immaculate Conception in Lexington, St. Martin’s in Martinsville, St. Mary’s in Higginsville, Sacred Heart in Warrensburg, St. Mary’s in Montrose, Holy Rosary in Clinton, Our Lady of the Snows in Mary’s Home, St. John LaLande in Blue Springs, and St. Ann’s in Independence.
In retirement she continued to serve in prayer as an artist, rosary maker and evangelizer.
Bishop Finn noted that the jubilarians, eight of 15 who attended that Mass, also reflected that same selfless service.
“The work and charity of religious sisters — today and in every generation — has never been in question,” he said.
“It has and remains a powerful witness to the Gospel which continues to be needed,” the bishop said.
“Day after day, our consecrated brothers and sisters have prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for the sake of the whole world,” he said. “They have spent countless hours in prayer before our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and offered themselves as a living oblation for the salvation of our souls.
“The supernatural chronicle of your self-offering — known fully only to God — surpasses infinitely even the amazing tally of your years of service,” Bishop Finn said. “Thanks be to God, dear jubiliarians. May he bless you with the grace of more years and, one day, life on high with him for all eternity.”
Those honored at the special Jubilee Mass were:
70 years: Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration Bertilla Seiffert and Priscilla Trost.
60 years: Little Sister of the Poor Emmanuel Joseph Donahue, Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Marian Niemann, and Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration Paula Thompson and Matthias Igoe.
50 years: Little Sister of the Poor Beatrice Mary Scully, Sister in Jesus the Lord Mother Julia Mary Kubista, Benedictine Sister of Mount St. Scholastica Barbara McCracken, Sister of St. Francis (Savannah) Kathleen Reichert, and Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet Elain Margaret Bresand, Patricia Clune, and Rose McLarney.
25 years: Loretto Sister Cathy Smith and Congregation of Mary Queen Sister Pauline Nguyen.
“The life our religious have chose is a joyful embrace of service and holiness that helps them see, not only God, but God in their brothers and sisters,” Bishop Finn said.
“You live a life of prayer. Daily you are called to contemplate the face of Christ. He is the fountain of life that gives meaning to everything you do,” the bishop said.
“This holiness is learned and fostered in the life of community,” he said.
“Your commitement to your authentic identity is a sacred trust which everyone must see,” Bishop Finn said.
“Your lifestyle, the way you dress, even the manner of your speech must indicate to us all your trust in God, your communion with each other and with the bishop, and your identity as women fully consecrated in purity of body, mind and heart to God in the church,” he said.
“I thank you, and I thank God for the joy and hope you continue to bring to our diocese,” Bishop Finn said.