School Sisters celebrate their call to serve

By Maureen Smith
CHATAWA – Four School Sisters of Notre Dame marked a combined 265 years of consecrated life at St. Mary of the Pines on Thursday, May 10. The community gathered for a Mass and a meal on the grounds of the retirement facility at the edge of the Mississippi-Louisiana border. Bishop Joseph Kopacz celebrated the Mass.
Sister Teresa Martin Caronia, a native of New Orleans, made her first profession on July 28, 1944, 75 years ago. She worked throughout the Southeast, mostly as a teacher and school administrator. She was delighted to participate in the jubilee Mass, singing every song. During the homily Bishop Kopacz asked the Sisters to share a little something about an assignment or ministry that was special to them. Sister Caronia said she treasured preparing children for their First Holy Communion.

CHATAWA – Bishop Joseph Kopacz asks the School Sisters of Notre Dame jubilarians for reflections on their many ministries during a Mass to honor their years of service. (L-r) Sisters Teresa Martin Caronia, Herman Marie Siebenmorgen, Goria Marie Foret and Rose Ann Bacak. (Photo by Maureen Smith)

Sister Herman Marie Siebenmorgen left her family farm in Morrison Bluff, Arkansas, 70 years ago to join the School Sisters of Notre Dame. She tried just about everything to delay her vocation, asking for sign after sign that she should go, but the Blessed Mother got the last word. “Before that, I said ‘if this (event) happens, I know God is calling me.’ And it happened, but I said, ‘I am going to try something harder.’ And it happened. I said ‘if I see the Blessed Mother or Jesus then I will go. That’s it, that’s all.’ I was in bed sleeping, towards morning. All of a sudden I felt a breeze coming over me. Someone was standing by my bed. It was the Blessed Mother – I saw here from here up. I was looking at her. She was looking at me just smiling. She didn’t say anything. Just smiling. I said ‘I can’t back out now.’”
Sister Herman was the third of 12 children and 92 first cousins. Eleven of the women went into religious life. Most became Benedictines. Sister Herman’s older sister tried to convince her to join the Benedictines as well. “I said, no, I’m going to Mary. Benedict is OK, I like Mary. We are German. The prayer my mother said every day is in German. I say it every day. It’s all about how Mary will get me to heaven,” she explained. Sister worked in schools in Texas, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. She now serves in a ministry of prayer and presence.
Sister Rose Ann Bacak made her first profession in July of 1959 in St. Louis. She came from Kerrville, Texas, and served in the Dioceses of Jackson and Dallas teaching business classes and doing administrative work. She taught at both Jackson St. Mary school and the Notre Dame Education Center in Canton. She said every Notre Dame community will host a house jubilee for the Sisters in residence. “We do this every year for our sisters, no matter where they are — try to come together in one place. In July, we have a big celebration that includes a lot more Sisters. We just enjoy each other doing our thing and it’s kind of hard sometimes to accept the gratitude people feel for you,” she said. She works in the archives and finance office in Chatawa.
Sister Gloria Maria Foret, celebrating 61 years of profession, taught at McComb St. Alphonsus school in the Jackson diocese as well as serving at schools in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama. Sister Gloria is still teaching by going to Osyka a couple days a week to work with students who need some extra support in their studies.
She reflected on how each post changed how she ministered, especially the time she spent in Ghana, Africa. “Even though many of them were very poor they had so much to give and it was a wonderful place to me,” she said. “It helped me think and evaluate things from my own culture – like we are always rushing and keeping things ‘on time.’ And they are not like that – when they get there- that’s the time it’s supposed to be. They are so relaxed and into what’s happening and they are so ready to do things for others,” Sister Gloria added.
The whole community renewed their vows during the Mass and enjoyed a meal planned by the jubilarians.