Loreto sisters celebrate 60 years of mission across Arizona

Loreto sisters, including Sisters Augustine Dempsey, Mary Roche, Christine Gilsenan, Gabrielle Marry, Teresita Ryan and Elizabeth Carey pictured Oct. 1, have met a variety of pastoral needs in the Diocese of Phoenix for 60 years. (Ambria Hammel/Catholic Sun)
Loreto sisters, including Sisters Augustine Dempsey, Mary Roche, Christine Gilsenan, Gabrielle Marry, Teresita Ryan and Elizabeth Carey pictured Oct. 1, have met a variety of pastoral needs in the Diocese of Phoenix for 60 years. (Ambria Hammel/Catholic Sun)

The Loreto Sisters who serve in Phoenix, Prescott and Flagstaff eagerly reminisce about the mission they have been on during the 60 years since leaving the Emerald Isle.

They’ve adjusted to so much: desert weather, diocesan boundaries for Tucson and Phoenix, American citizenship, their “Suns’ Nuns” moniker and ministries outside of classroom teaching to meet pastoral needs. They’ve kept up with changes in technology along the way: Sr. Gabrielle Marry tucks her iPad somewhere in a wheelchair’s pouch.

One thing they’re still not accustomed to: talking about themselves. They spoke of their work in terms of “we,” not “I,” and prompted each other to share anecdotes, accomplishments or other memories when The Catholic Sun visited the Loreto convent in Phoenix Oct. 1.

“Sr. Gabby, even in her [wheel]chair, goes to Chris Ridge,” Sr. Christine Gilsenan said.

That’s a nearby continuing care community for senior residents. The sisters bring Communion and pray with them.

“When we say ‘I’m from SSJ,’ they light up,” Sr. Gabby said.

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About the Loreto Sisters

From Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral

From Ss. Simon and Jude School[/quote_box_right]Ministry to the sick and homebound began post Vatican II. Fr. Paul Smith recruited five Loreto Sisters from Ireland solely to establish and run a Catholic elementary school.

Today, Arizonans will find Loreto sisters handling marriage preparation, healing ministry, social justice education and carrying out works of mercy. Sr. Elizabeth Carey and Sr. Augustine Dempsey share responsibility with others Valleywide who help with burials of the unclaimed dead several times a year at the White Tanks Cemetery.

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Burying the indigent

About the program

A reporter’s perspective (Cronkite Zine)[/quote_box_right]“They began offering prayers of support. Those people would have nobody who would claim their bodies,” Sr. Elizabeth said. She noted the presence of prisoners — the sheriff’s chain gang — who help with the burial.

Sr. Maria Sheerin regularly reaches out to inmates through prison ministry. Wherever they are, the sisters have devoted their lives to ensuring people know Christ’s love and their love for them.

“They’re determined. They have this very positive, can-do attitude,” said Mary Jo Wahlers, development director at Ss. Simon and Jude and an alumni parent.

“They’re not complacent. It’s ‘What can we do to make sure these kindergarteners are prepared for adult life?’ They’re visionaries,” said Diane Stein, an alumni who now works at the school. She also knows firsthand their strengths at identifying a person’s gifts and furthering their development.

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Mary Ward Associates

Be sure to read about the Loreto Sisters’ third order for laity. Sr. Gabrielle Marry and Mary Novotny, both of Phoenix, offer perspectives.[/quote_box_right]The sisters also led a group of adults in a session on Ignatian spiritual exercises 15 years ago. From that, several established the Mary Ward Associates, a lay order affiliated with the community.

“They’re just amazing role models. They say they’re praying for you and every time you walk away from them you’re on cloud nine,” Wahlers said.

Many who have encountered them over the years credit that feeling to the Loreto sisters’ core values of freedom, justice, joy, sincerity and truth. The Ignatian spiritual tradition and Mary Ward inspired the religious community.

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Sr. Raphael’s 40th anniversary

[/quote_box_right]“We have been very blessed with very dedicated lay teachers over the years who are continuing that legacy,” said Sr. Raphael Quinn, who is in her 42nd year as principal.

Lay teachers largely staff Ss. Simon and Jude today. Only Sr. Christine, who teaches music to the younger ones, conducts regular classes, but students know all of the sisters. Each class adopts one every year to pray for and engage. Her photo adorns the classroom.

The sisters also welcome classes into their convent chapel. It’s the perfect size for class retreats.

“The little ones have a certain excitement. They think it’s just heaven to pray in there,” Sr. Gabby said.

A few fourth-graders from Ss. Simon and Jude surprised Sr. Gabrielle Marry during breakfast at the convent Sept. 29 in honor of her 60th anniversary of perpetual vows as a Loreto Sister.(courtesy photo)
A few fourth-graders from Ss. Simon and Jude surprised Sr. Gabrielle Marry during breakfast at the convent Sept. 29 in honor of the feast of the archangels, including St. Gabriel, the Loreto sister’s namesake. (courtesy photo)

Several fourth-graders stopped by Sept. 29, the feast of the archangels, and surprised Sr. Gabby with cards to recognize her feast day. That day also marked a major milestone for Sr. Christine: the 60th anniversary of perpetual vows.

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Hear more from the Loreto Sisters

Tune in to their interview on The Bishop’s Hour 11 a.m. Nov. 3 or look for the archived show online.[/quote_box_right]She was a senior in high school in Ireland when she joined fellow students praying that the Loreto sisters would accept the invitation to go to Arizona. Sr. Christine recalled the words of encouragement following the prayer, “And any of you young ladies who are thinking of religious life, I hope you remember the Loreto.”

Sr. Christine never mentioned it to her parents or the sisters, but knew she would spend the rest of her life in Arizona.