Our 2020 Jubilarians
We hope to be able to celebrate Jubilee on June 13, 2020. We will continue to post stories as soon as they become available.
Sister Felicity Gaffney
Sister Rita Schmitz
Sister Leomarie Luecke
Sister M. Nadine Overbeck
Sister Mary Ann Clark
Sister Geraldine Podobnik
Sister Elaine Murphy
Sister Rita Vahling
Sister Kathleen Bushur
Sister Margaret Ann Lanagan
Sister M. Lourdes Boyer
Sister Clarita Schumacher
Sister Alice Ann Harcharik
Sister Mary Jane Griffin
Irma Rosa Maria Lima dos Santos
Sister Sharon Frederick
Sister Felicity (Joy) Gaffney, OSF
On August 12, 1940, Thelma Gaffney received the name of Sister M. Felicitas at her reception into the Novitiate.Over her 80 years as a Joliet Franciscan, in addition to Felicitas she has also been known as Felicity and Joy. Felicitas comes from the Latin root word felix which translates into “fruitful, blessed, happy and lucky” – a fitting description of a woman who is always smiling, is positive about situations she experiences and warmly welcomes everyone into her life.”
Sister Felicity (Joy) Gaffney is a native of Columbus, Ohio. She is one of ten children born to the late Irene and James Gaffney. She is the last of her generation. All her brothers George, James and Paul and her sisters Margaret, Gertrude, Bernie, Dorothy, Betty and Mary are deceased.
Sister Felicity was a member of St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Columbus and attended the parish school. She graduated from St. Mary of the Springs High School in Columbus and received her Bachelor’s Degree from the College of St. Francis (University of St. Francis) with a major in French. She has a Master of Arts Degree in Education from DePaul University in Chicago. She attended the Franciscan Institute at the College of St. Francis in Joliet and took courses in Spanish at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Sister Felicity ministered in the field of education, teaching in various high schools for 50 years.She looks back on her career with “innumerable everlasting memories of years of teaching from California to Florida in schools of diverse cultures: Indian, Mexican, rural, inner city, private academy, parish schools for girls, co-ed city wide parish schools, large diocesan high schools, and in a GED program.”
She remembers especially her first year of teaching at St. Francis Academy (now Joliet Catholic Academy). She was a little nervous when she found out that it happened to be the year of the evaluation for reaccreditation by the State of Illinois. While she was teaching a sophomore English class, a gentleman walked into the room. Knowing this might be the observer from the accreditation group, she just continued with the class. After the gentleman left (she thought he would never leave!) the class gave a deep sigh of relief saying at the same time, “Oh, Sister, aren’t you glad that is over.” She says, “We must have done a good job because later the principal told me he said he was sorry he couldn’t stay longer, he was so fascinated and impressed by the class.”
When asked about her years as a Franciscan religious, she described them as “happy and blessed.” She says, “Living a Franciscan way of life meant that God has been very generous and gracious in showering me with His love and the fullness of His almighty goodness. I am now so aware of His many blessings, love, gifts, forgiveness, pardon and all the good that only He can control. I am especially amazed during these later years of the importance and need of Francis’ and Clare’s teaching and examples of community and poverty.
Sister presently resides at Our Lady of Angels (OLA) Retirement Home in Joliet which she describes as the following: “Since I can no longer continue the activities I did before coming to OLA, such as: long walks, swimming, line dancing, weight lifting, playing cards (bridge, pinochle, etc.), visiting friends, acting as the “Bum” in our Kitchen Band as we entertained for school and church groups, my interests have changed. My interests are now more sedentary. Our activity department keeps us very alert and active with guest music performances, card games, Bunco, Bingo and movies. We celebrate holidays and feast days including a St. Patrick’s Day parade. Special also are the many prayer services, spiritual reflections and retreats and I especially appreciate the daily Mass.
Yes, Sister, you have truly lived up to your name “fruitful, blessed, happy and lucky.”
(Sister M. Raymond, OSF)
Being a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Columbus, she attended the parish school. She also attended Holy Rosary School and graduated from St. Joseph Academy before entering the postulancy in September 1944. She received her bachelor’s degree from the College of St. Francis (University of St. Francis) with a major in Sociology. She has a Master of Education Degree from DePaul University in Chicago.
Sister Rita ministered in the field of education for twenty-two years with eight of those years as Teacher-Principal. She taught in every grade from two through eight. Her assignments took her to St. Pascal and St. Boniface schools in Chicago, Illinois, St. Raymond and St. Bernard schools in Joliet and then back to her native Ohio where she taught at Most Pure Heart of Mary in Shelby and Corpus Christi in Columbus.
In 1969 Sister Rita entered the Social Service Field. She worked at the Franklin County Children’s Service in Grove City, Ohio, and then the Franklin County Department of Welfare in Columbus, Ohio. Her formal ministry in the Social Service Field ended in July of 1985 when she retired from the department of welfare. However, she still continued to do social service only in a different manner. Being a person concerned about the welfare of others and enjoying interaction with others, she used her talents to minister as a daytime companion for an elderly lady in Columbus, Ohio for five years. She then spent the next two years as a caregiver for a friend and Community member.
Sister Rita’s next ministry was one of being a part-time Recreational Assistant and Resident Assistant with the Senior Citizens at the Heritage Day Care Center in Westerville and then assisting seniors in Columbus, Ohio.
Sister Rita has lived seventy-five years as a Franciscan Sister. Living out her vows and having a dedicated prayer life have been the basis for her Franciscan Spirit. She came to the community with a “desire to be of service for all.” And now she defines her ministry as one of “Service to Others.” Yes, her presence and concern for the other residents of Our Lady of Angels, is a service to others, but looking at her ministry these last seventy-five years one would have to say she definitely followed her desire.
Sister presently resides at Our Lady of Angels Retirement Home in Joliet where she continues to be very active through her participation in the activities offered there. In her ‘free time’ she enjoys crossword puzzles and jig-saw puzzles. Being an avid reader, the daily newspaper, magazines and books provide input for many conversations with other residents, and on Sunday afternoon you can find her with three others playing the card game, “Hand and Foot.”
Sister Leomarie (Janet) Luecke
Sister Leomarie (Janet) Luecke, a native of Freeport, Illinois, is the youngest of eight children born to the late Marie and Leo Luecke. Her siblings, John, Frederick, Paul, Roland, Theodore, Mary Virginia Bicknell and Beatrice Schleich are all deceased. Following in the footsteps of her five brothers and two sisters, she attended St. Joseph Parish Grade School. She graduated from Aquin High School in Freeport, Illinois, and from 1955 to 197, she attended St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana.
In September 1957 Janet made the choice to enter the Sisters of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois – these Sisters had served at her home Parish and had taught her in grade school. On September 8, 1957, she became a postulant in the Congregation of the Third Order of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate. On August 12, 1958, she became a novice and received the name of Sister Leomarie.
Sister Leomarie received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of St. Francis (now University of St. Francis) in Joliet, Illinois in 1961. In 1971 she received a Bachelor of Music Degree from the College of St. Francis. Her educational background continued with courses in Spanish from 1961 to 1965 and through Communidades de Base (1976), Instituto de Liturgical Hispano (1983 – 86) and participation in the Midwest Region Spanish Speaking Commission (1974 – 1985) and II & III Encuentro Nacional Hispano de Pastoral 1977 and 1985.
Sister Leomarie began her life-long ministry of education by teaching second grade at St. Mary Immaculate school in Plainfield, Illinois. Preparing the little ones for their First Communion remains a special memory for her. She continued serving as a teacher at the elementary level and as parish organist at various schools in Ohio and Illinois from 1961 – 1970. She still hears from many of her students.
God gives us many talents for personal pleasure and also for use while serving in ministry. Sister Leomarie discovered long ago that her gift of music and her gift of making others feel at home in her presence were the gifts that God was asking her to share in her ministry as a Franciscan religious. She comments: “Music has been a big part of my life. I began piano lessons at 8 years of age. In high school I learned to play Benediction hymns on the church organ. (Sister Geraldine Demes was my teacher!) Piano was my major in college. I loved studying Gregorian chant and our Sunday choir practice with Sister Raphael. In the late 60’s I started visiting the migrant camps in Plainfield and Manhattan, Illinois. We would have Mass in the fields or in the barn during the season when the people were picking onions. I would lead the singing.”
In 1971 she began her ministry in the Spanish-speaking Apostolate of the Diocese of Joliet, mainly through her ministry to the migrant workers during summers, her work in the Religious Education Program at Mount Carmel Parish and as a music consultant to other Hispanic communities. In 1973 she became a teacher of English as a Second Language at Joliet Central High School and later at the Spanish Community Center through the Adult Education Program of Joliet Township High Schools while continuing her Spanish Apostolate through the Diocese of Joliet at St. Charles Borromeo Center in Romeoville, Illinois. In 1983 she added ministry as a pastoral minister teaching religious education courses and serving as organist at Mount Carmel Parish and St. Mary Magdalene Parish. From August 1988 – June 1989 Sister Leomarie ministered with our Sisters at Convento San Damiano in the city of Goiânia, Brazil, South America.
On May 26, 1998, Sister Leomarie received a Certificate of Appreciation in recognition of outstanding support given to the Adult Education Program of Joliet Township High Schools. In 2013 she received a Certificate of Recognition from Joliet Junior College for serving as a volunteer tutor in the Adult Volunteer Literacy Program.
Reflecting back on her 60 years as a Franciscan, Sister Leomarie has made it her desire to follow Christ by living the Gospel, i.e. being one with the poor and having a love and respect for all of creation. She believes that we are all united in Christ and strives to bring that unity into being through her presence.
Sister Mary Ann Clark
Sister Mary Ann Clark is one of 12 children born in Chicago to the late Helen and James Clark. Sister Mary Ann has one sister, Rita (John) Ferguson, living in Camp Verde, Arizona. All of her seven brothers (James, Howard, Edward, Lawrence, Eugene, Donald and Joseph) and three of her sisters ((Helen Burke, Bernice Kane and Lois Sowacke) are deceased.
A member of Sacred Heart Parish, Sister Mary Ann lived in the Englewood are of Chicago, attended the parish grade school and graduated from Sacred Heart High School. She received her bachelor’s degree with a major in History from the College of St. Francis (now University of St. Francis) and attended De Paul University where she took courses in the Business Department.
After completing her College education, she began her ministry in the field of education. From 1961 until 1968 Sister Mary Ann taught first graders in Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio. In 1968 she ministered at St. Procopius High School where she taught Typing, Stenography, General Business Math and Bookkeeping. She also served as principal at the high school for three years. From 1977 to 1980 she ministered as Parish Secretary and Administrative Assistant at Divine Savior Parish in Norridge. In August of 1980 she became the Business Manager of Our Lady of Angels Retirement Home and worked there until she moved to Downers Grove in 1993 where she ministered as Business Manager at St. Mary of Gostyn Parish. In 2009 she assumed her present position as treasurer for the Sisters living at Our Lady of Angels Retirement Home.
Commenting on her ministry she says, “I have enjoyed each place where I ministered especially at St. Procopius in Chicago which gave me an opportunity to work with Mexican-Amercan families in church and in neighborhood activities. I was very impressed with the sophomore girls I had in homeroom. They were so concerned about cultural changes in the neighborhood (drugs and gangs) and they often brought up the question, ‘What could they do to be of help to their younger brothers and sisters?’ Also that year I had a terrific community to live with. The older Sisters were so willing to share with us younger Sisters and to encourage our vocation.”
Regarding Franciscan religious life, she writes, “Looking back on these 60 years, I have truly realized the wonderful beginning I was given by my parents as they raised 12 children. They handed down to each of us the importance of a strong foundation in faith, trust and love and especially a special interest and support of ‘family’ and its values. Living simply and helping each other was instilled in my life. This is what I call Franciscan living and I’m very happy to continue the journey.”
Sister Geraldine Podobnik
If you want to be a nurse, why would you join a teaching order?
Sister Geraldine Podobnik found the answer to that question many years ago when she trusted the Lord that her desire to be a Joliet Franciscan and a nurse would become a reality.
Sister Geri is the second of five children born to the late Mary and Frank Podobnik. Her brothers Frank and Joseph are both deceased. Her brother, Raymond, resides in Joliet while her sister, Susan (Michael) Fittro, resides in Iowa.
Sister Geri grew up as a member of St. Mary Nativity Parish and is proud of her Croatian heritage. Besides learning the recipes for the special meals and desserts that graced the family table on holidays, (she makes a perfect potica!!) she learned the values that influenced her decision to become a professed religious.
After completing grade school at St. Mary’s School, Sister Geri graduated from St. Francis Academy (now Joliet Catholic Academy) and set her sights on nursing. However, the Lord had plans for her that would sidetrack her nursing ministry for a few years. The Franciscan spirit that she experienced at the Academy made her realize that religious life was the plan that the Lord had for her.
Sister Geri says that there are two quotes from Scripture that influenced her life these sixty plus years: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1) and “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, 45).
Sister Geri entered the postulancy on September 8, 1957. She received a Bachelor of Science from the College of St. Francis (now the University of St. Francis) with a major in Biology. Her first six years of ministry were spent teaching the little children in first grade. She was a great teacher and guided her young students to have a special love for the Lord.
In 1967 Sister Geri left teaching to become a student again. This time the education was at the St. Joseph Hospital School of Nursing. Obtaining her R. N. in 1970, she served at Our Lady of Angels Retirement Home before taking up residence in Toledo, Ohio, ministering at St. Vincent Hospital and St. Charles Hospital in Toledo and then Flower Hospital in nearby Sylvania, Ohio. While ministering at Flower Hospital, Sister Geri served in the Oncology Department and became Head Nurse and Supervisor of the Oncology Unit. Sister Geri says: “During these years ministering on the oncology unit, I learned very much about myself and my patients.”
Sister Geri also ministered as Director of Nursing at the Mercy Health Care/Rehabilitation Center in Homewood, Illinois. Working with older people she saw how they struggled to relearn some of what that they had lost through strokes and/or falls. While serving there she found that the quotes from Isaiah and the Gospel by Matthew were having a special influence upon her life and her ministry. These years in geriatric nursing also gave her the insight of how her nursing would enable her to help her Sisters in Community.
Commenting on the quote, “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1) Sister Geri writes: “I look at each one (Sister) and work to help her realize the importance of wellness. God does not intend for old age to be the end of everything. It is a beautiful time, a rewarding time!” Reflecting on the quote of Robert Browning; “The last of life for which the first was made,” she finds herself reaffirming her patients in the aging process. As she says: “It is human to move from independence to dependence in some degree, but dependence need not be absolute. Each person is in charge of her/his own wellness and happiness. Wellness is a process, an awareness that life must be lived moment by moment in the Lord.”
Commenting on Matthew 25:40, she says, “I work to help each person to retain whatever independence he/she can retain, but also to accept their own frailty when they can no longer cope with life without help.”
So, why does a woman who wants to become a nurse join a teaching order?
Sister Geri sums up the answer: “If occasionally I wonder what it would be like to have a more glamorous, less demanding and better paying job, five minutes in Chapel suffice to convince me I would never change.”
Sister Geri’s role as a registered nurse/religious flows from the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Make me an instrument of Your peace… For it is in giving that we receive… and in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
Sister Elaine Murphy
Sister Mary Elaine Murphy is one of four children born in Chicago to the late George and Margaret Murphy. Sister Elaine’s brother William is deceased. Her brother Dennis lives in Justice, Illinois, and her sister, Judy Tocci (Sam) lives in Midlothian, Illinois.
A member of Sacred Heart Parish in the Englewood area of Chicago, she attended the parish grade school and graduated from Sacred Heart High School. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree from the College of St. Francis (now University of St. Francis) and then went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Theology from the Aquinas Institute of Theology. She has a Clinical Pastoral Education Certificate from the Methodist Medical Center, Peoria, Illinois.
Sister Elaine began her ministry as an elementary school teacher in 1961 at St. Pascal School in Chicago. In 1967 she went as a missionary to Brazil, South America. For nine years she worked in Parish Ministry and as a catechist in Brazilia. In 1978 she was named to the Congregation Governing Board and served as area coordinator until 1984 when she was elected President of the Congregation. From 1988 until 1991, Sister Elaine served as the President of St. Francis Academy. After her ministry at the academy, she became a Pastoral Associate at St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt, Iowa, and SS Phillip and James in the neighboring town of Grand Mound, Iowa. In 1995 Sister Elaine returned to Joliet and became Director of Admissions for Our Lady of Angels Retirement Home in Joliet and later served as a volunteer there.
In 2011 when her health began failing, Sister Elaine took up permanent residence at Our Lady of Angels where she has been serving for the last nine years in a ministry of prayer for the needs of the Congregation, the Church and society. Reflecting on her sixty years as a Joliet Franciscan, she states, “Through the years my various experiences of ministry have been challenging and life giving. I cherish the memories of past ministries and experiences of many rewarding and fulfilling years, blessed with growth, learning, and warm relationships. Many of the contacts and friendships formed are, even today, an important part of my life.”
Sister Rita Vahling
Sister Rita Vahling is one of five children born to Anna and Ferdinand Vahling. Born and raised in Teutopolis, Illinois, Sister Rita was introduced to farming and Franciscans early in her life. Her early years were spent working with her brother, Raymond, and her sisters, Helen, Julie and Mary helping outdoors to care for God’s creatures and learning the skills of home life indoors. Her religious life while fostered greatly by her parents, had the additional interaction with the young men living at the Franciscan seminary in the area. That, along with her aunt, Sister Frances Osterhaus, who was a member of the Joliet Franciscan community, guaranteed a special interest in St. Francis of Assisi, the patron of ecology and lover of God’s creation.
Sister Rita attended Teutopolis Community Grade School and High School in Teutopolis, Illinois, before entering the congregation. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master in Theology Degree from the College of St. Francis (University of St. Francis) in Joliet, Illinois.
After teaching in grade schools for 15 years, Sister Rita served as Pastoral Associate in Maywood, Illinois, and then as Vocation Director for the Congregation. In 1987, while attending Seattle University, Sister Rita became acquainted with “Holistic Health and Spirituality.” This led her to study and become certified in Massage Therapy, helping people to heal in Body, Mind, Emotions and Spirit. Following that she became certified in Rubenfeld Synergy, Pranic Healing and Chinese Qigong. These were all integrative therapies, using the energy within and around us to heal on all levels. Commenting on these therapies she says, “Of these, Qigong stands out, as I sponsored a Master-Teacher to come to our area to teach about 20 classes over a period of six years so more people could learn and incorporate the practice of Qigong in their lives. It is in essence, a moving meditation. I call it a form of prayer.”
Following St. Francis’ love for all creation, Sister Rita has a special interest in the field of Spirituality, the “new universe story” an emerging in consciousness that expands our notion of God. We are beginning to appreciate a God alive in every particle in the billions of galaxies beyond us and in the grass under our feet. Instead of viewing God only “in heaven,” we now realize that God is a Presence in which we live and move and have our being.”
When asked what living the Franciscan religious life means to her she replies, “it means making the Gospel message the very core of my life. Over the span of these 60 years beginning at the youthful age of 18 to the present seasoned age of 80, my understanding and expression of living the life of a Franciscan religious in community has evolved significantly. From small and personal, I know now the Gospel message calls us to a movement of greater wholeness and deepening consciousness. For Franciscans, Incarnational spirituality is key, where the Presence of God is in everyone and all of creation. To give expression to this, the sister with whom I live in community and I bow to one another after morning prayer, as we say (quietly) ‘The God within me bows and honors the God within you.’(Namaste) One of my favorite quotes from Francis of Assisi is that it is our vocation ‘to move people’s hearts and lift them up to spiritual joy!’”
Sister Rita ministers as a local coordinator for some of the Sisters. She also volunteers her time at the Joliet Franciscan Center where she serves as a receptionist. Sister Rita has enjoyed many different places and experiences over her 60 years. Among the highlight of her years as a Franciscan sister, was the opportunity and experience of a month-long Franciscan Study Pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi, Italy. She says that “This pilgrimage awakened me further to the richness of our Franciscan tradition. The stories I read and heard about became real as I walked in the path of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi. Feasting on the great Italian food and wine and a daily afternoon ‘siesta’ was a joy, too!”
Irma (Sister) Rosa Maria Lima dos Santos
Sister Rosa Maria Lima dos Santos is one of eight children born to Irene Santiago dos Santos and Agenor Lima dos Santos. Her mother is deceased but her father, brothers José and Antônio and sisters Rosimar, Lourdes, Marlene, Rita and Claudia live in Brazil.
Born in Morrinhos, Goiás, she moved to Barrolandia, Tocantins, in 1985. Following in the footsteps of her cousin, Sister Maria Aparecida Gomes, Sister Rosa chose to become a Sister of St. Francis. She entered the Congregation as a postulant in 1991. In 1993 she entered the novitiate and made her profession of vows on February 2, 1995.
Having completed her high school education before joining the community, Sister Rosa began studies in the medical field in the school of nursing at St. Vincent de Paul Medical college. She was unable to complete her course because the school was closed. She studied alternative medicine in Curitiba. In 2019 she began a SHIATSU course, a type of Japanese massage therapy that provides the same relief as acupuncture.
Sister Rosa was part of the staff at San Damiano School in Goiania for many years before becoming Novice Director and Second Regional Councilor in 2008. In 2012 she was elected First Regional Councilor and continued serving as Novice Director.
For the last eight years Sister Rosa lived in Hidrolándia, a city near Goiânia where she was able to continue to assist at San Damiano School. Besides her ministry at the school, she also does pastoral work and has a special interest in caring for those who are poor and have been abandoned.
When she was preparing for final profession, Sister Rosa stated that she wanted to live religious life passionately for Jesus, following the example of Francis. She wanted to incarnate the face of Jesus and live the love of God, a desire that she has continued to strive for throughout her 25 years of professed religious life.
Commenting on her ministry, Sister Rosa states that “working in the San Damiano School, I prepared many ‘moments of prayer’ for the monthly meetings with the teachers and workers. While working in the school’s storeroom, I learned the language of silence and attention. With the other workers, the experience of silence and prayer become ‘real’ when shared.”
It is Sister Rosa’s desire to be with us in June for the Congregation’s Jubilee Celebration at the Cathedral. We pray that this will be a reality for her.