12 Days of Christmas in July
Christmas in July comes once a year, but the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities give the gifts of love and service in God’s name everyday. Partner with us in giving this Christmas in July. Your gift will make a difference in the lives of people who are in need.
Sister Pat Bergan is giving the gift of peace and justice in Syracuse, New York
Today, Sister Pat Bergan is giving the gift of peace and justice in Syracuse, New York. As parish associate at an inner-city church, Sister Pat reaches out to low-income families, the elderly, immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, giving them food, clothing and an example of God’s love.
Sister Pat’s ministry in peace and justice began in 1987 when she learned that the U.S. was funding Nicaragua’s Contra War. She traveled there to help protect workers, farmers and families at risk because of policies the U.S. promoted. “I think [activism] is probably taking part in what you feel called to,” she says. “It’s being in tune with people, being there to support people.”
Sister Rita Marie Fritzen gives the gift of a Catholic education to children
Today, Sister Rita Marie Fritzen is preparing for the 2018-2019 school year at All Saints Academy in Bayonne, New Jersey, where she gives the gift of a Catholic education to children and readies them to be active participants and problem solvers in a global economy.
Each day, Sister Rita makes time to connect with students. As principal of this U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School, Sister Rita greets students, leads morning prayer, and visits classrooms throughout the day. “I’ve danced with three-year-olds and shared my collection of Winnie the Poohs with our kindergarteners,” she says with a smile.
Sister James Ann Germuska is giving the gift hope and understanding to people affected by mental illness
Today, Sister James Ann Germuska is giving the gift hope and understanding to people affected by mental illness. As founding executive director of Crosskeys Human Services in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, Sister James Ann and a team of caregivers offer live-in and day programs at eight area locations. “This is at the heart of what it means to be a Franciscan,” she says.
Recognizing the need for mental health services, Sister James Ann expanded the program from its beginnings as a senior center to a comprehensive behavioral health center with six separate programs. “A person with a mental disability can achieve anything with that disability that he/she could achieve without it, given the proper medication and opportunity,” she says.
Sister Donna Marie Evans is giving the gift of hope to those in need on the island of Oahu, Hawaii
At the retreat center known as Our Lady of Kea`au in Waianae, Sister Donna serves people experiencing homelessness. Every Tuesday she oversees the meal preparation and distribution to those who are living without a place to call home.
For more than two decades, Sister Donna served as a missionary in Bolivia and Peru, then returned to her native Hawaii to serve. “On Tuesdays at Our Lady of Keaau, we sometimes see the same people each week. A lot of them are elderly, and we now have more children,” she says. “It’s like being back in Peru.”
She remains a hopeful and outspoken activist: “We have to bring hope and not just talk about it. We have to actively change the ways we care for others. We all have our role to play.”
Sister Ann Helene Koenig is giving “a ray of sunshine” to those who are in the final stages of their lives
Through her ministry with the Journeys program in Buffalo, New York, Sister Ann Helene offers comfort and hope to residents at three nursing homes.
“I remind people that they belong to God,” she says. “And, that God is walking with them on their journeys and one day he will open his arms to greet them in heaven.”
In caring for residents and their families, Sister Ann Helene forges a strong and beautiful bond.
Sister Concetta DeFelice is giving the gifts of compassion and hope to single-parent families who come to Gerard Place in Buffalo, New York
Sister Concetta serves on the board of directors at Gerard Place, a ministry she helped establish. “This is a wonderful place to share my Franciscan presence by bringing peace and joy,” says Sister Concetta. “We are a beacon of light showing compassion, love and hope.”
Gerard Place gives single moms and their children a place to call home as well as job training and education.
“Sister Concetta’s heart is with the families, children and all who come to Gerard Place for help,” said a colleague. “She is so proud of Gerard Place. You can tell it is one of her life’s works that she genuinely cares about and for which she will do anything.”
Sister Laura Hackenberg is giving the gift of God’s love to one-year-olds at Mount Alvernia Day Care Center in Millvale
“They love to be hugged and kissed, and I love to shower them with hugs and kisses,” says Sister Laura. “They are just so precious.”
Each morning, Sister Laura is greeted by smiling and laughing children. “Each little face has bright and beautiful eyes that brim with life and possibility,” she says. When their natural curiosity leads them astray, Sister Laura patiently gets them back on track. “Just as God is patient with us when we don’t get things right, so I need to be patient with them’” she says. “Jesus gives us that model of unconditional love.”
As one of the few sisters who work at the daycare, Sister Laura brings a Franciscan presence to both children and staff. She feels blessed to work as part of a team in a loving and Christian environment. “I think parents find reassurance that their child is in a trustworthy and nurturing environment.”
Sister Elisa Bonano is giving the gift of faith to children at St. Angela Merici Parish
On the eighth day of Christmas in July, Sister Elisa Bonano is giving the gift of faith to children at St. Angela Merici Parish in Youngstown, Ohio.
Sister Elisa is connecting with young people at the parish who have not yet made their First Communion or Confirmation. Over the next few months she will be preparing them to make these Sacraments by helping them understand the Bible and their Catholic faith.
“I want these young people to have a great relationship with the Lord,” she says. “In order to have a purpose in life, the first thing we have to do is develop a relationship.”
Earlier this month, during the parish’s week long Vacation Bible School, Sister Elisa encouraged children to be aware of the many ways that God is present in their lives. From the person who cooked their dinner to the tutor who helped them with math, she invited the kids to share how they experienced God in their lives each day.
“The heart of the Gospel is to bring people to God, and that’s what I love doing,” she says.
On the ninth day of Christmas in July, 100-year-old Sister Elise Renk is giving the gift of prayer to hundreds of people who have asked her and all of the Sisters of St. Francis to pray for their special intentions
Every day from morning to night, Sister Elise lives a life of prayer. Upon waking, she prays the Franciscan Crown, a rosary made up of seven decades representing the Seven Joys of the Mary. Then she says a second Rosary for all of the people who have asked her for prayers. “That’s my way of saying, ‘Lord you take care of them because I promised to pray for them,’” she says.
Next, she goes to the Mount Alvernia chapel for Mass. Later in the day, Sister Catherine Paff reads a Scripture-based prayer book to Sister Elise, followed by evening prayer in the chapel.
Before laying her head to rest each night, Sister Elise says one last prayer. “I pray to the angels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, that I will have a good night’s rest, and I pray for all those who have asked me to pray for them.”
In addition to praying, Sister Elise offers this advice to those who want to know her secret for living to be 100. “You have to try to be positive even though many times there are hardships that are negative,” she says. “You still have to try to find maybe a speck of good in it and enjoy what you are doing.”
On the tenth day of Christmas in July, Sister Agnes Kaczmarek is giving the gift of dignity to families in need at the Catholic Charities Donation Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Here, families receive everything they need to live a comfortable life in body, mind and spirit, including thoughtfully created food boxes that Sister Agnes loves creating.
“I think to myself: ‘A single mom, with two kids. What would the kids like? Let’s throw a few toys in, or a can of peaches . . . or something special for mom, like relaxing bath oils’” she says. “And, we hope when that mom opens up that box, she will be excited to get the peaches because her child loves peaches.”
“It is a blessing to have Sister Agnes, with her wisdom, experience and her love of Christ,” says Kathy Freeze, director of the donation center. “She brings such compassion and information about people struggling with homelessness or behavioral health issues, and she really enlightens us as we work to serve these families in need.”
On the eleventh day of Christmas in July, Sister Joette Ebert is giving the gift of hope to people experiencing
homelessness in Washington, D.C.
At S.O.M.E (So Others May Eat), an interfaith, community-based organization that serves the poor and homeless of our nation’s capital, Sister Joette Ebert prepares and serves a hot and hearty lunch to men, women and children who are living on the streets.
“I slice a great many loaves of bread each morning, during which time I pray for all those who will come through our doors that day,” she says. Along with food for their bodies, Sister Joette also gives them love and care for their minds and souls. Whether it’s listening to a person’s concerns, or praying with them and for them, Sister Joette shares the goodness of God’s love.
Meals are served 365 days a year “with an awesome regard and respect for all of our brothers and sisters,” she says. “We (volunteers) know them all by name, and there’s something holy about calling them by name.” In this “most remarkable corner of the Kingdom,” as Sister Joette calls it, “there are sweet experiences of joy and laughter, and each day brings us remarkable glimpses of our God,” she says. “I am very grateful for this privilege.”
On the twelfth day of Christmas in July, Sister Mary Reichelderfer is giving the gift of a better life to refugees at Vive in Buffalo, New York
Vive assists people who are seeking asylum by giving them shelter, food and legal help. As volunteer coordinator, Sister Mary interviews potential volunteers so she can match their skills and interests with the organization’s needs. “I enjoy meeting many interesting people through the course of a week,” she says.
One of the greatest needs is for volunteers to organize and supervise activities for groups of children, all who speak different languages. “We also rely on volunteers to teach English to adults and to help with repairs and cleaning,” Sister Mary says. Although residents do much of the work, “anything that volunteers can do helps to make life more pleasant for a lot of people.”