As a Catholic sister and director of religious education at St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Sleepy Hollow, New York, Sister Mary Anne Maceda expects the unexpected. “When my door opens or the phone rings, I never know what exactly will be needed,” she says.
The parish includes a diverse Hispanic immigrant community with countless needs, so Sister Mary Anne is called on to do much more than educate parishioners; instead, she helps them with all facets of their lives. “I get involved in everything that is going on in the parish,” she says and explains, “Many of our families are under a lot of stress. I try to provide a listening ear, or counseling, or pray with them.”
Her caring actions extend beyond the church walls. Two days a week, Sister Mary Anne walks to the nearby school where she meets a group of children and accompanies them back to the parish so they can attend faith formation classes. She prays with the sick in hospitals and enjoys visiting with parishioners in their homes. “Although I don’t speak Spanish, I know the people so well that we can get our messages across just fine,” she says.
Sister Mary Anne also teaches 7th graders and those preparing for Holy Communion. She says she notices that her daily presence at the parish is making a difference. “When the children see me they’re happy, and if that inspires them to attend Mass, that’s a good thing,” she says.
This immersion in the Hispanic culture has transformed Sister Mary Anne, helping her to appreciate the unpredictability of life as well as the beauty of God in all people. “Our parishioners are very affectionate, warm, loving with a deep faith and I contribute my happiness to just being part of that whole culture,” she says with a smile. “I love parish life. It’s so important and it’s the microcosm of the church.”
As if all she does at St. Theresa of Avila isn’t enough, Sister Mary Anne’s ministry doesn’t end there. Each month, she instructs parish catechists from the Archdiocese of New York in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a hands-on method of faith formation based on the Montessori learning method. “I believe the catechesis provides a method and an environment that helps the child fall in love with Jesus on his or her own,” she says. “It allows the inner teacher to work in the child.”
For more than 35 years, Sister Mary Anne has attended prayer vigils with 40 Days for Life, the largest internationally coordinated pro-life movement. “If one child is saved, we are grateful,” she says. Her dedication to the movement includes traveling with the parish youth group to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. “When you’re down there with all of those young people there’s an incredible energy,” she says. “It’s something they won’t forget.”
Sister Mary Anne and five Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities live in community with 20 Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Peekskill, New York. “It is wonderful,” she says. “I feel we’ve been able to partake with them as Franciscans and feel included. It’s a very good relationship.”
To keep her busy lifestyle in balance, Sister Mary Anne finds peace in God and her sisters in community, with whom she attends Mass and eats breakfast each morning. “I enjoy being with the sisters,” she says. “It gives me support, and the fact that several of them come and help me teach at the parish is supportive as well.” Late at night, when she returns home from work, she also spends time with God in the chapel.
Although each day brings something new and unplanned, Sister Mary Anne is assured of one very important thing. “I see God’s grace in all of this. I wouldn’t be able to do it myself.”
And what keeps her going? “Love … I rely heavily on God’s providence, really,” she says. “I am grateful for every day I have to work for the Lord.”