Six years ago, the late Redemptorist Father Richard Boever invited Sister Karen Thein of the School Sisters of Notre Dame to “be a presence” in three small communities in Crawford County.
“That is the ministry ... being a presence,” said Sr. Karen, a pastoral minister for Holy Cross Parish in Cuba, St. Francis Caracciolo Parish in Bourbon and St. Michael Parish in Steelville.
“It is being present in times of joy, and walking with people in times of pain and struggles,” she said.
Sr. Karen is one of 19 religious sisters now serving the Jefferson City diocese or residing within it.
These include: Discalced Carmelite Nuns (OCD), School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND), Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word (CCVI), and Sisters of the Third Order of St. Dominic (OP).
They are part of an impressive heritage of hundreds of sisters, brothers and religious priests representing dozens of orders and congregations, who have served in these 38 counties, beginning in the mid-1800s.
The Church honors and prays for these women and men each year on the World Day of Consecrate Life, which will be observed in parishes in this diocese on Sunday, Feb. 4.
“I have found that wherever I have served, I have been served,” said Sr. Karen. “There is a mutual giving and receiving. It is falling in love with the people who come into my life. No matter where I have been, I knew that was where God was directing me to be.”
SSNDs make up the largest contingent of sisters now serving in this diocese.
Sister Mary Rost SSND has been the parish life collaborator at Immaculate Conception Parish in Brookfield for the past five and a half years. She previously served in Russellville.
The Brookfield parish consists of about 190 families.
“I believe in the goodness and life of the parish,” Sr. Mary stated.
She is convinced that as a religious sister, she offers to the parish, the community and the Church the perspective of a faith-filled woman who enjoys working with councils and committees to discern what’s best for the parish and working together to achieve common goals.
“I enjoy participating in our activities and feel that it is important to be as involved as I encourage others to be, and to try to be consistent in thanking others for all they do,” she said.
Pope St. John Paul II in 1997 instituted a day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life.
This celebration is attached to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2. This Feast is also known as Candlemas Day; the day on which candles are blessed, symbolizing Christ who is the light of the world.
So, too, those in consecrated life are called to reflect the light of Jesus Christ to all peoples.
Sr. Karen said belonging to a religious congregation such as the SSNDs means she’s never been alone.
“I have the support from the sisters,” she said.
Someone recently told her that “it makes a difference here having a Sister with us.”
“I am so grateful to God for the invitation to follow Him as a School Sister of Notre Dame and now to be in ministry with the people of Cuba, Bourbon and Steelville,” she said.
Sister Claret Feldhake SSND teaches art at St. Joseph School in Westphalia.
“I am able to teach students through art about not only various media, color, drawing, painting, but also about various cultures throughout the world through the art forms of those countries,” she noted.
She also holds and cultivates a strong commitment to prayer and the Sacraments.
“Hopefully, it encourages the parishioners and students by being visible at our school Masses, Mass during the week and on the weekend,” she said.
The SSND congregation maintains an active presence in nations on several continents.
“Our community is very strong in diverse cultures,” Sr. Claret noted. “Being able to share this with students, faculty and parishioners is a blessing.”
Sr. Claret previously served for 13 years as a missionary in Africa; taught art in high schools; and served as director of care for aged sisters at Veronica House in St. Louis; and accepted her current role in Westphalia.
All of this helps illustrate how the Holy Spirit works in people’s lives to share God’s love to many people, she said.
Sr. Claret noted that in a culture saturated with instant access to information and entertainment, “one can easily forget to be present to the God within us and in those we are serving.”
“Prayers are needed to help us stay centered on our call to serve God through serving and being present to the people in our lives,” she said.
Her advice to anyone who feels called to exploring a vocation to religious life is to start by talking to someone who’s already in religious life.
“Ask questions, share personal reflections on the call, and most of all, pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance in following the call,” she suggested.
Sr. Karen’s advice is simply to “Come and See.”