Sister Celly Ann Amparano would say her mission in life was “to be strong and loving to the people, to be positive and to be that person who can bring Jesus to them.”
She succeeded on many fronts.
Sister Celly Ann, 71, of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND), a medial interpreter for El Puente–Hispanic Ministry in Jefferson City, died on Oct. 16 in St. Louis.
She had been under treatment for multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer.
She previously served as a teaching principal at St. George School in Linn and St. Mary School in Frankenstein, and taught at St. Stanislaus School in Wardsville.
The Funeral Mass was celebrated on Oct. 22 in the chapel of Santa Maria in Ripa, the SSND motherhouse in St. Louis.
“She was a wonderful person and friend,” Sharon Grellner of St. George parish in Linn stated on the diocesan Facebook page.
“She was an amazing principal,” stated Samantha Brandt, also of St. George in Linn. “Thanks for helping me to find my voice, Sr. Celly Ann! I will forever sing for you and remember.”
“She was such a blessing for our community and she will be terribly missed,” stated Aurora Guillen, a member of St. Peter parish in Jefferson City.
“God took me away”
Sr. Celly Ann was born on Dec. 21, 1947, in Fresno, California, the third of four daughters of Manuel and Mercedes Amparano.
Her father was a rancher, working mostly in cotton and irrigation, and her mother was a beautician.
The children would often fall asleep listening to their grandmother praying the Rosary.
Since they did not have many close neighbors, the four girls depended on each other for companionship.
Sr. Celly Ann learned conversational Spanish at home.
During her youth, she worked in the fields, picking figs and cutting grapes to make money for school clothes.
She later became a teacher assistant at Teague Elementary School in Fresno.
She graduated from Fresno State College in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in social science and obtained her California Teaching Credential in 1975.
She began teaching at St. Helen School in Fresno, where she met several School Sisters of Notre Dame.
“I became friends with them,” she recalled in 2017. “I got caught up in their joy. I kept thinking, ‘What makes them so joyful and at peace?’ That just kept drawing me more and more to their life.”
The following summer, she drove to St. Louis with Sister Nancy Flamm SSND and participated in a discernment program in New Madrid.
That experience of prayer, community and sharing brought great peace to her. She realized that she was being called to become a sister.
“God just took me away!” she said. “Listening to the sisters sing in the chapel — it just lifted me up, heart and spirit!”
She entered the SSND postulancy on Sept. 4, 1977.
Four months later, she was received into the novitiate and lived at Sancta Maria in Ripa in St. Louis, for her canonical year.
Religious life helped her appreciate the gift of her Hispanic heritage and of having grown up with two languages.
“My parents spoke to each other in Spanish,” she recalled in 2017. “But when we started school, they only spoke English to us and wanted us to speak English at home.”
She got to where she didn’t want to speak Spanish anymore, because she didn’t think she was pronouncing it well.
“But after I became a School Sister of Notre Dame, that changed drastically!” she said. “Being an SSND made me proud of being Hispanic and proud to be able to speak to so many people.”
Called through music
Sister Barbara Neist SSND, who served with her in San Antonio, Linn and Jefferson City, said Sr. Celly Ann lived in a beautiful way the SSND charism of “making one.”
“She brought people together and made everyone feel welcome and accepted,” she said.
She said Sr. Celly Ann had a heart for people who struggle in life, and dedicated her own life to serving them.
“She truly wanted each person to know his or her dignity and worth,” said Sr. Barbara.
She was full of hope and joy, keeping a positive attitude and sense of humor, even through the past several years of illness and pain.
She loved music and playing guitar at Mass.
“God spoke to her and called her through music,” said Sr. Barbara. “She thoroughly enjoyed working with student choirs in all her ministries as a teacher and principal and most recently with the adult choir at St. George in Linn, and the Spanish choir at St. Peter in Jefferson City.”
Sr. Celly Ann made first promises on July 1, 1979, and professed final vows on Feb. 21, 1985, at St. Helen in Fresno, California.
She taught junior high students at Holy Angels School in East St. Louis, Illinois; St. Marianne de Paredes School in Pico Rivera, California; and Santa Isabel School in Los Angeles.
She served as principal for 13 years at Santa Isabel School, then for another 13 at St. Philip of Jesus in San Antonio, Texas.
Justina Ozuna Heredia of San Antonio credited Sr. Celly Ann for opening up her love for music ministry and her talent for singing, acting and performing.
James P. Garza of San Antonio said Sr. Celly Ann was one of the most influential people he has ever known.
“She made St. Philip of Jesus, which was a small Southside school, into one recognized throughout the Archdiocese of San Antonio,” he stated.
Danielle Charles of San Antonio called Sr. Celly Ann “the glue that held our St. Philip of Jesus School family together.”
She “taught me what it was to love God and to serve Him,” Ms. Charles stated, and inspired her to become a music minister in the Church.
“It’s almost overwhelming to think of how many students and parents this woman made an impact on,” stated Kellie Rose Alcozer of San Antonio.
“She laid the foundation for my faith in God, and taught me that church isn’t only a place for praying,” she said.
Ryan Scott Benavides of San Antonio said God gave Sr. Celly Ann many gifts, but the greatest was how she “took a student’s potential and multiplied it to show the world God’s love through their talents.”
“A good slowing-down”
Sr. Celly Ann came to the Jefferson City diocese in 2007 to serve as principal of St. George School in Linn.
She encountered numerous opportunities to bond with students by teaching them music and offering seventh- and eighth-grade Spanish classes.
She brought with her a 30-year tradition of having the students on Palm Sunday act out the story of Jesus’s passion and death.
“It really comes to life for them, and for the parents as well,” she stated in 2009.
In 2014, she became a consultant for Hispanic outreach in the Jefferson City diocese, serving in that role for two years.
In 2016, she began a challenging, 40-credit-hour course of study to become a certified medical interpreter for El Puente–Hispanic Ministry in Jefferson City.
She wound up taking a semester off to teach music at St. Stanislaus School in Wardsville.
“I love music and helping the kids sing by themselves and sing at Mass,” she said in 2017. “It filled me with so much life! It slowed me down a little in what I was doing, but it was a good slowing-down.”
Being a bridge
Upon completing her certification, she went about helping people who did not know English communicate with doctors and other healthcare providers during medical appointments and hospital visits.
Leaving her ministry at El Puente to begin treatment for cancer saddened her.
“During her short time in that ministry, she came to love each person she served,” said Sr. Barbara.
Surviving are three sisters; Anita (Dave) Hoth of Alta Loma, California; Mary (Ron) Gonzales of Las Vegas, and Gloria Amparano of Fresno, California, and numerous nieces and nephews.