Sister Loretta Keller and Sister Suzanne Walker, members of the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, New York, are living in retirement in the Holy Rosary Convent in Monroe City.
Sr. Suzanne grew up in that community, graduated from Holy Rosary School, taught there and then served as its principal for 38 years before retiring last June.
Sr. Loretta has been a Dominican sister for the past 64 years. She grew up in nearby Brush Creek and is proud that as a young child, she went to Mass each Sunday in the old St. Peter Church.
It was the parish into which Venerable Father Augustus Tolton, born into a family of enslaved people, was baptized in 1854. Thirty-two years later, he became the Roman Catholic Church’s first recognizably Black priest in the United States.
Sr. Loretta has been living in community with Sr. Suzanne for the past three years.
Sr. Loretta describes this phase of her retirement as a ministry of prayer. She’s grateful for the opportunity to attend daily Mass and also spend time adoring Christ in Holy Rosary’s Adoration Chapel.
Throughout her years in religious life, Sr. Loretta has made every effort to follow St. Dominic’s example of being a preacher of God’s word.
She and Sr. Suzanne are among the nearly 25,000 religious sisters and brothers past age 70 in this country who benefit from the Retirement Fund for Religious.
That fund now receives part of the money contributed through the Diocese of Jefferson City’s Easter Special Collection.
The Easter Collection is one of three special collections that will continue to be taken up each year after parishes in this diocese convert to the stewardship model.
The Easter Collection now benefits retired priests and retired members of religious congregations.
It is an opportunity to give back to those who have dedicated their lives to sharing the good news of the Risen Christ.
A special envelope for this collection is inserted in this, the March 31 edition of The Catholic Missourian.
Donors should write a check to their parish and place it in the envelope and deposit it in the collection basket at church or deliver it to the parish office.
The other two special collections will be the Christmas special collection for seminarians and infirm priests, and a collection in July in support of the missions.
Making a difference
Sr. Suzanne stepped down as principal less than a year ago.
“Being ‘retired’ can be described or explained in many different ways, according to the abilities and/or desires of each individual,” she stated.
“As I am transitioning, I am open to looking at the paths on which Our Lord leads me to follow,” she said.
During her time of transition, she’s happy to remain in the Holy Rosary community, where she served for the past 48 years.
“I have been part of this community for most of my life,” she noted.
After entering religious life, she taught in the Bronx, New York, and in St. Louis before returning to her hometown.
“Through all of these years, I have been continuously inspired by the faithful people with whom I have come in contact,” she stated.
She spoke of the strong tradition in the parish and community, of individuals searching to know Jesus and follow His ways.
“The seeds that were planted when I was very young are still being sown today by so many faith-filled individuals of our two parishes of Holy Rosary in Monroe City and St. Stephen in Indian Creek,” she said.
Sparkill Dominicans have been associated with Holy Rosary School since it opened in 1901.
Two main Dominican mottos are “To praise, to bless, to preach,” and “to contemplate and give to others the fruits of our contemplation.”
“All of my life and through my first year of retirement, I’ve tried to follow these mottos, which are guides to living my vocation of being a Dominican sister,” said Sr. Suzanne.
She currently finds herself deeply engaged as a volunteer at Holy Rosary School, serving regularly as a substitute teacher and working with the music classes, especially in preparing for Eucharistic celebrations.
“I strive every day to help others to know and feel the presence of Jesus Christ in their lives,” she said. “I continually pray that I can be a Dominican Sister, a woman making a difference.”
Sr. Loretta is grateful for the prayers and sacrifices the people of this diocese offer up for retired sisters.
She hopes that these prayers will bring about many blessings that will allow the ministry of the sisters to continue in all of their various ways.