Sr. Virginia Meyer SSND comes home to celebrate 70th anniversary

Feted with Mass, reception in St. James and Rosati, where her years of service still resonate


CLICK HERE to see a gallery of photos from this event.,5401

Sister Virginia Meyer of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) spent 13 of her first 70 years of professed religious life in Rosati and St. James.

Somewhere along the way, these places became her home, and the people became her family.

There she celebrated her golden jubilee in 2004, and there she returned to note her platinum jubilee with an open house in St. James on June 12 of this year and a Mass in Rosati the following morning.

It was the Memorial Feast of St. Anthony of Padua, the Rosati parish’s patron saint.

“This morning at Mass, during the ‘Gloria,’ we prayed, ‘We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you’ — and that’s what Sr. Virginia’s life has been all about,” said Rosati parishioner Carol Flaim.

“She praised, adored and glorified God by the work she did here,” said Mrs. Flaim. “She is a pleasing sacrifice and incense before God, and we thank God for her and all she’s done for us.”

Rosati parishioner Monica Orlando called to mind the verse from Luke’s Gospel that was the antiphon for that morning’s responsorial psalm: “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.”

“Sister planted good seeds in her time here with us, and today was her harvest,” said Mrs. Orlando. “You could see that all around you.”

Sr. Virginia served in leadership roles at Immaculate Conception in St. James and St. Anthony in Rosati from 1995-2008.

Since 2021, Sister Virginia has been living and assisting at Cardinal Ritter Senior Services in St. Louis through prayer, presence and service.

“It’s a great life,” she said while carving up slices of a cake baked in the shape of the number 70. “I have no regrets. I have a lot of challenges but no regrets.”

A native of Apple Creek near the southern tip of the St. Louis archdiocese, Sr. Virginia has served in many roles and in many locales these past seven decades.

“I’ve loved every one of them, but this will always be my home now,” she said of St. James and Rosati.

“I’m now the last of 10 siblings in my family,” she said. “I have lots of wonderful nieces and nephews, but no immediate family. So, I came here to celebrate.”

She also planned to visit the parish cemeteries.

“That’s where a lot of the folks are that I knew,” she said.

“Something beautiful”

Father Patrick Dolan, a retired priest who lives in the St. James rectory and offers Mass in parishes around the area, presided at Sr. Virginia’s Jubilee Mass in Rosati.

In his homily, he lauded Sr. Virginia, the School Sisters of Notre Dame and all the religious sisters whose heroic efforts helped build up the Church in the diocese.

“We should not forget, and we should always be grateful for the great mission you and your community of Notre Dame Sisters have accomplished among us in this part of the world,” he said to her.

The sisters and their lives of sacrificial service help invigorate the memory of Christ and his total, self-giving sacrifice.

“It’s that memory that now enriches our celebration of the Eucharist and our great remembrance of all that Christ accomplished for us,” said Fr. Dolan.

He called to mind the words used by an English philosopher and journalist named Malcolm Muggeridge to describe the compassionate work of St. Theresa of Kolkata and her Missionaries of Charity among the poorest of the poor in India.

“Something beautiful for God.”

“I borrow those same words and say of you, Sister, and your community, and the other religious communities who have served here — it has been and continues to be something beautiful for God,” he said.

A name not given

Sr. Virginia said her jubilee year has been one of deep gratitude and celebration.

“My SSND commitment has given me ample opportunities to live out my call to a life of service and availability,” she said.

The youngest of 10 children in her family, she was born and raised in Apple Creek, a small farming community in southeastern Missouri.

As a child, she already had the name for her first daughter picked out.

Yet, as time went by, the call to religious life began asserting itself more clearly.

“I fought it long enough!” she said. “I finally gave in.”

She entered religious life in St. Louis with the School Sisters of Notre Dame, a congregation of religious sisters founded in Germany and present in this area for over 150 years.

Its founding mission, through which it receives the power of the Holy Spirit, is to respond to the needs of the poor, especially women and children.

That mission has been carried out in this country mostly through educating children in Catholic schools and helping to build up the spiritual life of parishes.

Sr. Virginia made her first profession of vows — promising a life of communal ownership of earthly goods; chastity; and holy obedience to the SSND leadership — on Aug. 2, 1954, at the Motherhouse near St. Louis.

There were 58 other SSND novices in her profession class.

She began her ministry as an elementary school teacher in Belleville, Illinois.

She completed a bachelor’s degree in theology from the former Notre Dame College in St. Louis in 1960, and a master’s degree in elementary education from Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau in 1975.

Something new

After many years of teaching in Illinois and Missouri, she served for 14 years as an administrator at several Catholic elementary schools.

In 1986, she returned to Our Lady of Lourdes School in Washington as an educator. The pastor there asked her to move into the role of pastoral minister, helping with religious education, sacrament preparation and spiritual direction.

She accepted the challenge and worked with the pastor while completing certification courses.

In 1995, Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe of Jefferson City, now deceased,  invited Sr. Virginia to be pastoral minister at St. Anthony Parish in Rosati and Immaculate Conception Parish in St. James.

She served in this capacity until 2001, when Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos asked her to become pastoral administrator of the Rosati parish and director of religious education of the parish in St. James.

While there, she was diligent about attending to the spiritual needs of the residents at the Missouri Veterans’ Home in St. James; as well as being very visible to the community at large, which is predominantly Protestant.

She cultivated friendship and collaboration among the people of both parishes, as well as building up relationships with other faith communities.

She returned to St. Louis in 2008, serving part-time on the Notre Dame Preschool staff until 2010 and as the pastoral ministry volunteer at Alexian Brothers Pastoral Care until 2020.

In 2010, she also became the hospitality transportation coordinator, overseeing transportation to and from the St. Louis airport for fellow sisters and their families, at Sancta Maria at Ripa in St. Louis, continuing in that role for 10 years.

She remains healthy, sharp and active at 91 and helps at Cardinal Ritter Senior Services with the transportation needs of her fellow sisters, such as shopping and doctor’s appointments.

Marching orders

“I was truly called by God through Bishop McAuliffe,” Sr. Virginia said of his invitation for her to serve in Phelps County.

She called to mind the great work of the religious sisters who had been in the parishes before her, including the Dominican sisters and Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet who taught in the former Catholic school in Rosati, Sister Peggy Bonnot of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, and Sister Mildred Loddeke SSND.

“Then, I came here and forgot to go home!” said Sr. Virginia.

Richard Cardetti was president of the St. Anthony Parish Pastoral Council at the beginning of Sr. Virginia’s time there.

“It was very nice to get to know her as an individual person rather than just a nun,” he recalled. “That was always wonderful. We love her, and this is her home.”

Immaculate Conception parishioner Darlene “Cookie” Humphrey remembers when the pastor was on sick leave for nine months and visiting priests were coming to offer Mass each Sunday.

“Sr. Virginia stood up at the end of Mass on that first Sunday and said, ‘Okay, folks. This is your parish. You have to step up and do your part,’” Mrs. Humphrey recalled.

Sr. Virginia then presented to parishioners a list of things that needed to be taken care of at church — from mowing grass to clearing snow on the sidewalk before Mass.

Lifelong Catholic Ernie Zulpo was serving as caretaker of the St. Anthony Church property when Sr. Virginia first arrived.

“I had sisters teach me while I was growing up, but I went through a divorce and fell out of the Church,” he said. “Well, Sister got here and started helping me along. I’d ask her a question and she’d answer it.

“That’s what gave me the opportunity to get back into the Church,” he said.

“A guiding light”

Mrs. Humphrey said Sr. Virginia was a mentor and role model — “maybe even a mother figure” — especially to women in the parishes.

She praised Sr. Virginia’s productive honesty: “You could ask her anything and trust that she would be boldly honest with you.

“Sister never made people mad,” Mrs. Humphrey noted. “She always found a diplomatic way to do whatever needed to be done, but not to offend.”

Immaculate Conception parishioner Marilyn Schwartz spoke of Sr. Virginia as “solid, steady guidance,” especially through the parish religious education programs.

“She was a motherly figure to those who needed mothering, and a guiding leader who could stand up and say, ‘This is what we need,’” said Mrs. Schwartz.

She talked about how kind Sr. Virginia had been to her grandson — who died two years ago at age 24 — back when he was a child in religious education classes with her.

“She is just a solid lady,” said Mrs. Schwartz, “a guiding light along your path and your journey.”

“She still knows so many of these people very personally,” said Rosati parishioner Kim Cardetti. “She watched our families grow up. She had our children in CCD classes.

“I mean, we’re a family, and I’m so thankful for her,” Mrs. Cardetti stated. “Sister is such a blessing and a treasure for us.”

Lesson learned

Fr. Dolan acknowledged that there aren’t as many religious sisters as there used to be.

“WE are to continue the mission they begun among us!” he said.

Sr. Virginia pointed out that SSNDs tend to follow the motto, “train and move on.”

“And evidently, we have done a good job, because you have been good students,” she told the people of Rosati and St. James.

“It’s so obvious to me that you are, indeed, continuing the work. Keep it up!”

For more information about Sr. Virginia and this year’s other SSND jubilarians, visit: ssnd