Franciscan Clarist sisters celebrate 50 years of service in Minnesota

| Debbie Musser | July 20, 2020 | 0 Comments

From left, Sister Jancy Nedumkallel and Sister Tresa Margret Sauriammackel talk with Louie Doering, who was principal at St. Therese School in Deephaven when the sisters arrived in 1970. The three visited at the religious order’s 50th anniversary Mass July 18 at St. Therese, celebrated by Archbishop Bernard Hebda. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Fifty years ago, two sisters from India’s Franciscan Clarist Congregation arrived at St. Therese in Deephaven.

Due to the withdrawal of the Servite sisters from St. Therese School and a shortage of sisters in U.S. orders, Father Jerome Janski, pastor at the time, contacted the Franciscan Clarists to begin the process of bringing sisters from India to fulfill the need.

“Sister Tresa Margret (Sauriammackel) and Sister Jancy (Nedumkallel) came to St. Therese on June 26, 1970,” said Sister Tresa Jose Athickal, 72, who arrived from India two years later. “We were some of our order’s first to leave India to serve in other places. And at the time, going to America was like going to the moon.”

“Everything was different – the climate, the culture and the language,” said Sister Tresa Margret, 74. “We all knew English, but not the American English.”

“We experienced challenges and excitement, and all along the way, people were so good to us,” she said.

Those two religious sisters have helped the Congregation grow in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, with 15 Franciscan Clarist sisters currently serving here, ranging in age from 32 to 74. The archdiocese is the only place in the U.S. served by the order.

A May jubilee celebration, which was to be attended by the Franciscan Clarist sister provincial from India, was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. On July 18, the 15 sisters gathered for a celebration Mass with Archbishop Bernard Hebda at St. Therese.

Founded in Kerala, India, in 1888, the order has more than 7,000 sisters serving four continents in a variety of ministries, including education, health care, social work, parishes and prisons, with 80 to 90 new sisters joining each year.

The Minnesota sisters’ service includes teaching in Catholic schools and parish faith formation programs, parish ministry and health care. The sisters live in convents at St. Therese; Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville and St. John the Baptist in Vermillion, and at Our Lady of Peace Home, a hospice in St. Paul.

After their arrival 50 years ago, Sister Tresa Margret and Sister Jancy went to Mankato for an orientation period with the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

“I’m so grateful for those sisters; they helped us begin our life here,” said Sister Jancy, 73, who taught fifth grade and served as assistant principal at St. Therese; she also taught faith formation at the parish.

Sister Tresa Margret, who had Franciscan Clarist sisters as teachers while growing up in India, always admired the way they lived, prayed and treated people.

“I wanted to be a sister and teach third grade, and when I came to St. Therese, I was assigned to teach third grade, which I did for 15 years,” she said. “Third graders are like sponges; it’s easy to teach them.”

“God was good to me,” she said. “My dream came true.”

Since their arrival, the Franciscan Clarist sisters have had a major impact on St. Therese.

“The sisters live with the joy of Jesus in their hearts, and that joy permeates everywhere in the St. Therese community,” said Katie Sullivan, a St. Therese School graduate who is now the parent of three children who attend the school.

“It’s impossible not to smile and feel God’s love when you pull into campus and see a nun in full habit laughing and playing tag with preschoolers, or when you watch them sing, dance, cheer and pray at various events,” she said.

“They are fully immersed in parish and school life, and it’s an amazing blessing for our entire community to bear witness to lives fully dedicated to God,” said Sullivan.

Father Leonard Andrie, pastor at St. Therese, concurs. “The sisters bear witness to the joy of serving Christ wholeheartedly in a spirit of simplicity,” he said. “They remind us that being ‘all in’ for Christ and his church is an extraordinarily fulfilled and meaningful life.”

“And there are few things in life better than having dinner with our sisters, listening to stories and hearing them laugh together,” Father Andrie said. “It truly is a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven.”

Following her service at St. Therese, Sister Tresa Margret moved to St. Agnes in Vermillion, South Dakota, where she taught second grade and faith formation, started small faith communities and served in parish ministry.

She returned to Minnesota and served as principal at St. John the Baptist in Vermillion. Sister Tresa Margret currently does pastoral care ministry and teaches faith formation for the three-parish cluster of St. John the Baptist, St. Mary in New Trier and St. Mathias in Hampton.

After St. Therese, Sister Jancy moved to Cologne and served as principal at St. Bernard School before coming to Mary, Mother of the Church, where she is a pastoral care associate.

Both sisters will eventually return to India. “That’s where I grew up and was trained so I want to go back, but I will certainly miss everyone here,” Sister Jancy said.

“I’m thankful for all the people I met and worked with – the principals, pastors and parishioners who were all awesome,” she said. “I have a grateful heart.”

Mary Ellen and John Schommer, both in their 70s, have six children who attended St. Therese School.

“When they come back, we see the sisters at Mass and they are so kind and interested in hearing about their news,” said Mary Ellen. “They all share the same memory of Sister Tresa Jose, who would say, ‘If you think you have a bad singing voice, don’t worry . . . God gave you that voice, so you give it right back to him.’”

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