"We work hard, play hard and pray hard"

I went next door this morning to drop off some chocolate chip cookies I baked - we bring dessert when we eat dinner with the senior Sisters on Sunday. This article was posted on the bulletin board in the dining room. It's a great article from the Jersey Journal that features two of our Sisters, Sondra & Regina. The title of this post is one of Regina's quotes from the article. Enjoy!

RELIGION - The Jersey Journal
Thursday, January 18, 2007

These nuns 'work hard, play hard, pray hard'

Editor's note: Today's column is the second of a two-part series.

The call to become a nun is as varied as the women who take the first step. For Sister Sondra Perrotta, 52, who attended all public schools in Hazlet, it was a tear-off card on a vocation poster at Stockton State College that led her to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.

Sister Regina O'Connell, 49, also a Peace sister, of Ridgewood, was also a "publican," her term for attending public schools, and never thought of religious life until another nun on the faculty of Immaculate Heart Academy in Washington Township asked her if she had ever thought of entering the convent.

Sister Noreen Holly's was most unusual. The Kerry, Ireland, native chose to come to the United States in the mid-1980s so she could get teaching experience and then return to Ireland. She chose Jersey City because the recruiter said it was right near the Statue of Liberty, and wound up living in Assumption-All Saints Convent with another Irish woman until they could find an apartment.

The other woman left after six weeks and Holly, 45, lived in the convent for five years and then decided to enter the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, Convent Station.

What all three nuns have in common is that they are the youngest sisters in their communities. And yet they aren't worried or concerned about their future or their communities.

"We have to trust that God has a plan," said Perrotta, who has been the staff social worker at Kenmare High School, an alternative school for women located in the York Street Project of Downtown Jersey City, for 22 years. She resides with five other sisters in the Lembeck House, the site of the original St. Ann's Home.

She is also the congregation councilor, or No. 2 person, for her East Coast province of some 205 nuns whose age breakdown mirrors the demographics of most orders of nuns. Six are between the ages of 49 and 59; 23 between 60 and 69; 47 between 70 and 79; 37 are 80 to 89, and eight are between 90 and 101.

O'Connell is the youngest, at 49, and still calls her vocation, "The best thing I have ever done in my life."

She works as the staffing director at St. Ann's Home for the Aged in Greenville, where she is also a trustee. She lives in a house in Hackensack with two other sisters. She was first attracted to her community because she found them "a very happy group of women."

And that still applies. "We work hard, play hard and pray hard."

She also said that when the younger sisters think about the senior sisters, "We kind of laugh to think we will be that old."

Holly, who lives with five other sisters in the Hoboken convent that was attached to the now closed Sacred Heart Academy, says, "age is not a factor."

She, too, is the youngest Sister of Charity and she says about the other older sisters, "I get energy from them."

She is the vice principal of Sacred Heart Elementary School in Jersey City.

She noted that there are a growing number of laywomen embracing a quasi-religious life as "associates." They live apart from the community and work in regular jobs and connect to the Sisters of Charity. Most religious communities of women count associates as a new, emerging, growing form of religious life.

Perrotta, O'Connell and Holly, who all know each other and work in Jersey City, also represent the more contemporary form of religious life. They wear secular clothes and are indistinguishable from other women. Their communities are two of the most progressive in the country and their members have been on the cutting edge of church reform.

They have embraced new ministries mostly outside of church control and have carved out new ways of being religious in a changing world.

These three nuns are happy in their work and hopeful for the future, even if it will be different than what they presently know.

Perrotta captured the essence of religious life: "We are looking at how we can help people."

SANTORA is the pastor of Our Lady of Grace Church, 400 Willow Ave., Hoboken,

© 2007 The Jersey Journal
© 2007 NJ.com All Rights Reserved.


Anonymous said...

I really liked your last quote from Margaret Anna Cusack... and the one you wrote a week or so ago. Is she the founder of your order in your area or the larger community? I would like to hear more about your community if this woman founded it!

This is sort of like a dual comment. I was thinking about your last post. All the sisters who are joining are almost retired! You are a bit younger. I did like the general idea of they don't worry about the future because the future is in God's hands. I was in an order and it makes sense the older new members don't worry about the future. Many of the women I met didn't have retirement funds so religious life provided a nicer future than they would have outside... I do think they were following their call, but it makes it a lot easier to choose it. Or the other smaller much more unusual group are the ones who have a nice retirement fund to draw from so they didn't need to worry about the future if the order did fail. I found it was easy for the older new members to not worry about the future based on their situation. But as a younger person in my mid to late 20s, my concerns were and should have been much different since much of the community would be dead and most likely the retirement money would be used by the time I was older.
I'd love to e-mail you... is there any way to contact you?

Susan Rose Francois, CSJP said...


Margaret Anna Cusack founded the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace. It is a small international community with 3 provinces - England/UK, East Coast (NJ) and West Coast (WA/OR/AK/CA). She was awesome as are her groovy descendents.

The demographics are daunting. There are lots of older sisters and not many newbies/younger women. I'm probably naive, but I do think God has a plan and it will all work out in the end. If anything we'll be returning to the more natural levels of religious life. It will be tricky though as the large group that entered in the 50's & 60's ages. But our community (and I would bet most communities) are facing this reality head on and working on creative and strategic thinking. It's going to be the major theme of our next Chapter I think.

In the end, we'll have to see what happens. But there is too much life here (especially in the older members who have so much energy and life left) for me to give up the dream.

My e-mail is susan at francois dot org. I'd love to chat via e-mail.

Lisa said...

Susan, thanks so much for posting this! Fr. Alex, the author, is a friend, and as you know, I know the work of the CSJPs at Kenmare and the York Street Project. Sondra is a good friend and I remember Regina from HER novitiate.