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Religious observe anniversaries
By Denver Catholic Register
Each year, many of the religious sisters who serve in the Archdiocese of Denver celebrate anniversaries of note. These sisters serve their communities, and the people of Colorado, in a variety of ways. The jubilarian sisters were publicly acknowledged for their ministry by Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., during a Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception May 22.
|Photo by James Baca/DCR
Pictured Above: Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., congratulates religious jubilarians, from left: Sisters Jackie Leech, Sen Nguyen, Rita Draude, Toni Callahan, Francine Schwarzenberger and Mary Prudence Allen.
Sister Mary Rita Draude, O.S.F.
Wheaton Franciscan Sister Mary Rita Draude has ministered in hospitals in the Midwest as a registered nurse.
When missioned to Colorado, she worked as a public health nurse for the city and county of Denver. After retirement, Sister Mary Rita volunteered at Samaritan House as a registered nurse for 15 years and ministered at the city jail. Today, at the age of 80 and due to health problems, her present ministry is that of prayer, especially for friends.
“Pray and pray often before the Blessed Sacrament,” she says to anyone considering religious life. “Seek a spiritual director and develop a loving devotion to our Blessed Mother and sacred Scripture. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.”
Sister Toni Callahan, O.P.
Much of Dominican Sister Toni Callahan’s ministry has been as a teacher to children, teens and college age young adults. These days, Sister Toni works making clay pots and planting seeds. To those discerning a vocation to consecrated life, she had this affirmation to share.
“If by religious life they were thinking community life, I’d be delighted, encouraged and encouraging,” she said.
Sister Verlina Mescher, C.P.P.S.
Sister Verlina Mescher is a sister of the Precious Blood, Dayton, Ohio. Her first mission was at St. Greg Seminary in Cincinnati as a food service supervisor. From there she went to work at the Community Central House in Dayton, again as food manager, working for more than 23 years in several locations.
Coming to the now closed St. Thomas Seminary for the Vincentian community, she continued as food supervisor for nine years before deciding it was time for a change in careers. Her ministry continued as a nurse’s aide in Westminster, then as a housekeeping supervisor at Francis Heights/Clare Gardens in Denver. She continued worked as a personal care attendant at the Gardens at St. Elizabeth in Denver in the assisted living unit as well as working with Alzheimer patients.
These days, Sister Verlina works with the elderly in their homes on a part-time basis. She said she is deeply grateful for God’s call.
“If you think of being a sister, listen to (God’s) calling and see what is in store for you,” she said. “You’ll be blessed in many ways.”
Sister Josette Kelly, B.V.M.
Thanks to a piano scholarship to Webster College and degrees from Clarke College and the Universities of Minnesota and Iowa, Sister Josette Kelly, a Sister of Charity, taught music until her retirement.
As a teacher, music director and pastoral associate at Sacred Heart of Jesus in Boulder, she served one term on the Denver Archdiocesan Council for Religious. Today, she works as sacristan and is involved in other service roles at Dunn Residence. Sister Josette said that since the Second Vatican Council, many ministerial roles are open to those interested in religious life.
“I believe that contemplative communities offer a viable vocation,” she said.
Sister Jacqueline Leech, S.C.
Sister of Charity of Cincinnati Jacqueline Leech has served in many capacities in her half-century of service. She began her ministry as an English and theology teacher, first in New Mexico then in Colorado at Cathedral and Central Catholic high schools.
She served as vocation director for the Archdiocese of Denver for seven years and was pastoral associate for Our Lady Mother of the Church in Commerce City.
Currently Sister Jacqueline is chaplain at the Gardens at St. Elizabeth for Centura Health and has, since 1996, worked as a chaplain for the Denver Police Department. Her advice for those aspiring to religious life: “Go for it! It’s a wonderful, fulfilling life.”
Sister Francine Schwarzenberger, O.P.
Dominican Sister Francine Schwarzenberger started as an elementary school teacher in Kansas. She ministered as a liturgical consultant in the Diocese of Dodge City, where she also served as director of Renew and was in pastoral ministry for 12 years. She has served on the leadership team of the Dominican Sisters of Great Bend, including one term as assistant prioress and as vocation director. She volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and was coordinator of services for in-home care at the Seniors Resource Center in Denver as well as ministering at Father Woody’s Haven of Hope. Along with fellow Sister Teri Wall, she opened the Dominican House of Discernment in Denver. Currently, Sister Francine is mission group coordinator for the Dominican Sisters of Peace and member of Metro Denver Pax Christi as well as board member of the Colorado Coalition for the prevention of Nuclear War.
Follow the call of God’s grace, Sister Francine advises anyone who may be discerning a call to religious life.
“If this is where you are being led, be not afraid,” she said. “It is a life of challenge, grace, opportunities and blessings that never end.”
Sister Mary Prudence Allen, R.S.M.
When she entered the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., in 1983, Sister Mary Prudence was teaching philosophy in Montreal, Canada. After early formation she went to Concordia University and continued teaching until taking an early retirement so she and three other sisters could come to Denver to help open St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. As founding chair of the philosophy department, Sister Mary Prudence has worked with Regis University and the Pontifical Lateran University to establish the curriculum and to recommend faculty for hire to carry out teaching this curriculum. She currently teaches five courses a year to seminarians, is the local superior of the convent in Denver and was recently named to the endowed Charles J. Chaput Chair of Philosophy at the seminary. Sister Mary Prudence describes the religious vocation as “a life of service seeking the perfection of charity.”
“Living the vows, and learning how to die in Christ and rise in Christ daily is a great adventure,” she said.
Sister Sen Nguyen, O.S.F.
Separated from her mother following the fall of Saigon in 1975, Franciscan Sister Sen Nguyen eventually escaped that nation by boat and found her way to Denver where her mother was living. After making first vows she earned a degree in sociology and religious studies at Regis University. She taught middle school for a short time and started a Vietnamese youth choir as well as youth groups which have been running for 18 years. Sister Sen completed a master’s degree in education and art and in 2003 organized Provide-N-Ce, an art gallery and fair trade market of items produced by international artisans. She also developed, Bridging Hope, which works to raise money to help the underserved-needs of people in her native Vietnam.
To those interested in the religious life, Sister Sen said she would share how she has been transformed by God’s goodness.
“Through my never-ending exodus, I would show them the richness of the Franciscan charism,” she said. “This charism continues to be blessed by the awesome response of our sisters to the signs of our time.”