Celebrating Catholic Sisters Week: Sisters of St. Joseph called to Boston and beyond

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Catholic Sisters Week, "Celebrating Traditions, Changing the World," is celebrated each year from March 8-14 as part of Women's History Month. Begun in 2014, Catholic Sisters Week celebrates the generous and loving service of sisters throughout our country and the world for so many years.

In 2023, the Sisters of St. Joseph celebrate 150 years of ministry and presence in the Archdiocese of Boston. From their earliest beginning in LePuy, France, in 1650, the Sisters of St. Joseph have organized themselves to respond to any need in any place.

"The Portrait of a Daughter of Joseph" by Father Marius Nepper, SJ, which describes the aspirations of the first Sisters of St. Joseph, continues to be relevant to this day.

Eyes open and ears attentive to the sufferings of the world;

Eyes open, ears attentive and spirit alert...

never settled down, always in a holy disquietude, searching...

in order to understand,

to divine what God and the dear neighbor

await from her today, now, for the body and for the soul;

Eyes open, ears attentive, spirit alert ... sleeves rolled up for ministry,

without excluding the more humble, the less pleasing,

the less noticeable;

Finally, in her face the reflection of a virtue proper to our Congregation

-- continual joy of spirit.

This is the quiet inner glow of the Sister whose life

in the service of Jesus Christ has been successful.

We cherish our sacred history in the Archdiocese of Boston and have a great love for the people and the many places where we have served. Although we are a diocesan congregation with deep roots in Boston, our sisters have responded generously to the call to serve beyond Boston. What follows are stories of a few of the dozens of Boston Sisters of St. Joseph who have served the Dear Neighbor without distinction in the other dioceses in Massachusetts, in 28 states in our country, and internationally in five countries.

Sister Peggy Nichols, CSJ, was an accomplished educator on both the elementary and secondary levels for many years. After Vatican II, the importance of and the need for updated formation programs for new members of religious congregations inspired her to respond to the call for an executive director for the Religious Formation Conference in Washington, DC, in 1983. Formation of new members of religious congregations was an initiative very dear to Sister Peggy's heart. Sister Peggy initiated the Life Commitment Program, a three-week workshop/retreat experience for women and men preparing to make final vows. She also planned a Third World Immersion Experience for formation directors. The fruits of her labor continue to inform the work of the Religious Formation Conference.

In accepting a position in the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, Sister Frances Agnes Blake, CSJ, adapted words from the CSJ Constitution: "the needs of the Church and the world belong not to Boston alone. As Sisters of St. Joseph, we strive to create 'ever widening circles of relationship.'" Her appointment as liaison for religious was a first in the Diocese of Burlington. The document, "Mutual Relations: Directives for the Mutual Relations Between Bishops and Religious in the Church, 1978," emphasizes the importance of the liaison for religious in strengthening the bonds of communion between and among the religious congregations and their diocese. "Religious congregations are an integral part of a diocese." Sister Frances Agnes was untiring in her efforts to support the ministry and presence of religious congregations in Vermont.

Responding to an invitation from the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph led Sister Helen Thomas Colbert, CSJ, to serve the "dear neighbor without distinction" in Jonestown, Mississippi, and Haynesville, Alabama. These were among the poorest places in the United States with pressing needs for educational and pastoral support and very limited resources. Sister Helen served as a teacher, community coordinator, bookkeeper, and any other profession which the work required. Sister Helen helped to establish the Student Tutor Enrichment Program (STEP), a community organization dedicated to educating youth and the elderly who have never been to school.

A list of all the places where Sisters of St. Joseph have served beyond the Archdiocese of Boston accompanies this article. Throughout the celebration of our 150th Anniversary, we will continue to share stories of the many ways that our sisters, associates, agregees, and partners in mission have lived and continue to live the charism of unifying love.