DENTON (SNR) - Eight religious sisters serving the Diocese of Lincoln are celebrating jubilees this year. They were honored May 1 at an annual banquet for all religious women in the diocese, hosted by Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz.
Sister Mary Ellen Auffert, O.S.B.
While growing up at Saint Joseph Parish in Carnell, Mo., Sister Mary Ellen Auffert became interested in the religious life rather early. She was in the middle of grade school when she first began discerning her vocation.
After taking her vows with the Benedictine Sisters of Saint Joseph, Sister Mary Ellen became a teacher, a role she still enjoys. She came to the Diocese of Lincoln to work at Saint Andrew School in Tecumseh in 2004.
Her vocation included other interesting apostolates, including, she said, "parish ministry in Brazil and pro-life ministries."
Sister Mary Ellen indicated that her life as a religious sister has been so profoundly meaningful to her, it is difficult for her to describe her experience.
"I don’t think you can put it into words that easily," she said.
As other women consider vocations to the religious life, Sister Mary Ellen offered encouragement by quoting the Lord Jesus Christ: "Come and see," she said. "The Lord said to ‘Come and see.’"
Sister Collette Bruskewitz, O.S.F.
The daughter of the late Frances and Wendelin Bruskewitz, Sister Collette grew up in a faithfully Catholic home in Milwaukee, Wisc.
As a child attending Saint Wenceslaus church and school, Sister Collette began to realize that she was meant to join the School Sisters of Saint Francis, who were her teachers.
Sister Collette has delighted in the variety of work she’s been able to do as a religious sister: choir and organ for the liturgy, grade school teacher and principal. She’s worked in small rural missions and catechetical programs, and she’s focused on praying the Liturgy of Hours while living at the Motherhouse
"I have been blessed in every way, beyond expectations!" she exclaimed.
After her brother was named Bishop of Lincoln, Sister Collette joined him in 1992 as his housekeeper and caretaker for their mother. Now she serves as assistant superintendent of schools for the diocese.
She encourages other women to consider this "most beautiful relationship with Jesus Christ."
Sister Collette advised, "If you have the necessary health, common sense, sense of humor, and want to love the Lord, go to live religious life with a whole hearted entry, leaving only if sent away… Our Lord is a true and faithful Spouse."
Sister Ana Maria Solis, O.S.F.
Sister Ana Maria attended Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in El Paso, Texas with her parents, the late Jose and Maria-de-Jesus Salis. She took her vows with the Franciscan Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, an order recommended to her by a Franciscan priest.
Sister Ana Maria was attracted to the idea of being sent by the Lord.
"Obedience was the big thing," she said.
For most of her vocation, she was a teacher. She enjoyed working with fifth and sixth graders especially, a role she had both in Wisconsin and in Nebraska. She came to the Diocese of Lincoln with a couple of others at the bishop’s invitation 10 years ago.
Now that she has retired from teaching, she’s leading adult and children’s choirs at Saint Benedict parish in Nebraska City.
"I’m very thankful to the Lord for all of the graces He has bestowed upon me," she said. "For me there’s no other life."
She hopes that other women will also be obedient when the Lord tells them to go into the religious life.
"It’s a matter of loving the Lord," she reasoned. "Whatever the Lord’s will is for you in that community is what you need to do."
Sister Joanne Thomas, O.S.F.
Growing up in Mount Olive, Illinois, Sister Joanne Thomas attended Holy Trinity parish with her parents, the late Anne and John Thomas. The School Sisters of Saint Francis taught at her parish school, and they always seemed very happy and friendly.
Sister Joanne didn’t realize she was meant to join them until she was "24 or 25." By then she’d had quite a bit of contact with the Sisters.
"I chauffeured them around after I learned to drive," she said.
Sister Joanne has had many different teaching assignments and liked them all. She’s found joy in living a communal life and praying with her sisters.
"In l993, I got a call from Sister Collette who said there was an opening at Sacred Heart, she said. "So I came and am very happy that I did."
Sister Joanne describes her vocation as, "Very rewarding. I’ve been blessed with much happiness and have taught many fine children."
Her recommendation to young women is to pray about a religious vocation. "Talk to your pastor or a priest or sister and maybe check some communities."
First and foremost, Sister Joanne said, living out this vocation is about "…loving Jesus and becoming closer to Him."
Sister Clare Sullivan, M.S.
Sister Clare grew up on a farm near Crete with her parents, the late Elven and Irene Sullivan. She attended Sacred Heart parish.
Sister Clare’s aunt and great aunt were religious sisters, and her parents were very supportive of religious vocations, so it was natural that she would consider it as early as the fourth grade.
Some time after she graduated from high school, Sister Clare attended a weekend Lenten retreat. The tale of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man (Mark 10) struck a chord with the young woman.
She realized that accepting the Lord’s invitation, "is not a matter of salvation or not, or receiving God’s love or not...For me it was a freedom."
Soon afterward, Sister Clare went to work with the Marian Sisters at Saint Thomas Orphanage and soon became one of the order’s earliest professed sisters.
"I felt at home there from day one," she said.
Among the different roles she’s had as a sister, Sister Clare said there was one consistency: "The Lord stretched me far more than I would have otherwise chosen."
She encourages other women to pursue this calling.
"Do not be afraid!" she said. "He multiplies His promises a hundred fold."
Sister Mary Kansier, M.S.
Sister Mary Kansier was born into a military family. Her parents, the late Raymond and Donna Kansier, moved the family frequently, so she grew up attending many different parishes, on and off military bases.
As a freshman at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Sister Mary met religious sisters for the first time at the Newman Center and decided to visit the Motherhouse.
"I always felt at home, very at peace here," she said.
Sister Mary taught for 14 years and then worked on a degree in technology. For the last seven years, she’s worked in the education office for the diocese, helping bring technology into every classroom in the diocese.
That role, however, does not limit her to a back office. Sister Mary takes great joy in her role as an evangelist.
"Being the spouse of Christ allows me to draw other people to God and to be an intercessor for others," she said.
She understands that a young woman might be apprehensive about a religious calling.
"The world is going to give you many reasons not to do it," she admitted. "But just do it! This Year of Jubilee has made me very aware of how much I have received from God by way of graces."
Sister Barbara Jo Schneider, M.S.
The child of Carol and the late James Schneider, Sister Barbara Jo grew up on the family farmstead near Holstein. In high school, she helped some visiting sisters who were teaching CCD at her home parish, Assumption.
"Sister Veronica asked me to come out for a visit one weekend, and I did," Sister Barbara Jo remembers.
Since her profession, Sister Barbara Jo has had the opportunity to work in a variety of settings: Villa Marie Home and School, North American Martyrs School, the Motherhouse, and so on.
"I’m a very simple person," she said, "I like simple things… I get joy out of nature, and I get a joy out of being around people who want to hunger for Christ, and I want to be a witness to them and lead them to Him."
She believes it’s best for young women to take time to discern if God is calling them to a particular community.
"Go and visit the community, and if that’s not it, you can always turn to Him and He will always direct you," she assured. "It’s a wonderful life, being a religious sister. You can help all people come to know Christ through your words and actions."
Sister Mary Joseph Silbernick, C.K.
Raised in Papillion, Sister Mary Joseph belonged to St. Columbkille parish with her parents, Ken and Joan Silbernick.
During her sophomore year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she attended a retreat led by then-Father (now Bishop) Robert Vasa.
"He was talking about religious vocations, and in that instant, I knew I was supposed to be a sister," she remembered.
Now Sister Mary Joseph serves as principal at Saint Joseph school in Lincoln, where she relishes every opportunity to "touch the lives of children and their families."
Sister Mary Joseph said, "Since my first profession, my personal motto has been, ‘My God and My All.’ …It has truly been a joy both to be a spouse of Christ and to serve the people of God here."
For her Jubilee year, Sister Mary Joseph’s new motto is: "Fan into Flames the Gifts of God."
She explained, "My goal this year is to look back at the gifts God has given me, give thanks for them, be obedient to his promptings to love him more deeply."
To women considering vocations, Sister Mary Joseph encourages, "Really give God time to speak to your heart…Be open to listening to what He has to say."