By Leigh Calfee
Nebraska City (SNR) - On Wednesday evenings during the fall, parishioners from the Nebraska City area stream into the convent of the Franciscan Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother.
A similar scene is repeated on Thursday mornings and again on Sunday nights. In all, nearly 60 people gather weekly for catechetical teaching presented by the sisters. These sessions are one of the many ways in which the sisters serve the Catholic faithful in Nebraska City, Plattsmouth and the surrounding areas.
The sisters have been involved with the parishes in Nebraska City and Plattsmouth, as well as Lourdes Central Catholic Schools and St. John the Baptist Catholic School, for 18 years. Sisters Ana Maria, Kathleen and Cynthia spend their time dedicated to prayer, but they also help parishioners prepare for Sunday Mass, teach religion classes and minister to the Spanish-speaking community.
The sisters have hosted catechetical teachings for many years. They initially held classes in the basement of St. Mary Church in Nebraska City, but more recently they have opened their home to laity eager to strengthen their faith.
Terry Smith, a parishioner at St. Joseph in Paul, said, “The sisters spend a lot of time learning, and then they present that learning to the community. Their teaching on the book of Revelation, Church history, the Gospels and Divine Mercy have helped so much in developing my relationship with Christ.”
Valerie Able of St. Joseph Parish in Auburn is attending the sisters’ weekly sessions on the Eucharist for the first time.
“The teaching has really enlightened me about the Jewish roots of our faith,” she said.
Able, a former principal at Lourdes Central Catholic Schools, has seen how much the sisters have impacted students in the Nebraska City area. She observed, “Their religious presence in school is a living example of holiness and joy.”
The Franciscan Sisters were invited to the Diocese of Lincoln by Bishop Bruskewitz and arrived in Nebraska City, from Wisconsin, in 2000. Nebraska City-area priests, including Father Michael McCabe, welcomed the sisters’ presence in both parishes and schools.
Father McCabe, currently serving as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Lincoln, worked closely with the sisters for nearly 20 years.
“Adult education has been a really, really big part of what the Franciscan Sisters have done for the laity in the Nebraska City area,” he said. “They have a gift for teaching and a commitment to prayer.”
The sisters began their catechetical ministry in the diocese by holding classes in the parish hall at St. Mary Church in Nebraska City. They teach on a variety of subjects during the spring and fall, and classes are well attended by area parishioners.
Several years ago, the sisters made the decision to move classes to the convent.
“To teach from the home environment of the convent, on multiple days, makes for a more personal, intimate experience,” said Sister Kathleen, O.S.F.
That commitment to hospitality is echoed by Sister Cynthia, O.S.F., who shared, “Holding classes at our home provides a different ambiance and allows people to know us better. We enjoy having people in our home for these classes.”
In addition to classes at the convent, the sisters can be found in the classroom at Lourdes Central Catholic in Nebraska City and St. John the Baptist in Plattsmouth each week. Sister Ana Maria, O.S.F., works closely with the Spanish-speaking community in Nebraska City, and all three sisters recently sold tamales at Nebraska City’s Applejack Festival to raise money for scholarships for Spanish-speaking students.
Father McCabe has witnessed how committed the sisters are to service. He said, “The sisters do a wonderful job of making themselves available to be servants for Nebraska City and the surrounding communities.”
Father Jonathan Haschke, pastor of St. Mary in Nebraska City, has seen the impact the sisters have on the lay faithful.
“I have only been in Nebraska City for three months, but I can see that we are very blessed to have the sisters in our community,” he said. “They give us a lived example of the consecrated life. They live out the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. They also witness to spiritual motherhood in their interactions with the people of Nebraska City.
“Our young people get to see religious sisters and to consider the vocation to consecrated life,” he continued. “Adult faith formation is one of their apostolates. This fall they have a great lineup of lessons about the Eucharist. I am grateful to the sisters for their witness and their work in Nebraska City,” Father Haschke said.
The sisters’ current teaching series on the Eucharist is designed to complement Bishop James Conley’s focus on the Eucharist and the Family Rosary.
Sister Kathleen related, “We are dedicated to the diocese and to doing our best to support Bishop Conley, to be in union with his vision.”
For the lay faithful who attend classes at the convent each week, as well as for teachers, administrators, students, parents and parishioners, the Franciscan Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother serve as terrific examples of hospitality, prayerfulness and a life-long commitment to growing in holiness through learning.