By Sallyann McCarthy
Sister Sisters aren’t an uncommon occurrence in religious congregations throughout history. When St. Clare of Assisi founded her community of Poor Clare Sisters, her own sister, Agnes, was one of the first women to join her. Later, Clare’s mother, Ortolana, also joined the cloistered community.
Forty-four families can count more than one of their daughters as Clinton Franciscans, including 10 families who had three sisters as members of the relatively small congregation. And there have been at least two sets of twin sisters who took vows together.
Living at The Canticle in Clinton are two sets of “Sister sisters,” Sisters Rose and Beatrice Griffin and Sisters Mary Ann and Anne Martin Phelan. Sister Mary Francis Burke lives at the Canticle, but her sister, Donna, is a pastoral minister in Jesup. Sister Catherine Lodder and Sister Mary of the Angels Klein also live at the Canticle. Their Sister sisters are deceased.
Sr. Catherine, a Clinton Franciscan for 83 years, entered at the same time as her older sister, Henrietta. “We were together at Mount St. Clare Convent as postulants and novices,” Sr. Catherine recalled, “but, although we were both teachers, we were never stationed at the same school together. Our mother was happy that we were both entering the same congregation,” she said. “We didn’t talk much about our vocations. We just took it for granted that we would be Sisters.”
Srs. Beatrice and Rose have lived and worked together for the last 22 years after not working together most of their adult lives. They were taught by Clinton Franciscans. “Sister Mercedes personified the Franciscan spirit with her kindness and generosity to the poor and sick,” said Sr. Rose. “She is who inspired me.”
Sr. Bea had planned to be a Maryknoll missionary but changed her mind after visiting Mount St. Clare Convent. “The one thing I knew growing up was that I would never join the convent,” said Sr. Bea. “That was until I had worked at several jobs after high school and I knew there had to be more to life!”
Sr. Mary of the Angels joined the Clinton Franciscans one month before her sister, Sr. Camilla, entered. They shared those years of preparation but were never stationed together during their long careers as teachers.
“I knew I wanted to be a Sister for as long as I can remember and a Franciscan since eighth grade,” said Sr. Mary, “but everyone was surprised when my sister announced that she too was joining the Clinton Franciscans.
“We had been in the same class since fourth grade, but we were very different. Cami was my model! We enjoyed the few years we had together in retirement here at The Canticle. We prayed together as we had growing up”
Sr. Mary Francis, who served as a teacher and principal at the former Sacred Heart School in Clinton, was the second girl in her family to enter religious life. Her older sister was a Mercy Sister and a nurse. “When Ruth and I talked with our dad about becoming Sisters he said, ‘We just want you to be happy.’”
“… Donna and I didn’t talk much about our vocations, but when she was considering which congregation to enter, Mother definitely steered her to Clinton.” Sister Donna served as principal at the former St. Patrick and Seton schools in Clinton.
Sr. Mary Ann also planned on being a Maryknoll missionary. Then, on the advice of her parish priest, she enrolled at Mount St. Clare College. A year later she entered the Clinton Franciscans. Her younger sister, Anne Martin, followed her to MSC and a year later she, too, was a postulant. “Mary Ann and I never served in the same convent or even the same state for 25 years, said Sr. Anne Martin.
“We visited only during holidays and summer retreat times, until 1996 when I left teaching and school administration to join her in development work in Clinton.” Sr. Mary Ann established the development office at MSC College. They are still working together, running the development office for the congregation and loving it.
“It’s great,” said Sr. Mary Ann. “We like our ministry and we like working together. It has heightened the level of our relationship. Our family (they had five brothers) loves it, too: They know they can count on lots of prayers!”