By Barb Arland-Fye
CLINTON — Standing in the sanctuary of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Church eight Clinton Franciscans, marking milestones, radiated joy as churchgoers raised their arms in blessing over the women.
The Sisters of St. Francis of Clinton, associates, family members and friends were gathered for the Rite of Perpetual Profession and Jubilee Eucharistic Liturgy July 20 at Prince of Peace.
Bishop Martin Amos presided at the Mass during which Sisters Janet Ryan and Sarah Martz professed perpetual vows as Clinton Franciscans; Sisters Jane McCarthy and Ann Martinek renewed vows they first professed 60 years ago; and Sisters Ruth E. Westmoreland, Joyce Zarnik, Jeanne d’Arc Untz and Eileen Golby renewed vows they first professed 50 years ago. A week earlier, the community had welcomed Emily Brabham, a woman in her 20s, who is beginning formation with the Clinton Franciscans. She was among those in attendance at the Mass.
“It’s just particularly hopeful at this time,” Sister Anne Martin Phelan, president of the Clinton Franciscans, said after the Mass as she reflected on the addition of younger Sisters to the community. “These are wonderfully dedicated women. They are the future of the Clinton Franciscan family.”
In his homily, Bishop Amos noted that for all the Sisters the book of life is still being written. “But you have the outline both from the Scriptures and from your charism (spiritual graces, or gifts) as Franciscans.
“The Scriptures clearly state where the Spirit is to lead you: heartfelt compassion toward your Sisters in community, toward the poor and to those in need, to kindness and humility, to gentleness and patience, to forgiveness and patience, and to bonds of perfection, love.”
Bishop Amos observed that both St. Francis and St. Clare “had a love for the ‘poor Christ’ who emptied himself to become human. You are likewise to have that concern.” And, he added, the community’s charism also calls the Sisters “to be one with creation.”
Like the other members of their community, Sisters Janet and Sarah have taken their charism to heart.
Sr. Janet’s story
Sr. Janet is the founding community leader of L’Arche in St. Louis. L’Arche is an international, faith-based federation of communities where individuals with and without intellectual disabilities share life. All but one member of the St. Louis L’Arche community attended the Mass and luncheon afterwards. Also attending were members of Sr. Janet’s family: her father, sister and her family, a brother and his wife. Sr. Janet’s mother, Phyllis, died two-and-a-half years ago, but Sr. Janet had a prayer card with her as a visible reminder of her mother’s presence at the joyful occasion.
The third of four children of Jim and Phyllis, Sr. Janet, 49, grew up in Woburn, Mass., with a love and a gift for sports. She graduated from the University of Connecticut and later earned a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry from St. John’s University, near Boston.
During her young adult years, she visited her great-aunt, Sister Robert Power, a Clinton Franciscan, at the community’s motherhouse. Sr. Robert encouraged Janet to pray with her to ask God to send more laborers into the vineyard. It never dawned on Janet that she might be one of the potential laborers in Sr. Robert’s prayer! “She never once said to me, ‘Do you have a vocation, do you want to be a Sister?’ She knew that if she had, I would have run the other way.”
But Sr. Robert gently steered Janet toward the community’s vocations director (Sister Donna Burke at the time), and planted the seeds for Janet’s discernment. When her great-aunt died, Janet decided to purchase a brick for the memorial walk in the community’s orchard. She had it inscribed: “Send more laborers into the vineyard.”
As Janet began recognizing God’s call to her, she left a marketing job to volunteer for a year with the Christian Appalachian Project in Kentucky. She worked for the organization for three more years. During that time she was in touch with Sr. Eileen, who was also ministering in Kentucky.
While on retreat with the Clinton Franciscans, Janet heard God saying to her: ‘“When are you going to move over and give me the keys?’ I felt a big weight lift off of me and a great joy at that time. Right after that I requested to become a candidate with the Clinton Franciscans.”
The Trappist nuns of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque have also played a significant role in Sr. Janet’s faith journey and discernment. “They are another gift in my world. They have been so loving and supportive of me,” she said.
Professing final vows “is the culmination of a long, beautiful journey of formation and discernment,” Sr. Janet continued. “I feel so blessed both to be called in this way and second, to be a member of the Clinton Franciscans.”
“I’m proud of her,” her father Jim said. “I’ve been proud of her.”
Sr. Sarah’s story
Sr. Sarah serves as a staffer with Port Ministries in Chicago, a Franciscan organization that works to feed and educate the poor. For the past three years she has worked in the after-school program. Most of Port Ministries’ staffers attended the Mass and luncheon afterwards, as did Sr. Sarah’s parents, three siblings, aunts and uncles, friends and two former teachers.
“Somebody said after Mass, ‘You’re glowing,’ and I felt like it; it feels great,” said Sr. Sarah, 33, who has sensed a calling to religious life since the age of 10.
Sarah graduated from Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City and from the former Mount St. Clare College in Clinton, founded by the Sisters of St. Francis.
“Mount St. Clare is where I met the (Clinton Franciscan) community. I really, really fell in love with the community. I looked at other communities. They just didn’t speak to me in the same way.”
She thought she might be ready to enter religious life immediately after college, but discovered that was not the case. “I had questions and other things I needed to do. I needed a few years to mature,” Sarah explained.
She worked for a couple of years at St. Mary Parish in Iowa City and then spent a year as a volunteer teacher at an alternative school in David, Ky. After that, she worked at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City as a youth ministry consultant. Then she worked as a site coordinator for an after-school program at Washington Middle School in Clinton before joining the staff of Port Ministries.
Virginia Freyermuth, who taught Sarah from seventh through 12th grade at Regina, has a letter that Sarah wrote to her on May 21, 1998. She knew then that Sarah had a calling to religious life.
Sarah’s mother, Kathy Brenneman of Riverside, said after the Mass, “I was just proud of her, happy for her. “I could see her happiness … I always knew she was going to do something with the Church.” Kathy believes the Clinton Franciscan community is a nice community for her daughter to be a part of.
Tom Martz, Sarah’s dad, lives in Saudi Arabia, and was happy to make the trip back to Iowa to witness his daughter profess perpetual vows with the Clinton Franciscans. “It was a good decision for her, absolutely,” he said. “I’m really happy for her … it’s been a long work for her, but she’s done a good job.”