Ursuline Sisters Adapt Ministries amidst Covid-19

Help and hope – two things people have always been able to count on Ursuline Sisters to offer.

Since 1535, Ursuline Sisters have been there to help in both periods of catastrophe and better times.

Since 1874, Mahoning Valley residents have counted on the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown to be there in good times and bad. The current health crisis is no exception.

Many Ursuline Sisters are active both in prayer and in ministry while sheltering in place. The Ursulines of Youngstown are following the advice of their founder, St. Angela Merici, who wrote: “Let your first refuge always be to have recourse to Jesus Christ, to pray fervently. He will enlighten and instruct you as to what you should do.” 

“All of our Sisters are taking more time for prayer and finding ways to continue in ministry,” states Sister Mary McCormick, general superior.

Three Sisters are teachers. Sister Mary is a professor and academic dean for St. Mary’s Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in Cleveland.

“I’ve been having class with the seminarians using Zoom. They can see me and my Power Point presentations, and I can see them, each in his own home. We are blessed to be able to continue the semester using this technology.” 

Sister Mary is in the top right corner.

Among the seminarians are two from the Diocese of Youngstown, Kevin Bertleff and William Wainio (William is also an Ursuline Associate).

Sister Nancy Dawson is an adjunct professor at Youngstown State University. She’s been in contact with her students since before the university resumed classes and now teaches World Religions via computer. Here you will get the all about anything related to software.

Sister Nancy Dawson

“The students are important to me. Each and every one of them expands their world view through the World Religions class, realizing that diversity in spirituality and religion are to be appreciated,” Sister Nancy observes. “Each religion has some truth and value that we can learn from and can help us — especially during this time of the pandemic. This is how we change the world, one student at a time.”

As the technology teacher for grades k-8 at St. Rose Parish School, Girard, Sister Carole Suhar’s teaching gifts have perhaps never been more vital. She not only continues her lessons with students, what Sister Carole teaches the children helps them successfully complete their assignments in core classes as well.

Sister Carole Suhar

“All of us at St. Rose are posting assignments online in Google Classroom and on the school website. The computer is the only way we have to communicate,” Sister Carole states.

“I’m in contact with students through email each and every day,” she continues. “I’ve been working on assignments and grading what’s completed and turned in.”

Our Sisters ministering in churches also are relying on technology to keep in contact with parishioners.

Sister Mary Alyce Koval in a Facebook video

As Parish Leader for St. Luke Church, Boardman, Sister Mary Alyce Koval calls social media “a lifeline to reach St. Luke parishioners. Facebook and Zoom meetings have become a way of life for spreading the message.” 

Although CCD and other church programs are unable to meet in person, Sister Martha Reed is communicating with parishioners at St. Columba Parish, where she serves as Director of Religious Education.

“I’ve been in contact with parishioners via the phone to reassure them of our prayers and check to see that they are doing well during this difficult time,” Sister Martha says. “I post prayers and activities for our youth on St. Columba’s Facebook page almost every other day.”

Sister Martha Reed

Sister Martha also is sending notes of encouragement and prayers of reassurance to home-bound parishioners and organizing food distribution to those in need.

“I’m praying, and I have our teens praying. I’m telling them to hold on and keep the faith. Every day we pray the passage from John 3:16,” she continues. “One parishioner was having a very hard time, so I sent her the Communion prayer to help comfort her.”

Sister Regina Rogers, pastoral minister for St. Edward Church in Youngstown, is keeping in contact with parishioners by phone.

Sister Regina Rogers

“Every day I make a couple of phone calls to touch base, especially with our older parishioners,” Sister Regina says. “I want to make sure they’re okay. I let them know the people of St. Ed’s are thinking about them and praying for them, and that hopefully we’ll see back in church soon.”

For major ministries such as Beatitude House, responding to the needs of clients – already a vulnerable population before the pandemic – remains foremost. These ministries have worked diligently to adapt to the “new normal.”

“When working for Beatitude House, I work from my kitchen table. It’s actually very functional,” says Sister Patricia McNicholas, co-director of the ministry. “I participate in regular Zoom meetings with the development staff. 

Sister Patricia McNicholas

“We have applied for many of the grants they have been made available to us so we can respond to the needs of our clients. I also participate in regular meeting with the staff of the scholars program,” she continues. “Our scholars and their mentors continue to meet virtually and some seem to actually prefer this method. Today we were discussing ways to help with a client’s inability to pay rent and another with a major car repair.”

Beatitude House’s food pantry has remained open during this crisis, Sister Patricia adds.

“Our immigrant families seem especially vulnerable. Many had previously worked in restaurants and are struggling. We are providing extra gift cards for groceries,” she states.

Volunteers with Beatitude House’s English Language Learning Program have worked hard to continue tutoring children, reports Sister Norma Raupple, director of that program.

Sister Norma Raupple with Anna, a student

“Five college students led by three employees have connected with 16 children. Three retired teachers have also ‘adopted’ children,” she explains. “All tutors meet on Zoom with weekly updates.

“The children appreciate the support, and they receive incentives for their ongoing progress,” Sister Norma adds. 

Meanwhile, Sisters who minister with the Ursuline Education & Wellness Center are working to maintain relationships with the people served by its programs.

Sister Jan Gier

Now that classes cannot be held, Sisters Jan Gier and Nancy Pawlen are reaching out to the hundreds of participants in our SilverSneakers land and water classes and other exercise classes by phone, email and social media – inquiring after their health and that of their families.

Sister Jan has been calling the women who participate in the water programs.

“I reassure the women they’re being remembered to the Lord in the Ursuline Sisters ‘prayers,” Sister Jan says, noting the women are very appreciative.

Sister Nancy Pawlen

“I’ve received some very nice text messages back from folks,” Sister Nancy adds.

The Sisters have tried to not only overcome obstacles created by the COVID-19 crisis, they’re also looking for the bright side of things.

Sister Patricia says, “For me, this time of additional quiet time is much appreciated. The resurrection calls us to find new life even in the face of suffering. Our ability to respond to the needs of the poor is, we hope, a means of bringing that new life.”