Sister Brendan Sherlock: A Life of Giving

Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

George Bernard Shaw, Irish writer and social activist (1856-1950)

BrendanWhile quite a few Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown are of Irish descent, Sister Brendan is unique in that she emigrated from Ireland. She faced discrimination when she first arrived in the United States, but her faith in God was a source of strength that empowered her through life’s challenges.

Sister Brendan came from a large Irish family. Growing up in poverty, in the 1920s and 30s, her family worked hard to make ends meet. She was the third of ten children, and because she was considered the strongest of her siblings, often helped her father around the farm.

At age 19, after working in a Dublin restaurant, Sister Brendan traveled to England, where she learned English from a priest (she’d only spoken Gaelic), and the world opened up before her. With her mother’s encouragement, Sister Brendan left her family’s farm and immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s to pursue a religious vocation.

As an Ursuline Sister of Youngstown, Sister Brendan has ministered in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties and beyond. Wherever she goes, she has been a witness of God’s unconditional love. “She makes everyone feel special,” Ursuline Sister Kathleen Minchin says. “That’s what God does for us, makes us feel special. People see that reflected in her.”

Sister Brendan’s ministry began in the field of education. She spent 20 years teaching grades 1-5. After that, she began working at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, supervising the housekeeping staff.

More recently, Sister Brendan served as a pastoral minister at St. Michael Parish in Canfield. She ministered to the home bound as well as those in hospitals and nursing homes. She looks back on those 13 years with particular fondness. She enjoyed getting to know the families of the parish and working alongside the pastor, Father Terry Hazel. With a beaming smile, she remembers, “I liked Terry since the first day I saw him. But if he gave you work to do, he expected to find you working.” The two have remained close friends.

Sister Brendan’s adventurous spirit led her to new places and experiences. She found a kindred spirit in fellow Ursuline Sister Virginia McDermott, a friend who shared Sister Brendan’s sense of adventure until her passing a few years ago. Sister Brendan also incorporated her passion for driving into her ministry. When she visited St. Michael’s parishioners in their homes, she bought a GPS to help her navigate the different neighborhoods. She was one of the first among the Ursuline community to have a GPS and she quickly learned how to use it, first gauging the distance on a map, and then following the GPS’s directions.

“She loved visiting people,” Ursuline Associate Rosemary Yaniglos says. “She’d tell me how she would encourage them and pray with them and give them hope, and how in turn they gave her hope—and wisdom, too.”

During Sister Brendan’s years with St. Michael Parish, she made monthly visits to Paisley House, an assisted living facility in Youngstown for women, where she prayed with the residents and distributed communion to them. Sister Brendan’s visits united people of different faiths, and she made everyone feel welcomed and loved.

Though retired, Sister Brendan remains active, drawing energy from the company of others as she has her whole life. During the week, she participates in activities such as crafts, exercise, and bingo at the Antonine Sisters’ center in North Jackson. She enjoys talking with the other seniors there and seeing the delight in their eyes when they win bingo prizes. “That thrills them, you know,” Sister Brendan observes. “And they’d say: I’m taking this home to my aunt, I’m taking this home to my sister… It’s a nice thing to give them.”

For women discerning a religious vocation, Sister Brendan offers these words of encouragement: “Go for it. You’ll make it. I’ll tell you that. Even with hardships—you overlook those, because they have meaning.”

Through joys and hardships, Sister Brendan’s good-hearted nature touches all those she meets, and Rosemary Yaniglos admires her spirit and strength. “Somehow she grows with it, and, those of us who love her, we grow with her. She makes us stronger,” Rosemary says.

Sister Brendan enjoys community life and is grateful for the friendships she’s formed with the other members of the Ursuline community. “They’re helpful, in every way that they can,” she says of the Sisters. “There’s a lot of joy to have women together.”

Sister Frances Marie Sopko’s Vocation Story

Soon Sister Frances Marie Sopko begins a new phase of ministry. In this installment of Vocation Stories, she reflects on how answering God’s call to be a nun has shaped her life.
[su_quote]Not many people can say they’ve looked into the eyes of a saint. But Ursuline Sister of Youngstown Frances Marie Sopko can![/su_quote]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the 1990s, Sister Frances Marie traveled to Rome with fellow Ursuline Sister Jeanne Cigolle to meet Pope John Paul II. Sister Frances Marie describes the pope as very “personable,” and following his canonization, she cherishes her memories of “looking into the eyes of a saint.”
That holy experience is just one of many treasured events in Sister Frances Marie’s life as an Ursuline Sister. “We do have a wonderful community and I’m glad I’m part of it, that the Lord has directed me here,” she says.
In August, Sister Frances Marie Sopko will retire from her full-time ministry at The Ursuline Center, the educational facility operated by the Ursuline Sisters. She takes pride in her work at the Center over the last decade and considers the time her “contribution to the community and working for the Lord.”
Sister Marlene LoGrasso, who also works at the Center, values Sister Frances Marie’s ability to keep everything organized. “One of her biggest assets is her ability to remember things and set up systems,” Sister Marlene says, describing Sister Frances Marie’s methods for organizing the calendar and invoices. “She keeps all of that straight—now that’s amazing to me!”
Sister Frances Marie’s responsibilities included overseeing maintenance, housekeeping, and scheduling. With the wide variety of events that the Center hosts — recitals, family gatherings, and diocesan programs — her position kept her “going 24/7.”
Renee Harrison, receptionist for the Ursuline Motherhouse, has watched Sister Frances Marie going between the Center and the Motherhouse for many years. With a laugh, Renee adds, “There’d be times she’d come back and forth past the desk three or four times a day!”
Over the past several decades, Sister Frances Marie has served in a variety of ministries. She taught grades 1 through 8 in Youngstown Diocese schools for 40 years. Because the schools were small, she filled a variety of roles: teacher, principal, secretary and bookkeeper. “I did it all, so I had to rely on a lot of volunteer help,” she recalls, expressing gratitude for the support of parents, the home and school association, and the priests.
Sister Francies Marie notes the students she taught were very conscientious. She believed in being firm with them, and she says that as a result, they treated her with respect. Once when keeping a group of students after school to write essays, a monsignor stopped in the classroom, asking the kids if they thought she was mean. In unison they replied, “She’s fair!” Sister Frances Marie considers this one of the best compliments she’s ever received.
Sister Frances Marie’s ministries included bookkeeping at Assumption Village Nursing Home in North Lima. Of her experience performing clerical work at Our Lady of Lebanon Shrine in North Jackson, she says, “It was a very spiritual time in my life. I had time to go on different pilgrimages and make many holy hours.”
Through it all, Sister Frances Marie has stayed involved in her religious community. She says she enjoys sitting and talking with the other sisters, as well as going places with them. She regularly attends First Friday events, a monthly series that features guest speakers about a variety of faith-related topics. Sister Marlene says she admires Sister Frances Marie’s commitment to continuing her spiritual growth. “She really absorbs and understands well what they’re talking about and can remember things that she’s heard.”
Now as Sister Frances Marie leaves her full-time position at the Ursuline Center, she looks forward to deepening her prayer life. “I will be able to spend more time with our Lord in chapel,” she says.

Sister Marlene LoGrasso Has A New Ministry

If you’ve ever attended Catholic school in the Mahoning Valley, there’s a good chance you’ve been taught by an Ursuline Sister of Youngstown.
marlene-225x300Sister Marlene LoGrasso taught or served as principal for 30 years in the Diocese of Youngstown schools. From St. Nicholas in Struthers to Our lady of Lourdes, East Palestine, Holy Family in Poland, Sts. Peter & Paul, Sacred Heart (Now St. Angela Merici), and finally Ursuline High School, all of Youngstown.
After receiving a master’s degree in pastoral studies, she went to St. Hilary Parish in Fairlawn, where she served in various ministries for 21 years.
Now she’s starting a new and re-energizing phase of ministry at the Ursuline Motherhouse.
In her own words…..


If you’re considering a religious vocation or you just want to find out about it, Sister Marlene advises praying and reading Scripture. “Each one of us is a Gospel story and we have good news because God has been with us, calling us by name,” she says. “As it says in Psalm 139, ‘I knew you before you were born.’”

Sister Darla Jean Vogelsang

In a recent Community gathering, we became acquainted with the usefulness of our Community WEB page and the tab “Becoming a Nun” in introducing today’s questioning young women to our Ursuline way of life.

I began to reflect – what made me pursue becoming a nun fifty years ago?   Was it the inspiring HM and OSU women religious of my formative elementary and high school years back in the fifties?   Was it my love for

Sister Darla Jean Vogelsanchildren and a desire to be a teacher that drew me to the Youngstown Ursulines? Was it my appreciation for the Church’s liturgy, especially Eucharist, sparked in seventh grade religion class? Was it an inner urge to prepare for an adult life that had purpose and meaning? Was it God’s providence - God’s call? Whatever the inspiration, I began the process of becoming a nun right after high school graduation with a sense that this is what God wanted me to do. In the beginning of my “becoming”, I was totally unaware of what “being a nun” meant – but I was ready and willing to enter the process and soon learned it meant a life time of prayer, growth, formation, discipline, sacrifice, and a new way of being in relationship with God, with my family, my Community, the Church and the world at large. My life as an Ursuline Sister has been formative, enriching, rewarding and I am still “becoming a nun”.

In my reading, I grab hold of quotes that inspire me and use them for spiritual snacks.   A recent quote I have been chewing on applies well to the process of becoming a nun.  It is from the memoir of Margaret Brennan, an IHM sister from Monroe Michigan:  “What Was There For Me Once”.  Margaret, a 70-something nun,  states that religious life is primarily a call to reclaim a way of life organized to pursue the human quest for God.    “To keep the question of God – and God’s questions – high on the horizon of the world is worth the gifts of our lives.” My quest for a deeper and more sustaining relationship with God, a way of living my life in response to God’s questions and call to make life better for others – is worth the gift of my life.   And so, in my becoming, I keep on giving and in the process get back so much more.

To women curious about “becoming a nun”, allow your curiosity to take you to that deep level of questioning your relationship with God and how you answer the God-questions that come to you in your journey of becoming who God intends you to be.  If you are drawn to a particular religious community, assess the members and their ministry and ask:    “Is this group a good fit for me?  Are they still becoming?  And can I be a part of the gift of their lives ?”