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Catching Up with the Mission – Sister Mary Ellen Backes

Sister Mary Ellen Backes has been a pastoral assistant at St. Joseph Parish in Springfield, Ill., since 1995 – the longest tenure of any Ursuline Sister serving in a parish. And yet, it’s not just the changes brought about by Covid-19 that has been a big change in the past year.

“My routine follows what the other Sisters in parishes do, but what may be a little unique is that we are now celebrating the sacraments in the proper order for those baptized as infants,” she said. “This has been a big change. This means Bishop Thomas Paprocki has given pastors permission to celebrate these sacraments of initiation in their own parishes until June this year. Then we go back to joining in with other parishes and meeting at the cathedral or another parish with a larger group with the bishop presiding.

“We had the eight kids in the third through eighth grades celebrate Aug. 1, 2020, with social distancing and masks. Third-graders made their Confirmation and First Holy Communion while the older ones had Confirmation with Holy Communion at this Mass. We made it really special since these families would much rather celebrate sacraments in their home parish. Again, at St. Joseph Parish, on May 15, 2021, we will celebrate the initiation into full membership as Catholics with our third-graders (only three of them this time). There will also be a seventh-grader ready for Confirmation as well, and an adult who will celebrate Confirmation.

“This year for Catholic Faith Formation of children we studied scripture with a DVD series called ‘The Jesus Storybook Bible’ narrated by David Suchet and Sally Lloyd-Jones. It covers the entire bible. We met all together to view a short story in scripture and then broke into age-appropriate groups. It was especially rewarding, (and different, I think), because the kids were able to better learn the skill of using their bibles and sharing faith stories. We had no adult scripture studies during this past year, it was too risky because of Covid.

“The monthly meal for Helping Hands Shelter continued although we just made the meal and delivered it to the door (just like the restaurants). And we made sandwiches, chips, cookies and refreshments for our hospitality down the street every other month on the third Tuesdays as usual with no human touch, just drop-off. I hope that will soon lift as we miss not getting involved more.

“I help with funeral preparations with Deacon Larry Day. We’ve had many deaths of older parishioners. The church seems empty, but gradually folks are returning.

“It’s been a quiet year, in many ways … yet inside the heart so much sadness and turmoil with all the restlessness and violence in our troubled world. May God’s love penetrate our lives.

“Do you see the Risen Jesus?” the priest asked at Mass one recent morning. “Of course, I raised my hand. ‘Anyone else besides Sister?’ I see Jesus alive, and I know others do see the Risen Jesus daily in their companions and in the human drama that makes life meaningful and keeps us going.”

To keep up to date with what is happening at Sister Mary Ellen’s ministry at St. Joseph Parish, visit,




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