Sisters serving alone hope to spread Ursuline seeds

Sister Mary Ellen Backes holds a Brescia University mug. She serves as pastoral assistant at St. Joseph Church, Springfield, Ill.

Sister Mary Ellen Backes is the lone Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph in Springfield, Ill., where she is the pastoral assistant at St. Joseph Parish. However, the people in Springfield were served by Ursulines of the Roman Union for many years, and Sister Mary Ellen lived with them for 10 years.

“Almost everyone I meet in Springfield is familiar with Ursulines and their reputation of service,” she said. “I feel a calling to be the best Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph that I can be where I am. This means that in faith I somehow carry the same ‘light’ of love and care for others that is in every Mount Saint Joseph Sister. I try to be aware of this light shining forth in everything I am and do and say each day and in my relations with others. We carry that ‘charism’ and are invited to share that charism together.”

Sister Mary Ellen likes to provide a home-cooked meal each Saturday after 4:30 Mass for parishioners and friends who enjoy gathering.

“All who come are always welcomed,” she said. “In this way I feel I experience often that ‘Ursuline charism’ shining right back at me from the people I welcome into my life and serve.” Ursuline Associate Karen Siciliano is very involved with Sister Mary Ellen’s ministry in Springfield.

Sister Michele Morek stands in front of the United Nations building in New York City in 2012.

Sister Michele Morek is the coalition coordinator for UNANIMA International in New York City and said she takes every opportunity to tell people she’s an Ursuline Sister.

“Usually when I say that they jump to tell me about an Ursuline they know, which is the Roman Union variety around here,” Sister Michele said. “I tell them the difference and make sure to tell them about our close-to-the-land unique part of the charism. If someone does not know about Ursulines, I tell them about Angela Merici.”

Sister Cecelia Joseph Olinger serves in three parishes in southeastern Missouri in a mostly Protestant area and makes a point to support local organizations and fundraisers as a Catholic and a sister.

Sister C.J., center, presents bibles to Catholic graduates of Van Buren High School at the Baccalaureate service on May 8, 2013. The bibles are provided by St. George Church in Van Buren, where Sister C.J. ministers. Pictured from left are Hattie Dazey, Alex Strenfel, Sister C.J., Eric Dazey and Zach Dazey.

She participated in Camp Re-NEW-All in June 2012 so that young people could see a “flesh and blood” sister, and if the opportunity arose, she shared that she is an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph.

“It seems that I have a reputation for being a joyful person,” she said. “At least the chiropractor told me at my last visit to ‘Keep spreading joy.’ All I do is be my usual lively, outgoing self.”

By Dan Heckel