Sister Joyce Newton, SSJ
My call to religious life was first nurtured in my home by my loving parents – Anthony and Marie Newton. Once, when my twin sister Loyce and I were infants, our Mom and Dad were watching us sleep and Dad said, “Just think – we don’t know what they might be when they grow up! Why they might grow up to be movie stars!” Mom laughed and said, “You mean nuns, don’t you?” Then Dad laughed and responded, “Yes, I guess I mean nuns.”
Not only did Mom and Dad provide a Catholic, religious atmosphere in our home, but they also led by example by taking us with them every Saturday night while they went to confession, and to church every Sunday, where they received Holy Communion. Mom and Dad often told us they wanted us to be happy in whatever choice we would make for our vocation in life, but nothing could make them happier than to have at least one of their children become a priest or sister.
Another important influence that helped support and nurture my call to religious life came from my mother’s sister – my aunt Agnes, who became a Sister of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky. When we were three or four years old, Mom and Dad took us to see Aunt Agnes receive her religious habit (entered the novitiate), and we were also present when she made her vows as a sister.
Our parents often took us to visit her. Sister Agnes was our favorite aunt, and when we were little, Loyce and I used to play “sisters” – dressing up as nuns and pretending to teach school by setting up our dolls as students.
The Sisters of St. Joseph, who taught me from the fifth grade through high school in South Florida, had a profound influence on my vocation also. They not only taught me subjects in school, but they also taught me by their example – living their vows and showing their love and fidelity to God, and demonstrating untiring dedication to God’s people.
However, in high school, the idea of becoming a sister was put out of mind as I enjoyed dating, going to parties, football games, etc. – all the things that normal teenagers do. In December of my senior year in high school I became engaged to be married. My photo and a write-up on the engagement were published in the paper and my fiancé and I were looking at houses to find our “dream home,” while making plans for our wedding, which would take place after graduation, the following June.
God had another idea for me, which he revealed to me through my twin Loyce. Recalling our childhood determination to be sisters when we grew up, she had decided to follow the call to religious life. I was delighted with her decision, but remained convinced that I was meant to marry and raise a family. At the time I was working as a telephone information operator and, several months after she had made her decision to enter the convent, as I was sitting at the switchboard waiting for calls to come in, I became aware of a single thought that kept running through my mind: “She has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Who was “she” and what was “the better part”? After several days I suddenly realized that the line running through my head came from the story in the Bible of Martha and Mary and Jesus. Martha was busy in the kitchen while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to him. Martha complained to the Lord that Mary had left her all alone to do all the work in the kitchen, while Mary sat at his feet, not helping her. Jesus said, “Martha, Martha! You are troubled about many things! Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
For me, “she” was my twin, Loyce, and the “better part” was her decision to follow the call to religious life. Although I wondered how this could be, I heard a voice whisper from deep within my being: “It (religious life) is better for you.” I understood in that moment that God was calling me to be a sister in religious life. To respond to this call was “better for me” because the invitation was coming from God, and I knew that I would never be happy unless I sought and followed God’s will for me.
The next step was the hardest one for me to take – telling my fiancé that I had a religious vocation and breaking my engagement to marry him. He was angry and upset and, try as I might, I could not help him to understand. My heart was broken and filled with love and compassion for him – yet I knew that I had to respond to God’s call.
Thus it was that in August, 1957, Loyce and I left our home to enter the novitiate of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Jensen Beach. As I left my fiancé came to see me off, and I could not help but feel compassion for him, and pray for his future happiness, hoping that he would find peace and joy according to God’s will for him.
Once I entered, by the grace of God, I was so overcome with joy and happiness that I knew I had made the right decision and I have never doubted my decision to be a sister since then. As I look back over my years as a sister, I feel that I have chosen “the better part”. While my life – like every one’s – has had its ups and downs – hard times and sad times, I have felt fulfilled in and through and because of my religious vocation.
As a Sister of St. Joseph I have taught every grade from first grade through high school, as well as adults in parish ministry. I was a nationally certified chaplain and ministered to the sick as a chaplain for 11 years. I have had many “homes” as I have lived in convents throughout the state of Florida – and now live in the Motherhouse, which I call “home.” I love my congregation, and my sisters, and I feel grateful to God for having been called to labor in the Lord’s vineyard as a Sister of St. Joseph.
Sister Eileen Therese Fichtner, SSJ
At an early age I met the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine while attending St. Joseph’s Academy in Loretto in North Florida (today known as Mandarin). St. Joe was a boys’ boarding school, but open to day-students from the parish. The sisters’ example, the works they were doing, were what attracted me to their way of life.
Teaching and caring for children became a strong interest from the time I was in the fifth grade. Both the sisters and our pastor mentioned the possibility of a “vocation” to me.
These aspirations faded in and out during high school. However, as I was nearing my senior year, my reluctance was always countered with “what if.” I decided I needed to at least try! Here I am, 50 plus years later, past the “try” phase. My attraction to the history and the works of the sisters remains. Beginning in France in the 1650s, the Sisters of St. Joseph found their sustenance in their daily lifestyle supported by prayer, the Eucharist, community life and serving our Lord through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. As active religious, not cloistered, their particular lifestyle was one of several that began a new form of religious life for women.
Prayer has kept me mindful of a greater purpose; ministry has kept me in touch with reality – whether in the classroom, the library (my present ministry), or as a foster mom for little girls. My education in the community prepared me to meet these needs.
My suggestion for you who are discerning your vocation is to make an honest assessment of yourself, becoming aware of those things you are seeking. Become aware of your feelings. Test the truth of those feelings. For what or for whom are you seeking?
Sister Mary David Magee, SSJ
I was born in Somerville, Massachusetts in the early 1930s. Five years after my birth my Mother died and soon after that my Father moved our family to Orlando, Florida. As a child I attended both Catholic and public schools and had wonderful teachers in both. Back in those days in public school we had prayer and Bible reading every day.
From first through fourth grade I attended St. James School in Orlando, where I first met the Sisters of St. Joseph. In fifth and sixth grade I attended a public school. In Catholic school finances were hard to come by and I remember staying after school to help the Sisters clean their classrooms and blackboards. I had to look out for my younger sister, and growing up on a chicken farm we had started during the Second World War years (1940 – 1945), we could not stay too long to help because we had to walk home. But every day we went by St. James Convent kitchen where Sister Louie Joseph was and she had cookies waiting for us. One day Sister said, “Would you like to see our chapel?” Of course we said “yes” because most children were never allowed into the confines of the convent. She made us feel very special.
When my Father remarried, we were shipped off to the boarding school in St. Augustine, St. Joseph’s Academy, for 7th through 10th grades, which was run by the Sisters of St. Joseph. During those years I was able to meet many of the sisters, and, since we lived there,I got to know the Sisters and they got to know me. Going to Mass each day in the Sisters’ chapel, I not only experienced thoughts of religious life, but observed the Sisters in their Eucharistic adoration, their prayer life and how they interacted with one another.
One thing I really learned in boarding school was how to clean. Yet there were many times for fun and laughter. I can remember on a Saturday morning when it was time for weekly cleaning and the hallways and the dorms had to be washed and waxed. Trying to be inventive, we decided to get a large rug and two of us pulled and one sat on the rug. We got the floors nice and shiny. One week Sisters Mary Thomas and Jerome decided they would sit on the rug while we pulled – needless to say we laughed ourselves silly. This gave me the opportunity to see the other side of the Sisters – when they could relax, have fun and just be themselves. My vocation was developing.
Partway through the 10thgrade I had to leave the boarding school and return to St. James in Orlando due to my Father being unable to afford sending us to the Academy any longer.
The day came when I informed my Father that I wanted to be a Sister of St. Joseph. His answer at first was “no.” In time I changed his mind. Father Fitzpatrick (who later became a bishop) drove me to St. Augustine the day I entered in 1949. He drove so fast, I never thought I would make it.
Since then I have earned college degrees and served in a wide variety of ministries across the State of Florida. I have taught, served in an orphanage, managed a senior center, worked in migrant camps, was a school administrator, and served in Lourdes Hall in St. Augustine. I have spent wonderful years doing the work of God. It is great to see my students grow up to be young ladies and gentlemen who have taken their place in society.
May God give me insight for the future that I may continue to learn from the past and set the best example I can give as a Sister of St. Joseph of St. Augustine. I owe my vocation to the wonderful Sisters of St. Joseph, the priests who were very important in my life, and the Hand of God that guided me.
Sister Carol Stovall, SSJ
It was the 1970’s and I was in my mid-20s working at WJXT Television station in Jacksonville, Florida. I held the position of Promotion Director/Public Service Director which meant that I wrote, produced and scheduled all the on-air promotional spots for local programs and all the local public service announcements. I lived by myself in an apartment in the San Marco area close to the station and was a member of the folk choir at Prince of Peace Catholic Church.
I had been taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph both in CCD in first through third grades and then in Catholic schools (Holy Rosary and Bishop Kenny) from fourth through 12th grade. I had gone to the University of Florida and graduated with a degree in Advertising.
I was the youngest child in the family, a generation behind my sister and brother, who had both gone to public schools. My father was raised Protestant but practiced no religion, and my mother was a Catholic. I grew up in a mostly Protestant white, middle-class neighborhood in Jacksonville. My Dad worked for Gulf Life Insurance Company for his entire career and my Mother quit working after she started having children and was a stay-at-home mom.
After college I stopped going to Mass for a while due to variety of factors. It was not until a former college roommate of mine lived with me for a year while her husband was in Vietnam that I became involved with the charismatic movement first in the Episcopalian Church and eventually in the Catholic Church. From this involvement I got into reading the Bible and other spiritual readings and had a conversion experience. I realized that I resonated with the values of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel, but our culture did nothing to support these teachings. I grew in awareness that I was not satisfied with merely living for myself and did not feel called to marriage and motherhood. I felt a desire for greater intimacy with God and that I needed to do more for others.
One night I was feeling particularly unhappy and God inspired me to consider the possibility of a religious vocation. So I went to my pastor and spoke to him about it and he put me in touch with Sister Mary Christine Zimorski. She met with me and gave me a local contact in Jacksonville of Sister Marie Therese Evrard who was living at Bishop Kenny Convent. The congregation knew me since they had me in school for nine years. I never felt the need to be a foreign missionary. I felt our secular culture in Florida was enough of a challenge in proclaiming the Good News of the Reign of God.
I ended up entering the congregation in 1976 with three other women. I did my postulancy and novitiate in Brown Hall and Villa Flora in St. Augustine. Sister Kathleen Power was the Directress of Postulants and Sister Mary Christine Zimorski was Novice Directress one year, and Sister Florence Bryan was Novice Directress the second year. The first year as a postulant was difficult for me.
What was wonderful for me in my first years was learning how to pray, how to do spiritual reading, journaling, having spiritual direction on a regular basis, learning about the Bible and the Church and the Sisters of St. Joseph, and getting to know a group of women who shared Gospel values and lived in community together to witness to the Reign of God.
I had the blessing of attending a national Sisters of St. Joseph Federation held in Orlando during my early years in the order, and the mission and charism of the SSJs was something that excited me. Before I professed my perpetual vows in 1979 I had the privilege of making a 30-day silent Ignatian directed retreat that was sponsored by the Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph at Sacred Heart Monastery in Hales Corner, Wisconsin. That was a very significant event in my spiritual journey and still sustains me today.
I believe that I am a better person today because of the decision to enter religious life I made in my mid-20’s. With God’s grace I try to live each day seeing God’s loving actions in events and circumstances and in the dear neighbor. My deepest desire is to grow into the person God created me to be, and, for me, the best place for that is consecrated life as a Sister of St. Joseph of St. Augustine,Florida.
Sisters Suzan Foster, SSJ and Ann Kuhn, SSJ
In the January/February 2013 issue of St. Augustine Catholic magazine, Sisters Suzan Foster and Ann Kuhn were featured along with several priests telling their vocation stories. Read the article by clicking here.
Sister Mary Alexius, SSJ
I was born in County Galway, Ireland, the fourth of five children of devout Catholic parents. They provided a happy home where the Catholic faith was integral to daily living. During my early years at the Convent National School, I was influenced by the Sisters of Charity and the numerous opportunities they provided for children to learn of the Church’s foreign missions.
My vocation to religious life and the Florida missions was nurtured by contact with the Sisters of St. Joseph visiting Ireland. In 1949 I left home to become a missionary, sailing with a group of nine to enter the novitiate in St. Augustine.
My initial feeling was one of excitement, looking forward to a new adventure and a new way of life. As time passed, however, I became homesick for family, friends and country. There were many ups and downs in my life. First, I had to get acclimated to the warm climate, a different culture,and language barriers. At the same I never lost sight of what I wanted to accomplish: to become a Sister of St. Joseph. This was done by intense preparation and prayer.
Now, 62 years later, I can reflect on a lifetime of service: a few years in elementary education, many years in nursing – always focusing on great gratitude to God, to my family, and to the Congregation.
I came to Florida to participate in the work of the Church. There I have experienced much happiness in service and in my life as a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Through the direction of the Holy Spirit and in obedience, I have responded generously again and again, serving wherever needed in a manner marked by peacefulness and joy. I have lived life as the Lord called me to live.
I continue to pray with great hope for vocations, that my service and ministry will have an effect on another who will embark upon a similar journey with the Lord.