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Bernardine Franciscan Sisters 125th Anniversary

With our beloved Bernardine Franciscan Sisters, we celebrate the 125th Anniversary of their Community. The “Bernardines” have been at Holy Spirit from the beginning, in parish and school work. Today three sisters are vital parts of Holy Spirit: Sr. Carol Ann Naraczaj, Sister Deborah Ann Durgot, and Sister Joanne Helem Grejdus. Each has written a something of her life in the Order. We offer them our gratitude and loving prayers for their devoted service.

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Sister Carol Anne Naraczaj, OSF

 

Looking back to where God has taken me, I see how He used family, friends and mentors to do His work in my heart. They probably did not know how their words and actions would impact me. Similarly, I’m unaware of all the ways God has used me for his purposes. All I can do is listen when He calls, and respond as Religious . . . Teacher . . . Administrator . . . Artist . . . Author . . . Magician . . . Coach. God has blessed me with many gifts, which I use for His glory and the good of others.

 

Born February 15, 1946 in Manville, New Jersey, I was baptized Ann Marie Naraczaj, and was the second of four children of Edward and Anna Naraczaj. Throughout my early years, a loving spirit and strong character were ingrained in me as a result of the fine example set by my parents and teachers. Answering God’s call to religious service at the tender age of 14 felt very natural to me.

 

My initial years of formation were spent in Pennsylvania: postulancy in Reading and novitiate in Villanova. In June 1964, I became a bride of Christ, received the habit of the Bernardine Sisters, taking the religious name, Carol Ann. Carol for my Dad since he wanted a daughter, Carol, and so nicknamed me “Charlie”, and Ann, my mother’s name. I professed perpetual vows in 1970 and received a ring as a sign of a total, loving commitment of my life to God.

 

Last, but not least, my affiliation with the New York Football Giants is widely known. It began in 1974 when I was at Fairfield University, and the team was there for training camp. I knew little about them or football, and would have defined sudden death as the quickest way for a devout soul to get to heaven. Over the years friendships grew with players, coaches and management as I offered them motivational and inspirational talks to the point that I was named Honorary Assistant Coach in 1981. I was in attendance for every Giant Super Bowl game.

 

So…what do you want to be when you grow up? How many times I was asked that question as a child. In elementary school, I thought about becoming a religious; then a teacher; or perhaps an artist. In the end, I became a religious, a teacher and artist, and more than I could have imagined. I have been blessed to have been touched by so many lives; met so many people; and performed so many roles in my vocation as a Sister.

 

I always try to see everyone as made in the image of God, and show this belief to everyone I meet - whether it is a little child or teacher in school, a professional football player, or a stranger. I try to offer encouragement, share a bit of humor; create something to bring a smile, share my talents, spend time with those in need and never to turn anyone away. God has challenged me in my life to do things I never dreamt were possible. He has worked so many awesome wonders in my life thus far, that I can’t even imagine what He has in store in the years ahead.

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Sister Deborah Ann Surgot, OSF

 

God had his eyes on me ever since I was young. In kindergarten I learned “God is Good, God is Great! (Gray in my childish hearing). That was my daily mantra. I went to St. Ladislaus in Philadelphia, where the Bernardine Sisters taught. When the principal visited our classroom, she would always ask who wanted to be a sister. Without hesitation I always raised my hand eagerly.

 

I idolized the Bernardine Sisters forever. I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to help in the Sanctuary cleaning, helping in the Convent, working after school. Wherever the Sisters were, you could find me. In frustration one day, my mother said, “Why don’t you just take your bed and stay with them.” I took her up on it and after my 8th grade graduation I went from Philadelphia to Reading PA where I went to Mount Alvernia High School-a girls’ school for those wanting to enter the Convent.

 

I became a Postulan - a year of inquiry - in 1959, for my senior year of high school. At year’s end I graduated and then became a Bernardine Franciscan Novice - a year of prayer and discernment. For our enclosed year, we went to Villanova PA, to study religious life and our vows. We spent time in Eucharistic prayer, followed by our First Vows, which would be renewed for 5 years.

 

At the end of When the Novitiate we returned to Reading to continue studies in Religious life and began College at what is now Alvernia University where I was able to complete my degree in Secondary Mathematics and Education. Student teaching was followed by teaching in Holy Name HS. In my early enthusiasm I thought the most important thing was that the students learned math well. Then I realized that WHO they were, what their problems were, and how that affected their learning was more important. I was known to be a very patient teacher. After 6 years I went to La Reine HS in Washington, DC, followed by teaching at in Alvernia for 10 years, being a director of young religious, teaching another 6 years in High School, becoming a Co-Director of our newly formed merged Province. During that time my mother became very ill and I was her caregiver for 3 years.

 

Eventually I was asked to come to Villa Maria School for children with learning challenges. I agreed, and here I am blessed to perform my ministry. God willing, I will be celebrating my 60th anniversary of religious life in 2021. I pray that God will bless many others to know the peace, joy and love I experienced by saying “yes” to my call.

 

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Sister Joanne Helen Grejdus, OSF

The parents, Mr. and Mrs. John and Helen Grejdus, were to be blessed with a set of twins on August 21, 1936, Joanne Helen being one of them. It was not known at the time, that one would be chosen to serve God as a special bride of Christ.

 

It took until I was 18 years of age that the voice of Jesus began to inspire me with the desire to want to belong to God and serve his people, especially children, as a religious, just like the Bernardine Sisters who taught me during my elementary years at school. I just loved these Sisters and the work they were chosen to do, and wanted to be a part of their mission.

 

During my high school years, and under the tutelage of the Sisters of St. Joseph, I began thinking that perhaps the Lord wanted me to do other things for his sake and so I thought of different fields of work such as being an art teacher or a fashion designer, an office secretary, and so on. However, the calling of God kept haunting me until I made my decision: "This is what God wants of me!"

 

My family wasn’t very receptive to the idea, especially knowing that I was an active, social child who loved parties and being with people. It was easy for me to join in boys’ games as well as girls’, since I grew up with a twin brother and his friends, and was very protective of him I wanted him to know that I was always there for him. My family felt that I would not be able to persevere in this life style. Their idea of sisters was to be quiet, prayerful and bound to the convent. After many discussions and advice both from sisters and priests to whom my mother sent me in order to discern if I indeed had a vocation, they agreed to let me pursue my calling.

 

I joined the Bernardine Sisters' Community and was accepted as a Postulant on September 15, 1954. After a full year of training, I was received as a Novice on August 12, 1955. This was the year that I was to spend in prayer and learning theology. It was a cloister situation that prevented me from socializing with the world or communicating with my parents and relatives except to write on holidays. In August of the following year, I professed my first vows and was now officially a part of the community and their ministry. It would take five years for me to be fully installed as a member of our community by pronouncing my final vows for life.

 

I have finally reached my goal! Never have I regretted the choice I made. Every day is a joy for me, to be able to minister to the children and people Jesus allows me to meet. I pray that I never weary of my ministry and that I can be of service for many years to come.

 

 

Heart, Soul and Mind

Monsignor Royal's weekly column as featured in our bulletin.


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