Nazareth Jubilarians – 2020 – Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph

Nazareth Jubilarians – 2020

Sister Mary Rene Poirier, CSJ

75 years

I was born in Hazel Park, Michigan on June 29, 1927. In 1939, my family moved to Detroit where we children attended St. Philip Neri School.

I entered the congregation on July 2, 1945 and on January 3, 1948, I was missioned to St. Henry School in Lincoln Park. This was the beginning of thirty-eight years of teaching and two years as a school secretary. I also supported Sister Anne de Paul in a Kalamazoo diocesan program for children and adults with special needs.

At the culmination of my teaching ministry, I was given the growth -filled opportunity to participate in the Ministry to Ministers Program in San Antonio, Texas. At the conclusion of the program I became part of the pastoral services team for our sisters at Nazareth Center.

When first asked to visit the sisters, my concern was what I should say to them. But I learned that listening is the core of this ministry. Sometimes, a sister would speak to what was deep within, resulting in her inner healing, and I often found myself healed as well. We can be healers with each other, with Jesus, the Divine Healer as our model.

Though retired, I continue to live at Nazareth, hoping to be a listening presence and serving my sisters in any way I can.

“By waiting and by calm you shall be saved; in quiet and in trust, your strength lies.”    (Isaiah 30:15)

Sister Katie Shanahan, CSJ

75 years

To think that I am still plugging along amazes me. What is God waiting for? I am ready the moment He is ready to have me join Him, Our Lady, St. Joseph and all my family and friends who have gone before me. I can do nothing new. I continue to struggle each day to do the best I can, pleasing the God who created me. When He is ready, I am ready.

I have had a full life. I am grateful for all I have been given. I hope I have measured up in some small way to the expectations God has had of me. I praise Him.

I adore Him.
I am most grateful-
for all He has given me,
for all He has done for me,
for all He is to me. Amen.

“My Shepherd is the Lord. Nothing indeed shall I want.” Ps. 23:1

Sister Shirley Tousignant, CSJ

70 years

Sister Shirley Tousignant (formerly Sister Elizabeth Marie), a native of Detroit, Michigan, entered the Congregation of St. Joseph in Crookston, Minnesota in 1948. She graduated from St. Catherine College in St. Paul, Minnesota, with a B.A. in Education. She taught in Catholic elementary schools in Minnesota and Wisconsin for 21 years. She then moved into parish ministry and served thirteen years as a Pastoral Assistant in parishes in North Dakota, Minnesota and Florida. She served as a reading specialist for seven years for the school system in Largo, Florida. She is retired and currently resides at our Nazareth center in Kalamazoo, Michigan.


Sister Marie Benzing, CSJ

60 years

As an only child, I was blessed with parents who cherished but did not spoil me.  Perhaps their German heritage brought them to be firm but supportive.  We moved from Chicago to Detroit and I went to St. Benedict in Highland Park with the Sisters of St. Joseph.  I took piano lessons for years with Sister Beniti in the convent.  High School was with the Mercy Sisters whom I deeply respected.  It was there that a good friend, whose sister was a postulant with the Sisters of St. Joseph, invited me to visit Nazareth.  They were a fun bunch indeed.  When I considered religious life in my junior year of high school, it was the Sisters of St. Joseph that drew me.  It was the group I thought I’d like to live with.

Desiring to belong to God, I was led into Scripture and meditation with Mother Marjorie and into an amazing view of life with Sister Aloysius.  Loving to learn, I drank in all that my amazing teachers from Nazareth college offered me.  It was surprising to discover that teaching was an exciting challenge for me.  The congregation gave us encouragement to pursue how God might be calling in ministry and so I moved around and changed grade levels and experimented with new methods.  Eventually God brought me back to St. Benedict, to live in the convent and work in the school.  Coming full circle, I moved in with my mom for her final years and our local Goldengate community of sisters grew into one of my greatest gifts.  These days, my ministry is with the Hispanic community of southwest Detroit at La Casa Guadalupana.  Beautiful women, men and children come to learn and grow. Their strong desire to advance and improve their lives inspires and gives me energy.

All these years, I have been moving deeper into my relationship with God.  Retreats were startling moments of recognizing God’s love for me and how richly I was blessed.  The image I hold for my 60 years of religious life with our congregation is that of a path that winds up and down, in and out of shadow and sunlight.  At certain moments like this time of Jubilee, I look back, amazed at how God has walked with me in both the dark times of struggle and uncertainty and the bright days of gratitude and wonder.  But through all of it I know I am loved.  And that is what transforms and shapes who I continue to become.

“In quiet and confidence will be your strength.”  (Isaiah 30:15)

Sister Marcella Clancy, CSJ

60 years

I was born, the youngest of four children, into an Irish family. The abiding faith and enduring love of my family nurture me today. I entered the Sisters of St. Joseph after high school. My education included nursing and later theology. I did hospital nursing and taught nursing for a while. Eventually I transitioned into parish ministry where I learned so much. While continuing parish ministry, I taught theology as an adjunct professor. Slowly I began giving talks and directing retreats and then companioning others on their sacred journeys. The greatest blessing in all my ministries was being permitted into sacred and vulnerable places in other’s lives. The ministry of spirituality I continue today in my “retirement”. I am grateful for these more leisurely years when I have time to sit with God (I am a slow prayer), linger over lunch with friends, and take long walks basking in God’s lovely creation.

When I was a senior in high school, I asked Sister Alexander, SSJ (Etta Storey), if she thought I had a vocation. Her answer changed the course of my life. “Marcella, I have been praying for you for 3 years.” Her affirmation gave me the courage to “enter the convent”. As I look back on these 60 years the feeling that most overwhelms me is gratitude. I have received so much! I was a very immature 18-year-old when I came with nothing but potential. Everything I have become and have been enabled to do since has been because I was a Sister of St. Joseph: my education, countless spiritual opportunities, ministries which deeply blessed me and most of all, the treasure of sharing life with other Sisters of St. Joseph always stretching for the more. They have constantly inspired me and made my life so full! What shall I return shall I make for all I have been given! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

“Remain in My Love”  (John 15:9)

Sister Mary Anne Dalton, CSJ

60 Years

From Grades 1 to 8, I was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph at St. Henry School. Even at a young age, I was impressed with how the sisters treated us so kindly and I felt I wanted to be one of them when I grew up.  I finally entered at 21 years with seven years of consistent reminders all during my high school and three years of college from the “thinking of you” cards I received from my eighth-grade teacher Sister Grace Scola, who always inquired how I was doing and “did I know yet what God wanted me to do with my life.”

I have always been in the education ministry, but an unexpected turn of events came from another “grace” in my life.  In 1973 the community allowed me to work with my aunt, Sister Grace Pilon, SBS, creator of The Workshop Way System of Human Growth for Education to teach teachers and this I have done for over 40 years. What a tremendous blessing to work with so many dedicated teachers.

Since the first day of the postulancy I felt I belonged in the community, but was continually amazed at how God led so many of us, so different, together in the community.  One of my greatest joys in community has been the enduring friendships I have had with members, first from the Nazareth foundation and now, within our new congregation. Every time we have meetings or committee work, I discover more beautiful, rock-solid, fun- loving, faithful women. So much life and energy has come to us from the gifts and talents and being of all in the new congregation– sisters, associates, staff and employees.  I am so grateful and amazed at the extent of our engagement with others working to make a better world. Even though many of us are showing our aging, I believe we are strangely getting more beautiful. I look forward to this jubilee year with great gratitude for all I have been given and I hope to give much in return.

“The Lord is My Shepherd, I shall not want.” (Ps. 22)

Sister Joyce Dropps, CSJ

60 Years

I entered the Sisters of St. Joseph on September 1, 1960 from St. Michael parish in Pontiac, Michigan. My ministries were always in the education field for 40 plus years, first at St. Joseph in Kalamazoo, followed by 3 years in Hillsdale, Pontiac Catholic HS and Bishop Borgess where I taught Art and religion. The first real challenge in my life came in 1978-1987 when I became teacher-in-charge of adult education with Detroit Public Schools along with director of the William Ryan Community Center. After a sabbatical, I tutored at Marygrove Learning Clinic and volunteered at Mount Carmel Hospital. Then other challenges surfaced ministering at SS Peter and Paul Learning Center for 5 years followed by St. Scholastica Title One program for 4 years. In 2005 after 13 years with Detroit Public Schools, I was eligible for full retirement. Since the Fall of 2006, until the present, my volunteer ministries began, which include a food pantry director and Eucharistic minister at St. Mary Hospital and Angela Hospice in Livonia, Michigan.

As I reflect on being a Sister of St. Joseph, many things come to mind. In high school Sister Marcia Saulino kept asking me about my future. I resisted telling her anything. After high school and working 2 ½ years, my boss offered to help pay my way if I wanted to become an architect. Knowing I was resisting religious life, I spent time in prayer. When peace of mind came over me, I knew I would be a Sister of St. Joseph. Years later I found my baby book and my mother’s completing a sentence: “…and she will be a Sister.” I continue to be grateful for my vocation especially for being with and seeing the dedication of each of my sisters. My life experiences have brought many joy-filled moments. When there are anxious times I stay prayerful, trusting God’s word as I journey on in this life.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you. Do not say, ‘I am a child.’ Go now to those to whom I send you and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to protect you—It is Yahweh who speaks!” (Jeremiah 1:5, 7-8)

Sister Danielle Garst, CSJ

60 Years

I was born on July 11, 1942 to Patricia and George Garst.  I lived my first 18 years on our family farm in the small town of Fortville, 12 miles east of Indianapolis.  I began to think of being a sister in the sixth grade at Holy Spirit School in Indianapolis, where the Sisters of Providence taught my siblings and me.  They were great teachers and seemed so happy.  When I was in the seventh grade my father rented his uncle’s farm and we moved to Tipton where I attended St. John the Baptist School and St. Joseph Academy where I was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Mother Gerard Maher, the Major Superior at St. Joseph Motherhouse in Tipton, told me she thought I had a vocation to be a Sister of St. Joseph.  We discussed religious life and she asked that I come the next morning with my parents to get measured for my postulant dress.  I entered the convent in Tipton on September 7, 1960.

After teaching grades K-6 for thirty years in seven schools in the Lafayette Diocese, I attended and received a Certificate in Gerontology from St. Mary-of-the-Woods College. Completing classes, I remained at St. Mary-of-the-Woods for 12 years to minister as a nursing assistant and receptionist for the Sisters of Providence.  By November of 2012, I had discerned to move to Nazareth Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan where I was greeted warmly.

God gently nudges and guides us along our journey in life.  I have been blessed by God who called me to religious life.  I am grateful to my family, my friends and my Congregation of St. Joseph for their love and support on my journey.  I have been a Sister of St. Joseph for sixty years ministering with the sisters who were my teachers and mentors throughout my life… and I have loved it!!!

“One thing I ask of God, this I seek: to dwell in the House of God all the days of my life, and to gaze on God’s beauty.”  (Psalm 27:4)

Sister Bernadine Gazda, CSJ

60 Years

From the time I was in the second grade I wanted to be a Sister…..for twelve years I was taught by the Felician Sisters, and on June 19, 1960 I joined them.  As a Felician Sister, I was educated to teach religion and history and to serve as the formation director for the congregation.

In 1975 I transferred to the Sisters of St. Joseph, and for 45 years I have served as Pastoral Associate and Director of Religious Education in a number of parishes.

I wanted to be a Sister because I wanted to do more for God. Today, remembering that early motivation causes me to smile, because after sixty years I can better appreciate that all is a gift.  My desire has been to give my life totally to God, and being a Sister of St. Joseph makes it possible for me to fulfill this desire.  It is my hope that the joy of the Lord has shown and will continue to shine through my service to God and His people.

“Be still and know that I am God”   (Psalm 49:10)

Sister Janet Kurtz, CSJ

60 Years

I entered the Sisters of St. Joseph from St. Mary of Redford Parish in Detroit, MI on September 1, 1960. I served in the teaching ministry in the Lansing Diocese from 1965 until 1977 when I joined the Groundwork for a Just World staff. In 1979, I became the assistant administrator of Cristo Rey Community Center in Lansing and the coordinator of the migrant program for the Lansing Diocese. In 1983, I responded to a call to ministry in Peru, first in a mining town called Marcona until 1988 when I moved to Lima and ministered in two prisons. In 2004, I returned to the USA where I volunteered at Michigan Peace Team in Lansing, until moving to Nazareth in 2006. In January, 2010, I returned to one of the prisons in Lima, Peru until health issues brought me back to Nazareth at the end of September, 2010.

I first knew the Sisters of St. Joseph by visiting a second cousin who was a member of the community in London, Ontario. I was impressed by their friendliness and concern for others. Later, I found that same spirit in the Sisters I met at St. Francis Home for Boys where I tutored as part of an outreach program of the Legion of Mary. I began to experience a tug to explore religious life. Providentially, I read the book “And Nora Said Yes” while on a high school retreat, and afterwards, sharing the inner stirrings with Sister Marlene Lammers, I began the discernment process and joined the Community at Nazareth.

Never did I dream of going to Peru, let alone ministering to prisoners in Lima, but it was a sacred gift from God to learn from them, to be challenged by them to grow in fidelity. They were a mix of political prisoners, active and former terrorists, and others presumed innocent, peacefully sharing 8×10 cells.

I am so grateful for the opportunities to participate in the call for social justice over the years, and for the challenges and caring that called me to recognize my own failings, receive healing, and grow in integrity to live the charism of reconciliation and all-inclusive love.

This is indeed a year of Jubilee! The Lord and the Congregation have done wonders in, for and through us! Let us rejoice and be glad!

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand”   (Isaias 41:10)

Sister Nancy Martin, CSJ

60 Years

I was born on July 18, 1942 in Detroit, Michigan, the second of seven children to Harold and Betty Martin.  I started school at St. Matthew’s but transferred to St. Philip Neri when I was in the fifth grade.  It was there that the Sisters of St. Joseph became a part of my life.  I entered the Sisters of St. Joseph, Nazareth, on September 1, 1960.  In November of 1965 I was sent to St. Francis Home for Boys “for two weeks” to help out in the office.  I stayed 26 years.  After finishing my ministry at St. Francis Home, I found employment with the Grosse Pointe Public School System, the last several years working in the Accounts Payable Department.  I retired from the Grosse Pointe Public Schools in December, 2012.

When I met the Sisters of St. Joseph at St. Philip Neri’s, I was inspired by their dedication, caring and concern for us as students, especially Sister Lucilla Vitek, who drew me to want to join them in service to others. This gift of being a member of the Community for sixty years has helped me make the “journey of life” an experience of growth towards a fullness of peace, love and gratitude.

“I have called you by name; you are mine.” (Isais 43:1)

Sister Marie Roy, CSJ

60 Years

I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan along with my three sisters. I attended St. Rita School all twelve years and graduated in 1958. I first came to know the Sisters of St. Joseph at a very young age because of my Aunt, Sister Pierre Roy. The sisters who lived with her were always so welcoming, warm, and happy; it left an impression on me. Sister Dorothy was my second- grade teacher and prepared us for our First Communion. It was during that year that I felt called to be a sister. I wanted to be just like Sisster Dorothy and prepare children to make their First Communion.

My plans for entering the community were delayed because my mother died suddenly just after I graduated from High School. I felt I needed to stay home and take care of my younger sister and Dad. After a couple of years my sister graduated and my Dad remarried, so on September 1, 1960 my lifelong dream was realized and I entered the Sisters of St. Joseph at Nazareth.

I was assigned to many of our schools in Detroit, Grand Blanc and Lansing teaching first and second grade and preparing children for their First Communion.  Vatican II brought many changes in the church and community. We were allowed to choose where we wanted to minister. My desire to serve in the city of Detroit was realized. I taught at St. Brigid School for two years and then was invited to be a Pastoral Associate. In 1974 I accepted the invitation and  had a very profound experience which deepened my faith and love for God in ways I would never have imagined: I felt that I had come home. I was ministering and being ministered to by the beautiful African American people. The richness of their culture, worship, and deep faith profoundly affected me.

I continue to be blessed and inspired by the African American community; by my CSJ sisters; by my family and friends.  I celebrate that my God is faithful and always leading and guiding me, never letting me down; always at my side. I am deeply grateful.

“I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good…to give you a future full of hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

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