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2017 60th Jubilee Celebration
“The Disciples on the Road to Emmaus,” a story unique to Luke’s Gospel and one of the most beloved in the New Testament – a foundational story for contemporary religious life, and expressive of the lives of jubilarians: Sisters Jeanette McCarthy, Janice Hancock and Kay Cota – Emmaus, a story of companions on the journey. Taking her cue from a master homilist, Father Doug Wathier, chaplain at Mount Loretto, Sister Joan Lickteig, offers three words for consideration: sojourning, seeing and staying.
Jesus drew near and sojourned with them.
Cleopas and his companion, disheartened, departed from Jerusalem. They set out for Emmaus conversing about “the things that had taken place.” While they were conversing, Jesus drew near and walked with them.
For 60 years Sisters Jeanette, Janice and Kay have faithfully companioned one another, their Presentation community and many others – as they have lived extraordinarily in ordinary daily life. The spiritual meaning of the word “emmaus” suggests an earnest longing – a long journey, as in, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” The jubilarians recognized this earnest longing and lovingly responded. 60 years! Sojourning 60 years! Some journey!
Cleopasasked, “Have you not heard of the things that have taken place?” Have you? Sister Jeanette McCarthy, oldest daughter of what she describes as a religious family, traveled with her dad from St. Benedict, Iowa, a kind of “the least of towns,” to Dubuque. Her journey began dramatically, leaving behind her 15 siblings (11 boys and four girls) and her mother who would miss her assistance cooking, cleaning and caring for the large family.
Jeanette and her father made the trip, stopping on the way to visit New Mellary Monastery because of her dad’s interest in the monks and their lifestyle! The drama heightened when Jeanette’s hard-earned money, bills which she had rolled-up in her pocket fell out in the process of unloading the car. She had lost her dowry and novitiate fees in the bushes at the back entrance of old Mount Loretto. Frantically retraced-steps ended in finding the money along the ramp. Before leaving, her dad reminded Jeanette that this was not a good way to carry cash.
With the sound of Sister Redempta Collin’s repeated invitation whispering in her ears, Sister Jeanette continued her sojourn.
Sister Janice Hancock, the only daughter of her hard-working family, did not have to travel a distance. She was “a Dubuquer,” having lived on Mount Loretta Avenue most of her young life. As a senior at St. Columbkille School, Janice and several of her classmates with nice handwriting had been invited to address invitations for mass mailings, so Janice was more familiar with the building and grounds, more comfortable in this new space than those who came from a distance.
Janice said goodbye to her parents, and her five brothers, including her twin brother, Jack. Her older brothers had left home, making her leaving more difficult for Jack, who had been her ongoing companion and with whom she made the most mischief.
But with the sound of Sister Victoria Gereau’s repeated invitation echoing in her ears, Sister Janice continued her sojourn.
Hailing from Harpers Ferry, Iowa, a river town, where neighbors have century-long family relationships and reach out to one another, Sister Kay Cota grew up in a salt-of-the-earth family of nine children of which she is the youngest. Her mother, a quiet, hard-working woman operated out of the motto: “There’s always room for one more,” when her husband brought home guests for dinner. It would just have been nice, however, to know about it ahead of time!
After high school Kay moved to Milwaukee to work. There she met a friend who planned to enter a Franciscan community. Kay, likewise, hoped to be a religious sister and work in an orphanage, so she visited the Milwaukee motherhouse with her friend and decided to enter there as well. But when she informed Father Leonard, her pastor and family friend, he strongly urged her to join the Sisters of the Presentation where Sister Lou, Kay’s older sister, was already a member.
Ever more insistent Father Leonard invited Sister Helen Marie Feeney to visit with Kay. Sister Helen Marie promptly and definitively countered all Kay’s reasons for being a Franciscan, and provided more persuasive rationale for joining the Dubuque Presentation Sisters. Gifted with a rosary from Father Leonard and a ride to Dubuque, plus two spools of thread (a white and a black) from her mother, Kay arrived at Mount Loretto.
It was with Father Leonard’s persistence and Sister Helen Marie’s rebuttals resounding in her ears that Kay continued her sojourn.
In the breaking of the bread their eyes were opened – Seeing
Three young women: oldest daughter, youngest daughter, only daughter, professionally trained to teach, later found themselves challenged by Gospel values, opened their eyes and hearts to new expressions of ministry, their gifts used in new ways to meet emerging needs. These ministry changes gifted them, the Presentation community and those they served with transformative grace.
As if it hadn’t been enough to earn a master’s degree in business education and counseling from Catholic University and spend 30 years teaching high school students bookkeeping, typing and shorthand, Sister Jeanette taught herself to speak Spanish during her last three years of high school instruction. Equipped with her self-taught guitar skills and pages of Spanish hymns, Sister Jeanette was prepared to go where the needs of Hispanic sisters and brothers in Sioux City called loudly. Bolstered by a summer visit to Argentina and Bolivia, she offered pastoral ministry to the Spanish-speaking in western Iowa, later in Texas, and at St. Patrick parish in Dubuque. Sister Jeanette’s language facility afforded her opportunity for this new ministry. She described Hispanic ministry as a “breath of fresh air,” her experiences yielding abundant joy in her life.
Sister Janice demonstrated much versatility and perseverance in her ministry changes: as a receptionist in a variety of settings, assuming several roles in publishing companies, culminating in 10 years of ministry with Catholic Charities, most recently as an administrative assistant. With her zest for life, her love for people and her desire to be of service, Sister Janice delighted in opportunities to use her ingenuity, creativity and compassion – to step one pace beyond for others on a daily basis, transforming her and those fortunate enough to meet her.
Sister Kay, who majored in sociology in college, had endured teaching! But when the opportunity at a social service agency in St. Paul, Minnesota, arose, she found her nitch, working with the unemployed as a receptionist and secretary matching peoples’ gifts with employment opportunities. Advocating for those less-fortunate and differently-abled, her heart had found home. For Sister Kay this opportunity proved transformative, and liberating. Today she continues to follow her eye for photography, her love for nature and her commitment and concern for the earth and earth justice.
As they approached the village, they urged him “Stay with us.”
In lively conversation, the disciples arrived, having trekked seven miles to their destination. Approaching the village, the visitor gave the impression that he was going farther but the disciples pressed him to “stay” with them, “for the day was far spent and it was nearly evening.”
For the jubilarians, hospitality is home. For Sister Kay, hospitality is “innate,” an essential part of her home and family life – and beautifully confirmed in her daily example of simple living. Sister Janice keeps in touch, going out of her way to maintain relationships even those that date back to high school. Knowing struggle in several dimensions of her life, her outgoing personality compels her to reach out to others. No wonder she knows half the population of Dubuque. Sister Jeanette considered it important to learn the language of the people, as a courtesy to them, an avenue for hospitality, complemented by her friendly nature.
These jubilarians, women of wide welcome, have sojourned with faithful hearts, seen with new eyes and stayed/companioned with a longing to be transformed.
Reflection by Sister Joan Lickteig