Celebrating Our Sisters During Women’s History Month

Outdoor group photo of Sisters at Graymoor (2020)

Every March, our country celebrates Women’s History Month. While we eagerly celebrate and recognize achievements by women in industry, technology and politics, we are fortunate on the Holy Mountain to spotlight a unique group of women: our Sisters of the Atonement.

We sat down with some of these remarkable Sisters to talk about their shared values and personal experiences. We walked away with stories of strength, humility, joy and hope. We are honored to share these stories with you.

Sr. Denise

Sr. Denise

“My life is service. It’s a calling.”

Sr. Denise grew up in Rhode Island and studied studio art and graphic design in college. She enjoyed working with a local photographer and print shop because she was able to be a part of capturing the most joyful moments in people’s lives.

She was drawn early in life to helping others, and she continues that mission in religious life. She received her LMSW and served as a counselor in a domestic violence clinic in Edmonton, Canada. When she returned to Graymoor, Sr. Denise served as a counselor with St. Christopher’s Inn (SCI). She currently works in the SCI admissions office.

Sr. Denise is also a gifted musician. She recently played the harp at the SCI Winter Extravaganza, a special winter holiday concert featuring the Brothers Christopher performing for the staff and religious at Graymoor. It is a great way to have fun during the holiday season while they’re in the midst of recovery.

Sr. Loretta

Sr. Loretta

“Prayer is the center of my life, which has brought me many blessings.”

Sr. Loretta will celebrate her 100th birthday in August! She arrived at Graymoor in 1936 and served over the years in missions in the United States and Canada. These days, she uses her talents to crochet clothing for newborns. You will find her handiwork in the Gift Shop for Sisters.

Sr. Loretta attended Seton Hall College in New Jersey and taught school for several years. Going above and beyond as a teacher, she made home visits to provide further religious education and offer assistance to families in need.

Sr. Miriam Joseph

Sr. Miriam Joseph

“The story of Mother Lurana’s prayers resulting in the miracle of water to fill an empty well strengthened my faith in the divine.”

Raised on a farm in Ireland, Sr. Miriam Joseph grew up milking cows and tending sheep. After she made her profession, she went to a mission in Lyon Mountain, New York, to teach religion. She eventually realized her calling wasn’t teaching, it was hospitality and service. Back at Graymoor, Sr. Miriam worked at the Retreat House, where she cared for elderly Sisters.

Her compassion for the elderly led her to missions in Washington, D.C. and Ireland.

Sr. Margaret

Sr. Margaret

“We are all a work in progress.”

As a girl in Ireland, Sr. Margaret became acquainted with the Sisters of the Atonement when they visited the bakery where she worked. She deeply admired them. Eventually she joined them at Graymoor.

In 2010, Sr. Margaret started the Sisters Mission in the Philippines. There, she tended to the greatest needs of the children and families: healthcare, food, clothing, shelter and religious education. Sr. Margaret enjoyed making a difference in this underserved community.

Sr. Ellen

Sr. Ellen

“We all have special gifts that make us unique, and together we have a beautiful community.”

Sr. Ellen was raised in a deeply religious family in Ottawa, Canada. The Sisters of the Atonement were prominent fixtures in her community. Sr. Ellen says they helped raise all of the children by reinforcing Catholic values.

When she herself became a Sister of the Atonement, Sr. Ellen practiced the same love she received in Ottawa years ago. She and her fellow Sisters worked as a team with the Friars to build a healthcare facility and a retreat center at Graymoor. “And we did all of this debt-free in the end,” she says.

Read more about Sr. Ellen

Q&A With the Sisters

What common values do the Sisters of the Atonement share?

Sr. Denise: We all have a common core interest in caring about people and living a simple Franciscan lifestyle.
Sr. Loretta: Prayer and faith.
Sr. Miriam Joseph: Simplicity of the Franciscan lifestyle.

What have you learned as a Sister of the Atonement that you want to share with others?

Sr Loretta: Be kind. People are good.
Sr. Margaret: Be the hands and feet of God. Learn to be a good listener. Be kind, forgiving and compassionate.
Sr. Ellen: We’re all born as brothers and sisters. It doesn’t matter our background or creed.

Who in the Sisters of the Atonement have most inspired you?

Sr. Loretta: Looking back, there were many wonderful teachers at Graymoor that I spent time with as a teenager who had a profound impact. One was Sr. Frances, who taught us about the importance of community and congregation. Sr. Anna Marie [a novice mistress she met when she arrived at Graymoor] taught us about the rules and way of life, and took us out for recreation.

Sr. Miriam Joseph: Mother Lurena, for her deep faith, spirituality and simplicity. I was most inspired by the Sisters who brought me from Ireland to Graymoor when I was 20 years old.

Sr. Ellen: I was inspired by Sr. Hance, who left a life of wealth to become a Sister and led a life of serving the poor. Also Sr. Tesarole and her gift of being a great teacher in the light of the Gospel.

What is your favorite time of year at Graymoor?

Sr. Loretta: Christmas.
Sr. Margaret: Easter, as it brings about the joy and hopefulness of spring.
Sr. Ellen: Easter and Resurrection

Sr. Ellen: A Profile of the Mission Life

“Let the Sisters serve God as pilgrims and strangers here below in poverty and humility.  Let us ask God this grace — to have many foundations, small and poor, but rich in charity toward God, one another and the souls of all.”

~ Mother Lurana White, SA

Sr. Ellen’s optimism is contagious. Her outgoing personality draws even the shyest person to feel embraced by her warmth and friendliness. These traits have surely benefited Sr. Ellen through a life of service as a Sister of the Atonement.

For example, she formed a leadership team that raised funds for a new healthcare wing of the Motherhouse at Graymoor. The Lurana Healthcare Residence cares for Sisters who are ill, aged or in need of extra assistance.

Away from Graymoor, Sr. Ellen continued to serve others in their physical and spiritual needs. In the Ogdensburg Diocese of New York, she ministered as a director of religious education and became the Vicar of Religious. Sr. Ellen served the diocese for 22 years.

Her last mission was with the St. John Bosco parish community in Port Chester, New York. The Sisters of the Atonement maintain the Adoration Chapel, which is open to the public. Through this mission of prayer and presence, the Sisters provide the opportunity for everyone to experience the power and serenity of the Holy Eucharist.

Today, Sr. Ellen resides at Graymoor. Her years of mission work have only broadened her optimism and amiability.

Sr. Ellen believes that as children of God, we all have special gifts we should use wisely. It’s clear that Sr. Ellen recognized her God-given gifts, and continues to use them to make a difference in the lives of others.

2 thoughts on “Celebrating Our Sisters During Women’s History Month

  1. Enjoyed so much working in the infirmary with the sisters. Each one taught me so much, I pray for them all.

  2. I love reading about the sisters and their vocations! I hope you do more in the future! I almost entered your community back in the early 70’s. I was blessed to have great memories praying there and on the holy mountain singing with the friars at the folk and traditional masses. With what I learned in my early life, it has led me through many difficult times over the years. Also visited the friars in Okinawa, mainland Japan, England and many stateside locations. May God continue to bless all of you in your ministry and retirement.

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