Meet the Sisters
Let's get to know Sr. Rosemary Duncan,
Rosemary Duncan was born 40 miles outside of St. Louis in Germantown, Illinois on June 30, 1927. She was taught by the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ at St. Boniface grammar school, and by the School Sisters of Notre Dame at a high school in nearby Aviston, IL.
As a child she remembers, “Picnics on the 4th of July, swimming in Shoal Creek, and always looking forward to school in September. During the summer we would spend a day with my father Joseph on his salesman’s route through southern Illinois. It was a special joy when we crossed the border into Indiana to visit the Rogers and Clark Memorial on the banks of the Wabash River.”
Notwithstanding the delightful times of her childhood, Rosemary was always conscious of the Great Depression. As with many other families, hers was severely affected. Her father, who was selling stocks and bonds in 1929, lost his job. He was out of work for three years before he was hired as the salesman for the Hanover Star Milling Company. Rosemary recalls her mother Veronica often looking up at the picture of St. Therese of Lisieux which hung in the kitchen, and asking for help. “Because of her reliance on prayer, I have always had a devotion to the Providence of God.”
Rosemary won a scholarship to LeClerc College in Belleville, IL. She attended night school at St. Louis University and became the assistant to the dean of the law school there. Although Rosemary was deeply inspired by the Sisters who taught her, it was the law school regent, Rev. Louis Fitzsimmons, S.J., who suggested she attend a retreat at the St. Louis Cenacle. She began to think seriously about a Cenacle vocation when a Cenacle Sister broached the subject with her while on her 2nd retreat.
Rosemary entered the Cenacle in St. Louis on September 24, 1949. She was a novice at the Ronkonkoma (LI, NY) Cenacle, and made her final vows in Rome on May 13, 1957.
Sister Rosemary has served as ministry coordinator and/or superior at the Milwaukee, Chicago, Wayzata (MN), Warrenville (IL) and Longwood (IL) Cenacles. She was a Program Director for the Chicago Archdiocesan Permanent Diaconate, and was a founder, member and instructor for the Chicago Institute for Spiritual Companionship. Sister Rosemary facilitated 2 monthly support groups for priests in the Rockford, IL diocese for 10 years. She worked with Army chaplains at the War College in Carlisle, PA and in Seoul, South Korea. For all of her years as a Cenacle Sister she has given spiritual direction and has directed retreats.
I’m so inspired by the life of our Foundress, Saint Therese Couderc, and the spiritual legacy of self-surrender she left us. Of all I have done, I love the ministry of retreats and spiritual direction most. This is when I feel most like a Cenacle Sister.
Let's get to know Sr. Gina Terrazas,
Sr. Gina Terrazas is, in some ways, a local girl. She attended kindergarten at the church across the street from the Chicago Cenacle, The Church of Our Savior. But her return to Fullerton Parkway was a journey through numerous countries.
Gina was born in Vienna Austria, where her father was studying medicine. Her parents’ divorced when Gina was 3 and she and her mother returned home to Chicago. Given she had to work, Gina’s mother brought a Viennese woman, Anna, to be Gina’s nanny. Having spent her first years of life in Austria, Gina spoke only German but over time she learned English. Living near Fullerton Parkway, Gina was enrolled in kindergarten at The Church of Our Savior. Unfortunately, Anna, who was attending a music program while being Gina’s nanny, had immigration difficulties and was deported in 1929. Gina returned to Austria with Anna, eventually moved to Germany with her and resumed her German speaking ways. In 1930 Gina’s mother remarried and came to Germany to retrieve Gina.
In her high school years, Gina was sent back to Germany by her mother with a plan for her to become a concert pianist. Gina herself had little ambition to strive for that goal, but her mother had harbored her own dreams of being a concert violinist. When Gina showed no interest in the violin her mother shifted her obsession to piano and off Gina went to Munich to live with a family there and study piano. But the war began and Gina was escorted to Italy where her mother retrieved her and brought her home to Chicago.
Eventually Gina entered the School of Music at Northwestern. But a career in music was not to be. It was at Northwestern that Gina met Hugo Terrazas, a Bolivian student. After a courtship they married and moved to Bolivia. Tragically, Hugo developed typhoid fever and died less than a year after they married. In February, 1946, Gina, only 22, returned to Chicago, completed her studies and received a Bachelor of Music degree. In an effort to give her life some sense of direction Gina moved to New York and began doing secretarial work. It was in New York that Gina began her slow conversion to Catholicism. One night in the early 50’s, Gina and a friend attended a production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Don Juan in Hell.” Hell was, as Gina puts it, “a drawing room atmosphere, not fire and brimstone.” It was a place where anything was acceptable because of the devil’s genial hospitality. Gina began to realize “if life doesn’t have a bottom line it isn’t going anywhere.” She wanted her life to have some meaning and faith seemed the way. She was drawn to Catholicism - “it just seemed more worldwide…it seemed at least set up as a church for people of all ages and all kinds of people.”
Following the example of Thomas Merton, Gina found the nearest Catholic Church through the New York subway guide. She began instruction to become a Catholic and did so Christmas Eve 1952. One day at work she asked herself “What am I doing here?” Not having a good answer Gina gave notice and began to look seriously at entering a religious community. She made a retreat at the Cenacle in Ronkonkoma and entered in 1956. She has ministered in numerous houses in the US, in Canada and in Peru. Before “retiring” to the Chicago Cenacle in 2002 Gina was in East Bank, West Virginia. She found a simple and unpretentious friendliness there. “I have been many places in the world, and have loved the people there, but this part of West Virginia seems a lot like home.”
Now well settled in Chicago, Gina is relied upon for many things including selecting music for liturgies and playing the piano and organ. Her mother would be pleased to see, and hear, Gina still using the skills she developed as a girl. The Sisters, family and friends along with guests benefit greatly from Gina’s presence both in the house and at the keyboard.
Let's get to know Sr. Marguerite Gautreau,
When you meet Sr. Marguerite Gautreau most likely you are drawn to her gentle smile and bright eyes. The fact that this energetic and petite woman became a nun is not surprising. But even Sr. Marguerite seems surprised at how her life as a nun has evolved. Her life as a Cenacle Sister can be seen as the confluence of circumstance and grace. Marguerite grew up in Rhode Island as the only girl in a family of 7 children. Her family, of French Canadian descent with Acadian roots, was deeply Catholic. She had numerous family members who were religious and was often told by her aunts that she would be a nun. Not being interested in teaching, Marguerite assumed that would not be part of her future.
Marguerite’s mother died when she was young and she assumed a great deal of the home making. So when her father remarried, Marguerite, being age 20, felt free to move out into the world. The sister of a good friend had children and was ill so Marguerite headed to South Bend, Indiana to help her with her family. While there, a friend who was a Jewish convert to Catholicism urged Marguerite to visit the Milwaukee Cenacle for a retreat. This friend had discovered the Cenacle Sisters when she was in Boston. Marguerite went to the Cenacle and quickly realized this was the religious order which would, in fact, make her aunts’ predictions come true.
She entered the Cenacle in 1956 with nine other women. A few years following her final vows, Marguerite was sent to Mundelein College for her bachelor degree and then returned to active ministry. As with many Cenacle Sisters, she has lived in many Cenacle houses and filled many positions in ministry and administration. Her recent positions have included Provincial for the Midwest Province (prior to the creation of the North American Province), Province novice director, and member of the General Government in Rome. As a member of the General Council in Rome, Sr. Marguerite did a great deal of translation from English to French. Her excellent translating skills were the result of her bilingual upbringing in her French speaking household. Prior to her time as a member of the General Council, Sr. Marguerite had wonderful opportunities to travel for translation purposes. This enabled her to meet many of her Sisters living and ministering across the globe – an experience which broadened and deepened her appreciation of the internationality of the Congregation.
Marguerite has never doubted her call to be a Cenacle Sister. She credits this to her family being so solidly Catholic. She has, however, been surprised by the places she has been and the experiences she has had as a Cenacle Sister. When she left her home in Rhode Island in 1953 for South Bend Marguerite was not expecting to attend college much less travel around the world.
As Sr. Helen mentions in her letter, Marguerite has graciously accepted the position of Local Leader of the Community at 513 Fullerton. While she might not need to do much translating of French to English, Sr. Marguerite will need the same skills she has shown throughout her decades as a Cenacle Sister – an open heart, cheerful smile, attentive ear and a willingness to respond to God’s call.
Let's get to know Sr. Rita Foy,
Rita was born on September 4, 1916, in New York City, the third child of the late Ellen (Callaghan) and John Foy. Mr. Foy was born in Liverpool, England, and was employed as a stationary engineer by the city of New York. Mrs. Foy came from County Cork. Rita was baptized in the Church of the Ascension in Manhattan. When Most Reverend Patrick Hayes confirmed her, Rita took the confirmation name of Annunciata, more later on the importance of that name.
Rita attended Hunter College, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Latin, English and Speech, all of which served her well after she entered the Cenacle. Her favorite pastime was reading mystery stories. After college, she worked as an assistant treasurer at a New York firm. When asked how she came to know the Cenacle, Rita recounted that in her eighth grade classroom there was a list of all those from the parish who had entered religious life or the priesthood. Most of the girls had entered the Sisters of Charity or the Presentation Sisters except for one – Sr. Kathleen Reid, Religious of the Cenacle. Rita was intrigued by this name and was determined that some day she would meet her. That was in 1928-29. Thus began her lifelong love for and gratitude to Sr. Reid.
Several years later she met Sr. Reid. It happened in this way. John Considine, a young seminarian, grew up across the street from the Foy’s and was a friend of the Foy boys, often joining them for coffee and buns in the evening. John was a relative of Sr. Reid. His sister invited Rita to join her on a trip to Ronkonkoma to meet Sr. Reid. Rita remembered the day – July 1, 1932, just before she began her senior year in high school. Following that, Rita went to see Sr. Reid every week. After college she attended the Couderc Guild and helped Mother Clarke in the retreat office. Rita entered the postulancy on March 25, 1941, the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lady (Annunciata was the name she took at Confirmation), fulfilling her desire of entering religious life ever since she was six years old. After her novitiate, she pronounced first vows on September 20, 1943. As Rita was the last one to pronounce her vow formula, she saw that her father was the first of the guests to come to the Communion railing. As Mr. Foy was dying of throat cancer, Rita prayed, “O God, let me make my final vows on his birthday.” Her prayer was answered in Rome on May 12, 1949, the day of her final vows.
After first vows, Rita was assigned to the Boston Cenacle for two years of juniorate studies as well as to helping in the dessert pantry and in the prayer enrollment office. Following this, she returned to Ronkonkoma to train the novices in preparing desserts for the retreatants. In speaking with Mother de la Chapelle, the superior, Rita told her that the novices knew more about this than she did, to which Mother de la Chapelle replied, “I think you’ll keep them happy down there.” This was true of Rita’s relationship with people throughout her life. She once said that she wanted the words, “She loved the brethren” on her tombstone.
After Ronkonkoma, Rita was missioned to Chicago. She would return a number of times in coming years. “I loved Chicago from the minute I came and have never stopped loving it,” she said. “It feels like where I belong.” After two years, she was ready for the time of preparation for final vows which took place in Rome. Then off to Minneapolis where a new Cenacle has opened and where she served as the assistant to the superior for two years. She then traveled to St. Louis for a year and again to Chicago. In both places she served as assistant to the superior, her favorite “job” in the Cenacle as she often said. In July of 1965, Rita as appointed provincial of the Midwest Province. Two years later, the provincialate was moved from Milwaukee to Chicago, where she supervised the construction of a new building there. In 1968, Rita traveled to Rome to attend the General Chapter with Cenacle Sister Delegates from around the world. On March 25, the feast of the Annunciation and the anniversary of her Cenacle entrance, she was elected the first non-French Superior General of the Cenacle.
It was after Vatican II when changes were taking place in the Church and in the Cenacle. In speaking of those twelve years she served as Superior General, Rita said that she saw her mission “as that of keeping the union of hearts within the Congregation.” There is no doubt that she accomplished that as an elderly French sister expressed it so well, telling Rita that she was like Mother Marie Majoux, a former superior general whom Cenacle sisters called the “Mother of all.” Asked about the greatest joy of those twelve years, she replied, “The opportunity to know all the Sisters of the Congregation.” She might have added “to love them” which she did and continued to do for the remainder of her life.
After retuning from Rome, one might have thought that Rita was ready for a good rest, but that was not her desire. She continued the ministry of directed retreats and spiritual direction in St. Louis, Vancouver, Warrenville and Chicago where she served six years as superior. But a well-deserved sabbatical allowed her to make her first visit to the Australian Cenacle which was founded during her time in Rome. It was a round-the-world trip in which she renewed friendships with Cenacle Sisters not only in Australia but also in New Zealand, Philippines, Italy, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, Ireland and England.
In the mid 1990’s Rita Foy lived at the Warrenville Cenacle, continuing to lead days of prayer and see people for spiritual direction. In 2001, as a member of the Chicago community, Rita celebrated her 60th jubilee there. It was a joyous affair as many Cenacle Sisters, family, friends and retreatants came to celebrate with her. During the years that followed, she continued to be very active in ministry until November 4, 2008, when she became a member of the Cenacle community at Resurrection Life Cenacle. She continued her ministry there, visiting the Cenacle Sisters as well as other residents. Her God-given gift loving and caring relationships were a gift she shared to willingly. Her smile, her Irish sense of humor and her deep faith enriched all who knew her.
Sr. Rita Annunciata Foy had a deep and abiding love of Our Lady. About a year ago, she asked Sr. Joyce Kemp for a large photograph of a statue of Our Lady of the Cenacle for the door of her room, another way of drawing others to Our Lady. As she persevered in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus (Acts 1:14), throughout her life as a Sister of the Cenacle, she now rejoices with Mary as together, they gaze on the Face of God.
Let's get to know Sr. Emma Exconde,
Sr. Emma Exconde is small and mighty. Her passion and energy for her calling as a Cenacle Sister belies her petite frame and is palpable when she speaks of her vocation. But then, when one listens to her story it is apparent this approach to her life as a religious is simply a reflection of her overall approach to life.
One of six children, Sr. Emma comes from a family of professional musicians, medical professionals and religious. Ultimately, she has integrated all three in her life as a Cenacle Sister. Emma completed her BS in Nursing in her native Philippines before heading to the States to study at New York University and do a fellowship in Oncological Research in Nursing at Sloan-Kettering and Memorial Hospital. While there, she and other graduate students were invited to a retreat at the Ronkonkoma Cenacle. Though familiar with religious life (Emma’s two older sisters were Franciscan Missionaries of Mary), Sr. Emma was greatly affected by the Sisters she met that weekend. Their knowledge of the wider world combined with their deep spirituality and contemplative practices impressed Emma. Although she did not yet have the words to exactly name what attracted her, Emma felt the Sisters “lived it.” She knew, “These women are different.” So moved by what she experienced at that retreat, Emma applied for admittance and began her life with the Cenacle Sisters and their commitment to Community, Prayer and Ministry.
Several years after taking her final vows, Emma acquired a Masters in Theology and Liturgical Studies from Notre Dame thus tapping into her family’s musical roots. Following two years in Chicago as Coordinator of the RCIA program in the Office of Divine Worship, Emma packed her bags and headed back to Asia. She was a Junior formator in Quezon City, Philippines, helped open the Cenacles in Cebu, Philippines and Singapore, taught Pastoral Liturgy at the Jesuit run seminary for diocesan seminarians in the Philippines (becoming the first woman to do so), and was a delegate to the East Asian Liturgy Conference held in Bali, Indonesia in 2000.
After about 9 years Sr. Emma felt she needed to return to the United States to help her North American Sisters. She returned home, after a brief sabbatical, to where her journey as a Cenacle Sister began – Ronkonkoma, NY. After staying in Ronkonkoma for five years as administrator and later as Superior of the community, she headed to Metairie to be the Ministry Coordinator. In 2009 Sr. Emma came to Chicago to join the community at 513 and has been a whirlwind of activity working in the Ministry Office, helping with the planning of special liturgies, directing individual retreats and being a spiritual director to many who spend time here.
She continues to feel the same enthusiasm about being a Cenacle Sister as she did in the 1960’s. As she so wonderfully puts it “I’m just attracted by the whole thing…We live it without realizing people see it. It is how we live.” This “it”, the Cenacle Sisters’ commitment to Prayer, Community and Ministry is what people experience when they come to 513 Fullerton and especially when Sr. Emma Exconde enters the room.
Let's get to know Sr. Janice Bemowski,
A term which aptly describes Sr. Janice Bemowski is “pragmatic”. This is a good thing, given she is the Treasurer of the North American Province of the Cenacle Sisters. Her practical and clear eyed approach to life is delicately balanced by her openness to the presence of God in her daily life and her love for Christ. Janice is a woman who actively embraces her daily choice to live a life dedicated to continuing and deepening the relationship with God for herself and for others.
Janice Bemowski graduated from college in the mid 1970’s with a degree in Interior Design. Recognizing her need to find a career in a more economically stable field she became a banker, earned an MBA in finance from DePaul and studied to be a paralegal specializing in employee benefits. She settled into a condo in Chicago and the life of a professional urban woman. But she recognized that something was missing. Having drifted from the Church while in college, Janice began to wonder, “Who is God for me?” Being a practical person, she decided to “study” the issue and spent a weekend reading numerous books about Christianity. She was reading in order to determine if she wanted to be a Catholic.
By the end of the weekend she knew this approach would not work. She began attending Mass with a friend and the homilies seemed to be written specifically for her. Eventually she decided to attend RCIA classes in order to allow the Church “to tell its story again.” As she explored her renewed faith, she was struck by the Director of Religious Education’s love for Jesus and she realized she wanted to experience that love herself.
After some time, she felt a call to seriously consider religious life. A friend gave her a flyer for a retreat at the Chicago Cenacle and she quickly registered. Before that weekend she had never heard of the Cenacle Sisters. Yet when she read materials about their ministry of Retreats and Spiritual Direction she felt she could do retreat presentations given she had done presentations at the bank! After many conversations and much time with Cenacle Sisters Janice realized she could not let the dream of religious life die. She realized there was a risk that after having changed her entire life and given up possessions and job she might discover she did not truly have a vocation as a Sister. But she also realized that God was with her no matter what might happen. She knew that even if religious life was not what she was called to do with her life God was definitely calling her to a life different from her current situation. With this certainty of God’s love Janice was able to let go of her fear of the risks and embrace this new relationship with God.
The wonderful mixture of the pragmatic and mystical empowers Sr. Janice each day as she approaches her numerous tasks. In addition to her financial responsibilities, Sr. Janice is the Cenacle Vocation Director and a member of the International Finance Committee for the Sisters of the Cenacle.
Wonderfully for all who live and work with her, Sr. Janice Bemowski is a woman of calm, focus and generosity when interacting with others. As Vocation Director for both the House and Province, Sr. Janice listens to and guides women, like herself, who desire a continuing and deepening relationship with God and, perhaps, life as a Sister of the Cenacle. She does this with faith that God is with all who seek God’s presence. Whether she is keeping watch over the financial health of the Community or companioning a woman in her discernment of religious life, Sr. Janice has a sense of purpose drawn from her love for Christ, the love she desired and for which she risked all.
Let's get to know Sr. Barbara Whittemore,
Sr. Barbara Whittemore, r.c. is a woman with a sense of adventure. In talking with her, it is apparent that Sr. Barbara joyfully embraces life with all its beauty, surprises, and complexities. She is enthusiastically open to the presence of God in her life through the natural world, her prayer life, and in the challenges and opportunities of each day.
The only child of a Scottish American father and Native American/French mother, Sr. Barbara was born and raised in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Sr. Barbara had the unique opportunity to travel to school by boat. After the lake froze over she would board in town staying, in the early years, with local families. When she was in 7th and 8th grade she stayed in the hotel with the lumberjacks. Given where she lived, Sr. Barbara was constantly exposed to nature and adventure. She proudly states she has had her subscription to National Geographic for over 60 years.
Sr. Barbara was drawn to religious life early on, but her parents did not want her to become a Sister. She became engaged and the plan was that the new couple would homestead in Alaska. But on Sr. Barbara’s 21st birthday she sent a Dear John letter because she realized that was not the life she was called to.
Sr. Barbara knew she wanted to do something worthwhile and she entered Fordham Hospital School of Nursing on a full scholarship. The transition to the Bronx was a great adjustment but Sr. Barbara selected this school not only for the nursing program and scholarship but because it was located across from the New York Botanical Gardens.
It was during her first year at Fordham that she attended a retreat for nurses at the Cenacle. She found herself shyly asking to return to spend more time with the community. From that time on she knew she had found her calling. Sr. Barbara developed a strong devotion to Saint Therese Couderc because she, like Sr. Barbara, was a girl born and raised in the mountains. In addition, she was drawn to St. Therese’s spirituality, prayerfulness, zeal and vision of the goodness in all things. During her novitiate, Sr. Barbara had the opportunity to live at the Ronkonkoma Cenacle, on Long Island, which gave her beautiful grounds and traces of Native American history to explore.
Sr. Barbara’s passion for God, for her deep faith, the intersection of the physical and spiritual aspects of life, Native American spirituality, the natural world, and the movement of the Spirit is apparent when she speaks of her life as a Cenacle Sister. She has been, among other things, head of the infimary; a CCD teacher trainer, regional director for the Cenacle Auxiliaries, Councilor for the newly created North American Province, teacher and practitioner of Native American Spirituality, Coordinator of Chicago Cenacle Affiliates, Coordinator of the Chapel Guild, and spiritual director and guide for numerous people.
As Sr. Barbara reflects upon her years as a Cenacle Sister she joyfully says she has never had any doubts. Following a 10 day retreat shortly after Vatican II she realized she could fully recommit to being a Cenacle Sister. “When I entered I felt that was where God wanted me. After that retreat I felt I was called to bring God to others.” As a Cenacle Sister, Sr. Barbara has brought, and continues to bring, God to many people who come to the Chicago Cenacle.
Let's get to know Sr. Marie Vandenbergh,
For a woman who thought she would “try out” the idea of religious life with the hope that it wouldn’t happen, Sr. Marie Vandenbergh has packed a great deal into her life as a Cenacle Sister. In fact, listening to Sr. Marie talk about her decades of religious life you might find yourself exhausted simply by the scope of her experiences.
Sr. Marie enrolled in Marquette University in 1940 and during her years there she became acquainted with the Cenacle Sisters through a retreat at the newly opened Milwaukee Cenacle. Given she was engaged , no one, especially Sr. Marie , considered her a candidate for religious life. After graduation she returned home to Chicago for work and found her interior life was “miserable.” Despite her engagement ,Sr. Marie realized she needed to explore religious life. She was drawn to the idea of a retreat ministry because she found her own retreats so worthwhile. Her experience at the Milwaukee Cenacle led her to the Chicago Cenacle and from there to the novitiate on Long Island. When she entered the novitiate she gained such an interior peace she knew, whether she liked it or not, she was called to religious life. She sent a Dear John letter to her fiancé and responded to the call she could not ignore.
Until the early 1950’s Sr. Marie’s religious life followed the simple route of working in various houses at various tasks. Eventually, when the Provincial came for a visit, Sr. Marie found herself crying in frustration with her boredom. In short order she was sent to Houston to help start a house. After 8 years in Houston she went to work in Sacramento as the CCD Coordinator. From there she was sent to Buenos Aires to start a Cenacle at the request of the Archbishop who had visited the Chicago Cenacle and decided he needed such a place in his diocese. Three years later Sr. Marie headed back to Illinois. She landed at Southern Illinois University in the Doctoral program in Education. Having completed her Ph.D. in Education she returned to Chicago and worked for the Archdiocese in the Hispanic Outreach program for the Religious Education Department and volunteered at a parish with a large Hispanic congregation.
In 1977 she once again packed her bags and headed back to California to be the superior of the Sacramento house. In her “spare” time she attended some classes at the Jesuit Theological Union. At a certain point the Jesuits took it upon themselves to enroll her in their Master of Divinity program. In 1983 she returned to Chicago to the Longwood Cenacle. She completed her M.Div. in 1985 and became involved in lay ministry training which she found extremely rewarding given the enthusiasm of the lay people with whom she interacted. In 1987 Sr. Marie was tapped for Provincial work and carried out various responsibilities for the Province until she “retired” in 1998.
The term retired is VERY relative for Sr. Marie. She is currently the Ministry Coordinator for the Chicago Cenacle along with being the house archivist, the Secretary to the Provincial Corporations, and the keeper of the House Journal. She also continues to be a spiritual companion, particularly to those interested in a 30 Day Ignatian Retreat.
When talking with Sr. Marie you find yourself willing to simply sit and listen to her fascinating life. She has a wonderful no nonsense approach to her life and the world around. Her laugh is deep and warm and her modesty disarming. In reflecting on her years of religious life, Sr. Marie is happy she broke off her engagement. As she frankly puts it, “I would have made my husband miserable.” All those years ago she had the wisdom to follow her reluctant heart into what was and continues to be a full and fulfilling religious life. By the way, the man she was engaged to eventually married and had 6 children. So everyone benefited from Sr. Marie Vandenbergh’s wise listening to her God.
Let's get to know Sr. Ann Wylder,
Retirement is not a state of mind or body for Sr. Ann Wylder. A Sister of the Cenacle for 48 years, Ann radiates energy and enthusiasm for her life as a religious. When reviewing the list of her ministries over the years, one is struck by her openness to the Spirit and her willingness to embrace opportunities and challenges alike.
Born and raised in Abilene, Kansas, Sr. Ann discovered the Sisters of the Cenacle when she was a social worker in Vancouver, British Columbia and she attended retreats at the Vancouver Cenacle Retreat House. As she worked with her clients, Ann realized many of the people she was attempting to help were also in need of spiritual support. As a Cenacle Sister, Sr. Ann has been able to bring such support to many diverse and grateful people.
Over the years, Sr. Ann has lived and worked in Milwaukee, Warrenville, IL, the Longwood House in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Wayzata MN, and the Chicago Retreat House on Fullerton. She has been Novice Director twice, Provincial, and Ministry Coordinator and House Coordinator for Chicago. And throughout her years as a Cenacle Sister, Ann has been a retreat director and spiritual companion for numerous people.
After a well deserved sabbatical following her six years as House Coordinator, Sr. Ann is back at the Chicago Cenacle with numerous ministries on her calendar. She is currently a member of the Ignatian Spirituality Project which runs retreats for homeless women in Chicago. She serves her Community as the Provincial Secretary and manages the sacristy. Sr. Ann continues to be engaged in retreat work and spiritual direction for the wider Chicago community.
When one talks with Sr. Ann Wylder her love for her life, her faith and her Community is apparent, and infectious. Hers is one of the friendly faces and warm handshakes which greet all guests who come to the Chicago Cenacle.
Let's get to know Sr. Doris Bowden,
The warmth of Sr. Doris Bowden is immediately conveyed in her lovely voice. The gentle and calm words delivered with a charming Boston accent easily convey the nature of this Cenacle Sister. One is not surprised to learn she is trained both as a nurse and a spiritual companion. The nurturing and healing Sr. Bowden has accomplished in her many years have certainly been of both body and heart. Sr. Bowden seems to have understood from early in her life the need to respect and care for the entire person. Her recognition of this need is apparent when she explains how she first came to know the Cenacle Sisters in Boston where she was a young nurse. Her journey began when she made the simple statement, “There should be a place where you can just go and think.” Her office mate at the Westinghouse Clinic where Doris Bowden worked as a young industrial nurse said, “There is. It’s called the Cenacle.”
Doris Bowden didn’t begin her life with any indication of a religious vocation. As a young girl she had lived away from her family in order to attend the Jonas Perkins School, a school her mother felt would better prepare her for a good life. During breaks, Doris would head home for memorable vacations of swimming, boating and fishing in the Atlantic Ocean. Nursing seemed a natural calling for Doris given her aunt was a nurse. After completing a nursing program at Boston City Hospital, Doris was prepared to join the Army. But she discovered that because she was legally blind in one eye, she would not be allowed to travel overseas. The Army’s loss was the Cenacle’s gain. During the war, Doris went to work at the Westinghouse First Aid Clinic as a nurse and stayed for five years. It was there she made her life changing statement to her office mate. Not only did Doris Bowden not grow up considering a religious vocation, but she was not born or raised a Catholic. However, as a young nurse she was living in Boston with a classmate and her mother so she could be closer to work. These two women were very faithful Irish Catholics. Their example drew Doris to explore becoming a Catholic and at the age of 26 she was baptized and received into the Church. It was only a short but important two years between her conversion and her entry into the Cenacle.
Sr. Bowden is very matter of fact about her reasons behind her decision to become a Cenacle Sister. “All manner of difficulties brought people into the Cenacle. For me it was spiritual nursing.” And she has certainly done that in many different places. Not only has she lived in Cenacles throughout the United States but she ultimately did end up traveling overseas to the Philippines and New Zealand to help establish Cenacle Retreat Centers. She has been called on many times over the years to put her nursing skills to good use for her sisters in various Cenacle Houses. While she is officially retired, she is still actively engaged with the Chapel Guild in the Chicago Cenacle, visits with and listens to old friends and retreatants, and most importantly for the people who live and work in the Chicago Cenacle, helps to distribute the mail every morning.
When she is asked how she has been able to companion so many people on their spiritual journeys with such kindness and love she is very certain of her answer. “The key is you don’t tell people what to do. You let people come to their own conclusion that God loves them.” To meet and speak with Sr. Doris Bowden one is certain that this is a love she has personally experienced.
Let's get to know Sr. Margaret Byrne,
When Margaret Byrne was a child growing up in New Orleans, prejudice and intolerance were expressed in even the smallest way. Margaret was playing with a classmate after school who was of Italian heritage. Her aunt told her not to play with anyone Italian. “How will I know if they’re Italian?” Margaret asked. Her aunt replied, “Their last name always ends in a vowel.” A confused Margaret replied, “But so does mine!”
Margaret’s father Robert was an accountant and died when she was nine, leaving five children under 10 years old. This being the depression, her mother Anna had to go back to work in her profession as a nurse. Margaret had one brother and three sisters. She attended St. Stephen’s parish grammar school and the Academy of the Sacred Heart high school. Sr. Margaret fondly remembers spending summers at a cottage on the Mississippi Gulf Coast where they weathered the great hurricane of 1938. “We put all the furniture against the front door. We survived the storm and afterward there was a great catch of crabs. My brother and I sold 6 dozen of them!”
During her years at Maryville College in St. Louis, Margaret attended a day of prayer at the St. Louis Cenacle. Sr. Margaret remembers, “I felt right at home, and I found the Sisters very balanced and real.” It was at the end of World War II that Margaret decided to enter the Cenacle. “It was August of 1945 and two atomic bombs had just been dropped. I was deeply disturbed by this and I saw clearly that the only antidote to war is the love of the Kingdom of Christ.”
Sr. Margaret had her novitiate training in Ronkonkoma NY, where she was, “very homesick and not familiar with Yankee ways…” At the time when she completed her novitiate, the Cenacle Sisters had two Provinces in the U.S. – the Midwest Province and the Eastern Province because I was from New Orleans, and that is on the east side of the river!” Later she was called to the Midwest Province when the New Orleans house was to be opened. Sr. Margaret spent her Juniorate at the Boston Cenacle and was on the Novitiate staff at the Ronkonkoma, she joined the Sisters who were establishing the Cenacle in New Orleans. From there she moved to the Warrenville IL Cenacle.
It was when Sr. Margaret was the Superior of the Warrenville Cenacle during the summer of 1967, that the new Fermi Laboratory National Nuclear Accelerator was being built in Batavia, the next town over from Warrenville. The government was buying land in the surrounding area for workers’ housing tracts. However, the community bylaws prevented African Americans from purchasing property. Sr. Margaret was contacted by the Southern Leadership Conference who wanted to stage an 8 day protest. They asked her if the protesters would be allowed to put up tents on the Cenacle grounds. Sr. Margaret called the Provincial, Sr. Rita Foy, and told her. “I think we should do this.” “Why?” Sr. Foy asked. She replied, “It’s the right thing to do, and the only reason to say no is fear.” And so they came and pitched their tents on the Cenacle grounds which became known as the “Tent City.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came as did 1,800 people. The event was covered by all three TV networks, with the inevitable criticisms and affirmations.
In September of 1967, Sr. Margaret traveled to the Philippines with five Filipina Sisters to help establish a house in Quezon City. In 1968 she returned as Provincial of the Midwest Province, and later lived and worked in Houston, Warrenville, Chicago, Metairie and Gainesville Cenacles. Now at 86, she is living at the Chicago Cenacle. She is especially devoted to the 19th Annotation Retreat of Saint Ignatius Loyola, which she says is, for her, “Crown of the Ignatian Exercises.” Sr. Margaret still ministers to people through spiritual direction—in person, on the phone and through correspondence.
“It has been a great privilege to share the spiritual journey with people,” she says. “I am most inspired by the impact of ordinary, everyday kindness on everyone’s lives.”
Let's get to know Sr. Agnes Sauer,
Agnes was born in Wellston, a suburb of St. Louis, the youngest child of Henry Francis and Rosemary (Fricke) Sauer. Both parents were of German ancestry although Henry’s grandmother was French-Canadian. Agnes’ father worked as a letter carrier and later became the inspector for the “gold coast” route of the U.S. Postal Service in St. Louis. Agnes’ mother grew up on a farm in Herman, MO and worked as a domestic before her marriage.
The family lived in St. Barbara’s parish where Agnes attended eight grades of parochial school. She then graduated from St. Mark’s High School and enrolled in St. Louis University. However, she answered God’s call to the Cenacle before graduating. She later finished her studies at Loyola University Chicago. By her own admission, Agnes was not a serious student, receiving passing grades. Her priority was “having fun.” At Loyola she became a serious student and made the Dean’s list.
Agnes entered the Cenacle Novitiate at Ronkonkoma on September 16, 1946 the last one to enter when there was a single American province. About a month later the province was divided into the Eastern and Midwest Provinces. The only other person who entered with Agnes was alone for all the classes and conferences of the postulancy. She spoke very little of her time in the novitiate except that “I had plenty of time to think.” The day of first vows came on March 21, 1949 after which she stayed at Ronkonkoma for three months. Juniorate studies in Boston followed but her time there was also limited to three months as Reverend Mother Ida Barlow, provincial of the newly established Midwest Province, had decided to mover her two juniors, Agnes and Jeanette Kelly to the Chicago Cenacle on Fullerton. They attended St. Xavier’s University on Chicago’s south side every Saturday.
After her time in the juniorate, Agnes was assigned to the Milwaukee Cenacle where she was an aide to Mother Virginia Gartland in the sacristy. In 1953, Agnes along with Srs. Edith Rice and Mary Pellicane, traveled to Rome on the ship The U.S. Independence. They accompanied Reverend Mother Eugenia Maranzana who had just made her first visit to America. She was an assistant general of the Congregation as well as the tertian m istress who would be in charge of the final vow preparation for the three young tertians.
Agnes pronounced final vows on May 10, 1954. Then it was back to Milwaukee where she was in charge of the sacristy. Two years later she was appointed assistant to the superior, remaining in this post until 1963, when she was transferred to Warrenville. There she trained the novices in the sacristy and started classes at Loyola University. She stayed at the Chicago Cenacle during the week, returning to Warrenville on Friday to help with the week end retreats.
As with many other Cenacle Sisters, Agnes was on the move again, this time to Milwaukee where she served as ministry coordinator for three years. In 1970 she was appointed superior of the St. Louis Cenacle. At this time she became the regional superior for the Cenacle Auxiliaries, a position she held for twelve years. One of her principal tasks was to oversea the revision o their constitutions. Agnes then moved to the Carmichael CA Cenacle where she remained for three years. It was then decided that she needed to be in Houston in order to work more closely with the three Auxiliaries, Mary Jane Sullivan, Catherine Bauer and Mary Petrie, who were working on the revision of the Constitutions which had to be approved by the Vatican.
Three years later in 1982, she returned to Warrenville serving as local superior until 1989. She then was assigned to the Metairie Cenacle as ministry coordinator. But St. Louis was calling again as the Cenacle on Spoede Rd was closing and the house has to be sold and the community relocated. After the house closed, the sister moved to the Resurrection Fathers’ property on West Pine Blvd., remaining there for only six months. After the property was sold, the sisters were welcomed to the provincial house of the Good Shepherd sisters, not far from the original Cenacle on Natural Bridge Rd. in St. Louis. Five years later in 1998, Agnes was called to Metairie to again take up the work of ministry coordinator. Agnes was active in giving home retreats, both there and in St. Louis, she was part of a team giving summer retreats in Memphis.
“I’am always happy where I am,” were words spoken by Agnes when she was interviewed in 2002, two years after returning to Chicago. She had a joyous spirit. “I clowned around; I liked to get things going for fun.” After all, her priority in high school was “having fun.” In the midst of that, she was faithful in living the Cenacle vocation. She was very much a “people person.” Agnes loved her retreatants and they loved her. Giving retreats was her passion.
Let's get to know Sr. Helen Donahoe,
When Sr. Helen Donahoe first thought about making a retreat she was a junior in college in Brooklyn, N.Y. A priest friend offered to call retreat centers in and around the area. The Cenacle, out of the city on Long Island, was attractive to her but was fully booked and she was placed on their waiting list. She arrived home on the Thursday before her scheduled weekend retreat elsewhere to find a message from the Cenacle that, due to a cancellation, they had space for her. A happy circumstance! This retreat marked the beginning of her attraction to the Cenacle Sisters which ultimately resulted in her entering the community a few years later.
Sr. Helen is a Cenacle Sister for whom ministry is multi-faceted. When listening to her journey as a Cenacle Sister, one is struck by her astuteness in discerning where the Spirit calls her. From her early days of discerning religious life, Sr. Helen felt her calling was to be steeped in a life of prayer, engaged in the world, and present to others on their journey with God.
In 1963, after serving in various Cenacles on the East Coast, Sr. Helen was asked to help staff a relatively new Cenacle foundation in New Zealand. At that time, with Catholics making up only 3% of the population, Sr. Helen enjoyed the opportunity for ecumenical ministry. When she returned to the States thirteen years later she obtained her Masters of Divinity and Masters of Theology before returning to spiritual direction and retreat work. In various ministries, Sr. Helen companioned a wide range of people in their spiritual journeys. She enjoyed engaging in the formation of seminarians for diocesan priesthood and ministering as Religious Education Director in a Baltimore parish.
In 2001, Sr. Helen arrived in Chicago as a resident Provincial Councilor and subsequently was appointed the Provincial Liaison to the Cenacle Retreat and Conference Center. Four years later Sr. Helen was given the opportunity to embark on a different form of ministry as the House Coordinator for the Chicago Cenacle.
Years earlier Sr. Helen felt a call to serve the Sisters of her congregation more directly. At that time, she did not see a way to do this. With time and her openness to the Spirit, Sr. Helen has indeed found a direct means of ministering to her Sisters as Provincial Councilor and the House Coordinator for the Chicago Cenacle.
From Brooklyn to New Zealand, from the Eastern U.S. to Chicago, Sr. Helen has responded to the Spirit. Her open smile and listening ear convey her faith in and love for the voice she heard years ago in New York.
Let's get to know Sr. Margaret Rohde,
I was strongly influenced by the Houston Cenacle Sisters attending retreats in 1971, which guided me in a deepening faith life, and a retreat in Everyday Life by St Ignatius of Loyola, directed by Sr. T. Heard, deepened my relationship with Christ. On January 1, 1995 I started my life as a Cenacle Sister.
I grew up in Texas with one younger brother and prior to becoming a Cenacle Sister; I worked 20 years for a large international telephone co. in Houston as a manager for the General Security Mgr. & Director of Computer Operations. I was a member of Nat’l. Guild of Piano Teachers and I taught piano. I was a member of The Houston Chapter American Guild of Organists and played for protestant and Catholic Church services and weddings. I was president of Texas Certified Secretaries. I raised two daughters and two sons, and I earned a 3rd degree brown belt in Aikido.
As a Cenacle Sister, I’ve had the privilege to serve in Houston TX, Ronkonkoma NY, Metairie LA, Warrenville IL, Gainsville Fl, Colima Mexico, Lantana FL, and West Palm Beach FL.
In 2008 I enjoyed being a retreat presenter on Lectio Divina to the Contemplative Outreach of New Orleans for a six-day silent retreat and in December 2008, I became a Certified Labyrinth Presenter.
Currently, I am completing 3 years as a chaplain/spiritual director for a leading national treatment center for drug and alcohol rehabilitation in Florida. I am an organist for a local Catholic Church. I am in my 2nd term serving on the Palm Beach Diocesan Commission for Religious. I serve as a member of the Community Advisory Board to VITAS, a national hospice not-for-profit. I help supervise facilitators in Spanish whom we’ve trained to give a 10-week adaptation of the spiritual exercises once a year in Colima, Mexico with another Cenacle sister.
I love everyone in the ministries where I am serving, and give God thanks
Let's get to know Sr. Joyce Kemp,
When Sr. Kemp was eleven years old, she was coming home on the bus from her piano lesson. It was dark, and the streets were full of snow and ice. She exited the bus one block from her house. The traffic was heavy and she hesitated to cross the street in spite of the bitter, cold wind. Finally she decided to walk half way and stand in the middle of the street. As she reached the center, she heard brakes screeching and thought to herself, “I am going to be hit and die.” Then she felt a hand on her back pushing her and the next thing she knew, she was on the curb of the other side of the street. She thought she was dead and was just imagining herself there. She pinched her cheek. It seemed that she was very much alive. As she walked home, she had the strong sense that an angel had saved her. It was not her time to die because God wanted her to do something special.
Sr. Kemp was raised in the Wisconsin Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. It was very strict and she didn’t enjoy going to Sunday school and church every week. Because her mother had been raised Catholic, she believed that she should be Catholic, too. When it came time to apply for college, her high school counselor suggested she try Mount Mary College in Milwaukee. “That rich girls’ Catholic boarding school?” she asked. Her counselor said she could be a “day” student and she was sure they would grant her a scholarship. So she took the bus to the other side of the city for an interview with the dean of students. As she removed her coat, a button fell off and rolled across the floor. Embarrassed, she retrieved it and sat down. The Sister was very kind and considerate. She fell in love with the school immediately and felt as if she had come home, in spite of the fact that she had never met a religious sister in her life.
Starting out in a two-year course to prepare her to become a medical technician, the only way her parents would agree that she attend college, she realized she would probably kill people because her chemistry experiments never turned out the way they were supposed to. At the beginning of her junior year, she switched to English and history, not knowing what else to do. She also studied secondary education and became a teacher in the Milwaukee Public Schools. During her junior year, her family moved to a house within walking distance of the college. They visited many Lutheran Churches, but none of them suited her. So she told her theology teacher she wanted to become Catholic. She was instructed by Father Sylvester Peters, a diocesan priest who had been assigned to the college right out of the seminary and spent the rest of his life there.
Looking back, Sr. Kemp has realized that she had a funny feeling she would end up being a “nun” from the time she was twelve and wasn’t even Catholic! She resisted this calling until she was 25. A fellow teacher talked her into making a retreat at the Cenacle and she was hooked. The retreat was in April. She asked to enter in July.
Sr. Kemp does not regret that decision. The vocation of the Cenacle Sisters is working with the spiritual formation of lay people. She has served more than 46 years working with children from three years through high school as a religious educator and retreat director, as a moderator of a young singles group, and the presenter of interactive retreats for adults. She has spent 43 years as a spiritual director and 46 years as a liturgist, making good use of her first passion in life, playing the piano. Since 1982, she has led the Intensive Journal Workshops created by Dr. Ira Progoff around the country. She has found that they are a neutral form of spiritual direction, using the evocation of inner awareness through meditation and writing down what surfaces as a tool for seeing one’s life path.
Let's get to know Sr. Rita Anne Houlihan,
Rita Anne Houlihan might have seemed an unlikely candidate to become a Sister. She says she never thought of having a religious vocation except to be afraid she had one. Sr Rita Anne was a child during the Depression and a college student during World War II. When she graduated from Fordham University with her Masters in psychology, her interest ran more in the direction of buying some nice clothing and dating. She did, in fact, do just that for two years. She worked in vocational guidance, dressed well, dated and became involved in Catholic Action. Yet she felt dissatisfied.
She did eventually talk with a priest. She knew she did not want to teach but she was unable to say what sort of religious life she was called to. The priest suggested she see someone at the Cenacle. At first she was not terribly impressed, but she wasn’t drawn to anything else, she then decided to give them a try. She quickly became certain of her decision. The fact that she could get to know a Cenacle Sister outside of a classroom made an impact on her. As she so wonderfully puts it, “You could talk about God without first talking about geography.” She was attracted to the prayer life, the Spiritual Exercises, and the semi-cloistered nature of the Cenacle Sisters. When asked if she ever had any doubts, Sr. Rita Anne is firm in her answer, “No, once I entered as a postulant I realized it was ideal for me.”
Her fear had turned to commitment, a commitment which is healthy and evolutionary. One example of this is the fact that Sr. Rita Anne was one of the first religious women in the country to wear the modified habit. Certain of her vocation and willing to step into a new era, Sr. Rita Anne went off to the University of San Francisco in 1996 to get her Master of Theology in a modified habit.
Over the years Sr. Rita Anne has companioned many people throughout the world. Like other Cenacle Sisters, she spent time overseas – in her case giving retreats in England, Ireland, The Netherlands, Nigeria and Ghana. One of her more memorable times as Spiritual Director came in the 1970’s when Sr. Rita Anne was in California. She and other religious had gathered for an Ignatian Seminar. In solidarity with Cesar Chavez’s efforts on behalf of the farm workers, a group of them joined the picket line. Sr. Rita Anne was ultimately arrested. During her two weeks in jail, she put her time and ministry to good use by giving directed retreats to eight of her fellow inmates.
Before recently moving to the Chicago Cenacle community, Sr. Rita Anne was in Warrenville giving retreats, offering spiritual direction and running a series called Readings in Feminine Spirituality. Once Sr. Rita Anne gets unpacked and settled, she plans to put her years of experience and storehouse of wisdom to good use. It seems clear that Sr. Rita Anne’s enthusiasm for and commitment to her religious calling is as strong as it was 60 years ago when her fear turned to love for religious life.
Let's get to know Sr. Jill Dearmer,
I was born in south east England during WWII, the first of seven children, six girls and one boy. We all went to Catholic school and I went on to Manchester University, where I graduated with a B.Sc. in Mathematics. It was in Manchester that I first met the Cenacle and I continued to make an annual Easter retreat at the Burnham Cenacle for many years.
After graduation, I worked for IBM for 14 years, mostly in the airline industry. With an international team of systems engineers and programmers from IBM and several different airlines, I was involved in the installation of the first computerized airline reservation systems outside the United States, at BOAC at Heathrow Airport. In 1973, I came on assignment to White Plains, NY, for 18 months, to work on the continuing development of airline software and in 1976/77 I worked in Tulsa, OK for 9 months. I travelled quite widely and thoroughly enjoyed my work.
In 1979, I left IBM and came to the United States to work for TWA in Kansas City. At that time, an inner voice was saying: “There has to be more to my Catholic faith than just going to Mass on Sunday.” I wanted to know God, not just know about God. I became very involved in my parish as a lector, Eucharistic minister and in the RCIA and I re-discovered the Cenacle in St Louis. I quit TWA in 1983 and spent 18 months studying in St Louis and working in a parish as RCIA coordinator.
In January 1985, I entered the Cenacle in St Louis. I spent my two year novitiate in Pittsburgh and after making first vows, I was assigned to our Cenacle in Vancouver, British Columbia. There I began doing spiritual direction and giving retreats and days of prayer. I also worked in the Prayer Enrollment Office.
In 1990, I moved to our Cenacle in Wayzata, Minnesota, where I worked in the Prayer Enrollment Office and later in the Treasurer’s Office, participated in the Spiritual Direction Training Program, completed an MA in Theology at St Catherine’s College and continued doing spiritual direction, directed retreats and working on retreat teams giving group retreats and workshops. In 1992, I made perpetual vows and after completing my degree in 1994, I moved to our Cenacle in New Orleans as treasurer.
After the sale of our beautiful house in Vancouver in 1996, I returned there to be part of a new venture, “a retreat house without walls”. In a comfortable family home, our community of four sisters continued to give spiritual direction and to welcome groups for mornings, evenings and days of prayer. We went out to parishes, colleges and other retreat centers to give talks, days of prayer and longer retreats.
In 2004, I moved to our retreat house in Warrenville, to be part of the ministry team. There, because of my computer background, I became involved in the development of a database program for prayer enrollment, ministry and fund-raising that could be used by all our houses. I also helped in the care of our sisters at Resurrection Life Center. With the sale of our beautiful property in Warrenville, I moved to our Cenacle in Chicago and continue my ministry with our sisters at RLC and to work on database development and to be available for spiritual direction and directed retreats and whatever new thing God will do next!