Seasonal Reflection: ‘God Gave Me Sisters — And Brothers, Too’

Sr. Vicki Masterpaul, OSF Features

As the 2014 Provincial Chapter approaches, a Franciscan sister reflects with gratitude on the mutually supportive relationship between Holy Name Province and her congregation. She describes the value of stories and of support, thanking God for the enduring bond.

When I was about four years old, I was fascinated by the stories told by my favorite aunt, Carmela. She was enthusiastic and almost luminous as she enthralled us. Her storytelling brought us closer together. So, I watched her and listened carefully because I wanted to achieve that marvelous gift.

However, my Italian grandmother was a bit dismayed at my imitative skills because, like my aunt, I would get ahead of myself and begin laughing before I finished the story. Nonna reminded me rather sternly that a good storyteller waited until the end before laughing at her own story.

As I grew into adolescence and adulthood, I came to realize that the inherent power of story went far beyond humor. Real stories are hidden within a greater story. They are about love and intolerance, hope and despair, courage and fear, friendship and betrayal, healing and wounding, freedom and control, vulnerability and insensitivity. Ultimately, our stories are about the one story: the place we give to God when faced with life’s challenges.

This brings me to what I call The Story of an Enduring Bond. As Franciscans, we are familiar with Francis’s words from his testament: “And God gave me brothers.” During my formation, I soon experienced that God had given me brothers as well as sisters, in that our lives were intertwined inextricably with the friars of Holy Name Province. This bond had its beginnings in 1855 when Fr. Pamfilo da Magliano, OFM, left Italy to respond to the call of Bishop John Timon, CM, of Buffalo.

Founding A Congregation
One of Pamfilo’s major projects during his early years in the United States was his ministry of education to the youth of Ellicottville, N.Y. When Bishop Timon visited this village and witnessed Pamfilo’s work, he encouraged him to look for a congregation of women religious to teach the young girls because he felt it was inappropriate for the friars to do so. Instead, Pamfilo decided to found a congregation.

Two tertiaries from Philadelphia, Mary Ann Todd and Ellen Fallon, learned of this need and arrived in Allegany in 1859. They placed themselves under Pamfilo’s direction, becoming the first members of the new congregation of women following the Franciscan Third Order Regular Rule.

Later that year, while at a rectory in Fort Lee, N.J., Pamfilo met 15-year-old Mary Ann O’Neill, whose mother had sent her to the parish house with baked goods. During that brief encounter, Pamfilo invited her to consider religious life. Although her parents objected at first, Mary Ann eventually went to Allegany, where she was received into the new congregation by Pamfilo, on Dec. 8, 1859, receiving the name Sr. Mary Teresa.

This event constituted the birth of what I am convinced became an enduring bond between the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, N.Y., and the Franciscan friars of the then Immaculate Conception Custody. Several years later, on Sept. 16, 1901, the new Province of the Holy Name of Jesus was instituted.

Partnering in Ministry
For the past 155 years, our sisters have partnered in multiple ministries with Holy Name friars. Our first three missions were in grammar schools in Winsted, Conn., in Greenwich Village, New York City, and in Buffalo, N.Y. When our congregation responded to the call to serve outside the U.S. in Jamaica, Brazil, and, later, Bolivia, our sisters worked side by side with the friars.

As the years passed, this association continued into health care, retreat houses, secondary schools, parish ministry and soup kitchens. During the 1960s, our sisters accepted positions as professors, and in campus ministry, at St. Bonaventure University.

At the 148th commencement ceremony at St. Bonaventure University, in 2008, our then congregational minister, Sr. Avril Chin Fatt, OSF, was presented by Xavier Seubert, OFM, to receive the degree of doctor of humane letters, honoris causa. His closing statement sums up superbly the fruits of our ministerial relationship: “Withoutour sisters, we would be poorer in every dimension of our work. With our sisters, we are proud heirs to the providential legacy of our founders.”

This bond, however, has reached far beyond ministry into many personal moments in our Franciscan journeys. The friars presided and celebrated with us at our receptions, professions and jubilees; they were present to us at times of sorrow at wake services and funeral liturgies for both our sisters, parents and siblings; they were a supportive presence at the bedside at times of illness and death, as we have been to them in similar circumstances. I daresay that this mutual support has continued throughout many generations until the present day.

A number of our sisters had siblings among the friars. In fact, in researching I discovered 21.* Two are still living:Robert Gavin, OFM, brother of Sr. Frances Gavin, OSF, and Callistus Sweeney, OFM, alumnus of Holy Name Province and brother of Sister Elizabeth Sweeney who left us to found a new congregation in Brazil among the lepers.

Supportive Friendships
Although only few of us have had friar siblings, many of us have been blessed with the gift of tried and true brothers/friends. I believe those friendships have supported us in living out the Franciscan life over the years. I thank God for giving us brothers, as well as sisters.

In closing, allow me to go back in time briefly to Francis and Clare of Assisi, where I believe this bonding had its roots. There are as many opinions regarding the intimacy between Francis and Clare as there are biographers. I am convinced that the foundation of their deep affection and respect for one another was their clearly common vision, i.e. their love of God and strong commitment to the gospel way of life which they, in turn, passed on to the brothers and sisters who joined them.

It is evident in the early writings that Francis felt the friars and Poor Clares should be mutually supportive of one another both in matters of spiritual instruction, as well as in times of celebration or tribulation. Clare was granite-like in her resolve to remain faithful to Francis’s wishes even in the face of disappointing hierarchical disapproval. She insisted, to the end of her days, that the sisters and the brothers were meant to be connected in the ways Francis had spelled out.

As you approach your Provincial Chapter, I thank God and each one of you for this long-standing, enduring bond between your province and our congregation, and I pray that it will continue into countless future years.

— Sr. Vicki, a native of Cortland, N.Y., and an Allegany Franciscan for 54 years, has been a member of the HNP Wellness Committee for the past nine years. A registered nurse, she has served in the congregation’s hospitals as a nursing instructor, pastoral care associate and patient advocate, as well as in internal ministries as formation director and regional minister. Sr. Vicki lives at St. Elizabeth Motherhouse, Allegany, and can be reached by e-mail at She is shown in the above photo with the late Harry Monaco, OFM, (left) andMichael Blastic, OFM (right).

* Deceased friar siblings to Allegany Franciscans include: Benedict Ballou, OFM, Brendan Bradley, OFM, Leo Brown, OFM, Marcian Doyle, OFM, Fabian Flynn, OFM, Pascal Foley, OFM, Lucian Gallagher, OFM, Ildefonse Gillogly, OFM, Cosmas Girard, OFM, Wendelin Heath, OFM, Louis Joyce, OFM, James Linehan, OFM, Neil McDonald, OFM, Jude Murphy, OFM, Quentin Parris, OFM, Vincent Shea, OFM, Callistus Smith, OFM, Vianney Vormwald, OFM, and Celsus Wheeler, OFM.