In 1959, the Sisters of St. Joseph arrived in Severna Park by way of Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, to staff St. John the Evangelist School. Since then, 72 Sisters have dedicated themselves to the school, which serves prekindergarten through eighth grade. On Sunday, May 19, the final five Sisters to serve the parish community were honored during a Mass of Thanksgiving in their honor followed by a reception in the Parish Activities Center.
Sisters Maureen Kelly, Kathleen Winner, Mary Jane Daily and Linda Larsen took their seats, while Sister Barbara Reuben stood with the choir. Surrounded by current and former St. John the Evangelist School students and parents, former colleagues, friends and family members, these petite, demure and prayerful women humbly yet strongly led the St. John community from their center-front pew. Though they no longer work full-time in the school, the mere presence of these pious women made everyone sit up a bit straighter, pray a bit louder, and collectively give thanks for the opportunity to have crossed paths with these kind and gentle stewards.
In July, the Sisters will leave the St. John the Evangelist campus. Larsen will continue to reside in Severna Park and work in the memory care unit at Sunrise Senior Living and coordinate the ministry to the sick and homebound of the parish. Kelly, Winner, Daily and Reuben will live in or near the St. Joseph Villa, their community convent in Flourtown, Pennsylvania, and happily serve in new roles.
Kelly has been a Sister for 65 years. She came to St. John the Evangelist in 1995. She worked for a short time with fourth-grade students but has spent most of her time ministering to the sick and homebound. She was also a strong proponent and member of the St. John the Evangelist Jamaica outreach team. She said being part of the SJE community has been the greatest gift of her life.
“I was blessed to be part of our Jamaica outreach team and witness their dedication to our family in Jamaica,” Kelly said. “The team workers and our Jamaica families were gifts of a lifetime! These people will be forever in my heart.”
Reuben entered the convent in 1952, just three months after graduating from high school, almost 67 years ago. During her time at SJE, she served as assistant librarian for 15 years; planned children’s liturgies, trained student lectors and cantors for nine years; accompanied the classroom choirs on the piano for 15 years; and prepared student lectors for Thursday 8:30am Masses. She sang in the traditional choir and was a Sunday lector.
As a musician and vocalist, Reuben said, “I am proud of the few times that parents told me how grateful they were when I recognized that their son or daughter had a beautiful singing voice. Some of these students went on to receive high school music scholarships.”
Annie Gorski attended St. John the Evangelist School from prekindergarten through eighth grade, graduating in 2011. Gorski minored in theater in college and performed in numerous plays and four musicals.
“Sister Barbara always encouraged me to sing,” said Gorski. “She reminded me my voice was a gift from God and I should always be singing.”
Daily has been a Sister for 65 years and came to SJE in 1997. After retiring from teaching, she served in the school as an administrative and office assistant. She’s been a member of the St. Peregrine Cancer Support Group since 1998, a Eucharistic minister to Park View Senior Living and spiritual adviser to the SJE St. Vincent de Paul Society. Daily leads morning prayer two days per week in the school.
“The great blessing of being able to minister in St. John parish and school for 22 years will be my fondest memory,” Dailey said. “I have been here long enough to feel that I’m a family member.”
Winner has been a Sister for 68 “all very happy years.” She arrived at St. John in 2004 and served as the first friendly face school visitors met at the reception desk.
“I will miss all of the wonderful people I’ve met and grown to love here at St. John,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to be more contemplative. These last few years, I have had the opportunity to do just that and I’ve loved growing closer to Jesus.”
Larsen has been a Sister for 53 years. She taught grades five through eight over the years, but she will be remembered for her leadership as SJES principal from 1988 to 2015.
“My fondest memories center around the many accomplishments of the children under my care at St. John, as well as their accomplishments in high school and college,” Larsen said. “I am most proud of our school being named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2008. Second on my list would include the renovation of seven rooms in the main school, which included a state-of-the-art computer lab, a dedicated science lab and the addition of a new wing, which opened in 2000, adding five classrooms to the main school.”
Larsen wishes that everyone in the St. John community stays close to their faith and does their best in life.
“Each of these women, as well as countless others who lived with, served besides, and ministered before them have contributed to the beautiful fabric of St. John,” said the Rev. James Proffitt, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church. “As we sadly say goodbye to the sisters this summer, we will certainly not say farewell to the lasting impact they have made over so many years of faithful ministry in our community.”
During a special ceremony following Mass, St. John the Evangelist School Principal Casey Buckstaff presented the Sisters with a plaque, which includes the names of all 72 Sisters who have served at St. John. It will hang in the school entrance as a reminder of the impact the Sisters have had, and will continue to have, on the St. John community.
“We will embrace your charisma and spirit and live according to the models you have been for us,” Buckstaff said. “We will teach and pray and play with the enthusiasm and grace you set forth for us, and we will forever keep our memories of you in our hearts.”
Though the Sisters will rejoin their community in Pennsylvania, Gorksi summed up their collective legacy at St. John.
“Having the Sisters at my school, in the classroom and in the library felt like God was always there. They made it so everything in school always came back to God and our faith,” said Gorski. “I believe my strong faith comes from the foundation the Sisters instilled in me at St. John. Even today, I feel their love and support. They hold a special place in my heart. Their love will fill the halls even after they are gone from St. John.”