IHM sisters leave St. Catharine of Siena, Reading after 78 faith-filled years

By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer

The year is 1939. Franklin Roosevelt is president of the United States. Hitler invades Poland, launching the beginning of the Second World War. The Academy Award-winning epic “Gone With the Wind” sweeps across movie screens for the first time.

New York Yankee Lou Gehrig retires from Major League Baseball after being diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateralscelersis). The cost of a gallon of gas is 10 cents, and 8 cents is the pricetag for a loaf of bread.

The year is a signpost in the history of St. Catharine of Siena, Reading, as 1939 marks the year the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) arrive to serve the parish and school.

This year a Mass of Thanksgiving for 78 years of service by the IHMs was celebrated May 21 at St. Catharine of Siena, as the sisters are leaving the parish and school after almost eight decades.

Msgr. Edward Domin, pastor, celebrated the noon liturgy that was followed by a luncheon in the parish hall.

“All those who worked on the planning committee are to be commended for the beautiful celebration prepared for the IHM sisters. Every detail was considered for the celebration of the Eucharist, the warm welcome and hospitality extended to the guests, the delicious lunch, and the specially designed cake with the IHM logo,” said IHM Sister Teresa Ballisty, principal of St. Catharine of Siena School since 2009.

“Each of us was deeply touched by the appreciation extended to the IHM sisters who have served for the past 78 years at St. Catharine of Siena School and Parish.

“As part of the ‘long blue line’ of IHM sisters, I am saddened by our departure, but am grateful that I have had the opportunity to be a part of the wonderful legacy. I pray that the seeds that we have planted will continue to flourish in this vibrant school and parish.”

The planning committee was comprised of Father Brian Miller, then assistant pastor of St. Catharine and now administrator of St. Mary, Ringtown and St. Joseph, Sheppton and chaplain of Marian High School, Tamaqua; school faculty members Gretchen Ward and Marcia Zambito; and classroom aide Mary Davis.

Ward said approximately 275 to 300 people attended the luncheon and even more attended the Mass, with approximately 35 IHM sisters attending.

Many sisters who have served St. Catharine in the past attended, including two former principals: Sister MaryEllen Tennity, an IHM council member; and Sister Bernadette Keane.

Sister Rita Marie Lenihan, IHM council congregation secretary, also attended. Sister Patris, a former principal and resident of Camilla Hall Nursing Home, Immaculata, Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was unable to attend.

“The sisters were really touched with the beauty of the day,” said Ward. “We’re sad they are leaving St. Catharine’s. This is the first time in 78 years there will be a lay principal. The sisters have had a giant presence. We wanted to show how much we appreciate them.

“So many people came together to make this happen.”

Sister Teresa will be going to SS. Philip and James Convent, Exton, Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and will be principal of the school.

There are three other current sisters at St. Catharine.

Sister Kathleen Metz, superior of the convent and librarian at the school, will be going to St. David Convent and work in Queen of Angels Regional School, Willow Grove, Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Sister Barbara Bussinger worked in the school library and will be going to St. Margaret Convent and School, Reading.

Sister Josephine Kase visited the shut-ins and those in nursing homes for the parish. She will retire to Camilla Hall Nursing Home.

A plaque honoring the sisters will hang in St. Catharine School. Richard Summons of Sinking Spring designed the plaque, and Terre Trophy Company, Reading engraved it.

Brian Ward of Artisan Display, owned and operated by John Wassmer of Red Hill, designed a wooden foundation for the plaque, which is 52 by 36 inches. Ward is the husband of Gretchen Ward. Wassmer donated the plaque to the project.

Summons assembled the plaque, placing the seal, a 12-by-20-inch dedication plate and 107 names of sisters who served engraved into the wooden foundation.

Debbie Bilinski, a classroom aide at the school, coordinated getting the plaque, called the “Remembrance Project.”

“The committee desired to find a way to not only remember these sisters, but also to serve as a reminder of their dedication to their mission and to help us carry on the IHM charism,” Bilinski said.

“The project was made possible through the support of present and past faculty and staff, and our school families.”

The plaque was presented to the sisters currently serving St. Catharine at a presentation ceremony June 7 led by Msgr. Domin with faculty, staff and the student body attending.