Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Athens Community Bids Fond Farewell To Sisters

By SUZANNE HAUGH, Special Contributor | Published July 7, 2005

In her final days before she and three other sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary order were to leave St. Joseph School, outgoing principal Sister Mary Glackin, IHM, quoted the words to Steve Green’s song, “Find Us Faithful.”

“Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful. May the fire of our devotion light their way. May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe and the lives we live inspire them to obey…”

The school and parish community of St. Joseph, as well as the Athens community, officially said goodbye to the four sisters after 36 years of service by the order at a special Mass and picnic on May 22. Their footprints will mark a joyful and cherished time in the history of St. Joseph School.

“They’ve done really great work,” said Msgr. Hugh Marren, pastor at St. Andrew Church in Roswell, who served at St. Joseph in the early 1980s.

“They gave a good witness not only to the school but in Athens.”

Msgr. Marren celebrated the farewell Mass, along with Father David McGuinness, pastor of St. Joseph Church. The sendoff included a community picnic following the Mass.

“It was a fabulous day,” said first-grade teacher Sharon Shoufe. Irish dancers entertained the crowd that lunched on hot dogs and hamburgers. An official proclamation from the Athens mayor was read that thanked the sisters for their work with the community’s children.

Students in kindergarten through eighth grade crafted the Stations of the Cross using cut glass and concrete and presented them to the sisters. The pavers will line the walkway to the school’s Mary Garden. Forget-me-not flowers were planted along the path as well. A tuition assistance fund in honor of the order, known formally as Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, was also instituted.

Shoufe will be saddened by the sisters’ absence, but she remains confident of the legacy they have left with those who will remain.

“We have a really strong school and wonderful lay teachers.”

The mother of three grown children recalled a common question students, Catholic and non-Catholic, asked when they first heard the sisters wouldn’t be back next year: “Why are they taking our sisters away?”

Dwindling vocations have resulted in the cutbacks, Shoufe explained, and she reflected on the gift of having Religious as part of the school.

“There’s a spirituality that permeates their lives. They bring that to us,” she said.

There is also a “certain respect for the sisters in habits.”

“They don’t profess to be perfect, but the sisters are just so loving and have great senses of humor.”

Happiness radiates from them and Shoufe hopes that the love and care of the community will not be lost once they leave. She will miss their physical presence at the school, but Sister Glackin promises to keep the school in her prayers and she will be “just a phone call away.”

Shoufe and her husband, Richard, have three children who attended St. Joseph. Their youngest son is in college and their daughter teaches at a Catholic school in Atlanta. Their other son, Michael, just completed his first year of seminary at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.

“I always admired the generous hearts of the sisters,” he recalled. “I saw their joy as they lived out their vocation and that had a profound influence on my own vocation.”

The influence the sisters’ presence has had on the children is something that Anne Mitchell, development director for the school, appreciates.

“The one thing I see every day is how they live out the virtues we want in our children,” she said. “They will be sorely missed, but they have trained us well and we must now step up and carry on.”

Simplicity is one trait of the sisters’ lives that she admires and that is a challenge for laity who juggle work and home lives in a hectic world.

“Their sense of simplicity creates a sense of peace.”

Msgr. Marren agreed that having Religious as part of a school differs from that of the laity because their life after school lets out at 3 p.m. or so “still revolves around the school.”

While there is sadness in their departure, there is also a sense of great happiness for having had them at all.

“The sisters came down and have been a boost to the school. Now 36 years later it’s time for them to move on. They’ve set a great foundation,” said Msgr. Marren.

History shows that visionaries may not realize their dreams but do set the foundation for those who come afterward, surmised Msgr. Marren as he explained the history of both the parish and school. The parish formed 37 years after the initial request was made. Years ago, Father Walter Donovan envisioned a school and built a rectory big enough to start one. But it took 33 years, long after Father Donovan had left, before the school doors opened in 1949 with Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart at the helm. Sisters from the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary continued to form the vision of the school when they took over in 1969.

Many Catholic schools never experience the joys of having Religious on their faculty and staff.

“St. Joseph was privileged to have the sisters for 36 years and now (the laity) are responsible for at least carrying on the torch.”

With vocations to their order down, the four sisters will take up posts in other areas. Sister Glackin will become principal at a Catholic school in New Jersey; assistant principal Sister Mary Carmel Deering, IHM, will become principal at a school in Pennsylvania; eighth-grade teacher Sister Sharon Obrimski, IHM, will teach in Virginia; and office assistant Sister Helen Marie Gates, IHM, will reside in Philadelphia.

Sister Glackin, who administered at the school for five years, will remember the “very caring community.” At 55, she has already been a part of 10 school communities and appreciates the different people she has met.

“There is grace in every place,” she said.

The graciousness of the South is one aspect she enjoyed while in Athens.

“Being fast and efficient is not everything in life. There is a heart-rendering and heart-warming, welcoming spirit here.”

Hospitality is a hallmark of the sister’s order as well, and the traditional sense of family remains basically intact in Athens.

“There is a good solid family unit. Two parents in the family. They have that gift here. The family is more together; the family unit is more of a priority.”

Having a strong family base has meant high volunteerism among the school parents, and some that travel significant distances to bring their children to a Catholic school, she added.

She will also miss her fellow Catholic school administrators, and superintendent of Catholic schools, Judith Muchek—all “men and women of integrity.”

As the time approached for their last goodbye, Sister Glackin hoped the St. Joseph community would continue to “realize how much they are loved by God.”

“Everybody questions everything these days. I hope they realize that God is constant and never questions His love for them.”

Even amid the distractions and trials that life brings, God has a plan. “And the plan is for peace.”

Leaving is hard and she “hates to do it,” but with the shortage of women entering Religious orders, cutbacks are necessary.

“If you want sisters, we need your daughters,” she said. “I encourage parents to pray and really encourage it.”

Parents do not lose their daughters, she added, “but gain a lot more.”