from top left: Sister Monique Dissen, I.H.M.,
Sister Edna English, D.W., Sister Catherine
Okechuku, S.B.S.N., and Sister Maxine Tancraitor,
C.D.P., have served the Church and its people
for a total of 215 years.
Tancraitor, C.D.P., reaches 70-year jubilee
In the living room
of her tidy home in Clinton, Sister Maxine
Tancraitor, C.D.P., says she has no plan to
retire any time soon. Her energy belies the
reality that she is celebrating her 70th
jubilee, or anniversary, of her vocation.
She was only 15 when she entered religious life.
As a girl growing up in St. Joseph Parish
outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she once
dreamed of joining the military and travelling
“I wanted to be a WAVE; I loved the uniform,”
she said of the Women Accepted for Volunteer
Emergency Service, which was a branch of the
U.S. Naval Reserve during WWII.
Her father had served in the Navy and taught her
that there was a wide world beyond their small
town. She attended public school through the 6th
grade and then attended the parish school.
By 8th grade, the young Mary Elizabeth (Maxine
is the name she took as a religious) came to be
deeply influenced by the sisters who taught her.
She entertained the idea of becoming a
missionary nurse and attended a retreat with a
dozen classmates and the Sisters of Divine
Providence. At 14, she felt a strong affinity
toward the congregation and decided to enter the
convent. Her mother, Elizabeth, was strongly
supportive, but her father Max was lovingly
“He said, ‘you’ll never stay longer than six
months,’” she said. “I think every religious
goes through this. Every priest goes through
this. Everyone who leaves home [is told] ‘you
That was 1948.
Since then she taught junior and senior high
school in Pennsylvania and Michigan. She
graduated from Duquesne University in
Pennsylvania. In 1962, she fulfilled her dream
of becoming a missionary. She was sent to Puerto
Rico, where she spent 13 years in the missions
as a teacher and 10 years as a principal. She
came to love her students, their culture and the
She stays in contact with many of her former
students, visits Puerto Rico regularly and
recently attended the 50th graduation
anniversary of her first class of pupils. They
flew their favorite teacher to San Juan to join
Her years in Puerto Rico have served her well in
Clinton, where she moved in 2002 along with
Sister Theresine Gildea, C.D.P.
“Our door is always open to anyone who needs
help,” Sister Maxine said. Both sisters are
actively involved in sacrament preparation,
faith formation, visits to the sick, immigration
issues and lending a hand wherever they are
needed, including the Clinton community food
“One of the priests [at Immaculate Conception]
said to me, ‘you can stay until you’re 99.’
Well, I don’t think so, I don’t think I’ll stay
until I’m 99,” she said, noting that the
community is so supportive that when grants for
the sisters’ work ended, parishioners got
together and decided to help them stay.
“So every first Sunday, they collect for us …
we’re very grateful,” Sister Maxine said.
“Everyone has a calling. And I think everyone
who has a calling to religious life has to
discern a little bit and see what is really in
their heart and to go forward with that call.”
Sister Maxine lives every day by her motto:
“Works of love are the most convincing
- J. Eric Braun
Monique Dissen, I.H.M., arrives at
When the weather
is rainy and a reporter is at the door of her
small New Bern apartment, Sister Monique Dissen,
I.H.M., is one to meet that writer and offer her
not only an invitation inside but a pair of
That loving, selfless service is what drives
everything the sister does. It also sets her
Guests are often invited first to her home’s
chapel. It’s in a corner room where two chairs
face a small altar in the center of the far
wall. One corner is reserved for honoring
deceased loved ones. A statue overlooks a basket
stuffed with hundreds of prayer cards and
funeral programs. Each represents a person she
has known and is a tangible reminder of a life
she has touched.
Sister Monique has worked at Carolina East
Medical Center for more than a decade. Her
vocation called her to serve as an adjunct
chaplain, visit patients at their bedside and
start a group for those who are grieving.
Central to her home is her telephone, which she
promptly answers each time it rings because “it
might be the hospital.”
“In that moment when someone is dying, you are
standing on holy ground. It is an enormous
blessing to be there in that moment,” she said.
The hospital ministry is only the most recent in
Sister Monique’s 60 years of service, which
included teaching school, caring for children
with special needs and teaching faith formation.
When asked how she feels about celebrating her
60th jubilee, she just smiled and said, “I can’t
One thing she can always believe, however, was
the strength of her call to consecrated
As the fourth of five children growing up in
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the 1940s and 50s,
Monique went to every dance and the prom. “I was
going with somebody for two years, but I always
told him, ‘I just have to find out [if God is
calling me,]’” she said.
She was happy, but she said that she always knew
there was something more, something different
for her other than parties and social events.
“I thought to myself, ‘Is that all there is?’ Is
that all?’” she said of her early life.
She received her answer just after high school
graduation when she packed her bags to join the
Immaculate Heart of Mary congregation. Though
she said the feeling was hard to describe, she
also said it was unmistakable.
“People ask me, ‘How did you know?’ and I say,
‘Believe me, you’ll know if God is calling
you,’” Sister said.
- Mandy Howard and Kate Turgeon Watson
Okechuku, S.B.S.N., celebrates 25 years
As a foundress of
a religious congregation, Sister Catherine is
technically “Mother Catherine.” But it’s a title
“I am a sister. Everybody is equal before God
and before man. We all are just children of
God,” she said. “That’s the way we see things in
For Sister Catherine, the road to Wilson, North
Carolina, was winding and long. It was also, she
said, exactly where God wanted her to be. The
Saint Alphonsus Center at St. Therese Parish
doubles as her residence and the congregation’s
U.S. headquarters. There, she and two fellow
sisters do quiet and humble work.
On Mondays, they make altar bread. Sister
Catherine stands at what looks like a small,
waffle-maker appliance. She methodically
prepares the batter and pours one scoop at a
time into a tiny opening. She also sews
vestments for the parish priests and provides
home health services for those who can’t take
care of themselves.
The journey to that kitchen and that vocation
started even before she was a teenager. “I was
called by God when I was 11, and then it became
a war in my family,” she said.
Fourth in a family of six siblings, Catherine
grew up with three sisters and two brothers.
“My mother loved me so much. She just wanted me
to get married and give her grandbabies, but I
could tell God was calling me,” Sister smiled.
Without her mother’s knowledge, she took the
entrance exam at the convent school and passed.
“My mother was furious,” Sister laughed,
recounting the moment she had to tell her mother
that she was leaving for the convent boarding
It wasn’t long, though, before her mother had a
change of heart and wrote a letter of apology.
Sister Catherine was trained in Nigeria as a
sister of the Immaculate Heart. She journeyed to
Italy and the Daughters of St. Joseph
congregation. Because of the change in both
congregation and language, Sister Catherine had
to redo much of the training she had received in
Nigeria, almost starting over.
Several years after her initial call from God,
she was back in Nigeria, this time to take her
final vows as a Daughter of St. Joseph.
However, something did not feel right to Sister
Catherine during her time with the sisters in
Prayer, she said, led her to establish a new
congregation -- the Sisters of the Blessed
Sacrament of Nigeria. That small congregation
found its way first to Atlanta and then to
Raleigh in 2009.
“When I came to Raleigh, I was struggling,”
Sister said about starting over.
But still, she said she felt she was where she
needed to be. Through it all, Sister Catherine
has relied on the love and grace of God to be
her guide, and she prays that everyone finds the
joy she has found.
“God calls each of us to a different place,” she
said. “You are happy when you know you are
- Mandy Howard
‘Walk gently, love
English, D.W., celebrates 60 years
From her room at a
Farmville, N.C., nursing home, Sister Edna
English, D.W., 85, recovers from knee surgery.
It’s early December, and she’s counting the days
till she can go home. She bids a visitor
farewell saying, “Behave yourself!”
Maybe those were words her mother, Nolia, or
father, Marion, spoke as she grew up in eastern
North Carolina and ran outside to play. Back
then she was the youngest of five siblings and
remembers how competitive games could get with
her brothers, sister and cousins.
“We used to go down into the woods behind us and
just being there was a quiet. It was really a
quiet, peaceful place,” she said.
When she arrived at nursing school after high
school graduation, she was looking for that same
type of solitude. She had left her home state
for Portsmouth, Virginia, and began to meet new
people in that city.
Edna grew up Methodist and said she knew two
Catholics when she was a child. But, when she
arrived in Portsmouth at Maryview, [then] a
Catholic hospital, she met Catholic students and
sisters of the Daughters of Wisdom. She began
going to 6 a.m. Mass with her friends.
“I enjoyed the feeling. It was in Latin, and it
was a quiet place, a peaceful place,” she said.
It wasn’t long before she decided to convert to
Catholicism. She was baptized and, even today,
laughs as she remembers the support she received
from religious sisters she knew. “The nuns never
went out anywhere [at night], but they came to
my baptism,” she said.
For years, she worked as a nurse and considered
a call to religious life. About five years after
her baptism, she decided to go to Litchfield,
Connecticut, and study to become a nun. But
first, she said, she had to work up the courage
to tell her parents.
Today she still remembers her father’s gentle
words. “He said, ‘I understand what you are
doing,’” she said, adding that she recalled his
words at many times in her life when she needed
support and comfort.
Her vocation took her to Brooklyn and Long
Island, New York, in the 1960s. After she earned
her master’s degree from UNC- Chapel Hill,
Sister Edna continued to work as a nurse, but
her congregation had a requirement that she work
in an area where it was hard to find qualified
nurses. In 1974, she moved to Greenville, North
Carolina, where she worked for more than 20
“People knew I was a Catholic nun,” she said of
her patients. “It opened a lot of conversations
Today she continues to live her charism of
hospitality and her congregation’s motto: God
“I try to live according to the Scriptures,
which is to walk gently, to love sincerely and
to believe in God,” she said.
- Kate Turgeon
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Mcxnmara's special reflection for this Mass.