Franciscan Sisters Honored at Mardi Gras Gala
The Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist will be honored at A Mardi Gras Tradition, the 63rd Annual Mardi Gras Gala, at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 12 at the Royal Sonesta Hotel Houston.
Dressed in brown habits and black veils, the sisters live in a convent on the University of St. Thomas campus, exemplifying the model of religious life. It is because of their longstanding dedication to the University and their continued witness of faith that they are being honored at the event, which benefits University scholarships.
Sister Mary Roberta Connors, is the local superior of the Houston group. Active in UST Campus Ministry as pastoral care coordinator, she is a member of the UST Board of Directors and a graphic artist with a background in fine art.
“We came in 1999 because Fr. Michael Miller, then president, wanted nuns on campus,” Sister Mary Roberta said. “His idea was to have a witness of a religious community on campus.”
The sisters on campus also include Sister Paula Jean Miller, founder and director of the Catholic Studies program and professor of theology, Sister Damien Marie Savino, assistant professor and chair of Environmental Science and Studies, who also teaches in the Catholic Studies department, and Sister Veronica Schueler, who is an immigration attorney for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
The Franciscan Sisters are involved on campus in a variety of ways. In addition to teaching classes, the sisters take students on study abroad, teach RCIA, host an art show, lead weekly Augustine Without Walls coffeehouse discussions and advise clubs like Celts for Life. Every Holy Week, the sisters host a three-day Tenebrae prayer service before dawn, in anticipation of Easter. In honor of their patron saint, they celebrate Transitus, a traditional Franciscan celebration on the eve of the Feast of St. Francis.
Sister Mary Roberta said the sisters feel humbled to be part of the Mardi Gras celebration.
“I feel like we have been part of the fabric of the University over the past 14 years,” she said.
Sisters Live in a Modern, Global Community
The sisters in Houston are members of a global community of 90 Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, founded in 1973, with headquarters in Meriden, Connecticut. As a pontifical community, the order has 12 houses around the world, including places like Assisi, Rome, Jerusalem, Michigan and Oregon.
“Although we’re rather small as religious orders go, we have a very strong connection across the globe, not only with our own sisters, but with the many other religious, priests and lay people with whom we work,” she said. “The blessings of modern technology enhance our ability to share information and stay united.”
The charism of the order is to bring people into relation with the Church through marriage and family counseling, education to the teachings of the Church, and Catholic social services that support the dignity of every human life throughout all developmental stages.
The sisters wear their habit at all times, as a symbol of something greater than themselves.
“We don’t have other clothes in our closet,” Sister Mary Roberta said. “We’ve never regretted having chosen to maintain a traditional habit. It’s a symbol, a sign of the Church. People know you’re approachable.”
Sisters Trained to Meet the Modern World
Sister Mary Roberta said it is through a combination of traditional and forward-thinking ways that the sisters live out their charism, while also living out their professions.
“All of our sisters have a master’s degree, if not a doctorate,” she said. “We’re trying to meet the professional world on its own terms and then take it beyond. We feel it’s important to be professionally excellent, so you have credibility when speaking on issues of Church teaching.”
The order works hard to integrate a sister’s profession into the community, while maintaining community life. This means sisters serve not only as teachers and caregivers, but also as bankers, pharmacists, counselors, Web designers, attorneys and more. Their work allows the order to be self-sustainable.
“When a young woman comes, we try to have her earn a degree that fits the apostolate of the community as well as her personal gifts,” she said.
In a converted four-plex on campus, the sisters’ convent includes their own chapel, with living rooms, bedrooms and a community room. Every house has a schedule for Mass and prayers – Lauds, Vespers and Compline – plus common meals.
Sisters Honored at Mardi Gras Gala
Sister Mary Roberta said with their vow of poverty, Franciscans aren’t used to eating in big fancy dining rooms at galas, but she knows that by being present, they can connect with people. In addition to the four women on campus, other sisters attending are the Mother General, Mother Shaun Vergauwen, her assistant Mother Miriam Seiferman, and Sister Clare Hunter, a popular former director of Campus Ministry at UST.
“We will be happy if, by us being honored at the event, more scholarships can be generated for our students,” she said.
The annual Mardi Gras Gala is the University’s premier scholarship fundraising event. The University is committed to providing students with a religious and ethical values-based education and ensuring it is within reach. Many students would be unable to attend the University without the more than $11.6 million in scholarships and grants that are awarded annually. Individual Tickets start at $500. For more information and to reserve a table, contact Laura Dozier at 713-525-3118.