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home : features : people of faith

3/2/2017 9:00:00 AM
HOLY NAMES SISTER
Sister Eileen looks back -- and ahead
SISTER EILEEN REFLECTS
'I don't know what the future is; I just know it's bigger than the past.'

*** 'If God is creating something new in our time, do we believe it enough to see it actualized?'

BY KATHLEEN LAMANNA
STAFF WRITER

"I always wanted to become a sister," said Sister Eileen Kelleher, SNJM.

Sister Eileen joined the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary immediately following her high school graduation in 1953.

The Schenectady native was the middle child of five. Her father was an accountant for the New York State Department of Labor; her mother worked as a nurse at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady.

Young Eileen attended St. John the Evangelist School in Schenectady, where she was taught by Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. Her experience was so positive that, when it was time to choose a community, she didn't consider any other.

Soon after becoming a woman religious, Sister Eileen moved to Florida to work with faith formation students. By the early 1960s, she said, faith formation ministry was becoming more defined as a calling for certain people.

That, she said, helped focus both religious and laypersons on a specific task.

"Religious ed was really a gift," she remarked. "We could reawaken a new emphasis [on the faith] for young people."

As for herself, "I was energized by the work that I did," she said. "I loved the people and the parishes."

While in Florida, Sister Eileen earned a bachelor's degree in education from Barry University. She went on to the University of San Francisco for an advanced degree in theology and counseling.

Sister Eileen later moved back to the Albany Diocese, working in a number of parishes from Latham to Averill Park, Glens Falls, Colonie, Schenectady and East Greenbush. In the 1970s, she helped hone the faith formation curriculum at Holy Spirit in East Greenbush.

Sister Eileen believes the focus on faith formation allowed the Church to evangelize through education. "It's a grace for the Church at large," she said, noting the growth that she has seen in more than 40 years of religious life.

In a previous conversation with The Evangelist, Sister Eileen stressed that she wasn't sure what the future would bring for the Church, but she tends to think positive. She pointed to the changes Vatican II brought to religious women who ended the practice of wearing habits, and said she believes Catholicism will look different someday, too.

"There are a lot of people who see [the future of the Church] differently than where we are today," she said. "I think our faith can bring us to a new and brighter future."

Though the Church faces some challenges, she says, "Why wouldn't we be excited about the future? This is all in God's hands, and He's always bringing us into the new. When we've got people with vision, they just ignite our excitement. Where the Church is now, we are emerging."

What started with Vatican II is continuing, she said: "There has been so much change. The laity have been coming forward and finding their rightful place in the Church. Look at how much involvement there is in the Church today. We need it all!"

She credits the Church's recent growth to Pope Francis. In order to grow, she noted, "sometimes you have to be controversial."

These days, Sister Eileen has turned her attention to another ministry: visiting fellow senior sisters who are in healthcare facilities, making sure that they have the company they deserve.

"It's visitation," she said. "It's conversation. It's presence."

Never one to put learning aside, she has also been working on her prayer life, using the method of centering prayer.

"Sometimes I work too hard and God says, 'Eileen, sit down and rest. Think of me and I'll do my work in you,'" she said. "It's more listening than speaking. It's a quiet way to pray."





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