March 13, 2024 at 10:14 a.m.

CALLED TO COMMUNITY

CATHOLIC SISTERS WEEK: Sister Michelle Elizabeth, O.Carm., talks about her vocation journey and life with the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm
Sister Michelle Elizabeth Marie Nicosia, O.Carm., stands in the courtyard of the Mother Angeline McCrory Manor in Columbus, Ohio. Sister Michelle Elizabeth joined the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm in 2022, who assist at the Teresian House in Albany and other nursing homes across the country. (Provided photo)
Sister Michelle Elizabeth Marie Nicosia, O.Carm., stands in the courtyard of the Mother Angeline McCrory Manor in Columbus, Ohio. Sister Michelle Elizabeth joined the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm in 2022, who assist at the Teresian House in Albany and other nursing homes across the country. (Provided photo)

A few things come to mind when I think of my first phone call with Sister Michelle Elizabeth. The first was my initial panic that I was calling her at the wrong time at her current home base at the Mother Angeline McCrory Manor in Columbus, Ohio.

The second was her kindness and gentle laughter over the fact that I didn’t get the time wrong, but how she’s also been there. Those days when you can’t get your work organized, or find yourself struggling with fuzzy brain fog; she empathized and we laughed over those “Monday-like” days that hit out of nowhere.

CATHOLIC SISTERS WEEK
Catholic Sisters Week shines a light on the spirituality, mission and community building of women religious. Fifty-two weeks a year women religious stand with the poor and immigrants, teach children, fight injustice, heal the sick, share spirituality, empower women, defend the planet, promote peace, create community and offer hope.
But for one week, March 8-14, the spotlight shines on women religious and encourages a wide range of campaigns and events that invite all who follow Jesus to:
expand and support their Gospel witness
grow the service networks they have seeded
share their spirituality, charisms and community
encourage young women to consider a vocation to religious life
support their pastoral, teaching and prophetic works
and focus on the new world they call into being.

It’s fitting then that Sister Michelle Elizabeth, 29, whose humor and warm energy were palpable even through the phone, found herself in a position to help others most in need of those things.

In August 2022, Sister Michelle Elizabeth Marie Nicosia, O.Carm., professed vows for the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm. The Eucharistic Liturgy and First Profession ceremony were held at the Carmelite Sisters Motherhouse in Germantown, with Most Reverend Edmund Whalen, Auxiliary Bishop of New York, presiding.

“When I was a senior novice, at that point and less than a year and a few months away from the profession, and I was chomping at the bit,” said Sister Michelle Elizabeth. “I was like I can’t wait.”

Since professing vows, Sister Michelle Elizabeth has been serving the residents of the Mother Angeline McCrory Manor senior care community with her fellow sisters, the same community she helped serve as a novice during her Mission Experience.

“There was something about coming back professed,” she said. “I knew a lot of the staff, there had been changes, but I knew the staff and the layout of the home and the sisters in the convent, and a lot of the residents I said goodbye to as a novice were still here. I got to come back to people that I knew, so that was really cool … It’s been a good year and a half.”

Born and raised in Staten Island, Sister Michelle Elizabeth was like any other kid in New York City. She went to New Dorp High School where she sang in her school chorus and performed dance. She grew up with her parents, Michael and Cathie, and younger sister, Olivia. While raised Catholic, it wasn’t something overly stressed in the household; rather, the desire to attend Mass and be a part of the Catholic Church came from within herself. 

Sister Michelle Elizabeth (far l.) poses for a family shot with her father, Michael, and her younger sister, Olivia, after her first Profession Mass.

“I don’t remember what made me want to be an altar server,” she laughed. “My parish is a public school parish and we didn’t have a school attached to it, so a lot of my friends were kids from” her parish’s youth group.

She started altar serving at her parish, Church of the Holy Child, and later became a lector. She became an officer for the parish’s revitalized youth group, Pallottine Teenage Federation, which she helped kick start with a friend. She also served as a county representative for PTAF and chair of a committee with the Archdiocesan level of PTAF. A byproduct of her involvement was her mother’s own in the church; the more positions Sister Michelle Elizabeth was “voluntold” to take on (as she likes to put it), the more her mother stepped up too.

With all her leadership positions, it wasn’t uncommon for her to be approached with questions about the sisterhood, albeit often in a joking way and something she always brushed off. It wasn’t until ninth grade, that a priest asked her sincerely if she ever considered religious life that she took the path to heart.

But things took a turn senior year when Sister Michelle Elizabeth’s mother died. She opted for a college closer to home, obtaining her associate’s at the College of Staten Island instead of her chosen Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, and found herself dodging any conversations with God.

“I was still going to church because I didn’t want my dad to freak out, but if I didn’t have my name written down as a responsibility to be there. I was just hiding in the sacristy,” she said. “I wasn’t actually going (to Mass) and a lot of it was because I was mad and hurt and didn’t know what to do with what had just happened.”

It wasn’t until a retreat with the Daughters of Saint Paul that chipped away at some of the pain. 

Before her mother’s passing, Sister Michelle Elizabeth was signed up to attend a summer retreat with help from Sister Margaret Michael, FSP. “Her community had a summer retreat and arranged for me to be able to go,” she said. But things had changed, and despite not wanting to attend, “I wasn’t about to bail on the retreat because she really stuck her neck out for me,” she said.

The problem, she found, was going to a God-centered retreat while still very angry at God. 

Sister Dolores (top from l.), Sister Philomena Anne and Sister Michelle Elizabeth show off their Christmas aprons for the holiday season.

“The retreat was at a convent for five days, so how am I going to ignore God in the convent?” she laughed. “There’s a Holy Hour built in every day! It was inevitable. There was no way I was going to be able to avoid him during that week. It was very slight and it was very slow, but it was the first time in months … I started to speak with the Lord again and let him get a couple of words in here and there. It was the first time I started to ease out of my shunning of him.”

After obtaining her associate’s degree, Sister Michelle Elizabeth transferred to St. Francis College in Brooklyn where she obtained her bachelor’s in adolescent education with a concentration in social studies. In 2015, a year before her transfer, she met the Carmelite Sisters.

A friend of hers, who was supposed to volunteer for the Carmelite Sisters’ summer program Serving the Aged Lovingly Today (SALT) at their Staten Island facility, Carmel Richmond Nursing Home, called Sister Michelle Elizabeth saying she could no longer do the program and asked if she could fill in her place. She agreed to take on the position, starting the snowball toward her profession.

“I met the community in 2015 and entered in 2019,” she said. “In that four-year span, I went from not discerning at all to discerning and ultimately entering.”

Sister Michelle Elizabeth said that it was the ease and individuality of the sisters that called her to the community. 

“It was a friend who pointed it out, but there was an ease around the sisters and an ease around the residents,” she said. “I never had to think about what I was going to do when I knocked on a resident’s door, there was just an ease.

“And I remember being very struck by the fact that every sister was so much herself,” she added. “None of the sisters I had met felt like they were like another sister. They were all so real and their own individual persons, and I remember being really struck by that.”

The Instagram page for the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm captures a number of these easy, fun moments: Sister Michelle Elizabeth and Sister Dolores Carmel playing in the snow during a visit to the Motherhouse in Germantown; Sister Philomena, Sister Dolores and Sister Michelle Elizabeth posing after running the annual Josephinum 4-Miler, held at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio; and a Carmelite sister pouring chocolate syrup over ice cream, wishing followers to have a “blessed Sundae!”

After joining her community, her time at Mother Angeline McCrory Manor has further confirmed her love for her chosen vocation and sisters.

“Something I’ve come to really appreciate is that all of us come from backgrounds,” she said. “Different ages, different cultures, and different parts of the country — and we are all asked to live together and to serve our residents — and so one of the things I’ve come to appreciate is that despite how different we may be individually, despite how different our backgrounds may be, we’re all still here for the same reason. We’re all still here because we love the Lord because he called us and because he’s asked us to take care of his old people. At the end of the day, that’s what matters, and it’s so unifying and equalizing, despite background, age, culture … when it comes down to it, we’re all here for Jesus and the residents.”


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