12 religious men and women honored for faithful service

Eleven sisters and one brother in the Diocese of Little Rock celebrated anniversaries of religious service in 2011 from 25 to 75 years. These women and men continue to serve in their religious communities in any way they can, even in retirement. Sister Joan Pytlik, DC, continues to work in active ministry for the diocese.


75 years
Sister Hermana Siebenmorgen, OSB, who celebrated her 75th jubilee June 24, died Nov. 22. She was born on Sept. 6, 1917, in Scranton. She entered St. Scholastica Monastery and made temporary vows on June 24, 1936. She taught elementary grades at Holy Redeemer School in Clarksville, St. Boniface School in Fort Smith, St. Mary School in Lake Village and St. Edward School in Little Rock where she also served as principal.


Sister Columba Moseley, OSB, was born on Jan. 5, 1919, in Shreveport, La. She entered St. Gertrude Monastery in Covington, La., and made her first profession on Jan. 12, 1936. She taught high school math in Louisiana and spent five years teaching math at Westark Community College in Fort Smith. She transferred to St. Scholastica Monastery in 1971 when St. Gertrude Monastery was amalgamated with St. Scholastica. She loved her volunteer work at Community Clearinghouse in Fort Smith.


70 years
Sister Christine Eckart, OSB, was born May 22, 1922, in Subiaco. She entered the monastery and made her first profession on June 24, 1941. She taught elementary school and music at St. Boniface School in Bigelow, Sacred Heart School in Charleston, Sacred Heart School in Hartman and St. Joseph School in Center Ridge from 1941-1948. She worked in nursing from 1953-1972, and was director of St. Scholastica Infirmary from 1972-1981. She worked in pastoral care from 1983-1993 and served as house coordinator and procurator in the monastery until 2008. Sister Christine plays the organ and autoharp at liturgies, serves as an interior decorator and is currently narrating a documentary on the chapel stained glass windows.


60 years
Sister Cabrini Schmitz, OSB, prioress at St. Scholastica from 2001-2009, was born on March 6, 1932, in Scranton. In her senior year at St. Scholastica Academy, she entered the monastery and made her first profession on June 24, 1951. She taught in elementary schools from 1951-60 and at the high school level at St. Scholastica Academy and St. Anne High School from 1961-73. After taking instruction in clinical pastoral education, she worked for St. Edward Hospital in pastoral care, then as an administrative assistant. She served as director of the retreat center from 1990-2001.



Retirement funding
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Sister Rose Maria Birkenfeld, OSB, was born on Sept. 13, 1931 in Amarillo, Texas. She made her first profession at St. Scholastica Monastery on June 24, 1951. She performed domestic work at St. Joseph Orphanage, Crawford County Hospital and Holy Rosary School in Stuttgart until 1968, when she became one of the founding members of Our Lady of Peace Monastery in Columbia, Mo. She worked as a director of religious education and in pastoral ministry in Pilot Grove, Clear Creek, Vienna, Argyle, and Marshall, Mo. Her last assignment was at St. Boniface Church in Koeltztown, Mo., in pastoral ministry for several parishes. She also served as procurator, subprioress and prioress of Our Lady of Peace Monastery. She returned to St. Scholastica in 2010 after Our Lady of Peace Monastery was dissolved. Visitors can find her in the monastery gift shop, where she is a sales clerk.


Sister Jean Ryan, OCD, was born on May 8, 1926, in Louisville, Ky., to Adelina and Frank Ryan. After her high school graduation, she worked as a stenographer for the Cherokee Coal Company and took some college courses at night. In 1950, she entered the Discalced Carmelite Nuns in Little Rock and made her first profession on Dec. 21, 1951. She has been the prioress, subprioress, secretary, councilor and novice mistress. She has also worked as bookkeeper and "portress" who answers the doorbell pager. She currently helps with correspondence. "I have had practically every job in the community, except cook. The sisters would be sorry if ever I had the misfortune of putting out a meal," she said. "At 85, I am still here in the Little Rock Carmel, having joyfully celebrated both my silver and golden jubilees."


Sister Mary Alice Grace, OCD, was born in Pittsburgh on July 26, 1920, to Eugene Mary Grace and Eleanor Albright Grace. When she was 13, she entered the Franciscan Sisters Prep School in Millvale, Pa., and made perpetual vows in 1939. She taught in several elementary schools in the diocese but felt drawn to the contemplative life. In 1950, she joined the new foundation of Carmelites requested by Bishop Albert Fletcher in Little Rock. She made her solemn profession on Dec. 1. She went with two other sisters to help at the New Orleans Carmel in 1992 and later moved to the Covington Carmel, also in Louisiana. They returned to Little Rock in 2002. "In spite of challenges and trials, I have never doubted God's call and am extremely happy and grateful," she said.


50 years
Sister Gabriel Brandt, OSB, was born on Dec. 13, 1928, in Edwardsville, Ill. After enjoying a career in the business world, Sister Gabriel entered the monastery in 1958 and made her first profession on June 24, 1961. She taught in several parish elementary schools and taught business subjects at St. Scholastica Academy. In 1980, she studied to become a licensed practical nurse and worked at St. Edward Hospital from 1981-89. She has served as monastery treasurer and twice as procurator. She now is an infirmary liaison. "I am deeply grateful for all these years that have brought me to this 'golden event,'" Sister Gabriel said. "Only with the help of God's love and grace was I able to meet the many challenges the past years have brought."


Brother Joseph Koehler, OSB, was born Sept. 21, 1940, in North Little Rock, the son of Willie Koehler and Lucy Koscielny Koehler. After graduating from Subiaco Academy in 1958, he entered the Franciscan Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis in Cincinnati and made his first profession of vows on March 19, 1961. He has a bachelor's degree in physical education and health from St. Joseph College in Collegeville, Ind., and a master's degree in secondary education and guidance counseling from Xavier University in Cincinnati. He taught at Assumption School in New Jersey, Mount Alverno Boys' School in Cincinnati, Chatfield College in St. Martin, Ohio, and Morris School in Searcy. In the early 1990s, the Franciscan community was facing the prospect of closing Morris School and its other main centers. Desiring to continue religious life in a community setting, Brother Joseph transferred to Subiaco Abbey in August 1992 and made his solemn profession of monastic vows on Aug. 15, 1997. He worked at Subiaco Academy as counselor, religion teacher and assistant in the athletic program from 1993-2000. He then began serving the abbey as vintner, along with helping on the abbey farm and gardens.


Sister Jeremy Molett, OSB, was born in Centerville, Iowa, on Aug. 26, 1931. She made her first profession at St. Scholastica Monastery on June 24, 1961. She spent most of her career as an elementary teacher and principal in Fort Smith public schools.


Sister Joan Pytlik, DC, a Milwaukee native and the third of six children of Stanley and Wanda Pytlik, became a member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent DePaul Sept. 8, 1961. She served in health care in Missouri, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas and Thailand before coming to Arkansas to start St. Elizabeth Health Center in Gould in 1990. She initiated bills with the Arkansas Legislature to give nurse practitioners the ability to write prescriptions and then, as director of Helping Hand, to exempt non-profit agencies that provide free food to the poor from sales tax on groceries. Sister Joan was hired by the diocese in 1995 as social action director and legislative advocate for nine years. In 2005, the diocese asked Sister Joan to set up and direct the long-term recovery response to the evacuees of Hurricane Katrina. Since 1998, Sister Joan has served as regional spiritual advisor for the Society of St. Vincent DePaul. Recently, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor named Sister Joan as minister for religious in the diocese.


25 years
Sister Frances Anne Braddock, OSB, made her first profession on Aug. 16, 1986, at the age of 67. She entered the community that her sisters, Sisters DeChantal and Roberta Hyland, had belonged to from their teenage years, and after her husband, Charles Braddock, had died. The mother of six and former World War II nurse worked in parish work, kitchen work and in the bakery after making her profession. In her years of retirement, Sister Frances Anne has made hundreds of rosaries for the missions.


Retirement funding

The Retirement Fund for Religious will be collected in parishes Dec. 3-4. The $158,217.53 collected last year in the Diocese of Little Rock was sent to the national office. Despite the generosity of Catholics to the Retirement Fund for Religious, many religious communities continue to lack resources sufficient to support retirement and elder care.

In 2010 alone, the total cost to care for more than 34,000 women and men religious past age 70 exceeded $1 billion. The special collection for 2010 collected a total of $26.7 million.

Four religious communities in Arkansas received financial assistance made possible by the national appeal: St. Scholastica Monastery, Fort Smith; Holy Angels Convent, Jonesboro; Carmelite Monastery, Little Rock; and Subiaco Abbey, Subiaco. Additionally, religious who serve or have served in the diocese but whose communities are based elsewhere may also benefit from the Retirement Fund for Religious.

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