Sisters celebrate decades of joyous service


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SAN DIEGO – Ten religious sisters in the Diocese of San Diego are celebrating significant anniversaries of consecrated life. This year’s jubilarians include:

–60 Years–

Sister Madeline Fitzgerald was born in Ireland in 1941. After high school, she entered the Sisters of St. Clare, professing first vows in 1961.

She taught high school math in Ireland and England and came to the U.S. in 1966, teaching in Florida before moving to St. Francis Parish in Vista in 1977. After teaching 12 years, she moved into adult education.

Her current role includes jail ministry, ministry to the sick, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), infant baptism, and spiritual direction. She is a member of the Clergy Caucus in collaboration with the San Diego Organizing Project and serves as spiritual assistant to the Secular Franciscan Order (San Luis Rey).

Sister Fitzgerald has served in congregation ministry, presently as regional coordinator.

“I love what I do, and I am blessed with the many St. Francis pastors, associates and staff, past and present, each offering their own charism and expertise for the building of the kingdom,” she said. “I am now 80 years old and I hope to keep going as long as my health and my obedience allows. I will retire in heaven with the help of God and my escorts Mary, St. Clare and St. Francis of Assisi.”

Sister Fay Hagen joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in 1960, professing her final vows in 1968.

She has ministered in the field of education. She served at St. Cyril’s School in Encino, California. She was a teacher and vice-principal at Star of the Sea Girls High School San Francisco. Later, she joined the faculty of St. Augustine High School in San Diego. St. Therese Academy in San Diego and St. Mary’s Girls High School in Inglewood were her final administrative assignments.

She also helped to establish Father Joe’s Villages’ Josue Homes for homeless people with AIDS.

“I was happy to be instrumental working with San Diego Unified School District in providing on-site schooling for the homeless children at St. Vincent de Paul,” Sister Hagen said.

Sister LaVern Olberding was a northwest Iowa farm girl before she joined the Clinton Iowa Franciscans (her teachers for 10 years). Her great aunt and three cousins were already longtime members.

She pursued a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Math and a Masters in Religious Education. She thoroughly enjoyed her classrooms, campus ministry, coordinating religious education programs, co-founding a co-ed young adult community, and serving as a pastoral associate and as a pastoral care coordinator of half-way houses for felons and jailees.

Sister Olberding returned to California in 2004 to be the operations coordinator for the oldest solid surface company in  Southern California. In 2012, she co-founded the Franciscan Peace Connection in La Mesa.

“I enjoy doing what I do and I am grateful for my family and the communities who continue to give me roots and wings,” Sister Olberding said.

Born in Illinois, Sister Rosanne Leonore McGrath, moved to California with her family at age 2. They settled in Los Angeles in the Echo Park area.

To secure a better job, they moved to Pico Rivera when Rosanne was in the third grade. She attended St. Hilary’s Grammar  School. She attended St. Paul High School, graduating in June of 1961.

She entered the Sisters of Mercy in Burlingame on Sept. 8 of that year. Sister McGrath celebrated her postulancy, novitiate and juniorate and made her first vows in 1964.  She professed her perpetual vows in 1969.

She ministered in San Francisco, Oakland, Bakersfield, Santa Fe Springs and San Diego. She served seven years at St. Charles School in Imperial Beach, where she  taught all grades and was principal for five years.

Sister McGrath was also director of religious education for six years in Santa Fe Springs.

At the tender age of 60, she enrolled in Healing Hands School of Holistic Health and became a full-fledged holistic health practitioner/massage therapist.

She now serves at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, where she visits families and patients, and also works with the Foundation to raise funds for the hospital.

Sister Hilda A. Barrera joined the Sister Servants of the Blessed Sacrament in 1959, made first profession in 1961, and professed final vows in 1964.

She has ministered exclusively in California. Her first assignment was in Calexico, California, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Academy, where she taught at the elementary and junior high levels. She has also served in West Los Angeles at St. Sebastian School (teacher/principal); El Centro at St. Mary’s School (teacher); San Ysidro at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (teacher); Sun Valley at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary (teacher); Sacramento at St. Peter’s School (principal); and Bakersfield at Our Lady of Guadalupe (teacher).

Currently, she is back at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, San Ysidro, where she assists on the school playground during the lunch and recess periods.

“My 60 years of religious life have been years of innumerable and memorable blessings, graces, gifts, surprises, joys and happiness as well as learning and challenges that have made me place my entire confidence in Jesus,” said Sister Barrera. “I treasure and eternally thank God for my call as a Sister Servant of the Blessed Sacrament. Blessed be God!”

–50 Years–

Sister Olivete Brandão is a member of the international Congregation of the Daughters of Divine Charity.

A Native of Brazil, she served in various ministries in her home province as a religion teacher, counselor, elementary and high school principal, vocation director, superior and provincial councilor. She was also director of consecrated life and vice-president of the Catholic School Association in her Archdiocese in Brazil.

Her first assignment in the United States was in Indiana, in parish and education ministries.

Since 2011, Sister Brandão has been at St. Therese Parish in San Diego, where she serves in faith formation and parish ministry. She is also superior of her local community, provincial councilor and the vocation director for the Holy Family Province of her congregation.

She has had different assignments but the same joy of “making God’s love visible in the world” throughout 50 years of consecrated life, she said.

Sister Patricia Weldon was born in Chicago, Illinois and attended Catholic Schools throughout her elementary and high school years of education.

After graduating from Mary Crest College in Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in education, she entered the congregation of the Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton, Iowa. Later, she received her master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

Sister Weldon has spent most of her religious life in San Diego.

She taught junior high classes and later became principal of St. Kieran’s Catholic School in El Cajon and at St. Michael Academy in Paradise Hills. Other positions she held were director of religious education and director of social outreach at St. Rose of Lima Parish in San Diego.

In addition, she served at Catholic Charities and at the Center for Immigrants in San Diego County.

Sister Weldon said, “My greatest gift in life is being Franciscan.”

Born in India, Sister M. Ancy Kollikolavil joined the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta in 1969 and made her first vows in December 1971.

During the first nine years in India, she worked with Mother Teresa and the first group of sisters very closely. After final vows in December 1977, she was sent to the Bronx, New York. There, she worked as formator and superior of several new foundations, establishing Night Shelters, Soup Kitchens, and visiting poor families, shut-ins and jails.

In 1985, she was sent by Mother Teresa to the contemplative branch in New York to help Sister Nirmala, the co-foundress of the contemplative branch. The past 35 years, she has served as formator, superior, regional superior, general councillor, and as head of the contemplative branch (2009-2014).

In 2015, she came to San Diego as regional superior of the West Coast Province, which includes  Los Angeles, Cuba, Nicaragua and Tijuana.

–40 Years–

Sister M. Angelica Li Tam MC was born in Peru to Chinese parents, and immigrated to New York as a teenager. She is a member of the contemplative branch of the Missionaries of Charity, but initially joined the active branch in the Bronx, New York, in 1978, and made her novitiate and first vows in Rome in May 1981.

As a junior sister, she served in Portugal (13 years). She was also in Spain (one year), Brazil (nine years), Uruguay (three years) and Argentina (one year), before transferring to the contemplative branch of the order in 2013.  Her ministries included:  homes for elderly, orphans and AIDS patients; soup kitchens; street ministry; and religious education. She served the poor in Nicaragua and Tijuana for two years each, before coming to San Diego in 2019. She served five terms as a superior in Portugal, Brazil and Uruguay.

–25 Years–

Sister M. Carmelita Carrillo Perez, born in Puerto Rico, is a member of the contemplative branch of the Missionaries of Charity. She joined the order in 1992 in the Bronx, New York, and took her first vows in May 1996.

She served as a junior sister in Nicaragua, visiting poor families on the mountainside and teaching prayers to the children. In her love for the poor, she often found herself returning home with tears because of the extreme poverty of the people she visited.

She spent one year in Rome, preparing for final vows, which she made there in 2002. She spent two years each in San Diego, Los Angeles and again in Nicaragua, before returning to San Diego in 2012. Her apostolate also included prison ministry, where she played her guitar and sang with the young men to lift their spirits.

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