May 20, 2012
Bishop Kevin Vann poses with (from left to right) Sisters of St. Mary of Namur Roberta Hesse, St. John Begnaud, Camella Menotti, and Adelaide Valtierra at Our Lady of Victory Center, home to the sisters’ Western Province.
Sr. St. John Begnaud, SSMN, taught Scripture courses to college students, Spanish to seminarians, and English to African nuns in Cameroon, but when asked to recall her favorite memory, the first-rate educator, momentarily, was speechless.
“I have lots of memories — beautiful memories,” said the Waco native who professed her final vows as a Sister of St. Mary of Namur 70 years ago. “I’ve received wonderful gifts — the gift of faith, Scripture, and the sacraments. There’s so much to be thankful for.”
But the humble woman was on the receiving end of appreciative hugs and words of gratitude during an April 21 gathering inside the Our Lady of Victory Center. More than 100 friends and family filled the convent’s small chapel to mark the milestone jubilees of Sr. St. John (70 years) and three other members of her congregation, Sister Adelaide Valtierra, Sister Camella Menotti, and Sister Roberta Hesse who have each given 60 years of service to God, the Church, and community. The four sisters renewed their vows during a Mass concelebrated by Monsignor Joe Schumacher, Monsignor Michael Olson, and Father John Hennessy with Bishop Kevin Vann presiding.
“We’re here to celebrate their ministry to us and so many other people and to imitate their actions in our own lives,” Msgr. Schumacher said in his homily. “Together, they have given 250 years of service.”
The celebrant recounted his own history with the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur which dates back to his days as a schoolboy attending St. Ignatius Academy in downtown Fort Worth. Remembering how members of the teaching order would juggle two grade levels of students during the day, the retired monsignor recalled childhood antics in classrooms taught by the late Sister Isadore, Sister Agatha, and Sister Thomas.
“How did the sisters influence me and maybe you, too? In many ways,” he told the assembly. “Sr. Thomas taught me it’s all right to ask questions if you’re seeking an answer but not if you’re trying to put someone down.”
People can learn a lot by following the example of the sisters, he insisted, adding, “In all areas of their ministry, the sisters imitated the life of their mentor, Jesus Christ, who came to serve and not be served.”
Msgr. Schumacher went on to describe each honoree’s talents and the special gifts contributed to various schools, parishes, and missions.
Sr. Adelaide Valtierra, known for her creativity in the classroom, was an elementary teacher for more than 41 years in Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas, Wichita Falls, Dickinson, and Beaumont. Her interest in hands-on learning engaged children and made learning fun and exciting.
“During my teaching years, I tried to bring God into all the classes I taught, often using his gifts of nature,” she explained. “I encouraged students to do their best work for God hoping they would take this attitude of respect for all things with them through life.”
Now retired, Sr. Adelaide visits the sick and continues to hone her artistic skills through ceramic and horticulture projects.
Longtime educator Sr. Camella Menotti served as both teacher and principal in schools throughout Texas and California for 44 years. A competent computer user, she eagerly introduced the teaching instrument into her classroom and currently tutors fellow sisters who have difficulty mastering the technology.
“Educating children was my primary passion for many years, but now my primary purpose is landscaping the beautiful surroundings of Our Lady of Victory Center,” said the horse lover who once rode horses with Roy Rogers.
Sr. Roberta Hesse spent the majority of her religious life as a missionary in Africa. She originally served the congregation as an LVN nurse before taking charge of constructing schools and houses in Africa.
Buoyed by a missionary spirit, the Muenster native left for Africa in 1967 and spent decades serving villagers in the Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Cameroon.
“I met the most wonderful people,” Sr. Roberta says, recalling her years as a missionary. “The hearts of African mothers are exactly like mothers here and in every other part of the world. They want the best for their children. They want them to be healthy, educated, and to make something of their lives.”
In addition to working as a junior high school teacher, college professor at the University of Dallas, and Peace and Justice director for the Diocese of Fort Worth, Sr. St. John spent time serving her congregation’s mission in Rwanda during the genocide. She recently authored a book, A Little Good, about her order’s early accomplishments and struggles in Texas.
“I’ve been an educator in one way or another all my life,” said Sr. St. John who was taught by members of the religious order she would later join. Her alma mater, Sacred Heart Academy in Waco, was the first institution established by the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur in Texas.
A display inside the convent featured each honoree’s vocation story.
“These women have been models for us of service and gave of themselves for God’s kingdom,” said Sr. Mary Merdian, provincial of the order’s Western Province. “We want to rejoice with them and celebrate their achievements and fidelity to God’s call. We have a lot of gratitude for their presence in our lives.”
Bishop Vann said the religious orders that founded Catholic grade schools in this country shaped his life and many others.
“Thank you for all that you’ve done for the people in North Texas, the missions in Africa and beyond,” he added. “You’ve helped me grow as a person, a priest, and a bishop.”
Sr. St. John Begnaud, SSMN, taught Scripture courses to college students, Spanish to seminarians, and English to African nuns in Cameroon, but when asked to recall her favorite memory, the first-rate educator, momentarily, was speechless. “I have lots of memories — beautiful memories,” said the Waco native who professed her final vows as a Sister of St. Mary of Namur 70 years ago. “I’ve received wonderful gifts — the gift of faith, Scripture, and the sacraments. There’s so much to be thankful for.”