By Tim Johnson
HUNTINGTON — Marking the 90th anniversary of the founding of Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters, with joy and thanksgiving Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades celebrated with the sisters on July 30 with Mass and a tour of the campus.
Archbishop John F. Noll, who died 56 years ago on July 31, was remembered throughout the day. Archbishop Noll, who offered financial support to the sisters, built the motherhouse in Huntington. And sisters from all across the country and globe gathered at the motherhouse last week for the festivities.
“A testament of Archbishop Noll’s true fatherly love for the sisters was his decision to be buried here at your motherhouse instead of in the cathedral,” Bishop Rhoades said in his homily. “I understand that Archbishop Noll told one of the sisters before he died that he would get more prayers here with the sisters than he would if he were buried in the cathedral crypt. That is probably very true.”
“We remember him in our prayers today, as we also remember on this anniversary your founder, Father John Sigstein, and all the Victory Noll Sisters who have gone home to be with the Lord. May they all rest in God’s peace.”
To mark the anniversary the sisters prepared a room full of archives that included a film showing the sisters in mission work in New Mexico and clips of a family reunion with the Noll family at Victory Noll. The archbishop was shown passing out Cracker Jack boxes to his nephews and nieces.
Bishop Rhoades’ homily also spoke of the Lord’s sending 72 disciples on mission.
“On this anniversary day, who among us can hear that Gospel and not think of that original pair of sisters, the first Missionary Catechists of Our Lady of Victory, who after many months and years of planning, quietly departed from Chicago after pronouncing their simple vows,” Bishop Rhoades said.
“Sister Julia Doyle and Sister Marie Benes,” the first missionary catechists, “prepared and formed by Father Sigstein and Mother Aquinata and the School Sisters of Notre Dame, left Chicago for Santa Fe,” he continued as he reflected upon the sisters’ history. “Before they left, besides making simple vows, they renewed their Act of Consecration to Jesus through Mary according to the practice of the True Devotion of St. Louis Marie de Montfort.”
At a little mission church in the town of Watrous, the catechists began the missionary work that would characterize the apostolate of the many sisters who would follow in their footsteps — the catechesis of poor children and their families and visits to the homes of the poor and the sick in what was truly missionary territory.
Bishop Rhoades noted that the first missionary catechists and the many sisters who would follow them were women of prayer and were filled with a true missionary zeal. They had a deep love for the poor. The early missionary catechists endured many hardships for the sake of the Gospel.
“He has called consecrated women like you, the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Victory, through your special gifts and charism, to share in the Church’s evangelizing mission,” Bishop Rhoades said.
“Evangelization and catechesis, so vital to the mission of your community and to the mission of the Church, aims at unity in Christ, unity in faith and unity in love: Christ-like maturity that is characterized by an adherence to the truth of the Gospel of Christ and living that truth in charity,” Bishop Rhoades said.
The new evangelization called for by Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI requires new ardor in the proclamation of the Gospel in our increasingly secularized culture with its strong currents of relativism, materialism and hedonism.
“It requires vision and creativity, like that of Father Sigstein, Archbishop Noll, Sister Julia Doyle and Sister Marie Benes,” Bishop Rhoades said. “It requires fidelity to the truth of the Gospel as proclaimed and taught by the Catholic Church through the ages, the truth that so many Victory Noll Sisters dedicated their lives to teach and share. It requires the witness of lives of self-giving love, of the practical and generous service exemplified by so many members of this community these past 90 years. It requires prayer since none of our works or ministry can bear good fruit apart from Christ.”
Bishop Rhoades thanked the sisters for their ministry of prayer, which is a powerful service to the Church and her mission.
After Mass, Bishop Rhoades greeted the sisters, including Sister Joan Arnold who mentioned to the bishop that she is a native of Lebanon, Pa., where Bishop Rhoades was raised. Sister Joan has been a sister for 63 years.
At 103 years old, Sister Carlota Baca is the oldest sister and celebrating 80 years of religious life. Sister Carlota offered a cheerful greeting to Bishop Rhoades as he visited with sisters in the special extended care unit where she resides.
Sister Virginia Schmitt, who joined the sisters in 1945 and was a registered nurse, shared with Bishop Rhoades that she provided nursing care for Archbishop Noll for the last three years of his life. “I felt that was a great privilege,” she told Bishop Rhoades.
The sisters also shared that they would go to Archbishop Noll’s lake house on Sylvan Lake near Rome City and clean it for the bishop’s summer visits.
Continuing his visit within the care unit, Bishop Rhoades spoke with Sister Martha, who writes and sends out 300 letters a month to prisoners. She enjoys receiving letters back from prisoners relating how much they appreciate her letters.
Throughout the day, Sister Beatrice Haines, president of Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters, offered the bishop a tour of the grounds and accompanied Bishop Rhoades to the gravesite of Archbishop Noll, Father John Joseph Sigstein and the first two missionary catechists — Sister Julia Doyle and Sister Marie Benes. There Bishop Rhoades offered a prayer.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades greets Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sister Joan Arnold, a native of Lebanon, Pa., the town where Bishop Rhoades was raised.
Photos by Tim Johnson
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, joined by Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sister Lucille Martinez, vice-president, right, greets Sister Carlota Baca, who at 103 is the oldest sister. Bishop Rhoades visited with the sisters who are in skilled care at the motherhouse. They all recited a Hail Mary and bishop requested their prayers. The visit on July 30 was part of the 90th anniversary celebration of the founding of the sisters.
Dawn Frecker with her daughters Caitlyn and Charlotte, all volunteers with the Sisters of Our Lady of Victory Noll, visit an exhibit of archived items from the sisters’ history and service as missionary catechists in the southwestern U.S. The exhibit included a digitalized video that showed the missionary work in New Mexico and some clips of a reunion with Archbishop John F. Noll’s family at Victory Noll, where the sisters’ Huntington motherhouse is located.
Sister Beatrice Haines, president of Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters, shows Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades one of the archived catechisms the sisters used in their missionary activities in New Mexico during a July 30 tour of the archive display commemorating the sisters’ 90th anniversary of the order.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades prays at the tomb of Archbishop John F. Noll, who supported the sisters and located the motherhouse to Huntington, and Father John Joseph Sigstein, the founder of Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters.
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