The Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Mishawaka have taken on an additional duty in their vocational life this winter – serving as storytellers for children of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Beginning with Christmas stories in December, the sisters have created around 20 videos of themselves reading children’s stories in what is called the Storybook Corner.
The idea came about when Carl Loesch, secretary for Catholic Education, “tried to think of a way to bring the sisters to our schools,” despite that fact that in-person school visitors are limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He contacted Sister Marie Morgan, OSF, to ask if she would be willing to take on a project to reach out to schoolchildren in a different way. A month later, Sister Regina DeVreese, OSF, responded with the first of the videos.
“We started with the Christmas ones because it was the Christmas season and we had lots of decorations up in our convent, so we had that for the scenery,” Sister Regina explained. Many of the first books they read were in the possession of St. Francis Convent, but later a collaboration with Mary Dlugosz, librarian at Marian High School, Mishawaka, and her daughter, a teacher at Our Lady of Hungary School in South Bend, allowed the sisters to borrow more popular children’s stories to read. The types of books vary based on what the sisters receive, though at some point they hope to be able to take requests from students — provided they can borrow the requested book from local contacts.
While the sisters enjoy reading the fun children’s stories, they say that the greater purpose behind the videos is to show young people bits of the convent and aspects of the religious life. Sister Regina commented, “If kids aren’t seeing sisters, they might not think it’s a possibility to give their life to God. Hopefully, that awakens the desire in them to give their life to God, or even just to listen to Him and pray more often or grow in their friendship with Jesus.”
Loesch has long felt blessed by his many personal connections with the Sisters of St. Francis and wanted to bring the love that he has for them to others, he said. “My hope is that the recordings of sisters reading stories may in a small way help children to connect with the sisters, to share their joy and to see the beauty of a vocation well lived.”
The videos demonstrate the sisters’ deep love for God and for others, as well as their zest for life. Through the videos, students also get to see inside the motherhouse in Mishawaka, which serves as a lovely backdrop to the stories.
Sister Regina, who was placed in charge of the project, said that she has worked to bring in as many of the sisters as she could. “I think each sister has her own unique gifts and joy and personality that she brings to the video and every sister is such a delight for me to be with and watch. I’m having a lot of fun just being with them.”
The sisters who have participated agree that the experience has been a blessing for them. “It’s been really fun to see,” said Sister Lissetta Gettinger, OSF. “We like children’s stories and seeing the creativity that has come along with that.”
Being called upon to read to children is a “delight” for Sister Mary Bosco Davis, OSF. “I think it’s fun because you get to do accents and things. … I thoroughly enjoy it. It’s fun to see the different styles the sisters bring to each book.”
Sister Mary Bosco normally serves as a teacher in Lafayette but was recalled to the motherhouse due to the pandemic. She is comfortable working with young people and often thinks of her students as she reads, she said. She’s also known for animating the stories with the aid of props such as a stuffed Paddington Bear.
One of Sister Regina’s favorite videos is a taping of the book “Saintly Rhymes for Modern Times.” Around a dozen of the sisters contributed to that taping, each introducing one of their favorite saints to young listeners.
All of the videos are collected on the diocesan website, and Loesch said they have been shared with the Catholic schools of the diocese and with some other families who have young children. “I’ve heard that their children love watching the videos. I have to admit that each time I watch a new recording, I find myself smiling at the joy that the sisters convey.”
The sisters have no timeline for when they will stop making recordings, but Sister Regina noted that “our foundress’s motto is ‘He leads, I follow,’ and I had no idea this project was coming; I had no idea what it would become, so we’re just going along with it as it happens.”
The videos may be viewed at diocesefwsb.org/storybook-corner.
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