Franciscan Sisters of Saint Joseph - Hamburg New York


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The Legacy of the FSSJ
FSSJ Ministry Focus: Remembering Sister Simonette Bak

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The Legacy of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph

Agnes Victoria Hilbert
Agnes Victoria Hilbert, was educated in a private academy in Cieszyn, the territory of Austrian Poland, by the Sisters of Charity of St. Charles Borromeo. Agnes was received into the Charity Sisters’ Congregation in 1883 and given the name of Sister Mary Colette. The seed of her missionary vocation was realized not to minister to the Church in Africa, but across the Atlantic Ocean to the Church of the United States.
“Birth” of a New Congregation
In 1889, Sister Colette and four Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo were sent to educate the children of St. Stanislaus Parish in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Eight years later, Sister Colette was transferred to Trenton, New Jersey and was asked to end her affiliation with her Congregation in Europe and establish a new Congregation of Sisters in the United States. With the assistance of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, Pope Leo XIII had granted Sister Colette permission to establish a new Congregation of Sisters with the mission of service to God’s people through education and charitable works.
  Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph
On September 8, 1897, Sister Colette and four American novices adopted the Rule of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis as their way of life in God’s service. In 1928, after having been granted permission and a blessing for the new venture by Pope Leo XIII, Sister Colette became the first General Minister of the newly-established Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph (FSSJ). Because of the Congregation’s growth in the number of women applying to this new way of life, the Sisters moved from Buffalo, New York to the convent in Hamburg, New York.
Finalities with Expressions of Love
Because of Mother Colette’s new appointment, she wrote to the Charity Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo, asking for their blessing and expressing her gratitude to her former Congregation. A letter arrived from the Charity Sisters with good wishes, blessings, and success, and “loving regards from all of us.” The postscript is recorded as “If ever, dear Sister, you should be in need, our doors and our hearts are always open to receive you because we love you.”
  New Beginning
After their acceptance into the FSSJ Congregation, the five Sister “pioneers” settled in Trenton, New Jersey – but not for long. Pope Leo XIII granted the necessary permission to the Bishop of Buffalo, New York to establish a convent for the new community of Franciscan Sisters. Because of her leadership qualities, Sister Colette was recognized as the Foundress of the new Congregation, was lovingly called Mother Colette, and became the principal of Corpus Christi School.
“In All Things – Charity”
Mother Colette’s rich educational background and teaching experience on two continents contributed to an enriched curriculum. It was not only the curriculum and her leadership qualities that formed her pupils, but also her compassion for the needy among the students. Mother Colette’s philosophy of life can be summed up in four words: “In All Things – Charity.” To date, 11 General Ministers followed and continue to follow the Foundress in servant leadership.
  Service to God’s People
Through the many years, as young women were entering the Congregation, the Sisters opened and staffed countless schools and served in various educational positions in Alabama, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. FSSJ’s Immaculata Academy, a high school for girls, and Hilbert College, named after Mother Colette Hilbert, were built on the convent grounds. Sisters also ministered in health care in Michigan, New York, Wisconsin, Vietnam, and Brazil.
Ministries to Continue the Mission
Although the FSSJ continue in their ministries of teaching, health care, and pastoral ministry, countless times the Sisters are challenged by the evolving needs of the Church to translate the Gospel into effective action. So, they answer the call by assuming new ministerial responsibilities. Sisters continue their involvement in peace and justice issues, outreach to the poor, and serve on Boards of Trustees of various organizations. They also volunteer their services in areas of need. The source of spiritual strength not only for the Congregation but also for the people of God comes from the Sisters’ communal prayer life and the untiring prayers of the Sisters retired from active ministry and those residing in the health care community. Called by God, the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph serve the Church and continue the legacy of St. Francis of Assisi and their Foundress – Mother Colette Hilbert.

Charism Statement of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph

Called by God into the Fraternity of Francis,
We live in Simplicity, Servanthood and Joy
Renewing the spirit of Mother Colette Hilbert

"In All Things - Charity"
Mother Colette Hilbert
Foundress of the Franciscan
Sisters of St. Joseph

Fraternity-Since love of Christ must include love of neighbor, Franciscan spirituality embraces all persons in a universal brotherhood and sisterhood. Thus, we aspire to love and accept each other so that through this relational commitment we manifest Christ to the world.

Simplicity-In singleness of heart, as children of the loving Creator, we place God first and trust in God's generosity and care for us.

Servanthood-Mary, the servant of the Most High, was the closest of all human beings to the Savior--the greatest Servant of all. Like Mary, we are bearers of the Word of God; we live among God's people in order to witness to a Gospel way of life and to serve the needs of the Church and the world.

Joy-Our source of joy is God who sent Jesus to redeem us and who calls us to share in God's unconditional love. As we follow Christ in the footsteps of Francis, joy is the sign of the Holy Spirit's presence in us.

Renewing the spirit of Mother Colette Hilbert, "In all things-Charity."-The message of the Gospel is one of love. Through our ongoing conversion and with compassionate hearts, we commit ourselves to a way of life that leads to a living transformation into Christ in personal and communal endeavors.


Sister Simonette Bak: Teaching Reading as an Art and a Science
Sister Simonette
  Sister Simonette Bak was born on March 24, 1917 in Detroit, Michigan. She entered the congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph as a postulant on August 29, 1933 and professed her final vows on July 14, 1938.

Sister Simonette was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education from Marywood College in Scranton, Pennsylvania and her Master of Education Degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Sister ministered in education for 56 years but her true passion was the 33 years she spent as the Director of the Hilbert Reading Center in Hamburg, NY, from 1969-1992. As an instructor of reading, Sister believed in focusing not only on her teaching methods but also on the individual student. Sister’s philosophy was that, “the teacher must love her work, understand her work, and help her pupils to the best of her abilities.”
Sister goes on further to state that, “instruction must be adjusted to individual needs …be comprehensive, detailed, and coordinated with the principals that the teaching is designed to meet. The teacher must consider the child’s chronological and mental age, his I.Q., tastes, attitudes, reading likes and dislikes, study skills, and the child’s personal ‘problems'."

By focusing on these things, the reading instruction provided at the Reading Center relied on a supportive model which focused on building confidence and character and thus causing the building of reading skills.
Workbook and Tachistoscope Exercises
Some of the methods to improve reading skills included the following:

Teacher-made Games: These activities were designed to engage the student and help them foster the idea that reading is fun through the use of flash-cards, puzzles, and the deciphering of ‘secret code’ messages.

Teaching Vocabulary through the use of Copying, Writing, and Tracing of Words: Activities such as these assisted the student in learning the spelling of the words through the multi-sensory experience of sight and touch.

Workbook and Tachistoscope Exercises: These exercises helped a student expand their word knowledge and understanding by holding their attention and encouraging their desire to write and use the vocabulary learned.

Blackboard Exercises: During these exercises, the students would either bring a picture to class or draw a picture on the blackboard. Then the students would write words and sentences which correlated with the pictures drawn. These exercises often allowed the students to develop confidence by engaging with each other in active discussions about the pictures and words written.

Free Reading Periods: The students were engaged part time in the library for a thirty minute free-reading period. By allowing the students to use the skills they learned most were able to change their attitudes toward reading and found it a fascinating and enjoyable experience.

By utilizing these multiple techniques, Sister was able to increase the reading skills and self-confidence of the students in her classes and open the door for them to engage in the joys of life-long learning.

Sister Simonette, who was remembered as having a good sense of humor, loved children and was always concerned about the education and well being of the students, passed away on January 7, 2000 in the 82nd year of life and the 66th year of religious life.
Teacher-made Games
Teaching Vocabulary through the use of Copying, Writing, and Tracing of Words
Free Reading Periods

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