On the cover, Sister Arlene Hirsch at Emma Hall, Maria Joseph Center; left, Sister Nancy Raley in her office at the Choice Food Pantry. Photos by Dave Eck. Second, Sister Pat Dieringer presenting a check to Guy Fritchman for money awarded from the MAB Grant Fund; contributed photo. Third, Sister Jane Francis Hoffman sings in the choir at Salem Heights chapel, Sisters of the Precious Blood motherhouse; right, Sister Arlene Hirsch visits with Sister Adeline Mertz at Emma Hall, Maria Joseph Center. Photos by Dave Eck
Most Friday mornings, Sister Nancy (M. Alan) Raley is in an office at the Choice Food Pantry in Dayton screening clients as they come in for provisions. It can be tough work, especially when clients are visiting for the first time and are uncomfortable about their situation.
Sister Nancy, though, puts them at ease. She enjoys the interaction.
“In the pantry her genuine kindness and concern resonate with the clients,” said Regina Estep, director of development and marketing for Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley (CSSMV), which operates the food pantry. “She’s just very gracious to our clients during a difficult time.”
Several other days each week, Sister Nancy is busy in the CSSMV development office writing acknowledgement letters to donors for cash and in-kind contributions.
They are volunteer jobs in which Sister Nancy has been serving for over a decade. She began in the pantry in 2005, after finishing three terms on the Sisters of the Precious Blood Community Council. She started in the development office in 2006. Last year, CSSMV recognized her with the organization’s Volunteer Services Award.
After retiring, Sister Nancy sought out a volunteer position that would fit her decades of experience as a dietician and nursing home administrator in both the public sector and for the Congregation. CSSMV was perfect.
“It was important for me to work with people who have desperate needs,” she said. “It kept reminding me that even though I do administrative tasks, the end result is that there are people who have needs and those needs have to be met in various ways.”
A native of Cleveland, Sister Nancy got to know the Missionaries and Sisters of the Precious Blood at her elementary school, Our Lady of Good Counsel. After formation, Sister studied dietetics and later earned a masters in institutional administration.
Her affinity for working with older people can be traced back to the summers Sister Nancy spent with her grandfather, R.T. Spratt, in Malvern. Ohio, when she was not yet a teenager. He was in his 70s and owned a grocery store. In the evenings they would sit on the porch and chat with the neighbors passing by. Robert seemed to know everyone in town and enjoyed introducing his granddaughter to them.
“It left a good impression,” Sister Nancy said.
She is like many Precious Blood Sisters who begin volunteering after they have finished full-time ministry. In addition to helping Sisters stay active, volunteering keeps the brain nimble and healthy.
Sister Patricia (M. Agnes Claire) Dieringer retired from the Maria Joseph Center in 1997 after nearly 24 years in the finance office. She soon was asked to volunteer as the executive secretary with the Sisters of the Precious Blood Maria Anna Brunner Grant Fund. Sister Pat’s been the fund’s executive secretary since 1998.
Established in 1991, the fund provides grants to nonprofit agencies and programs that make a positive impact on those in need. The fund supports approximately 60 programs each year.
Sister Pat’s gifts of time and talent do not stop there.
A member of Precious Blood Parish in Dayton for about 12 years, Sister Pat keeps the books for the parishioners’ emergency assistance and helps with fundraisers for the St. Vincent de Paul chapter. She’s on the parish worship commission and coordinates Eucharistic ministers for the Masses. She’s also on the board of directors of the Suicide Prevention Center in Dayton, the second oldest suicide prevention agency in the United States. When needed, Sr. Pat does volunteer work at Salem Heights.
She volunteers about 25 hours a week with the various projects. “I love to keep busy,” she said. “Even doing this, your time is flexible.”
Away from her volunteer schedule, Sister Pat loves sports and is a lifelong fan of the Cincinnati Reds. Her apartment at Salem Heights is dotted with photos of Reds’ players and a collection of bobble head figurines.
“Our whole family is sports-minded,” she said.
Growing up in St. Marys, Ohio, Pat was a tomboy who played baseball, basketball and tackle football with the neighborhood kids. Her parents also played on company ball teams.
After graduating from high school, Sister Pat worked in the office at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant in St. Marys for several years before entering the Congregation. She undertook office responsibilities in Congregational positions, including six years in the office of Regina High School in Norwood, Ohio, before going to work at the Maria Joseph Center in Dayton, where she eventually became the director of the finance office.
“I have the energy and I want to keep my mind active,” she said. “If you don’t keep your mind active then senility has the tendency of setting in.”
Volunteering is an opportunity to donate one’s efforts to a worthy cause.
For Sister Jane Francis Hoffman that simply means making people happy. It starts with a bright smile and cheery demeanor as she breezes through the halls of Salem Heights in Dayton doing what needs to be done.
She takes Sisters to medical appointments, and to and from the airport. She tends to plants on the Salem Heights grounds and she volunteers at the reception desk on weekends. She plays Bingo with the Sisters and enjoys socializing with them over card games on Friday nights. A noted singer, she is a member of the Salem Heights choir and a member of the bell choir.
“What I do I love to do because it brings happiness,” she said. “If it only means just sitting down and reading a book to someone, I just want to bring happiness.”
When Sister Jane Francis, retired from nursing at a senior living center in Coldwater, Ohio, about 10 years ago only one plan popped into her mind: move to Dayton and take care of the Sisters. It’s become her ministry.
“I like to find little things to do for the Sisters,” she said. “Whenever you are doing whatever you are doing, we live in the presence of God. I try to see God in every person’s life I’ve touched.”
Born in her grandmother’s house along the Ohio River on Cincinnati’s west side, Sister Jane Francis moved with her family to northern Kentucky and later to Norwood, Ohio, where she met the Sisters of the Precious Blood at then-Sts. Peter and Paul School.
She was in sixth grade when her teacher, Sister Doralcia Ruebusch asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Jane Francis promptly responded that she wanted to be a Sister of the Precious Blood.
After graduation from Holy Cross High School in northern Kentucky, Sister Jane Francis wasn’t sure about her calling, so she spent six years as a machine operator (sorting checks) at Fifth Third Bank in downtown Cincinnati before entering the convent.
After formation she trained as a nurse and worked at Salem Heights and the Maria Joseph Center in Dayton, before spending 27 years at Briarwood Senior Center in Coldwater as a charge nurse, mostly working the night shift.
“I had some very good years there,” she said. “I could entertain the residents. They knew I could sing.”
She brought that spirit with her to Salem Heights.
“I feel like we all have our ups and downs,” she said, “but I just forego that and just try to bring a little joy.
In many cases, volunteer positions offer an opportunity to try something new.
That’s the case with Sister Arlene (Marie Andre) Hirsch. For the past year, she has been working with two Dayton-area women who are opening a non-profit nursery for heroin-addicted newborns, the first such operation in Ohio. Sister Arlene serves on the board of directors and does whatever is needed. Brigid’s Path is scheduled to open later this year.
“I certainly provide moral support,” she said. “I’m looking forward to actually hands-on volunteering when it opens.”
A former grade school teacher, director of religious education, pastoral associate and coordinator of the Sisters living at Emma Hall in Dayton, Sister Arlene has enjoyed a wide range of volunteer experiences in retirement.
She volunteered in the food pantry at CSSMV and spent time at Erma’s House in Dayton, a center where non-custodial parents have supervised visits with their children. In addition to Brigid’s Path, Sister Arlene volunteers at Emma Hall one day a week. She’s also available to take Sisters to medical appointments.
“I just believe that as a Sister of the Precious Blood we proclaim God’s love to God’s people,” said Sister Arlene, who grew up in Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Cleveland. “That’s why I went to the food pantry and Erma’s House. These are people I’d never dealt with and I want that experience of dealing with them, of trying to understand where they come from.”
Each morning Sister Arlene prays that God gives her the opportunity to be a reconciling presence in today’s fractured world.
“I just think it’s so important to try to be present to people,” she said. “You retire from full-time paid work, but you don’t retire from God’s people.”
Story by Dave Eck