Franciscan Sisters leave St. Theresa after 71 years

KEKAHA — For seven decades, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity have mentored, taught and inspired Kauai’s youth. Tonight, Sister Michael Ann O’Donnell, Sister Janet Rose and Sister Mary Ann bid farewell to St. Theresa and the Kekaha community.

“There’s a lot of bittersweet tears and bittersweet feelings,” Sister Mary Ann said. “The whole community, all the sisters from the beginning, we’ve been here for 71 years working at the school and the parish. It’s hard. It’s hard to leave, but we also understand that our community really doesn’t have the personnel anymore to really continue staffing the school.”

Cleaning out the convent on Tuesday, the sisters said their final aloha to their home, parish and clergy. St. Theresa Catholic School Principal Wendy Castillo said she will miss the sisters terribly.

“They are a living reminder of our Mission Statement and the values which guide our school,” Castillo said in an email. “It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to our Sisters, and with deep gratitude that we say thank you for the time, love, and dedication … Sister Janet, Sister Mary Ann and Sister Michael Ann, we love you.”

Back in 1946, four Sisters travelled to Kauai to serve at St. Theresa. The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity have been a cornerstone on the Westside since then and have been quintessential in the formation of St. Theresa Parish and school.

But due to decreasing numbers and the aging of the Sisters, the Sisters have no choice but to return to Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

“Years ago, we had many Sisters and we were able to work in many different places, lots of different states around the country,” Sister Mary Ann said. “But over the years, our numbers have gone down. We’ve had to withdraw from other places. Basically, we just don’t have the numbers anymore. And that’s why we’re leaving.”

The three Sisters will return to the motherhouse in Manitowoc, where the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity was founded in 1869. Sister Mary Ann has been with St. Theresa for just one year, Sister Michael Ann for four while Sister Janet Rose has been at St. Theresa for a total of 11 years.

Despite feeling melancholy about leaving, Sister Mary Ann finds solace in her memories of the Garden Isle. Specifically, the spirit of aloha that entered her life when she arrived to the islands.

“When I first got here, I was taken by the beauty of all these islands, the flowering trees and plants,” she said. “My classroom was on the second floor of the school and I could look out and see the ocean, and that’s something that not too many schools can say.”

As for Sister Janet Rose, the smiles of the children will stay with her, no matter where she goes.

“It has been a rewarding experience just to meet all the wonderful people and children to work together and share faith with them,” Sister Janet Rose said. “It’s been a very humbling experience. We’re just ordinary people and they’ve been so kind to us. It’s just great working together with them for the benefit of their children and the rest of the community.”

Sister Michael Ann did not want to comment on their departure.

While they are returning to the motherhouse, the Sisters will soon go their separate ways. Sister Michael Ann will remain at the motherhouse along with Sister Mary Ann and 240 of their other sisters.

Sister Mary Ann will assist in transporting the other sisters to airports and train stations before undergoing a knee procedure this fall.

Sister Janet Rose plans to move to Yuma, Arizona to become a teacher’s assistant. Or as she calls it, the last page before a new chapter in her life.

“I would call it the beginning of my retirement. I will no longer have a full classroom, but I will be working with a teacher and tutoring students who need extra help,” she said.

Sister Janet said the St. Theresa Carnival was something she looked forward to each year, but the most recent one was hard to enjoy.

“It was difficult, knowing that it was our last, knowing that we probably won’t come back again,” she said.

Instead of a traditional exit, Sister Janet leaves Kauai with one final lesson for the children.

“God is always with you, no matter happens,” she said. “And he will always love you.”

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