Story and Pictures by Julie Ferraro

A fitting end to the Year of Consecrated Life took place in the Diocese of Gallup on Saturday, February 6, at Sacred Heart Cathedral, when the community gathered to pay tribute to four religious serving in the Diocese who celebrate their jubilees of religious profession this year.

Beginning with a delicious brunch in the Family Center, Sr. Catherine Clemons, DC, welcomed those present, including Bishop James Wall. She presented the opening prayer, A Blessing of Angels by John O’Donohue before the meal.

Bishop Wall spoke afterward about how much he and the Diocese valued the lives and service of the jubilarians: Sr. Maria Magdalena Studer, SC, Sr. René Backe, CSA, Sr. Natalie Bussiere, SNDdeN, and Rev. Gilbert Schneider, OFM. Each jubilarian, in turn, stood and reflected on their years as vowed religious, with Sr. Magdalena summing it up well, “I still love what I do.”

A Mass in the cathedral followed the brunch, with six concelebrants, and Dr. Randolph Copeland, the new diocesan chancellor, serving as deacon. Each jubilarian processed into the church, while a brief biography was read. Then, the congregation sang a joyful, “Alleluia!” in praise and thanksgiving.

Sr. Maria Magdalena Studer, SC, (65 years) is a Sister of Charity of St. Elizabeth, whose motherhouse is in Convent Station, New Jersey. She grew up in Maplewood, NJ, and spent 47 years in the field of education prior to coming to the Diocese of Gallup. Eight of those years, Sister taught math at St. Catherine Indian School in Santa Fe. Currently, Sr. Magdalena lives and serves St. Berard Parish in Navajo, New Mexico, as well as the mission at Sawmill, Arizona.

Sr. René Backe, CSA, (60 years) is director of Sacred Heart Retreat Center, academic director of the Deacon and Lay Ministry Formation Program for the Diocese, and the Bishop’s Delegate for Religious. She came to the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes after growing up in Crown Point, Indiana. She has been a teacher, principal, and director of novices throughout the Midwest.

Sr. Natalie Bussiere, SNDdeN, (60 years) grew up in Massachusetts, and has been teacher and principal throughout her religious life as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur. After 19 years as principal at St. Bonaventure School, Thoreau, she is now Director of Development for St. Bonaventure Indian Mission.

Rev. Gilbert Schneider, OFM, (60 years) came to the Order of Friars Minor from his home in Hamilton, Ohio. Within the Diocese of Gallup, he has served at Laguna, Zuni and St. Michaels, along with Peña Blanca in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. He was elected as Minister Provincial of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province of the Franciscans, after which he returned to the Diocese of Gallup, now pastor at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Fort Defiance, Arizona, and its missions at Sawmill and Navajo.

In his homily, Bishop Wall quoted from Popes John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis about the value of consecrated life. Following the Prayer of the Faithful, Bishop Wall called all the religious present to stand with the jubilarians and renew their vows, a moving moment in which they asked, through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, “to live this commitment faithfully.”

“On behalf of the Church,” declared Bishop Wall, “I thank you for your years of commitment, ministry, and service to the People of God. I pray for the blessings of peace, joy, and continued fidelity for each of you.”

The event concluded with a reception in the Family Center, where the many religious communities serving in the Diocese were featured in pictorial displays.

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