Presentation sisters celebrate 60th, 80th jubilees

DUBUQUE — Sisters Mary Matthew Cunningham and Mary Damian O’Brien celebrated their 80th anniversary of religious life as Sisters of the Presentation on Aug. 15. Joining them at Mass in Sacred Heart Chapel followed by dinner were members of their Presentation community.

The theme of the jubilee was based on the readings for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and celebrating Mary as a model of radical hospitality.

Sister Mary Matthew Cunningham, originally from Clare, Iowa, the daughter of the late John F. Cunningham and Anna Mahoney Cunningham, entered the Sisters of the Presentation in 1938 and professed final vows in 1944.

Currently of Dubuque, Sister Mary Matthew is in community prayer and service at Sisters of the Presentation Mount Loretto. For 50-plus years, she taught piano, organ and instrumental music in Catholic elementary and high schools in Ryan, Fairbank, Farley, Charles City, Storm Lake, Waukon, Mason City, Algona and Whittemore, all in Iowa. She also served as a parish organist.

Sister Matthew has possessed a passion for music since childhood. She shared her talents when she retired to Mount Loretto in 1995 and, for several years, accompanied the sisters for Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours. Putting new words to familiar melodies, she would compose parodies for special occasions. With changes in her health, Sister -Matthew continues to appreciate the music provided by other sisters and associates.

Reflecting on her 80 years of religious life, Sister Mary Matthew states, “My religious vocation is a great blessing for me and always has been. I rely heavily on God’s generous gifts of grace to live as his spouse. This jubilee celebrates a life that brings me closer to God and more able to do God’s will.”

Sister Mary Damian O’Brien, originally from Ryan, Iowa, daughter of the late Dr. William S. O’Brien and Mrs. Bernice Tumey O’Brien, entered the Sisters of the Presentation in 1938 and professed final vows in 1944.

Currently of Dubuque, Sister Mary Damian is in community prayer and service at Sisters of the Presentation Mount Loretto. She is a volunteer with the Office of Archives of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

For 26 years, Sister Mary Damian taught piano, organ, vocal and instrumental/band music at Catholic elementary schools in Dubuque, Dougherty, Lawler, Osage and Mason City, all in Iowa. She served in congregational leadership and formation for Sisters of the Presentation, Dubuque, for 10 years; as choir director at Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey; as local director at Mount Loretto motherhouse; as administrator of Villa Raphael home for retired priests, Dubuque; as a member of the deacon formation team of the Archdiocese of Dubuque; as pastoral minister at parishes in Charles City and Castle Grove-Coggon-Prairieburg cluster, all in Iowa, and in South St. Paul, Minnesota. During her years in parish ministry, Sister Damian also accompanied at parish liturgies in Monticello, Coggon, Prairieburg, Ryan, Monti and Placid, all in Iowa.

Celebrating this jubilee moment and the meaning of her religious vocation, Sister Damian comments, “After 80 years as a religious, I think it is the best decision I’ve ever made! I have always aimed to serve and to be of help to others. I thank the Lord for being so good to me!”

“The life and work of our Presentation foundress, Nano Nagle, are so inspiring and inviting,” she reflects. “Nano’s service seems so easy despite the hardships she endured; and yet she persevered. She has been a great model for me! And her lantern still lights the way.”

Dubuque Presentation Sisters Cecelia Marie Auterman, Therese Corkery and Carolyn “Carrie” Link, all of whom previously served in the Archdiocese of Dubuque, celebrated their 60th anniversary of entering religious life as Sisters of the Presentation, July 18. Joining them at Mass in Sacred Heart Chapel followed by brunch were Presentation sisters and associates.

The theme of the jubilee day was “Wisdom is radiant and unfading. She graciously appears to them in their paths and meets them in every thought,” based on the Scripture of Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16.

 Sister Cecelia Marie Auterman, originally from Monona, Iowa, daughter of the late George Auterman and Leona McGill Auterman, entered the Sisters of the Presentation in 1958 and professed perpetual vows in 1967.

Currently of Dubuque, Sister Cecelia Marie is receptionist at Mount Loretto, Sisters of the Presentation. She taught for 27 years in Catholic schools in Whittemore, Farley, Dubuque, Key West and Cedar Rapids, all in Iowa. Most of that time she taught reading and math to small groups of students in grades 1-8; and for nine years she served as a teacher at Sylvan Learning Center in Dubuque. She was attendance secretary at Regis High School in Cedar Rapids for three years.

Sister Cecelia’s skills also abound in the art of baking. She provides sweet treats for shut-ins, for Mount Loretto festivities – especially for the sisters on the assisted living floor, for friends and family and for bake sales. When pie is on the menu, she makes the pie crusts. Her math and reading education skills shine in Sister Cecelia’s avid pursuit of a game of Scrabble or many a card game. Dedicated to integrated wellness, she walks almost daily and always has a good novel to read.

Reflecting on her years of religious life, Sister Cecelia states, “These 60 years have passed rather quickly, it seems. My varied experiences have been enriching. I have been greatly blessed as a member of this community.”

Sister Mary Therese Corkery, originally from Fairbank, Iowa, daughter of the late J. C. Corkery and Margaret Staebell Corkery, entered the Sisters of the Presentation in 1958 and professed perpetual vows in 1966.

Since 2013, Sister Therese has been serving a second assignment as a missionary in Bolivia. She currently works with adults on sacramental preparation classes in Entre Ríos and coordinates the baptism and marriage preparation teams and works with on-going formation in the parish of Entre Ríos. In the city of Tarija, Sister Therese coordinates the use of Casa Betania for retreats, a gathering area for university students to work on group projects and a meeting place for those who need a space. She also is a volunteer at CEEBA (a school for the differently abled) and at VIDA DIGNA (a home for teenagers who have been abused sexually, physically, mentally or psychologically).

Sister Therese’s earliest ministry was as classroom teacher of home economics, food and nutrition in Catholic high schools in Mason City, Dubuque and Waterloo, and Home Economics Head at Clarke College, Dubuque, all in Iowa. She first journeyed as a missionary to Bolivia in 1972, serving as director of the Academia de la Presentacíon in Entre Ríos from 1973 to 1987. Returning to the U.S. in 1987, Sister Therese was co-director of La Posada del Valle, a foster home for differently abled and medically needy children in San Juan, Texas. For 11 years, she was a caregiver at Comfort House in McAllen, Texas, and at Aurora House in Weslaco, Texas, a nonprofit residence for the terminally-ill.

What wisdom has Sister Therese received throughout her years as a Presentation Sister? “Religious life is a call to continue to follow the Gospel message professed by my parents and godparents at my baptism. As a Presentation Sister, this call continues to lead me to be in solidarity with those made poor,” she states.

 Sister Carolyn “Carrie” Link, originally from Waukon, Iowa, daughter of the late Elmer and Eleanor Ernster Link, entered the Sisters of the Presentation in 1958 and professed perpetual vows in 1966.

Currently of Monticello, Minnesota, Sister Carrie is liturgist at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Mound, Minnesota, and Christian initiation director and spiritual director at the Church of St. Henry in Monticello since 1990.

Previously she taught and was principal in Catholic schools from 1963 to 1983 in Lawler, Farley, Sheldon and Dubuque, all in Iowa, and in Oregon, Illinois. She also served as pastoral minister from 1983 to 1990 in Knoxville and Nevada, Iowa.

As an artist trained in classical realism, Sister Carrie uses her artistic abilities for many projects as colored pencil paintings and iconography.

Her portrait of Presentation foundress, Nano Nagle, is popular across the Presentation world. Her artistry is also evident in various facets of her liturgical ministry.

Celebrating the wisdom of life and vocation, Sister Carrie reflects, “Wisdom has made herself known throughout the winding lanes of my religious life. As a 17-year-old I would never have imagined all that would encompass my journey: the joys, challenges and times of deep gratitude. Today, as with the ways of Wisdom, I have the long view of my life, all comes together in the mystery of God’s grace.”

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