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Nuns face challenges, blessings

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Sister Cecilia Mary Sartorius, new mother superior of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Oregon, is getting to know the residents of the Sacred Heart Home for the Aged, including Florence Wawrzyniak, 99.

The Blade/Lori King
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The Little Sisters of the Poor, the religious order that owns and operates the Sacred Heart Home for the Aged in Oregon, have a new mother superior.

Sister Cecilia Mary Sartorius, who had been serving as mother superior of the order's Cincinnati chapter, was transferred to Toledo late last month.

Sister Ann Joseph Doyle, the Oregon nuns' previous mother superior, was transferred to Cincinnati by the order's headquarters in Baltimore.

Sister Cecilia said in an interview this week that one of her first priorities is getting to know the 10 nuns in the local chapter, the home's 70 full-time residents, and the 80 employees and numerous volunteers.

A native of Detroit, the energetic mother superior said it is both a challenge and a blessing to be the administrator of a home like Sacred Heart, which offers independent-living apartments, assisted living, and skilled nursing care.

Finances are a concern, especially of late, but the needs are always met, she said.

"Times are tough, some donations are down, but when times are tough people do think more about the poor," Sister Cecilia said.

Members of the religious order take vows of poverty and the nuns are known worldwide for begging for food and funds.

Sister Cecilia said the sisters have learned to rely on God's providence.

"Sure, we worry sometimes. We have 80 employees and sometimes it looks like there's not enough to pay them. But then a check arrives or money comes in and we always have enough," she said.

Payments from the residents cover slightly more than half the annual budget for the Sacred Heart Home, according to Bill Cook, director of development. The rest comes from donations.

Sister Cecilia said she knew early in life that she wanted to be a nun, but she didn't want to be a teacher like the nuns she had in school.

"They were so prim and proper, with their habits all perfect," she said. "I knew that wasn't for me. Then I met the Little Sisters. I saw them with their sleeves rolled up while they were cleaning and taking care of the elderly. I've never ever regretted it."

She said she has always enjoyed being around senior citizens, calling them a gift to the community and people who speak their mind and are full of joy and wisdom.

"And who doesn't have an elderly mother or grandmother? We love our residents and want them to be happy and make sure they're well cared for," Sister Cecilia said.

Mr. Cook pointed out that Sacred Heart Home was rated tops in Lucas County last year by an independent family survey.

Last week, Sister Cecilia walked the halls of the home looking to get to know the residents better, including Florence Wawrzyniak, a native of North Toledo who will turn 100 years old in March, and Anna Rinkowski, 88, who grew up in the Goose Hill neighborhood of North Toledo. "My father had the geese," she said.

This is the 125th year the Little Sisters of the Poor have had a presence in northwest Ohio. The order was founded by St. Jeanne Jugan, born in 1792 in revolutionary France and canonized last October by Pope Benedict XVI.

Today there are 2,700 Little Sisters of the Poor worldwide.

Sister Cecilia said she welcomes the Vatican's current "apostolic visitation" of American nuns to study the "quality of life" of women religious.

She said she hopes the visitation will help to find ways of attracting more women into religious orders.

Sister Cecilia said a second Vatican-ordered investigation of U.S. nuns, an assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious led by Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair, does not apply to the Little Sisters because they are among the 5 percent of American nuns that do not belong to the LCWR.

She said she believes that young people are attracted to the Little Sisters of the Poor either for vocations, volunteers, or for financial support, "because of our family spirit and because we are very focused. We take care of the elderly and the poor, and that's a very necessary purpose."

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.

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