Sisters of St. Joseph Celebrate Jubilees

by Joy Batteh-Freiha

Some came from faraway lands others a little more close by. Either way, they came with a purpose and a mission that has lasted decades and touched the lives of thousands.

On Oct. 18, at 10 a.m., five Sisters of St. Joseph will be honored at a Jubilee Mass of Thanksgiving at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine.

Sister St. Margaret Zapf will be honored for 80 years of service. The Miami native credits her father for his faithful example, for her decision to become a Sister.

“My father was an excellent Catholic,” said the 97-year-old Zapf. “He had great respect for the Eucharist. Besides my father’s influence, the Sisters of St. Joseph who taught me in school are the ones who inspired me the most,” added Zapf who taught school herself for 40 years and served as chaplain at Mercy Hospital in Miami for 21 years.

For those considering religious life, Sister St. Margaret advises that young women seek help from the Lord and His grace, to be the best in all they do.

Sister St. Margaret enjoys crocheting, working with plants, flowers and herbs, and used to love to tap dance.

In 1939, Sister Noreen O’Connor left her native homeland of Ireland to serve the missions of Florida. She had answered an ad in an Irish newspaper inviting young women to serve the Lord in Florida. Today, Sister Noreen is celebrating 75 years of service doing God’s work from teaching first grade in Catholic schools throughout Florida, to serving as administrator of St. Mary’s Home in Jacksonville.

The one person she say inspired her the most, was Sister Michael in her native Ireland. “I owe my vocation to her,” Sister Noreen said. Although currently residing at All Saints Nursing Home in Jacksonville, Sister Noreen says she rejoices in the graces of 75 years in the Lord’s service.

Sister Thomas Joseph McGoldrick was born in Queens County, New York, in 1926. She attended Catholic schools in her hometown until the 10th grade, when she relocated to St. Augustine and completed high school as a resident at St. Joseph Academy in 1944. A year later, she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph, became a novice and received her holy habit. In 1950, she professed her final vows.

A natural at teaching, Sister Thomas Joseph taught grade school and high school for 55 years, and served as president of St. Joseph College in Jensen Beach for two years. Later, she was called to leadership in the Congregation as General Superior through 1978.

In 2000, she was appointed Archivist for the Congregation, and in 2007, became a published author of a book on the Sisters of St. Joseph, “Beyond the Call.”

When it comes to advising novices or young women considering a life of religious, she says, “It takes a generous heart, dedication and a willingness to work for the Lord, regardless of the obstacles.”

In her free time, Sister Thomas Joseph enjoys doing leather work and carving.

Miami native Sister Margaret Jeanne Keller is a product of a deeply religious family. She is known by her fellow sisters and others, as having a compassionate heart and a listening ear.

After graduating from Notre Dame Academy’s first graduating class, she had planned on a career in nursing, but the influence of her own sister, Sister Margaret Victor and a retreat director, encouraging her to pray to realize her true vocation, she found her life’s work in education with the Sisters of St. Joseph.

“My sister’s spirituality and her good works influenced me greatly,” said Sister Margaret Jean.

Sister Margaret Jeanne taught school for 25 years and served as principal for 10. Also, she served eight years as administrator of the Sisters of St. Joseph Assisted Care facility. Also, among other leadership positions, she served as Spiritual and Retreat Director at St. John Neumann Retreat Center in Tallahassee for seven years.

Currently, Sister Margaret Jeanne serves as Assistant at Villa Flora-Brown Hall Renewal Center in St. Augustine, and Coordinator of Our Lady of Lourdes Convent, the residence  for retired, frail and ill sisters.

Sister says she looks forward to all the Jubilee Celebrations. “They are always fantastic,” said Sister Margaret Jeanne. “The main thing that stands out is, making my first vows as a commitment to Jesus to follow His life. What made it extra special was that my sister made final vows at the same time.

Self-proclaimed “Navy Brat,” Sister Josephine Marie Melican was born in San Diego, but traveled throughout the U.S. before her family settled in Jacksonville in 1950.

Sister Josephine Marie, who is also celebrating her 60-year Jubilee, can recall the moment she decided on a life of religious.

“When I was a little girl and my dad was registering me for school, I saw Sister Norberta standing on the porch praying the rosary,” recalled Sister Josephine Marie. “I thought to myself, one day I would be just like her.”

And, when she became a Sister of St. Joseph 60 years ago, Sister Norberta was at her first mission as a teacher at St. Joseph’s Academy in St. Petersburg.

Sister Josephine Marie began teaching elementary and high school students in 1956, in schools in St. Petersburg, Hollywood, Miami and St. Augustine. After earning a Master’s degree in 1971 from Columbia University in New York, she served as Administrator of All Saints Nursing Home in Jacksonville for 10 years, and other facilities.

Currently, Sister Josephine Marie resides at St. Joseph Convent in Orlando, ministering in St. Margaret Mary Parish in Winter Park.

She advises novices and young women considering a life of religious to commit to “quiet prayer.” “Stay in quiet prayer and then follow up by visiting different Orders to see where the Lord is leading,” said Sister Josephine Marie.

Before becoming a Sister of St. Joseph, Sister Josephine Marie was a swimmer with the Red Cross Aqua Maids and performed water ballet. She enjoys reading and cooking.