Clockwise from left: Sisters Pauline Oetgen, CSJ; Justine Ostini, CSJ Therese Galarneau, PHJC; and Rebecca Campbell, CSJ Photographs by Bruce Fornes and Jamie Morgan.
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Four religious sisters feted for 30 years of service to the Saint John, Valdosta community

Originally Appeared in : 9907-3/28/19

The 275 people—not including the many on the waiting list—who filled the St. John the Evangelist parish center to capacity March 21 to bid farewell to the “Sisters of St. John’s” visually confirmed the conspicuous impact of the four women whose daily presence graced the Valdosta parish community for approximately 30 years. 

 

Sisters Rebecca Campbell, Pauline Oetgen, Justine Ostini—members of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet—and Sister Therese Galarneau—a Poor Handmaid of Jesus Christ—are leaving the Diocese of Savannah to return to their respective motherhouses in Missouri and Indiana.

 

“I almost cried just looking at those faces [at their farewell Mass] and thinking, ‘This is what community is really about. This is what it really means to be Catholic,” Pam Rickman, a faculty member who cantored at the Mass preceding the dinnertime reception, said, making sure to explain that she is not an “outwardly emotional person.” “It’s all those ages; it’s all those generations; it’s all those people whose hearts have been touched by these sisters and who want to be here to honor them, including a number of parishioners who have moved away or children of parishioners who have grown and gone away and they came back for this event. So I think that speaks volumes about their influence.” 

 

Over their 30 years at the parish, the presence of these four religious living out their charisms became  part of the “everyday fabric” of the parish and especially its school, Melanie Lasseter, a former principal and former faculty member whose own children were also taught or influenced by the sisters, said. 

 

In a written testimony she provided to Sister Margaret Downing, RSM, the diocesan delegate for consecrated life, Lasseter provided many examples of and anecdotes for the various capacities in which each of the sisters served while in Valdosta, their most recent diocesan appointment.

 

Sisters Oetgen, Ostini and Galarneau, she wrote, all served as teachers—at some point Oetgen also served as a principal and Galarneau an assistant principal—and Sister Campbell served as school secretary, nurse, photographer and chair of many a school fundraiser and campus beautification project. Some of the sisters also served as mentors to Lasseter and Rickman while at the school. 

 

Lasseter said that even after their individual retirements, the sisters continued to be a presence in the community by visiting the homebound and offering to transport parishioners to the grocery store or to doctor’s appointments and, for Sisters Ostini and Galarneau—who retired after Sisters Oetgen and Campbell—at the school where they prayed with the children or volunteered to help those struggling with their studies.

 

“They will remember how kind they are, and how generous and giving they are in the sharing of their time and their talents,” Lasseter said of their legacy.  “And they were always there. Whenever we had any kind of parish event, the sisters showed up. From the beginning they didn’t miss a beat.” 

 

Rickman, a social studies and religion teacher in St. John the Evangelist’s middle school, said that while she values the sisters’ complete devotion to their ministries as well as to living in community, their sense of humor, and the way they mentored her as a teacher, the students value how the sisters helped them to feel important.  

 

“They made each child feel special, made each child feel welcome,” Rickman said, not only of her students but also of her own children who like Rickman’s were also influenced by the sisters. Often, she said the sisters were highlighted in her class’ writing assignments about faith models or as part of vocations essay contest entries. “They were so good at recognizing the gifts in each child.” 

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