Woman religious raised on a Maryland farm has devoted life to planting seeds of faith
Jul 29, 2018
Sister Ann Parker – who for more than 25 years served at one time or another as catechist, director of religious education and youth ministry and pastoral associate at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in North Beach – says her leaving the southern Maryland parish does not mean parishioners’ learning is over.
“If I did my job well, then they (parishioners) can continue it. I came here to teach them, to be with them, and now they must carry on,” Sister Ann said. “I want the people here to know that it has been a joy to be with them, and now it is time for me to move on and reach out to others.”
A member of the Scranton, Pennsylvania-based Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for 57 years, Sister Ann stressed that she has no intention of slowing down.
“I am not retiring. I … will move to the Church of the Little Flower (in Bethesda) where there will be ministry options to be explored,” she said.
Whatever those “ministry options to be explored” that Sister Ann chooses to pursue, she knows it will be in the field of education.
“Building up the faith community has always been important to me, and has always intrigued me so I have always tried to provide opportunities for people to enrich their faith,” she said.
In her nearly six decades as an IHM sister, St. Ann has served in education as teacher, principal, DRE and pastoral associate. In the Archdiocese of Washington, prior to serving at St. Anthony’s, she served as principal at Archbishop Neale School in La Plata from 1978 to 1988 and at St.Mary, Star of the Sea School in Indian Head from 1988 to 1992. She also spent many years as a teacher and principal in North Carolina.
Sister Ann, who is nearly 80, is a native of this area. She was raised on a farm in Piscataway and attended St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Upper Marlboro.
“I’m a country girl and being raised on a farm I learned the value of hard work, collaboration with others and trusting in God,” she said. “These days, I’m cultivating and planting different kinds of seeds. In many ways, my work (as an educator) is similar to that of the farmer except that the reaping is not always mine to experience.”
Sister Ann attended St. Mary of the Assumption School in Upper Marlboro, which was staffed by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and later attended the now-closed St. Cecilia Academy in Washington, which was staffed by the Sisters of the Holy Cross. As she began to consider her religious vocation while still a high school student, Sister Ann said “I liked the Holy Cross Sisters, but there was something about the spirit of the IHMs that captured my heart.”
Founded in 1845 in Monroe, Michigan, the order is active in education and social work ministries.
“I believe that we never stop learning about the faith. We are lifelong faith learners. I want people to look at their faith in relation to where life has taken them,” she said.
To that end, while at St. Anthony Parish, Sister Ann initiated adult and family education programs “with interactive events and activities.” She also required parents to be active in their children’s preparation for the sacraments.
“I’ve always said to parents, ‘You carry them at Baptism, you need to stand with them at (the sacrament of) Reconciliation and when they receive the Eucharist’,” she explained. “We need to teach parents how to share their faith with their kids.”
In working with children, parents and parishioners of all ages, Sister Ann said that “I have become poignantly aware of a spiritual hunger in their lives. People today are pulled in conflicting directions, especially parents, and often the living and practicing of the faith gets shifted down the priority ladder.”
To address that “spiritual hunger,” Sister Ann said that she “has always been intrigued” by the notion of a parish as a faith community.
“Family faith programs have always been important to me,” she said. She offered presentations during annual parish retreats, facilitated a “Fostering Faith Together” monthly program for parents and also presented “whole community catechesis.”
As part of that catechesis project, Sister Ann said, “I would prepare interactive sessions during the year on relevant topics designed to help promote a greater understanding of the faith. Some of these included Advent, Lent, Mary, the Rosary and a Church Tour.”
Outside of her educational duties, Sister Ann has been active within her order.
“I travel to North Carolina three times a year to participate in a mission group of 10 Sisters known as the Light Bears,” she explained. “These times of prayer, discussion on community issues, sharing our stories of life and ministry and just being together are special times of IHM bonding for me.”
In addition, Sister Ann oversees two IHM associate programs, where “we develop a deeper relationship with people who want to explore our charism,” she said. She meets monthly with a group of eight in La Plata and another group of eight in North Beach.
“This is a good life,” Sister Ann said of a religious vocation. “It’s just knowing that you are part of a religious community that is also like a family. With a community, you are inspired not just by one person, but by what can we do together.”
While the location of her ministry may changes, Sister Ann said that she will continue on as she has for nearly 60 years.
“For me, it's what the Gospel and mission of Jesus call me to do and be. I have come to realize how spiritually poor many people are today and it is this faith poverty that I feel called to address in my ministry,” she said. “I want to keep on working for the Lord as long as I can, helping people be close to God and to be holy.”
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