Marking 80 years of religious life was Sister Mary Constance Fitzgerald, 97, who was joined by her sister and brother: Sister Anne Gertrude Fitzgerald, 96, who last year celebrated her 75th anniversary as a CSJ, and Redemptorist Father Bill Fitzgerald, 93, and a priest for 68 years (42 of them in Brazil as a missionary). No doubt they were joined in spirit by Sister Catherine Anita Fitzgerald, who died several years ago, at age 86, having been a CSJ for 67 years with many years served as librarian at Mount St. Mary’s College.
That’s 290 years which the four Fitzgeralds have given collectively in ministry to the people of God, with Sister Constance still adding to that total as she tutors students at Mount St. Mary’s and assists a religious from India who is taking a course in writing.
The day after the jubilee celebration, Sister Constance spent a quiet afternoon walking on the grounds of the Self-Realization Fellowship in Pacific Palisades, enjoying its quiet and peace. Such peacefulness, she says, has been the key to her longevity in religious life.
“I just balance things,” she says, citing a balance of the spiritual life, recreation and service that has made a difference for her. Moreover, “I was flexible; I was willing to take on a ministry when there was a need,” she explains, even though, she admits, “at the end of every mission I cried when I left.”
Sister Constance has also embraced the diversity of her assignments, primarily in education. “I’ve spent many satisfying years as a teacher,” she says. “I was willing to teach English to farm workers, and in Guaymas, Mexico, I worked with homeless old men. I answered the call when there was a need and the ministries all enriched my life — especially working with the poor and homeless.”
A few years ago she was approached about teaching a class in writing to the retired and elderly CSJs at Carondelet Center. “Righto,” she responded, and to this day the class is called “Write-O.” The class “helps them with their memory,” says Sister Constance, “and they have a lot of fun. I’ve taught them how to write Haikus [Japanese poetry] and to incorporate their own personal stories and history in their writing.”
With a real thirst for justice that she feels “must be genetic,” Sister Constance also has formed a group of retired sisters into what she calls JAM (Justice Action Ministry), which writes letters to congressmen related to pending legislation. But her happiest days, she says, were teaching high school English, which was evident at her jubilee when she heard from students from nearly every high school in which she taught.
“I loved working with people and the richness that came from the experience,” she says. “The secret is to have the ability to go beyond the mundane.”