Most sixth-graders calculate the number of school days before summer vacation. Sister Francis Anne Gilchrist, CSJ, contemplated the number of days before she could become a nun.

Her first-grade teacher at St. Brigid's School in Watervliet was the first religious to inspire her vocation. Her elder brother, the late Rev. Frank Gilchrist of the Albany Diocese, followed.

"I believe we only have one life. I saw that those people had given their one life to the service of others," said Sister Fran, whose vocation was a no-brainer by the time she reached high school. "I realized as an eighth-grader that I wanted to use that one life to help people get to heaven."

The suspense made her first weeks of study at the age of 18 emotional. "I can remember just standing in the yard and realizing that I had finally entered" religious life, she recalled.

Sister Fran, who retired last year as director of The Priory Retreat House in Chestertown, marked her 60th anniversary as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet last weekend.

Thirty-nine other jubilarians also celebrated anniversaries in religious life during a ceremony at the order's provincial house in Latham.

"The reason we celebrate is to praise God for His blessings on us," Sister Fran told The Evangelist. "It's not us. It's God's fidelity and grace to us."

Splitting her ministry between the Albany and Syracuse Dioceses, Sister Fran spent two decades teaching, a few years instructing novices and studying in Rome, five years as Syracuse's vicar for religious and, finally, three decades at The Priory.

She witnessed changes to both Catholic culture and that of her order, brought about by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

For instance, the new suggestions lifted the ban on night outings for women religious attending meetings. Service specialties available for sisters were broadened to include not only teaching and nursing, but jail ministry, parish administration, hospital chaplaincy, addiction counseling, massage therapy and more.

"You can witness to the Gospel no matter what you're doing," Sister Fran noted.

That's the message given by her order's founder, Rev. Jean-Pierre Medaille, who also instructed the earliest Sisters of St. Joseph to dress as widows did - in black robes with veils and white scarves - so they didn't appear superior to the people they served.

The style became a habit until the late 1960s, when Vatican II mandated that religious communities return to the spirit of their founders. Today, Sister Fran buys her clothes from thrift shops; the outfit she wore to her jubilee cost $24, she said.

Sister Fran enjoys reminiscing about the course of her life as a woman religious. She remembered many students, especially those at Rome Catholic High School in the Syracuse Diocese, where a boy once made pink oxygen in her chemistry class.

Sister Fran taught in Amsterdam, Troy and Catskill; she recalled being assigned to St. Pius X School in Loudonville, which lacked sidewalks back then: "I still remember the mud," she laughed.

Her favorite aspect of her career was something she still practices today: giving people encouragement and helping them develop personal relationships with God.

"It often made me more faithful in my own prayer time," Sister Fran said.

The jubilarian never regretted entering the community, even at a young age.

"I grew up in religious life," she said. "I think it gave me a strong center around which to live my life. It was certainly given to me by my family, but it was so strengthened by the community."

Still busy in retirement, Sister Fran attends morning Mass and works in the order's community life team office. In January, she ran a program for centenarians, nonagenarians and octogenarians on caring for the body, laughter and growing old gracefully.

She's participating in an eight-week brain aerobics study at The College of Saint Rose in Albany and taking watercolor classes and knitting lessons. Factor into that her visits with 22 nieces and nephews, and it's safe to say she's happy.

"I have the most wonderful life in the world," she declared.

Other Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet marking jubilees were:
75th: Sisters Robertine Flaherty, Therese Lynch, Helen Eugene McNally, Mary Joan Newell, Lois Marie Sivero
70th: Sisters Julianne Gleason, Barbara Hesler, Mary Alfred Holdredge
60th: Sisters Francis Anne Gilchrist, Mary Brigada Lombardi, Joan Thomas McNerney, Monica Agnes Nortz, Mary Rehfuss (Mary Dismas), Natalie Marie Slake
50th: Sisters Ann Marie Ball (William Ann), Mary Raphael Barry, Maria Bouleris (Maria Albert), Janet Marie Cavanaugh Miriam George), Elizabeth Costanzo (Lawrence Louise), Catherine Joseph Croghan, Mary Louise Dolan (Bernard Eileen), Elizabeth Ann Emery (Margaret Frederick), Mary Ann Fetcho (Catherine Stephen), Karen Theresa Gaube, John Joseph Gilligan, Patricia Grasso (John Damien), Anne Catherine Gratton (Catherine Wilfred), Nancy Gregg, Phyllis Ann Mauger (Martin Patrick), Katherine McPeak (Marion Patrick), Monica Murphy (Sean Marie), Rosemary Reilly (Edwin Marie), Esther Thomas Sexton, Anne Bryan Smollin, Mary Alice St. John (Florence John), Teresa Walsh (Maria Bernard), Sharon Ann Whellahan (John Michael), Agnes Leo Winkle
25th: Sisters Christine Pologa, Diane Zigo