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home : features : people of faith

6/11/2015 9:00:00 AM
YEAR FOR CONSECRATED LIFE
Sister's journey: across the U.S., home in Ballston Spa
SISTER NANCY
SISTER NANCY
BY KATHLEEN LAMANNA
STAFF WRITER

Sister Nancy Schmidt, CSJ, seems at home in her small office at St. Mary's School in Ballston Spa, where two red chairs and a small table have given her the opportunity to talk with parishioners so many times over the past seven years.

The adult faith formation coordinator seems to have settled there after serving everywhere else in the United States.

A Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet for 54 years -- "give or take a few," she said -- Sister Nancy has seized every opportunity thrown her way since she entered the convent in 1958.

She taught junior-high science for 17 years: "Teaching gives you a lot of skills for your future." Then the Syracuse native moved to South Hollywood, Calif., to help impoverished people on the outskirts of the San Fernando Valley.

For four years, she assisted a parish priest in developing programs for the poor.

"One of the needs was just for people to stay the night," said Sister Nancy; "so we converted a bathroom outside the gym [into a bedroom]. They could stay there a certain number of nights. We stuck a bunk bed in there and made a shower."

In the early '80s, Sister Nancy went to work for Catholic Charities in Richland, N.Y. She helped build a medical clinic in an old farmhouse, staying for two years and then heading to Tucson, Ariz., for a similar project. She also worked with people joining the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. After stints in New York and Boston, she found herself working with RCIA candidates in Charleston, S.C., for seven years.

"Oh, I was in Texas, too! I forgot to tell you that!"

Sister Nancy spent four years in Houston, during which the Challenger space shuttle exploded. Some of the astronauts on the fateful 1986 mission were her parishioners.

These days, she's happy at St. Mary's in Ballston Spa, helping with RCIA and bringing communion to the sick and homebound.

"The job here is just whatever needs to be done," she said. "I do a lot of greeting people when they come in; some people really just need to talk."

Sister Nancy leads Bible studies twice a week and RCIA sessions on Sundays for up to a dozen participants. She says working with RCIA candidates is the best part of her job: "You're dealing with adults who really want this; it's a very fulfilling process.

"It's not a program, it's a process," she added. "If it's a program, that means it begins at a certain time and it ends at a certain time. It's a lifelong process, if you do it right. We're always trying to convert ourselves and get closer to the Lord."

In August, participants get an introduction to the faith. If they are new to Catholicism, Sister Nancy takes them around the church and talks about its features: "We have to pinpoint where these people are in their faith."

Before Christmas, the RCIA candidates and catechumens are introduced to the congregation during a small ceremony after Mass. A candidate is a person of another Christian denomination who becomes a Catholic; a catechumen is a person of a non-Christian faith or of no previous religious background who desires to join the Church.

The process culminates at the Easter vigil Mass, where catechumens are baptized, receive the Eucharist and are confirmed. (Candidates have already been baptized.)

Sometimes, a person who has completed the RCIA process stops coming to church. "I feel sad about that," said Sister Nancy, "but I also know they had a good experience." Whether the new Catholic has moved away or is not active in the faith, she believes the person has learned about "the wholeness of God."

Reflecting on the thousands of people she has come into contact with during her years in ministry, Sister Nancy most recalls the generosity of the people who lived with lower incomes. For example, a group she worked with in Houston set up a furniture store for the parish, bringing home furnishings to people who really needed them.

Those who needed furniture the most were always looking for pieces for other people: "The people that have so little are so glad to share."

As for herself, Sister Nancy has always felt part of a community. When she got a new assignment, she said, "I just got on a plane and left. But I always had a good support system."





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