Music resonates in Franciscan Sisters’ hearts on Sr. Anna Clare Meyer’s 105th birthday  

Music speaks when words are insufficient for the gratitude in a room. Traveling more than 3,000 miles combined, seven accomplished musicians gathered on September 2nd at Queen of Angels Chapel at St. Francis Woods, Frankfort, Illinois, to give Franciscan Sister Anna Clare Meyer a private concert for her 105th birthday.


Her family and the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart living at the Motherhouse had been eagerly anticipating the concert along with Meyer, as she is also celebrating her 85th jubilee as a Sister in the same week. Yet, it was both the kindness of family and of strangers that made the day’s festivities possible. Most of the musicians only knew of her because her nephew by marriage, Trombonist Robert Graham, invited five more trombonists and a tuba player to be a part of the celebration. Graham is a former instructor at the University of Virginia and a former player for the Charlottesville Symphony and Lynchburg Symphony. Also performing were tubist Gene Pokorney and trombonist Michael Mulcahey from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, bass trombonist Heather Miller of the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra in Kentucky, trombonist Matt Williamson who studied trombone at Indiana University, and trombonists Jared Rodin and Ryan Miller from the Indianapolis Orchestra.


Graham said that this concert would never had been performed if it were not for Emory Remington who developed the concept of a trombone choir and advocated a singing style of playing. As a result, he said, Emory Remington has significantly changed the lives of trombonists. Graham commented that what Emory did reminded him of St. Francis of Assisi, who also changed the lives of those he encountered in deeply meaningful ways.


“When they played ‘Happy Birthday,’ and then moved into Tchaikovsky—it was incredible—just beautiful,” said Sr. Joyce Shanabarger, FSSH Community Leader. “Such a very private concert, and it was amazing to be there.”  


As the hour-long concert came to a close, the chapel bells rang out as the clock struck noon. Sr. Margaret Anne Floto, one of the Sisters in attendance who is also a musician, said of the concert, “The harmonies were just beautiful. I think that’s the closest to heaven that I felt here on earth.”


Several family members traveled to attend, including Sr. Anna Clare’s 98-year-old “baby brother” James Meyer. “When she saw him wearing his mask,” caregiver Alicja Kowalska said, “she asked me, ‘Is this my brother James?’ When I nodded, she said, ‘Ohhh, James!’ He pulled down his mask for a moment and she just melted. She was so happy to see him! The last time they saw each other was five years ago for her 100th birthday. Very touching.”


“To see the two of them (Meyer and her brother) was a beautiful moment,” Shanabarger said. “And you can see how much her nieces and nephews love her. I thanked them after the concert, and they were thanking us for taking good care of her.”


“I am so honored I can take care of her,” Kowalska said. “She’s a very special person to me. She’s so thankful, and many times I hear her say aloud, ‘Thank you, God, for sending me Alicja.’ Twelve years I have cared for her. She melts my heart.”


The other Sisters in attendance were visibly moved. “I thanked the musicians, telling them that the Sisters have not had stimulation like this since March,” said Shanabarger. “They replied, ‘And we haven’t had a chance to play together since March,’ so it was a special experience for all.”


“My heart is bursting with joy at being able to celebrate life, resonance and friendship,” Graham told the Sisters and her family.


The final song, “Happy Birthday,” was an arrangement by Mildred Hill and had a touch of Tchaikovsky woven into it. Graham said he “hoped that even if this rendition fell on Sr. Anna Clare’s deaf ears, she would feel the resonance and the good vibrations.” From the look in Sr. Anna Clare’s eyes, even at a distance, his hope was fulfilled. Music wove through the room and knit this close community and its guests even closer. Despite the physical distance except for a few quick camera snapshots—treasures of their musical celebration—Sisters and guests came together to honor how well Meyer lives her life with what the Sisters call “Franciscan joy” and daily gratitude.     (Photos by Sr. Kathleen Moseley)

2020 Jubilarians

Our five Jubilarians were blessed with many prayers, cards and good wishes as well as a car parade in June and a special week-long celebration for each Sister, featuring her in our communications and on our social media platforms.

  • Sister Anna Clare Meyer - 85th Jubilee

    With my whole being I proclaim God’s greatness. My spirit finds joy in God through community life with my Sisters, through a dedication to prayer, and by continually asking, “What’s the gospel today?” I always ask others how they are doing and leave them with, “You pray for me, and I’ll pray for you!” God has filled the hungry with good things through my ministry as a cook at St. Joseph Hospital, Elgin, St. Francis Hospital and St. Vincent Orphanage in Freeport, and at the Bishop’s House in Rockford. In Danville I ministered as a clinical lab aide and by just being with people in their need. I have always been very connected to people, especially family and friends. I love nature, especially flowers and birds, enjoy watching the moon’s phases, and appreciate the sun’s rays that sooth my aching bones. Despite my long-time hearing deficit, I listen with the ears of my heart, have a genuine interest in others, and never tire of growing in knowledge and wisdom. Just imagine the changes I have experienced in over a century of life! Join me in celebrating the “Happy Feast Day” of my 85th Jubilee!

  • Sister Cherubim Cukla - 80th Jubilee (Went home to God on Aug. 31, 2020)

    My spirit rejoiced in God when I entered our congregation and was given the name Sister Cherubim—a choir of Angels to do great things for me. I obtained a B.S. Degree in Pharmacy and a Master’s Degree in Hospital Administration and Religious Studies. I served God’s people as a Pharmacist, Hospital Administrator, Catechist, and Religious Education Coordinator. Ministering in religious education programs was where I felt most at home, feeding children hungry to know about God. I volunteered in the summer Vacation Bible School that traveled from parish to parish. I worked to raise the lowly to a higher quality of life by volunteering with the Little Brothers of the Poor, the Spanish Urban Development Center in Joliet and the Big Brother, Big Sister Program. Nature is precious to me, and I always enjoyed being out in it and painting pictures of it. However, prayer and community living have been the foundation and priorities in my life. I thank God for family, friends, companions and all who touched my life. Now when God’s Angels care for me, I am blessed with Alicja Kowalska, a CNA of Polish decent with whom I share in Polish and sing Polish songs. Lord, you kneaded me for 80 years, just as I kneaded dough in our family bakery before convent days. Thank you, Lord, for my life and your faithful love.

  • Sister Innocence Mills - 80th Jubilee

    The Lord has done great things for me. As I think back over my life, I realize that the Lord had a plan for me. I am grateful for my parents who provided for my every need, for God’s loving care throughout life, especially when sick, for my friends and for the older Sisters whose example taught me much. In the convent I worked many years in food service. Although the work was hard, I was able to do what was needed. I knew that I could not please everyone, but I always did my best to complete assigned tasks. Looking back, I see that my whole life mirrored the Corporal Works of Mercy. We know from scripture that mercy changes the lives of so many people, both those who extend it and those who receive it. I was once known as “Sister Scrap” because of the scrap metal I prepared and took to the scrapyard to sell. I did this work to help fund our Brazilian Sisters who work with the very poor. I admire their ministry, which I now support though prayer. I will be eternally grateful for my family, my friends, and my religious community, and I will praise God for calling me to be a Franciscan Sister of the Sacred Heart. May my spirit find joy in God as I await my journey home!

  • Sister Theresa Renninger - 70th Jubilee

    I have magnified the Lord for 70 years as a Franciscan Sister. Spreading joy is due to the joy I find in my relationship with God, Savior, Lover and Sunshine. I love to sing, “You are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine’ to my God. I hope it is music to God’s ears! I have been the Lord’s servant through ministries as a teacher, principal and volunteer. The people I have touched must be close to infinity and from ages 5 to 100. My personality helps many to feel at home in my presence and my faithfulness is a gift I share. I will do anything I can to help another. Giving mercy is a special calling for me. There is always an excuse for what might require forgiveness, so it is mercy one receives. Many situations that seemed to have no answer have been solved through persistence and faith in the power of God. I pray with intensity to St. Therese the Little Flower and then expect a rose along with an answered prayer. Celebrating Jesus’ birth is central to my spirituality. I always have a soft place in my heart for those who struggle. The little one who struggles to read, the elder who doesn’t remember, the Sister who needs an understanding heart, the friend who suffers a loss are the ones I try to offer every good thing. Yes, the Lord has done great things for me!

  • Sister Jeanette Pierce - 60th Jubilee

    My spirit finds joy in God for my life, for my parents who shared faith and “home” with my sisters, Elsie and Nancy, and me, for God’s presence, and for the ability to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. I praise God for my Catholic education with its gift of music and for my dream of professing religious vows. God did great things for me as I “mothered” girls at St. Vincent’s Orphanage in Freeport, IL, and later cared for our sick Motherhouse Sisters, patients at St. Joseph Hospital, Elgin, IL and St. Anthony Hospital, Chicago, IL, the dying and their families and provided memorial services. As Pastoral Care Director at St. Therese Medical Center in Waukegan, IL, I filled the hungry with good things by preparing Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist and Deacons for Pastoral Care ministry. I was blessed when being with my dying parents, planning their funerals as well as my sister, Elsie’s, and consoling my sister, Nancy, when she lost her husband. My spirit rejoiced in being honored for my compassionate care of the elderly at the Franciscan Federation Conference. The Lord has shown great mercy through faithful friends, especially Sr. Norma Janssen, and now as I celebrate my 60th Jubilee.