Lives well spent: Sisters celebrate jubilee, some with 70-plus years of service

Five women from the Williamsport area are celebrating their anniversaries of becoming nuns and looking back on their time serving the Lord.

The jubilarians are Sisters Lisbeth Hartnett, celebrating 75 years as a nun; Margaret Loftus, 72 years; M. Fidelis Flannery, 70 years; Eleanor Desaulniers, 70 years; and Rita Ann Naughton, who will celebrate 60 years in 2018.

Although originally from the Williamsport area and graduates of St. Joseph High School, the sisters now are servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Scranton.

“I entered the congregation of the sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on Sept. 8, 1955,” Naughton said.

She now lives at the Our Lady of Peace Residence on the Marywood University campus in Scranton.

“I believe that the things that helped me most to decide to become an IHM (Immaculate Heart of Mary) sisters were the Catholic faith of my parents, 12 years of Catholic education with the IHMs at St. Joseph’s School, and their good example, inspiration and love of the students,” Loftus said.

Desaulniers was born in Williamsport and made her first vows on May 8, 1947.

She earned her bachelors degree in administration and English from Marywood University in 1954 and then went on to get a masters in business administration from the University of Notre Dame in 1966.

Desaulniers taught at a number of schools ranging from New York to Rhode Island and back to Lock Haven. Then in 1970 she went to the Scranton area where she has been ever since.

Loftus said she was originally from South Williamsport and lived on Curtain Street.

“On my 70th anniversary, I celebrated here at OLP (Our Lady of Peace) with a big jubilee mass and dinner with all the sisters,” she said.

She felt a calling to serve the Lord.

“I feel it is because God called me to serve him and his people as a sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” she said.

It’s a calling that not everyone has.

“I think many people are not familiar with nuns,” Loftus said. “If someone would mention to me that they are interested in becoming a nun, I would encourage them and say, ‘Go for it.’ “

Naughton said that she would also encourage the choice.

“I would like to say to someone who is considering being a nun to pray for guidance,” she said. “If you still have the same feelings, then God sees you as someone blessed with gifts to share with his people.”

Naughton said that the hardest part about becoming a nun was leaving her home and family to move to Scranton.

“The easiest part was that I was on my way to begin my life with Jesus and to educate his children,” she said.

For Loftus, the best part of being a nun was knowing she was doing God’s will.

Naughton said that being a nun can have its challenges.

“The hardest part is having to be dependent at times, having to be patient and not being able to have what you want right now,” she said.

Overall, she said she loved her time as a nun, adding that her life with the servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary has been wonderful.

“It was very different because you had a lot of new things to get used to,” she said. “It is very rewarding because you can see how you have touched people’s lives.”

Being a nun isn’t the same as it used to be, said Loftus.

“When I first started, life was strict, but today, it is not strict,” she said. “We’ve changed quite a bit. We are now able to wear typical modern clothes.”

Naughton said she hopes to serve the Lord as much as she can.

“After the resurrection, on the road to Emmaus, two disciples were walking with Jesus. At the end of the road, Jesus left the disciples,” she said. “They went home and said, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us?’ I want to be like Jesus so that when I am no longer with them, people will say I made a difference to them.”

Loftus said she couldn’t possibly pick out a favorite memory of her time because things have been that enjoyable for her.

“There are so many wonderful things that it would be hard to remember them all,” she said.

Naughton remembered a friend she made along the way.

“When I was teaching in Bellefonte, I had a 6-year-old little girl come to register for my first grade. She had Spina Bifida and was in a body cast. She naturally needed special attention,” she said. “The whole class was very attentive to her and her needs. One day, I offered to help her with her milk carton. She told me, ‘I can do it myself.'”

Her independence and strength stood out to Naughton, and she remains in contact with the student today even though now the student is 42.

“I think many people are not familiar with the religious life. Too many people believe the negative stories that people talk about,” Naughton said. “Many people

are more interested in having rather than giving.”

However, Naughton said she loved her time serving as a nun.

“The best part was teaching children up and down the East Coast, meeting parents, being a care companion and being an activities director in the Alzheimers unit at ManorCare,” she said.

Sadly, Sister M. Fidelis Flannery passed away on June 30, and a change in health for Hartnett made her unable to speak to the Sun-Gazette.