Sister Eugenia Calabrese, CSJ
Our hearts are heavy but we are here to truly celebrate the life of Eugenia Calabrese, a Sister of Saint Joseph for nearly 60 years. Our congregation was founded to bring God’s healing and reconciling love wherever there is need. This demands that we are personally drawn into the mystery of God’s unconditional love in our own lives. Eugenia experienced that first and foremost in her family and we daily heard stories and saw pictures that told us how special each one of you are to her. That love grew in the congregation as her relationships expanded through her various ministries and in her long friendship with Pat Turley.
In the tradition of our congregation, Eugenia looked at the city, saw its ills and worked tirelessly, with great determination to cure them. Each one of us here knows how she influenced our lives and revealed God’s compassion and loving care. That is why we are here today. We all know Eugenia would not want all of this fuss or bother. She would be telling us just take care of it and get,it done. Well Eugenia, it is you turn to listen to us, yes listen, and celebrate with us as we prepare for our Eucharistic Feast, a feast greater than any one you have ever known.
Every human being desires to love and be loved, to belong to one another for we are social and relational beings. Deep within, we long for unity because at the most fundamental level we are already one with all creation. Love is a powerful force and we saw that strength and power in Eugenia’s loyalty and dedication to whatever she was called to do. Love fosters unity and does not tolerate division, discrimination or exclusion. With courage, certainty and humor, Eugenia lived surrendering her life to God’s love.
As we know Eugenia died on All Saints’ Day and we can be consoled that all of us here are now joined with her in the communion of saints which comprises all persons of truth and love. Our own sister, Beth Johnson, reminds us that every human being is called to fidelity and love, awakening knowledge of the truth and inspiring deeds of compassion and justice. Eugenia answered this call with her life and so we, too, are called and are joined with her to follow this path of righteousness and love.
Eugenia has made an extraordinary contribution and we are to carry on her legacy because she has loved us and we love her. I have had the privilege of serving with Eugenia on two leadership teams. When I became President I asked her to serve as our Congregational Treasurer. She always said to me: “I will do anything you ask me to do. What can I do to help?” Well Eugenia, you did it all and you did it well. I want everyone here to follow the advice she gave me after every single conversation. “It’s OK; Go easy” Eugenia, It’s OK, go easy and rest in peace.
S. Helen Kearney
Reflection offered by Sister Jean Amore and the Sisters at LePuy Residence
On behalf of Sister Eugenia, – Eileen, Susan and Suzanne and I thank you for your prayer, good wishes and cards that meant so much to her during the past few months, and for you presence here with us this morning. The four of us have been blessed to live with Eugenia and to share her life, love and laughter, and her common sense and clear vision. Within our first days living with Eugenia, we learned that, you, her family, had a very deep and loving place in her heart, and she in yours. Teddy and Peg, Joachim and Miriam, Kelly, TJ, Colleen, Amy, Renee and Matt and your spouses and children: Your joys were her joys; your concerns were her concerns. Thank you for witnessing so beautifully to us God’s gift to you: the greatest happiness of a loving, caring, connected family.
However, after you, came baseball. The four of us watched the Mets with 3 announcers: Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling and Eugenia Calabrese. For 9 innings straight, without interruption, we got the play by play, the bio not only of each Met player but the players on the opposing team, and the latest stats of each of the 3 divisions on both the American League and the National League. Eugenia would often quote Sister Francis Teresa who would teasingly say to her: I wish you knew the Bible as well as you know baseball!
But we all know: Eugenia did know Scripture, and she lived the Gospel message, and she witnessed the charism and mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph: to love and relate to children, teenagers and colleagues from all backgrounds, cultures and religions, without distinction, and to bring unity, reconciliation and God’s inclusive love wherever she ministered, especially where least visible.
So Eugenia taught social studies in Academia Santa Monica, Puerto Rico and then in Sacred Heart Academy, Hempstead. She was principal at St. Teresa of Avila Elementary School on Sterling Place where she first met her dear friend, S Pat Turley, and then she was asked to be principal at St. Joseph High School, her longest (and probably her favorite) ministry. In these and her other ministries, Eugenia understood that each ministry had unique needs that had to be met. She accepted the children, the young women and her colleagues just as they were, not trying to make them over, but rather nurturing, challenging and empowering them to develop their potential and their own gifts. Eugenia had good insight into the strengths and weaknesses of people, and knew how to build on their strengths and minimize their shadow side. She loved to make things work out for people, particularly those in tough situations. She did this, often like Jesus, in unorthodox ways.
In 2006 and again in 2011, Eugenia was elected to leadership and this role eventually led her to leave the inner city she loved so much. From her small, cozy home on Seeley Street, she moved to Brentwood, where she lived, worked, and stewarded the land and buildings on these 200+ acres and took on the role and responsibility of Treasurer of the Congregation. In describing this new living and working environment, she’d say: I feel like I’m living on “a reservation.” When she had appointments off campus, she’d say to us: Tomorrow, I’ll be off the reservation.”
During her years on Council, Eugenia took the leadership in the transition stages for our assisted living residences, for the Academy of St. Joseph and for Stella Maris High School. She carefully negotiated for these latter sites to be rented to the Muslim School and the Charter School. Eugenia’s last legacy to the Congregation was her support and belief that our Brentwood land was a sacred trust that we were responsible for preserving for the greater “community of all life – human and non-human” and for future generations. Her involvement in the Land Ethic Committee, the Peconic Land Trust Corporation and the EmPower Solar Company gave her the knowledge and passion to articulate a new vision for our Congregation.
Throughout her religious life and especially when faced with decisions in her role as councilor and treasurer in the Congregation, her focus always was: In the light of the Gospel message and the mission of the Congregation: Is this the right thing? Are we keeping the main thing, the main thing?
These are the questions of a wise and faithful woman.
(A reading of the Valiant Woman by members of the local community followed.)
Sister Eugenia Calabrese, CSJ died on November 1, 2015 in the 60th year of her religious life.