For one retired Sister of Mercy, serving the community involved joining the same religious order that touched and changed her own life as a teen at Mount Mercy Academy in South Buffalo. She later went on to become a teacher and administrator herself at many diocesan schools.
Sister Mary Priscilla Faltisko, RSM, retired in 2010, but recalled her time as a principal and teacher at her alma mater, also serving for 35 years at St. Bernadette Parish in Orchard Park. She graduated from Mount Mercy in June 1944 and entered religious life that September, at only 17 years old.
"I always loved what I was doing. For most of my religious life, I was a teacher, and then I was on one of our leadership teams. I taught math to the kids," Sister Priscilla said of her experience in Catholic schools. "I always enjoyed working with the students. It was my favorite thing."
Sister Priscilla said as a student at Mount Mercy, she had 'wonderful Sisters of Mercy as teachers," and they were role models for her. "I just wanted to do what they did. I always remember how good the sisters were - we were from a rather poor neighborhood, and the Sisters of Mercy also stood out as being really interested in poor people, and the sisters were so good to me and my family."
As one of six siblings growing up in Buffalo, money was often tight for Sister Priscilla's family, and her parents were unable to afford the tuition for their daughter to go to a Catholic school. However, she recalled how the Sisters of Mercy helped by arranging for her tuition to be paid for, and in order to go to the school, she participated in "church work" for the community, much as the sisters did.
During her earliest years in ministry, Sister Priscilla taught at several diocesan elementary schools as a young woman, including St. Monica School and Holy Family School in South Buffalo, St. Joseph School in Albion and Our Lady of the Rosary School in Niagara Falls, all during the 1940s and 1950s. In 1955, she began teaching at Bishop Quigley High School and remained until it closed in 1961.
After this, she taught for one year at Mount Mercy before beginning to serve at St. James School in Jamestown. During this time, schools responded to Vatican II, held between 1962 and 1965, and Sister Priscilla said schools had to update themselves in accordance with the sweeping changes that were made. Sisters also changed their habits from head cornettes during this time. Religious communities were "very good about having us be educated about the documents of Vatican II" and the changes, she said.
In 1970, Sister Priscilla became principal of her alma mater, Mount Mercy. "I was always surprised that I even got the assignment, but I always loved teaching, and I loved the Mercy girls. They were special," she recalled. Then, after Mount Mercy, I was appointed to St. Bernadette's as principal, and I've been here at St. Bernadette Parish for 35 years, in various roles. I was a principal, pastoral administrator, taught Mass to the kids at the school, so I had a variety of ministries," she recalled.
When asked about the present state of the educational system since she was a teacher and principal, Sister Priscilla said the current requirements that New York state has imposed have put too much of an emphasis on standardized tests. "They're demanding so much of the children, and I find it hard. The emphasis is on these tests. We need to let the children be children, and make them love to learn."
"We didn't have all of these state tests in my early years of education. Requirements keep getting stiffer and stiffer. It's difficult to put this emphasis on these test scores, and this Common Core ... I'm not familiar enough with it, but I know it's one of the things the teachers are struggling with now."
While at St. Bernadette, Sister Priscilla also led the parish's program for the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. The program, for people who are interested in joining the Catholic Church as adults, met once a week and welcomed a wide variety of people. "I always said that I learned more from them, and benefitted more from the experience, than what I was giving to them," she added, recalling the sessions of team members who worked with her and a weekly Scripture study program, which she continues.
"What impresses me, is these are mostly women my age. They're usually senior citizens, and the fact that these people are interested, at this age, in deepening their relationship with God - they want to learn more. They want to know more; they want to know the Gospels," Sister Priscilla said.
For Sister Priscilla, the most challenging part of serving at St. Bernadette's is the amount of preparation that goes into her ministry. In doing so for the Scripture study program, she must complete a great deal of research and take time to hold a prayer service and the Sunday readings from the Masses. Since her retirement, she has also taken time to go to a local nursing home and pray the Rosary with the residents, and she continues to serve as a lector and Eucharistic minister at St. Bernadette Parish.
With the Retirement Fund for the Religious Appeal being held later this month, Sister Priscilla said the Diocese of Buffalo is one of the greatest contributors to that fund. "We do benefit from that, and I think the sisters appreciate the help that we've received," she said. "I think most of the communities do use the money they receive for care of the retired sisters. It doesn't go toward regular maintenance."