MOUNT POCONO — When the doors of Villa of Our Lady Retreat House closed earlier this month, it closed an historical chapter of long and distinguished service in the Diocese of the Scranton by the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters dating back nearly 100 years.
Bishop Joseph C. Bambera served as principal celebrant and homilist for a final Mass of Gratitude and Thanksgiving on August 1 in the Villa of Our Lady chapel.
A group of Bernardine Franciscans joined the last three nuns in residence at the wellknown retreat house — Bernardine Franciscan Sisters Jean Anthony Rodgers, Josandra Ciucci and Anna Mae Milus.
Several local clergy concelebrated the closing liturgy attended by friends, volunteers and co-workers who supported the Bernardine community in their landmark ministry in the diocese, which began in 1905.
Their ministerial service stretched from catechetics to all levels of education; elder care to outreach to the poor; and pastoral, prison and retreat ministry to spiritual direction. Reflecting on the passing of Villa of Our Lady Retreat House as the last mission entrusted to the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters in the diocese, Bishop Bambera lauded their far-reaching apostolic works.
“After more than 125 years of service in the Diocese of Scranton, you are being called to serve in different ways and places,” Bishop Bambera said, “yet, with the same commitment to spreading the good news of God’s love and mercy to the faithful entrusted to your care.” He continued with a nostalgic reflection on his own personal encounters with the Bernardine Franciscan congregation.
“Of course, as a priest and bishop, I’ve had many opportunities to engage the Sisters of your community — the happiest of which were my years as pastor of Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish in Dickson City, where your Sisters staffed the parish school since its beginning days,” the Bishop recalled.
According to Bernardine Franciscan Sister Rosemary Stets, congregation historian, the first mission of the OSF congregation in the Scranton Diocese was to serve Saint Stanislaus Parish School in Nanticoke in the early 1900s, followed by ministry at Saint Mary Parish in Nanticoke. ‘
In the succeeding years, the Bernardine Sisters would teach in 32 elementary schools and six high schools; staff orphanages in Nanticoke and Elmhurst, two health care facilities in Hazleton, and their signature Villa of Our Lady Retreat House in Mount Pocono.
By the mid-20th century, the religious community’s presence increased and a need arose for a provincial headquarters in the Diocese. The OSF Sisters established Saint Francis Province in Scranton on Clay Avenue. The provincial house would be the central location for the Bernardine Franciscans in Eastern Pennsylvania until 1958 when it was relocated to Reading.
The closing remarks of Bernardine Franciscan Sister Marilisa da Silva, congregational minister, included praise and gratitude for the trio of Villa of Our Lady Sisters who orchestrated the closure process during the past six months. “We realize that this enormous task was possible through the generosity of our lay employees who worked tirelessly with the Sisters,” she said