SCRANTON – For the last 70 years, Sister Verna Marie Stopper, S.C.C., has selflessly served her community, but through the grace of God, she feels like the lucky one.

“It was the people that made my life. They were always willing to work with me,” she said. “They were willing to work as a team to bring God’s love and blessings to their surroundings.”

The Jubilee Mass for Women and Men Religious was held on Nov. 5, 2023, at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton. Participating in the Mass were, front row, from left: Sr. Kathy Kurdziel, I.H.M., Diocesan Delegate for Religious; Sr. Eileen Mary Coleman, I.H.M., 60 years; Sr. Joyce Marks, I.H.M., 50 years; Sr. Benedict Joseph Watters, R.S.M., 75 years; and Sr. Giuseppe DaBella, R.S.M., 75 years. Second row, from left: Sr. Verna Marie Stopper, S.C.C., 70 years; Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton; Sr. Anne Fleming, R.S.M., 75 years; Sr. Miriam Joseph Reinhardt, I.H.M., 60 years; and Sr. Theresa Petz, I.H.M., 60 years. (Photo/Mike Melisky)

For the first ten years of her public ministry, Sister Verna Marie was involved in education. The first seven of those years she taught seventh grade at Saint Ann’s Academy in Wilkes-Barre.

“I called it my ‘seven years of plenty’ because there was plenty of happiness. God was good during all those years,” she explained.

For the following five decades, Sister Verna Marie worked at Divine Providence Hospital in Williamsport.

“My ministry there was in finance and we had wonderful employees and wonderful people that worked with us,” she added.

Sister Verna Marie was one of 27 women and men religious recognized at the 2023 Jubilee Mass for Women and Men Religious on Nov. 5, 2023, at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton.

The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, served as principal celebrant and homilist. In welcoming the jubilarians to the Mass, he said the annual celebration is always a highlight of the year.

“This is one of those Masses to which I look forward every year, not only to see dear friends and colleagues from throughout my years as a priest and bishop, but especially to acknowledge the unique and the cherished gifts that you are to our Church,” Bishop Bambera said.

Collectively, the bishop noted this year’s jubilarians have given 1,865 years of service to the Church.

“Your willingness to engage and serve the people of God, especially the marginalized, immigrants, the poor, and all those oppressed … is a unique and powerful witness to the presence of God at work in our world,” the bishop noted during his homily. “What is so inspiring about your lives is that all that you do in service of God’s people, you do far more often than not in quiet, simple, loving, yet powerful ways – feeding, healing, teaching, praying and building God’s kingdom.”

Sister Theresa Petz, I.H.M., was recognized at the Jubilee Mass for 60 years of service.
“I really wanted to come to thank our Lord,” she said. “I loved teaching and I taught all my life. I was all over, in North Carolina and New York.”

While Sister Joyce Marks, I.H.M., joked that she won’t hit her 50th anniversary until Dec. 16, she said being able to attend Mass with the Bishop was very special.

“It means a lot. We actually started celebrating back at Our Lady of Peace Residence in July,” Sister Joyce explained.

Sister Kathryn Kurdziel, I.H.M., Diocesan Delegate for Religious, congratulated all of the women and men religious celebrating jubilees – and noted two of women have given 80 years to consecrated life.

“We thank them for their original ‘yes’ to the mystery of their call and for their lives of prayer, fidelity, and extraordinary dedication to the mission of the Church and their communities,” Sister Kathy said.