Sister Joseph Cecile Voelker to retire
by Marie Mischel, Intermountain Catholic
OGDEN — After 54 years in active ministry, including two different stints in Utah, Holy Cross Sister Joseph Cecile Voelker is retiring.
“The body is wearing out, and I figured if priests and bishops have to hand in a letter of resignation at 75, it’s probably a good idea for me, too,” said Sister Joseph Cecile with her typical touch of gentle humor. She will leave her position as pastoral associate at Saint Joseph Parish at the end of July and move to Saint Catherine-by-the-Sea in Ventura, Calif., a retirement community run by her order.
In a sense, she is returning home. She was raised on a farm in Ventura County, the second of nine children who were steeped in the faith, she said; they attended Wednesday night novenas, recited daily rosaries and, of course, “we never missed Mass.”
In the second grade, she decided she would become a vowed religious; several of her relations were in religious congregations and her family was a strong influence in her decision, she said. In 1958 she took her first vows.
Sister Joseph Cecile’s first assignment was at St. Didacus School in San Diego, where she taught second grade. “It was 52 kids from the blackboard to the bookshelf,” she said. “That was not my forte. I was not a born teacher.”
She moved on to teach middle school for 10 years, then became a principal. In 1970 she was assigned to the Diocese of Salt Lake City, where she worked as supervisor of the Catholic elementary schools. She also earned a doctoral degree in education administration from the University of Utah.
When she was reassigned to Seattle in 1976, she cried. “Every place I’ve been, I’ve loved, but this is the only place I’ve wept over,” she said. “There's something about the Church in Utah ... that draws us together.”
After Seattle she worked in two different dioceses in California, then took a leadership position in her order. When that term was up in 2000, she decided against taking another job as principal. By chance, Sister Elizabeth Marie O’Connor had just retired after 20 years in Ogden, and Sister Joseph Cecile was eager for the chance to return to Utah. She interviewed with Monsignor Colin F. Bircumshaw, who was then pastor of St. Joseph Parish.
Msgr. Bircumshaw, now the diocese’s vicar general, was happy to bring Sister Joseph Cecile back. “I thought, ‘Oh, if she could come here, that would be wonderful,” he said. “And she just picked up where Sister Elizabeth Marie left off, in the typical Holy Cross competent way.”
Sister Joseph Cecile is “so typical of that age of religious sisters, who have given their whole life to the Church and to ministry,” he added. “She did live a very simple life, always in the background but always present at everything ... supporting whatever was going on.”
Although Sister Joseph Cecile had never done pastoral ministry before, “her professionalism has just shown through in every aspect of her ministry here,” said Father Ken Vialpando, who became St. Joseph pastor eight years ago.
She has been involved in every ministry at the parish, he added. “She’s been a blessing. We will have to find 10 people to replace her. Since my arrival, she has been a spiritual and guiding force, not only for me, but for the associate pastors, for the deacons and for the parish as a whole. As a religious sister, Sister Joseph Cecile has definitely walked the journey of faith with us every step of the way, but because of her professional background as a teacher and principal, Sister Joseph Cecile has been a leader of leaders for St. Joseph Parish, for the Ogden community and for the Diocese of Salt Lake City.”
Although Sister Joseph Cecile is retiring, she plans to continue ministering. In California, “I thought I’d look at the neighboring parishes and see if there’s an RCIA that needs help,” she said. “And there will be more time to pray. Some of the years that I was principal, it was very difficult to get to daily Mass.”
She also will devote time to hobbies such as genealogy and cooking. “I have to be really careful on Saturday mornings when I should be doing chores — those cooking shows are a big draw,” she said.
Other sisters at the retirement community are already looking forward to her arrival, because she will provide a fourth hand at bridge, she said, adding that she expects that she will serve infirm sisters by driving them to appointments, help with switchboard duties, “and maybe peel potatoes, I don’t know.”
A reception for Sister Joseph Cecile is planned for Saturday, June 23, 4 to 7 p.m. at St. Joseph Catholic Church, 506 24th St. in Ogden.
This article is used with permission of Intermountain Catholic, the official Catholic newspaper of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah. June 7, 2012