Photo: Sister Helen Kearney, left, president of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, and Sister Mary Walsh, right, director of initial formation, congratulate Sister Virginia Murtha, and Sister Mary Preenika Dabrera.
Sister Virginia Murtha and Sister Mary Preenika Dabrera professed temporary vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience for one year in the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph during a ceremony held at Sacred Heart Chapel, at the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph, in Brentwood, on October 19. They will now enter the Post-Novitiate stage which is designed to enable the sisters to develop an increasing ability to integrate the elements of prayer, community and ministry in her life as a vowed member of the Congregation as she moves toward perpetual commitment.
Sister Mary Preenika Dabrera, 32, was born in Sri Lanka and moved to the United States with her sister when she was 18. “Getting used to living in New York City was a bit hard for us at the beginning because everything was so new to us,” she said. After taking classes to improve her English; she continued her education at Plaza College.
“Working at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital as a receptionist in the Maternity Unit was one of the best jobs I ever had,” she said. “I really enjoyed seeing newborn babies and being able to share the happiness with those families.”
“Becoming a citizen of the United States gave me the opportunity to learn about other cultures and people. My variety of work experiences also taught me how to work with others who come from different parts of the world,” Sister Mary Preenika said. “It definitely helped me to see God and the world in a special way.”
After meeting some of the Sisters of Saint Joseph six years ago, she was able to discern God’s call and entered the order as a Candidate in September, 2009. Since then, she has lived with seven other Sisters of Saint Joseph in St. Patrick Convent, Long Island City.
“After living with the sisters for almost two years, I was certain that I wanted to spend the rest of my life as a Sister of St. Joseph. I took the next step of entering the Novitiate in May, 2011,” she said. “The biggest question that everyone asked was: ‘Why do you want to be a Sister?’ No matter how I tried to answer it, people are not satisfied with my answers. It is hard to explain. I do tell them that ‘God loves me so much, so I want to serve God’s people and bring them closer to God.’”
Sister Virginia Murtha, was the ninth of Eileen and Edward Murtha’s ten children. She was born in Brooklyn and attended Blessed Sacrament Grammar School in Cypress Hills, where she was educated by the Sisters of St. Joseph. “I was influenced by the Sisters from an early age, since my oldest sibling had entered the convent when I was five years old,” she said.
Sister Virginia went to Queen of All Saints, an annex to Bishop McDonnell Memorial High School. “After graduation in 1964, I worked for a year in the Federal Reserve Bank while I considered entering the convent,” she said. When she entered the order, people often felt she was following in the footsteps of her sisters: Eileen/Sister Joseph Irma, CSJ; Ann/Sister Mary Veronica, CSJ; Barbara/Sister Edward Miriam, CSJ; and Cathleen/Sister Joseph Mary of Montfort, DW.
“When I entered the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1965 with 49 others, I was told I would be nursing. I was fortunate to work with our sick Sisters on the second floor of St. Joseph’s Convent where I developed a fondness for our sick and retired Sisters,” she said. She continued her studies and received her Registered Nurse License and eventually her Master’s Degree as a Nurse Practitioner in Gerontological Health from Stony Brook University. “During this time, I felt fortunate and thankful to be a Sister of St Joseph since I was able to minister to the sick in a special way both as a nurse and as a religious which was truly a blessing,” she said.
“As a home care nurse for thirty years, I loved going into people’s homes, never knowing what challenges I would find, and felt fortunate to teach patients and families how to care for themselves properly. Aside from nursing I could also minister to some of their spiritual needs by bringing Holy Communion and praying with them,” Sister Virginia said.
While dealing with some personal issues she decided to take a leave from the Community. “I continued to nurse and broaden my experiences,” she said. “After 9/11, I became an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph and maintained a new contact with the Sisters.”
“While I was at the 60th anniversary celebration of Sister Barbara Monaghan, CSJ, one of the Sisters asked me when I was coming back to the congregation. My standard answer was: ‘I am thinking about it.’ The Spirit within spoke clearly to me and said to stop thinking and start acting.”
She began the process to re-enter the community. “My formation years, in which I am continuing, have helped me to develop a deeper and more loving relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit. I have been graced and blessed to live with the Sisters at Our Lady of Grace Convent for the past several years. Living with this group of prayer filled women has helped me to discern God’s call to me, to live the Charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and to balance living in community while working as a Nurse Manager at St. Joseph Convent (for assisted living), Brentwood. Having made my First Vows on October 19, I look forward to continuing this process as a Sister of St. Joseph.”