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February 12, 2024, Altamonte Springs, Florida – Later this spring, when 46 second-grade students receive their First Holy Communion at St. Mary Magdalen Church, they and their parents may be very grateful to the Sister who prepared them for this special event – Sister Rose Bernadette Hoeffner, OP.
Preparing children for First Communion is common in parishes and schools nationwide, but Sister Rose Bernadette’s situation is unique. She teaches the children every Tuesday morning from her room at the Dominican Life Center in Adrian, Michigan, via Zoom.
This is Sister Rose Bernadette’s third year teaching the First Communion class at St. Mary Magdalen through Zoom. While she was ministering at St. Jude Maronite Church in Orlando, Florida, one of the teachers she knew at St. Mary Magdalen asked her to teach the First Communion class via Zoom.
“The kids are so good,” Sister Rose Bernadette said. “I just love them because they’re so innocent. They take everything in. They don’t question anything unless it’s something they don’t understand.”
Sister Rose Bernadette teaches the children from 10:15 a.m. to 10:55 a.m. every Tuesday, working with the children from two second-grade classes. “It takes a lot of planning,” she said. She prepares each lesson and submits it to the principal the Friday before the class. Usually, she said, she focuses on one of the saints connected to the Eucharist, on the commandments, and on confession.
But she’s also flexible in her teaching. She recalled a student who asked, “If God made the world, who made God?” Sister Rose Bernadette answered, “God always was and always will be.” The following week, she focused on creation – and a picture of the hand of God and the hand of humanity. “I colored it, and the teacher made copies, and the children colored it later,” she said. “They really enjoyed it.”
Sister Rose Bernadette sees a special importance in preparing children for the sacraments. “The sacraments give us grace, and I want them to get the grace,” she said. In some cases, she said, children don’t return to religious education or Mass once they receive first Communion – sometimes not until it’s time to prepare for Confirmation. “The kids are missing out on so much.”
Sister Rose Bernadette feels at ease teaching through Zoom and by the greetings she gets from the children when they connect. While teaching religion at St. Jude Maronite Church, however, she once took the opportunity to visit the children and teach them in person. “The kids were so happy,” she said. “I was almost like a star because they got to see me.”
The fact that she teaches virtually poses a challenge for Sister Rose Bernadette. “The hardest part is when you have 46 kids in class, you can’t call them by name” because there are so many students, and she teaches them once a week. Still, she receives notes and cards from students she recently taught and from students she taught years ago.
The oldest of 12 children and a native of Florida, Sister Rose Bernadette was taught by the Adrian Dominican Sisters at St. Anastasia School in Fort Pierce, Florida. She knew her vocation by seventh grade, she said, and entered the Congregation almost 69 years ago, right out of high school at the age of 18.
When she entered, Mother Gerald Barry promised to send her back to Florida on mission. After a year and a half of teaching in Farmington, Michigan, she was sent to Melbourne, Florida, and has served in Florida ever since.
For the most part, she has taught younger children. “When I entered, I didn’t know what class I liked [to teach],” she said. “In my first assignment, I taught little ones. They must have considered that I was a good primary teacher.” From that point on, Sister Rose Bernadette taught first- and second-grade children. “They can learn a lot from an adult at that age and follow through on that,” Sister Rose Bernadette said. “By the time they’re in fourth or fifth grade, they’re already influenced by other things.”
Sister Rose Bernadette cherishes her time on Zoom with the second graders at St. Mary Madalen – and the many students who have kept in touch with her over the years. But she is not finished as a teacher yet, she said. She hopes to return to Florida and resume teaching young children both in the classroom and by Zoom.
“I get several notes all the time from the kids, so I know that they appreciate what I’m doing,” Sister Rose Bernadette said. “That’s what makes me love teaching. God has still given me the strength to do it. I’ll know when God is telling me that’s enough, and it’s not enough yet.”
The combined class of 46 second-grade students at St. Mary Magdalen School listen via Zoom to one of Sister Rose Bernadette’s classes, preparing them for First Holy Communion. Photo Courtesy of St. Mary Magdalen School, Altamonte Springs, Florida.
October 31, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – Siena Heights University undergraduate social work students and clinical mental health master’s degree students now have a dedicated space to practice their counseling skills and receive feedback. On October 14, 2023, during Homecoming weekend, the University dedicated the Sister Peg Albert Social Work Simulation and Practice Lab.
A classroom in the lower level of the science wing of Sacred Heart Hall was renovated to create the social work classroom and lab. The lab was named in honor of Sister Peg, who retired in July 2023 after serving 17 years as President of Siena Heights University. Before serving in administration, Sister Peg ministered as a social worker, particularly with college students.
“I’m humbled and honored to have the Social Work Simulation and Practice Lab named in my honor,” said Sister Peg, who could not attend the dedication. “Social work is a much-needed profession today with all the mental health issues people are experiencing, particularly since COVID. Siena Heights social workers will be well trained, given the opportunity to learn by using the lab and receiving feedback from others.”
Sister Peg said she “loved every minute” that she practiced social work, especially with college students. “I knew that my time with them was sacred because of their willingness to share their deepest thoughts and emotions with me … I used my social work skills throughout my whole life, whatever I was doing.”
Douglas Palmer, PhD, President of Siena Heights University, said the University was founded “to bring light in places that were cast in darkness – the light of education but also the light of service. I can think of no better dedication for Sister Peg, nor better outreach of our mission here at Siena Heights, than training the future generations of social workers to go out into the world and bring light into the darkness.”
Elizabeth Davis, Director of the Social Work program, noted that, of about 12 social work programs in Michigan, Siena Heights University is one of only five that offers students a simulation and practice lab – and one of only two bachelor’s degree programs to do so. “This has been a dream for seven years, and it has finally come to fruition,” she said. “Typically, students would have to wait to get to the MSW level to have such a space …. We are really on the cutting edge here.”
The lab includes a classroom with two smaller rooms in the back: one replicating a typical social worker’s office and the other a home situation. Students have the opportunity to practice their skills in these rooms. Cameras will allow classmates to watch the practice on an 86-inch screen and offer feedback. Another portion of the lab includes a circle of chairs, allowing students to practice leading groups.
Susan Shelangoskie, Vice President of Academic Affairs – who brought Elizabeth’s proposal to the President’s Cabinet for approval – noted the hard work that Elizabeth put into the project, from cleaning the floor to preparing the room to be painted. “She has put a lot of sweat equity into this, as well as a lot of her intellectual skill and expertise,” she said.
Sister Sharon Weber, OP, who served with Sister Peg as Vice President of Academic Affairs, led in the blessing of the lab. “We ask you to bless the individuals, the faculty, and students who will use this space to teach and learn the skills that will help them and the many lives they will touch in the future,” she prayed. “Most especially, we ask you to bless the relationships that the skills in social work and counseling will develop here and through many years into the future through the work of our future alums.”
Sister Sharon also prayed for blessings on Sister Peg, “for whom we dedicate this space and who brought her own social work education and skills to benefit so many in her lifetime, and especially in her time in leadership here at Siena Heights.”
After the blessing, the approximately 35 Social Work faculty members and students, administrators, alumnae, and friends stayed to enjoy refreshments and tour the new lab before participating in other Homecoming events.