Focus on Faith: Sister stays busy at 84, helps out at church food site
Throughout her life, Rosemary Endres has easily adjusted to change.
When RCA records went from 78s to 45s back in 1949, she was fine with it. And when Vatican II declared that nuns no longer had to wear their habits in 1967, she didn’t bat an eyelash. She went shopping for new clothes and even changed her name back from Sister Anne Michael to her original baptismal name.
Now, after 60 years of service in the Roman Catholic faith, Endres, a Syracuse native and St. Joseph of Carondelet sister, is continuing to profess her faith and perform good works and shows no signs of slowing down.
“They asked me if I wanted to retire and I said no,” said Endres, who spends most of her mornings Monday through Thursday working at the St. Joseph’s Church food pantry at the corner of Craig and Strong streets in the Hamilton Hill section of Schenectady. “I have so much fun here at the food pantry, and the volunteers are wonderful. I give them all the credit. They make it fun.”
Anniversary of vows
The principal at Schenectady’s St. Columba’s School before it closed in 1974, Endres remained in the city and taught at the combined St. Columba’s/Sacred Heart parish before that closed down five years ago. Since then she has been with the St. Joseph’s parish, and earlier this month celebrated the 60th anniversary of taking her vows. At 84, she doesn’t regret a thing about her life, and refers to herself as a “middle of the roader.”
Nothing surprises her and very little bothers her, not even the idea of some women wanting to become priests.
“Myself, at this point, I would not choose to do that,” she said, “but I really can’t speak for others and their personal decisions.”
Does she expect it to happen soon?
“Not in the near future,” she said, “but maybe someday.”
She grew up Catholic and went to St. Vincent’s High School in Syracuse, graduating in 1945.
“My parents were good Christian people and their parents had come from Germany,” she said. “It was my grandmother, who had been a Lutheran, who converted to Catholicism. I was taught by the sisters all through school, me and my two sisters, but after school I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I kind of procrastinated.”
Before Endres finally took the leap of faith and decided to become a nun six days before her 24th birthday, she had worked in the record department of the Record Company of America and in the payroll office of a department store.
“I had two classmates that had gone to Troy [and the St. Joseph of Carondelet Convent] a year earlier and they had wanted me to enter with them. But it was a bit of a journey for me. I felt a little uneasy, and I guess I needed to be nudged. But once I made up my mind about it, I had nothing but peace.”
Endres said she entered the convent ready to dedicate her life to God and never looked back.
“I expected this life of sacrifice I guess, but I never felt that way,” she said. “It was my parents and my family who sacrificed. I didn’t go home for seven years because we weren’t supposed to, but my parents, who didn’t have a car, would come down from Syracuse for a visit. I feel like my parents and my family did a lot more sacrificing than I did.”
Endres entered the convent in 1952, took her first vows in 1954 and began teaching at St. James School in Albany.
After a year she returned to Troy and spent five years at St. Joseph’s in Troy before she volunteered to go to a small community just outside of Honolulu, Hawaii. After six years there, she came back to Troy and in 1971 moved to Schenectady.
Starting food pantry
When she stopped teaching in 1985, Endres and Sister Joseph Andrew Dunham, now deceased, began working at the food pantry. A non-emergency food pantry, it was originally formed by the St. Columba’s/Sacred Heart parish and taken over by St. Joseph’s around five years ago.
“When I entered the convent we were expected to go into school teaching,” said Endres. “But if you go back to our early history in France, the sisters all got together to do what they could for people in need. If there was a problem, they tried to solve it. That’s what we do. We try to improve people’s lives, so what we’re doing is going back to our roots. Now we have sisters in schools, sisters who are nurses, social workers, counselors. We have sisters from St. Joseph’s who teach at Albany Med, and we have a sister who is a president of a college. We go out and serve the greater number. It’s not just about school teaching.”
While she misses the classroom and the children, she’s very happy working at the food pantry and visiting St. Joseph’s parishioners who can’t get to church themselves.
“Teaching is very fulfilling, but so is working here and doing general outreach,” said Endres. “I know there’s a lot going on out there in the world today, but there is also a lot of good that’s going on. The people at St. Joe’s are wonderful, and I see their faith and their works every day. To be in the midst of a very caring group is wonderful.”
Along with her church community, she said she feels a close tie to the people living in her Strong Street neighborhood.
“I can’t say enough about my neighbors,” she said. “They come over and mow my landlady’s lawn. In the winter, they’ll come over and shovel and snow blow the sidewalk. I’m working with and living next to people who are constantly reaching out to help others. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
According to Sister Mary Anne Rodgers, province director at the Sisters of St. Joseph’s of Carondelet, which is now in Latham, Endres is a perfect example of how one can best live their life in God’s service.
True gospel woman
“She has a truly great love for all people, and a real heart for the poor,” said Rodgers. “She is really a true gospel woman. One of the phrases we use a lot for our sisters is ‘doing all that woman is capable of doing.’ Rosemary really fulfills that in so many ways.
“She has visited the sick and the imprisoned,” continued Rodgers. “She has fed the poor. She does not separate herself from anyone. She’s very inclusive, and she has this wonderful ability to touch people’s lives at their most painful or vulnerable moments. I met her a number of years ago now, and she’s always been a delight.”
Father Michael Hogan, the pastor at St. Joseph’s, said he marvels at Endres’ energy level.
“I’ve seen her run up and down those stairs at the food pantry carrying multiple bags of groceries,” he said. “I don’t know how she does it. She really is a person who dedicated her life to people in need, and she’s done it for 60 years. Her concern for the elderly and people who can’t get out is amazing. She brings people food, but she also brings them so many other wonderful spiritual things. There’s just something about Rosemary. She’s incredible.”
Endres says it is her long association with loving, God-fearing people, including fellow nuns Sister Dunham and Sister Norina Mastro, that has kept her so upbeat all of her life. And, she doesn’t sweat the small stuff.
“When we visit the elderly, it amazes me at how upset they get with themselves because they can’t get out and go to church,” she said.
“Well, we were taught when we were kids that it was a big mortal sin if you didn’t go to Mass every Sunday. So I meet them where they’re at, but I tell them not to let it bother them. ‘You can’t get out. Don’t worry about it.’ At communion the other day, one lady said to me, ‘Oh Sister, I just had a cookie.’ I told her, ‘That’s all right. You can still receive.’”
As for her name and putting away her habit, the nun’s traditional black garb, Endres said they were two decisions she made quickly and easily.
“I always liked my name, Rosemary,” she said, “and the habit was something that was originally called widow’s weeds back in France. It was something the widows could wear out in public. When they gave us the choice, most of us went for the contemporary dress. In fact, I really don’t remember giving it much thought.”