Five Aberdeen Sisters Celebrate 70th Jubilee

18 Jun, 2019

Sisters Helen Jean (Mary Carmen) Washtoak, Mary Jane (Cecilia) Gaspar, Michelle (Clara) Meyers, Suzanne Cotter and Vianney (Aileen Loretta) Mannie are celebrating 60 years of vowed religious life as Aberdeen Presentation Sisters.

Sister Helen Jean (Mary Carmen) Washtoak was born and raised in Henry, S.D. After high school, she studied and received an associate teaching degree from Notre Dame Junior College, Mitchell, S.D. She earned a bachelor’s in elementary education from Northern State College (University), Aberdeen, S.D., and, later, a master’s of theology at St. Mary’s College, Winona, Minn.

For over 35 years Sister Helen Jean inspired thousands of students as an elementary educator, principal and coordinator of religious education in Catholic schools and parishes throughout South Dakota and Minnesota. She recalls one year walking into her first grade classroom, “There were 50 nodding heads all looking at me. Soon another joined, making it 51!”

Switching her focus, she received her certification in pastoral care. For the next 15 years, she shared her joy and compassion with others at Avera McKennan, Avera St. Luke’s and Aberdeen Living Center.

Prior to retiring in 2011, Sister Helen Jean could be found volunteering at the information desk at Avera St. Luke’s Hospital and assisting various departments at Presentation Convent. Now retired, she is active in prayer ministry, enjoys reading, playing cards and dominoes.

Sister Mary Jane (Cecilia) Gaspar was born in Orient, S.D., and graduated from Fairview High School, Polo, S.D. She received an associate teaching degree from Presentation Junior College, Aberdeen, S.D., before earning a bachelor’s ineducation from Northern State College (University), Aberdeen, S.D.; a master’s in education from St. Louis University, St. Louis, Mo.; and a master’s in Christian Spirituality from Creighton University, Omaha, Neb.

Sister Mary Jane’s dedication to education spanned almost 40 years as she taught and served as a principal in elementary schools throughout South Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska. She ministered as the Presentation Sisters formation director and was elected to serve on the leadership council for the congregation. She walked with others through her work in pastoral ministry and then as the director of religious education at Holy Spirit and Christ the King parishes, both in Sioux Falls. She continued sharing her gifts with others as the hostess at the Presentation Sisters’ Marian House in Sioux Falls, as well as serving on several boards and committees.

Prior to full retirement in prayer ministry at Presentation Convent, Sister Mary Jane enjoyed walking, reading and puzzles.

Sister Michelle (Clara) Meyers was born in Chamberlain, S.D., and raised in Montrose, S.D. She earned a bachelor’s in education from Northern State University, Aberdeen, S.D.; a master’s in chemistry, from the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind.; and a master’s in theological studies from Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Sister Michelle served over 60 years in education ministry in cities throughout South Dakota and Minnesota. She was the director of religious education in several Minnesota parishes and inspired and encouraged others as a retreat director and speaker. With Sister Kay O’Neil, she cofounded the New Ulm Diocesan Task Force on Women in Ministry.

She served on the congregational leadership council and published numerous articles on women’s and other justice issues. Sister Michelle also received the Diocesan Distinguished Service Award from the Diocese of New Ulm, Minn., and the Outstanding Faculty Award at St. Mary’s University, Minneapolis, Minn.

She continues to enhance the lives of others through spiritual direction. As a member of the Presentation Sisters Social Justice Team, she is an advocate for women through prayers and actions in social justice and peacemaking ministries.

Sister Suzanne Cotter was born and raised in Dell Rapids, S.D. She went on to earn a bachelor’s in English from the College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, Minn., and a master’s in English from the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind.

Sister Suzanne shared her enthusiasm, smile and zest for life with students in South Dakota Catholic schools for over 45 years. Mostly teaching in junior and senior high classrooms, she spent her last 40 years of teaching at O’Gorman High School, Sioux Falls, S.D.

She helped establish Marian House in Sioux Falls, which was a vocation, formation and hospitality house that hosted many different retreats, book clubs and small mission groups. She also ministered in mission effectiveness for (Avera) Presentation Health System and as a pastoral and education associate in Sioux Falls for 10 years, as well as serving on a number of boards and committees.

Sister Suzanne currently resides in Sioux Falls and is active in prayer ministry. She remains a faithful supporter of all O’Gorman activities, and as an avid sports fan, she continues to proudly support the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish!

Sister Vianney (Aileen Loretta) Mannie was born in Edgeley, N.D., and grew up in Turton and Watertown, S.D. She received her associate’s in teaching from Presentation Junior College, Aberdeen, S.D., and earned a bachelor’s in education from Northern State College (University), Aberdeen, S.D.

For over 40 years, she taught in elementary schools and served in administrative positions across eastern South Dakota, in Anoka, Minn., and Miles City, Mont.  Her joy of serving continued as the director of religious education at St. Mary Parish, Sioux Falls, S.D., and then director of the learning resource center and assessment coordinator at National American University in Sioux Falls for 20 years.

For Sister Vianney, the focus of religious life has been to develop a deep spirituality and to be of service to the Community and others. She shares, “God has truly blessed me with love and affirmation from my family, relatives, Sisters, priests, friends and former students. After all these years of ministry and prayer, I thank God for the call, the joy, the fulfillment and the grace of perseverance.”

Currently, Sister Vianney lives in Sioux Falls and serves in prayer and part-time ministry.