Assumption Sisters: 20 years of Ministry in Main South, Worcester

Friday, January 12, 2018

We reprint here the article featured in the January 12, 2018 issue of The Catholic Free Press of the Diocese of Worcester, MA.  Bravo and congratulations, Worcester Sisters!

Religious of the Assumption Reach into the Community

January 12, 2018
By Tanya Connor | The Catholic Free Press 

WORCESTER – Twenty years ago a religious sister from the Philippines ended up in Main South, responding in part to the desires of her community and a parish – and also to needs she discovered there. 

Ten years ago her community purchased one of the parish’s rectories and expanded their outreach.  

A celebration of these milestones and her own 30th jubilee last month paid tribute to the reach and accessibility of the Religious of the Assumption, and their collaboration with St. Peter Parish. 

Sister Mary Ann Azanza, the jubilarian, told The Catholic Free Press how things developed. 

“I was sent from the Philippines (in February 1996) because the sisters from the United States had made an appeal” to the whole congregation for help with youth ministry, she said, explaining that sisters here were getting older. 

Her experiences made her a good candidate. She’d been a high school teacher and principal in the Philippines, and for her master’s thesis she created a formation program for lay young adult volunteers called the Assumption Mission Associates (AMAs). She’d also spent time in the United States discerning a vocation with the Religious of the Assumption, whom she joined after returning to the Philippines. 

“The ministry of the sisters (in Worcester) was focused on Assumption College and they wanted to expand their apostolic commitment,” Sister Mary Ann said. They were teaching, doing campus ministry and serving on the board of trustees of the college, which was founded by their brother congregation, the Augustinians of the Assumption. 

Today, the sisters continue to pray with the Assumptionists and for the college’s work, support campus ministry and help with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, Sister Mary Ann said. She moderates a women’s discernment group at the college and a sister, now living in Philadelphia, remains on the board of trustees. 

But when Sister Mary Ann came, she didn’t work at the college. Her job became connecting the sisters with the wider community. They wanted to reach out to migrants, the poor and the local church.   

The sisters approached Sister Ann Marie Marshall, a Sister of Mercy who ministered to Hispanics at St. Peter’s. Father José A. Rodríguez, then associate pastor there, was also involved with Hispanic ministry. 

St. Peter’s hired Sister Mary Ann and she started work as director of religious education on Sept. 1, 1996. But her ministry wasn’t limited to that. 

“Get to know the neighborhood, get to know the needs of the people and see what more we can do,” Msgr. Francis J. Scollen, the pastor, told her. 

Sister Mary Ann said she saw a need for an after-school mentoring program for children and English as a Second Language classes for adults. That November the parish, with the sisters’ support, started these programs. 

“The programs began with just a few people, and they grew exponentially, I believe because they were answering needs in the neighborhood and also (because of) the generosity of so many volunteers,” Sister Mary Ann said. 

“So by the fall of 1997, the programs were so big that I proposed … that we have a community of AMAs in Worcester … to be full-time volunteers in those programs, as well as helping in other areas of the parish.… 

“We discovered there were other young adults who wanted to live in intentional community,” committed to praying together and doing service, while holding down paying jobs. “That’s how the Cana community began.” 

She said the community of AMAs and working young adults was named Cana to reflect young people’s joy at the wedding where Jesus turned water into wine – after his mother instructed servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 

“They wanted their life to be doing ‘whatever He told them,’” Sister Mary Ann said of Cana members. They wanted to grow in noticing and responding to others’ needs. 

Cana members live on the second floor of the Assumption Center, the former St. Andrew the Apostle rectory. The sisters bought the rectory 10 years ago, after St. Andrew’s Parish became a mission of St. Peter’s. 

“With the Assumption Center, we pitched our tent in the Main South-Columbus Park neighborhoods,” said Sister Nuala Cotter, provincial of the United States Province, headquartered in Worcester, speaking at the anniversary Mass and celebration on Dec. 9. 

The programs the sisters sponsor, with support from the parish, were represented by boxes carried into the Mass at St. Peter’s, and by displays at the reception in St. Andrew’s church hall. 

“Your community has a gift – to take people where they’re at,” Msgr. Scollen told the sisters at the Mass. “You respect them.” 

“All the programs were so fun,” said Mariela Miron, after looking at photos of some she participated in. She said Girls With DREAMS participants “were all girls, so you could talk to them like they were your regular friends,” even if you hadn’t previously met them. 

“I wouldn’t have missed it,” said Madeleine (Zaehringer) Haskins, a former AMA, who came in from San Francisco for the jubilee. “They’re such an amazing community – the sisters, St. Peter’s, Main South, the kids I mentored.” 

Kate Carew, in her fourth year as a Cana member, said she got involved because she was seeking community.  “It’s helped me deepen my faith … through a lot of informal conversations,” she said. 

In addition to volunteers, lay people who work with the sisters are Anne Kane, Assumption Center director, and Sandy Piwko, vocation and volunteer ministry director. 

“We couldn’t do it without St. Peter’s and they couldn’t do it without us,” Sister Mary Ann said of the collaboration. “It’s all the work of the Church and the work for the Kingdom.” 

–  For more information see and the Facebook page Religious of the Assumption USA.