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On a Firm Foundation: Vocations in my Life


Mary Quilici Aumack

Executive Director
Catholic Community Foundation of Santa Clara County, aumack@cfoscc.org

A few weeks ago I attended the memorial Mass for Sister Joan Panella, SNDdeN. Sister Joan was a friend who was also my high school English teacher and college counselor at Notre Dame High School in San Jose.  When friends and family surprised Doug and me with a beautiful quilt on our wedding day, one of the squares was the Notre Dame crest, embroidered by Sister Joan.  At the Mass we joyfully celebrated this gift of Sister Joan.  Throughout her life she contributed to community in so many ways.  

The religious vocations of others have contributed greatly to my faith and my life.

My first memory of clergy is of Monsignor (Ronald) Mentasti at Saint Justin.  For those who knew him, he was an imposing figure.  He could subdue us with one look.  He is famous for his New Year’s Day sermon: “Life is short, Death is certain, Hell is forever, Think it over.”  Somehow, I don’t recall being frightened by that, just reminded to behave.  

I am furious and repulsed by the abuse that has occurred in the church, and the scandalous and unconscionable cover-ups.  At the same time, I was among the lucky ones.  I only ever encountered good clergy and religious.

When I was growing up in Saint Justin, I was blessed with Father Terry Sullivan and Father Dan Derry.  Good men, committed to their vocations, who are still active in ministry today.  Father Terry has walked with my family, including presiding at my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary Mass, and both their memorials.

At Gonzaga I had the benefit of the presence and teaching of the Jesuits.  Through these men my faith was challenged, nurtured and strengthened. I am grateful.

Through my work as a volunteer for Catholic Charities and now at the Catholic Community Foundation, I have had the great fortune to work with strong, engaged bishops, including DuMaine, McGrath, Daly and Cantú.

At Saint Justin, I had my first encounter with the women religious.  I recall with affection the leadership of Mother Margaret Mary and Sister Gemma.  Sister Gemma is still a friend.

It wasn’t until recent years that I have fully understood the broad and important contribution of women religious. They were pioneers in immigrant education and healthcare.  They built schools and hospitals against formidable odds. They have ALWAYS reached out to marginalized populations, in schools, homeless encampments, and prisons. They nurtured each other in community, and joyfully lived the Gospel to the benefit of the rest of us. The ministry of these women continues to late in life, in advocacy, activism and prayer.

I have learned so much about the role of the consecrated life through my friendship and interactions with Sister Rosalie Pizzo, SNDdeN, Bishop’s Delegate to the Religious. Sister Rosalie is my example of a joy-filled commitment to consecrated life, spreading wisdom, teaching values, and emanating good humor daily.

I know that one of the great sacramental vocations is that of Marriage.  I was so blessed to have the good example of my parents, and I now have the ineffable gift of Doug.

At the Foundation we manage and grow an endowment for the support of seminarians.  Let me know if you would like to contribute or learn more about it.

Those who choose vocations to religious life are not better or more blessed than the rest of us.  However, they make a commitment to leadership and example from which we all benefit. 

I pray for strengthened vocations, so that generations to come may experience these relationships as I have, and that they may work broadly with laity toward a strong and transparent Church.