She stands as an embodiment of our mission, to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare. “St. Francis tells his followers to preach the Gospel always and only use words when necessary,” she said with a glimmer. “I believe that as a Franciscan school, we must model this every day by being open and welcoming to students, faculty, and parents.”
Sr. Irene’s journey to Mount Alvernia Academy began when she was teaching in Philadelphia. “I was teaching with the Franciscan Sisters, and one of the sisters invited me to visit their main house in Newton, MA.” She had thought about entering religious life and had decided it simply was not for her, but she knew she would regret it if she did not at least visit. “It was not what I wanted for my life, but I could not shake the feeling, so I decided to enter and prove it was not where I belonged. You can see how that went . . . I am still here!”
From the very beginning, Sr. Irene felt drawn to the Missionary Franciscan Sisters because of the strength of their community. “Their love of life, simplicity, and prayerfulness touched me in a way that no other community had,” she reflected. Sr. Irene has held many roles during her time with the Missionary Franciscan Sisters, including Principal of MAA from 1994-1999. She always cherished the community here, so when the opportunity to come back presented itself, she acted without hesitation. “I contacted Mrs. Plunkett to see if she could use someone a few days a week. She graciously welcomed me into the MAA family and asked me to begin a guidance program here.”
The guidance program Sr. Irene started six years ago has become a cornerstone of our community and brought her an immense amount of joy. “I enjoy helping students feel good about who they are as they learn to navigate their own feelings during challenging times in their lives,” she said. “I want to help them become problem solvers and learn to use their own voices to speak up in a respectful manner as they share how they feel.”
For her, the most important part of being a guidance counselor is to ensure students have a strong sense of self-worth. “I want them always to know that they are loved by God, and the best way to do this is to help them see the beauty within themselves,” she stressed. Sr. Irene has built her guidance philosophy around a statement by the Franciscan scholar Ilia Delio, which she tweaks slightly to read, “Compassion is the ability to listen attentively to a child in order to respond with loving concern and care.”
Sr. Irene cares deeply about the students at MAA and strives to make her office a space where students feel comfortable being themselves. “Whether a student just needs a hug, somewhere to let off some steam, a place to finish homework or share their story without judgment, I want to be there for them. It is why I chose to be a guidance counselor.” Our entire community has come to love and rely on her love, care, and concern, and we all know that no matter where we are in life, we can always go and talk to Sr. Irene.