Sisters from our past

Sr. Josephine Carini

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Josephine Carini was born to Benvenuto and Virginia (Bongiorni) Carini in Piacenza, Italy, on November 13, 1923, the youngest of six children in the Carini household.

Sr. Josephine was a woman of robust faith, wisdom, courage and strength, woman of the future who through listening, word and example molded characters and touched many lives, particularly the young. Sr. Josephine is a legend in our Province. She was gifted with a superior intelligence and made herself totally available to the Lord for the coming of his Kingdom. In fact, she was heard to say: “I am here because I believe in obedience.”

Sr. Josephine began her life on November 13, 1924, in Piacenza, Italy. She was born into a warm and welcoming working class family. Both her parents had emigrated to the United States when they were still very young. They were married in Torrington, Connecticut on September 10, 1910, and were blessed with the gift of the first two girls: Mary and Lydia. After the birth of Lydia, the couple decided to return to Italy for sometime so that the grandparents could meet their son’s wife and the two little grandchildren. However, during their visit, the First World War broke out and the Carini’s could no longer return since the United States was cut off from Italy. The young couple not only remained stranded, but Mr. Carini was drafted into the Italian Army.Not only that, but Mr. Carini was drafted into the Italian army and the young mother with the two girls was left to fend for herself among her husband's family.

Let us hear Sr. Josephine herself recount the next years for her family.

During the four long years of war, Benvenuto was able to come home a few times, and two boys were added to the young family. The war ended, and Mr. Carini found his way back to New York. However, Mrs. Carini with small children and at this point not well, could not accompany him. Seeing the difficulty of having his wife with him, Mr. Carini and the two girls born in the United States returned to set up house in New York. Mrs. Carini welcomed her sister's children into the house since their father had been killed during the war. And so cousin Rose became part of the family. Further trips across the ocean to settle the family gave an increase of two daughters. The last one born on November 13, 1923 was Josephine in Bettola, Piacenza, Italy.

My earliest recollections are not very clear since there were papers to fill out and the three of us who were left with my mother plus my cousin Rose who had always been part of the family had to be cleared for immigration. All I remember was that we were going home so that all of us could be together with my mother and father. Finally on September 29, l931, all of us were reunited in New York City.”

School began almost immediately, and we three who had just arrived were registered in P.S. 23, the local public school. The three older children were already working, but since we also had Rose living with us, the place where my father and sisters and brother were living, 75 Baxter Street, was not large enough for us all. Therefore, we moved to 54 James Street. This necessitated a new school registration, this time to P.S. 1. In all of this, I was moved from first grade through third grade in the space of that first year. The teachers were concerned and made every effort to teach us the language and customs, even having special classes on Saturday.”

Little did I know of depression years, but thinking back later, I would marvel at my mother's ingenuity in feeding and clothing so many of us on the money available. We had all the necessities of life and were secure and confident in the family atmosphere. My mother and father encouraged us to make the most of the opportunities afforded in the city, from the free concerts in Central Park to the block instructors that came from the city to teach the children all the games. We swam in the ocean at Coney Island and enjoyed the parks, the museums, the library, and the long city walks, as well as the interminable subway rides to every part of the city for five cents. In all of this, it was the two older girls who worked and together with my father, provided the necessary household expenses. My last concern at this time were the daily expenses for life. “

Shy and intellectually inclined, Josephine would gladly have spent more time immersed in some book or other, but she always joined in the fun with her closest-in age sister, Louise. Sr. Josephine laughingly recalls the time she let adventure and amusement get “out of hand.” Radio City was featuring a great midday matinee for a very inexpensive admission fee. But, unfortunately, it was during the school day. So, “Jo” considered her priorities and – Radio City won out over school! Anyway, housekeeping Mom would never find out. After a great movie, there was another exciting adventure; one of the neighborhood boys offered her a ride on his motorcycle. Away they went! What a great day. Until they got home. Somehow, Virginia Carini found out! To this day Sr. Josephine can’t figure out how she managed to discover this and so many escapades of the Carini clan. (Just as many of “Sister Jo’s” past pupils could never quite figure out how she discovered so many of their escapades! Heredity?)

Sr. Josephine continues to tell her story:

My mother managed the house and all the persons who lived in it. She seldom raised her voice, but all was in order because she was there. She attended daily Mass. The nearest Catholic Church was that of St. James which also had a Catholic school. But, since we were Italians, we were barred from this Irish community. My mother found the nearest Church to be that of the Transfiguration on Mott Street, a good distance away. This community responded to the needs of her idea of our family life. Her confessor must have told her about Catholic education for the children, for she transferred us into Transfiguration School some years after. This was quite a long distance to walk four times a day, but we soon grew accustomed to the daily trek.”

It was here that I first met the Salesian Sisters, as well as the Salesian Fathers. One summer Father Anthony Bregolato, the pastor, invited the young people to attend services every Sunday night where he would explain the Mass. He made the explanation so clear and exciting that I began to attend daily Mass at St. James Church near our home. I was the in the seventh grade. I believe it was this daily Mass attendance which helped me realize the call of God in my life. At the same time, the example of the Sisters, especially Sr. Adelina Gastaldo and Sr. Helen Gatti, had great influence on me. Both of these Sisters were interested in all our doings and were never too busy to listen to us. Sr. Helen Gatti gave me the first prayer book I ever owned, and I thought I had reached heaven. Little by little, they began to talk about continuing school in North Haledon to see if I would be interested in keeping close to them. At that time, Sr. Adelina had been told that she would go to North Haledon as Mistress of Novices. We girls had no idea of what she was talking about, but we said yes because she thought it was a good idea.”

Before I knew it, I had met Mother Antoinette Pollini, who was provincial at that time, and she had asked me if I wanted to continue school in North Haledon. I was not quite sure, since my older sisters had left home already. Though my mother said little about these events, her worries were apparent even to me. However, Mother Antoinette said that she would do the talking, and all I had to concern myself about were the studies. I knew I had to attend high school, so the place did not much matter. Little by little, I realized all that the Lord had done and all that the Sisters meant. By that time, I had given serious thought to the way of the Lord and I said my ‘Yes’.”

It was Mother Antoinette herself who took the time to instruct us in the art of prayer since we did not have a steady assistant as aspirants. She was the one who took the time to speak to each one of us privately every so often, as she also made sure that we had what we needed. Gradually, but surely, I found myself responding to the call of God as it became clear that the will of God for me was to become a Salesian Sister.”

On January 31,1941, Josephine received the cape and began her Postulancy, six months of preparation for the Novitiate. During this time, under the continued guidance of Mother Antoinette Pollini and with the example of the Sisters, she learned the workings of Salesian life.

On August 5, 1941, Josephine received the novice medal and habit and began her novitiate. She wrote: “When I entered the Novitiate in the old building of St. Joseph's, Sr. Adelina Gastaldo was the Mistress of Novices and Sr. Mary Canizzaro was the assistant. From these two persons, who interacted with us during the novitiate years, I was able to form a theology of the vows which has withstood the storms of Vatican II and a theory of community living which was able to weather the difficulties inherent in the years of my religious life.

On August 5, 1943, Josephine pronounced the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience for one year as mandated by our Constitutions, but in her heart the “Yes” was irrevocable. Sr. Josephine made her profession at 19 years of age and began her apostolate educating hundreds of young people in the various houses in the province.

Sr. Josephine warmly recalls her early formation at the hands of wondrous religious women like Mother Antoinette, Sr. Adelina, and Sr. Mary Canizzaro, but the real “initial formation” was begun much earlier under the direction of two loving, indomitable parents. All three girls went on to become leaders in their religious communities, each serving terms as provincials and even as members of their central governments. It was this same formation that helped Sr. Josephine through some very difficult times. Multiple roles were always part of her religious life.

Sr. Josephine’s first assignment was to teach in the parochial school of Mary Help of Christians, in New York City. She remained there for nine years. In 1952, Sr. Josephine was transferred to the elementary school of Holy Rosary, in Port Chester, NY and in 1954 she was again transferred to St. Michael's School, in Paterson, NJ. This wasa the first FMA foundation in the USA. In every one of these schools, Sr. Josephine was well-loved, respected and appreciated for her selfless dedication, excellent teaching and fairness toward all her pupils. While teaching full time, Sr. Josephine also pursued her studies and in 1953 she received a BS in Secondary Education and English from Fordham University. She graduated summa cum laude and was awarded the Gold Medal by the Committee on Honors and Awards as a senior who earned the highest average in English. She was also granted honorable mention of general scholastic excellence. Sr. Josephine did not attend the commencement for that sense of modesty which was characteristic of her, but retrieved the medal later from the Dean’s Office.

In 1959, Sr. Josephine was transferred to North Haledon, where for six years she was principal of Mary Help of Christians Academy. Under her administration and guidance, the Academy grew in number, curricula were updated and new classes developed, after-school activities were multiple and well-attended and the school had an excellent name for discipline, professionalism and seriousness in studies. To the magnitude of the school work, Sr. Josephine was given the added responsibility to follow the junior professed Sisters. This entailed giving conferences, showing them how to live and practice St. John Bosco's Preventive System of education, and teaching the practical things of every-day religious life to the youngest Sisters. With regard to the younger Sisters, she would counsel, “Watch their prayer-life. Without a deep personal prayer-life which nourishes faith, there is no hope for perseverance.” In conjunction with all this, Sr. Josephine continued her studies and in 1965 she obtained her Ph.D. in English and Philosophy of Education from the Catholic University in Washington, DC. Sr. Josephine distinguished herself in her studies so as to be awarded a Graduate Assistantship to the Department of Education for the academic year 1964-1965. This appointment carried privileges with respect to tuition and a cash stipend. Sr. Josephine was happy not so much for the honor, as for having saved some money for the Province.

In 1965, Sr. Josephine was given the role of Community Supervisor and Dean of studies for the Sisters. In this capacity, she traveled from Canada to Florida and from New Jersey to California to visit our 40 schools in order to help improve the quality of education, the performance of the teachers, and the practice of the Preventive System. She always encouraged, supported, affirmed without ever intentionally humiliating anybody. Her aim was always the professional preparation and performance of the personnel for the sake of the young people entrusted to us. She organized workshops and seminars for principals and teachers and guided faculties through State Accreditation or in development of curricula more in keeping with the rapid changes that the post-modern times demanded.

Sr. Ida Grasso gives this witness:

Sr. Josephine was very, I would say extremely shy, and her timidity caused her quite a bit of suffering, since she had to be in contact with many people in authority. Often, in her straightforwardness when faced with situations dealing with difficult or ambivalent attitudes, her strong reactions were even abrupt, and she recognized this and suffered because of her character. She, however, was always ready to contact the person and ask pardon or clarify the motivations.”

She was very exacting and at times even pushy, to help girls and Sisters to achieve the qualifications towards the goal of their life. Everything she did was always for their good even though many of them never came to know the much she really did for them. As was already mentioned by others, she would never appear as having done anything extraordinary or simply good, it was always the doing of her Sisters, of the Superior or of her Provincial. She worked “back stage” letting the others take the merit.”

Her love for the Institute and her loyalty, which I experienced in many difficult situations, were unparalleled, and must have been the result of the formation she received from the many saintly Sisters and Superiors like Sr. Adelina Gastaldo, Mother Antoniette Pollini and others as well as her own sister, Mother Lydia, who were her first reference persons for her FMA vocation. I experienced her loyalty in ordinary situations and especially during the preparation for and actual participation at the General Chapters, particularly the one on the Revision of the Constitutions. She lived those moments with intensity of love and determination of fidelity.”

As her Superior for six years and then Provincial for over nine years, I benefited from the intelligent and generous help of Sr. Josephine, both for matters concerning individual Sisters, Communities and the Province or the proposals and decisions for scholastic, educational and formative matters.”

When the proliferation of Teachers' Training Colleges by different religious congregations caused the Ministry of Higher Education to demand that these colleges be changed into Liberal Art Colleges, thus requiring an original, new curriculum and pedagogical approach, she worked hard in preparing the proposal and after some time came to me asking for my opinion and response. After I listened to her she simply asked: ‘You are not saying anything. Shall I go ahead and present it as it is, or what?’ I answered: ‘How long did it take you to think it out before you came to me?’ and she said: “I worked hard for the past few weeks’, ‘Well,’ I said, ‘give me a few weeks to study it carefully and then come for an answer’. She did not expect this answer, but smiled and said, ‘You are right’ and did not argue about it. She was able to accept it with humility not resenting the fact that I might possibly suggest some changes to her proposal.

As she worked hard to have the governmental approval of the program leading to the Associate Degree in Liberal Arts, she was equally realistic and ready to end its activities when the requirements of the government necessitated opening the College to lay people men and women, which included providing social activities (dances, parties, socials, etc…). All this contrasted with the purpose of our Institution to provide for the Sisters’ formation according to our Salesian charism, principles and values. It was then that we joined with the Salesians of Don Bosco at Don Bosco College, so that our Sisters and candidates could obtain their degrees.”

Her capacity for work and her generous dedication were equaled by her intelligence, far-sightedness, creativity, sincere concern for the good and for the educational and professional preparation and competence of the Sisters, for their truly integral formation as FMA educators. This was true when she was principal of the high school and of the college as well as when she was responsible in the Province for the educational qualification of the Sisters and the educational quality and standard of the various schools.”

Over and above these few examples, I remember Sr. Josephine as a woman of God, with a deep spirit of faith, of prayer, of confidence in the help of God and of Our Blessed Mother whom she loved with simple and sincere tenderness, and endeavored to make her loved and imitated by the girls. These, and especially her deep love for the Eucharist, were the sources of her capacity to accept the inevitable adversities of daily realities without resentment. She was herself, what she was before God, and what others thought or said about her would not affect her way of being genuinely her true self. I am most grateful to her for the example of her life which also sustained my faith and the courage to live my own life with joyful faithfulness, serenity and gratitude to God for my vocation. I pray for her, but I pray to her that she may intercede with Mary Help of Christians for all of us, that we may truly be a Monument of Gratitude for the wonders of our FMA vocation.”

In 1975, in obedience to God’s will, Sr. Josephine accepted the responsibility of leading our Province as Provincial. During her six years of service, she lived with her suitcase in hand. At that time, the Province extended from Canada to Florida and from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. The distances were enormous, but the tireless Provincial sought to visit every house more than once a year traveling by night to save time and money. Her visits were desired and enjoyed because the Sisters could see that her interest in them was genuine. Her conferences were deep and anchored in the Word of God and in the Constitutions on which she constantly reflected. A verse taken from the Prophet Micah describes her well: “This is what the Lord asks of you: to act with justice, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.” Sr. Josephine Carini holds, and will always hold, a very special place in the annals of the now three provinces of Canada, Western USA and Eastern USA, and in the hearts of many Sisters and past pupils.

Sr. Josephine was a light that guided the steps of many consecrated souls and lay people as well on the difficult journey of life. As a candle consumes itself by giving light, the same can be said of Sr. Josephine, who radiated light in the gift of herself to the very end. During her years of being Provincial, her inexhaustible creative energy and her penetrating vision of people and events were even more evident. Her presence gave a sense of security to those who those who approached her. She would often repeat the verse from the Little Prince: ‘One sees clearly only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eye.’ This phrase can truly be applied to her because she had the ability of touching the heart and making everyone feel that she/he was special to her. When her strong reactions surfaced, people could see and understood her deep motivation for all she did and said. Her main goal was always the good of the person.

In her brief biography, Sr. Josephine wrote: “As Provincial, I focused on the Sisters, especially those who were in leadership positions as principals and leaders of the communities. The spiritual and Salesian aspects of our lives continued to be of prime importance. Meanwhile, the aspect of potential and interest of each Sister was studied in reference to each one’s interest and potential. The point of departure was how to aid each Sister to find fulfillment and joy in the service of the young, especially those most at risk. This included the facilitation of the Sister’s journey as a woman and as a consecrated person as she ministered to those less fortunate and in need of guidance.”

Generations of FMA benefitted from the work, sacrifices and sincere concern of Sr. Josephine. Many reached a high level of professionalism, encouraged by her. Many were able to be faithful through her patient accompaniment.Her superior intelligence and profound vision into the substance of things, allowed her to see beyond with an almost prophetic vision.Sr. Josephine was respected and loved for her strong spiritual and maternal leadershipand she was considered a sure guide for many F.M.A. because of her prayerful discernment and clarity of vision into problems and their respective solutions. Her concern was always to empower others to make free and intelligent choices in both life and education.

Having completed her six years of service as Provincial, obedience called Sr. Josephine to take up the role of Superior and principal at St. John Bosco School in San Antonio, Texas from 1981-1987. At the end of her six-year term, Sister accepted once more the responsibility of community Superior and principal at Mater Dolorosa in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1990, Sr. Josephine asked to be relieved from the responsibility of a community and school administration and taught junior high school students in St. Anthony, Elizabeth for a year. In 1991, Sister joined Mary Help of Christians’ community in New York where she did some research work needed in the Province. In 1992, Sr. Josephine was transferred to Mary Help of Christians Academy in North Haledon where she spent twelve years in research work and the “apostolate of the pen.” She was a prolific writer. Among other things, she wrote the history of the Province on the occasion of the Centennial of the FMA presence in the USA and contributed articles to every issue of Partners in Giving, the periodical of the Province. Her topics were timely, interesting and formative, so much so that people would read Sr. Josephine's article before looking at other news. She used the gift of writing also to help Sisters and past pupils. For the alumnae, she had a particularly watchful eye. She was a mother, guide, support, point of reference, and a rock on which hold on to in troublesome times for many of the past pupils.

Fr. Anthony Mastrioni, in his eulogy, tells a great story about Sr. Josephine,

She could be quite charming, as I recall one morning driving Sr. Josephine and Mother Ida to Philadelphia for the Perfectae Caritatis Symposium. As we were driving along the Jersey Turnpike, Sr. Josephine spoke up to say, “Father we will never get there at this rate. You need to put your foot on it.” I replied, “Say but the word.” So it was 65, then 75 and then some… It looked like clear sailing with no one in sight, until the red lights appeared in the rearview mirror and the sounds from hell. A big, burly State Trooper was about to slap me with a big fat ticket for which I would be paying surcharges on my insurance until the Second Coming, when Sr. Josephine chimed in from the back, “Officer, don’t give him that ticket. It’s our fault. We told him to go faster.” Then Mother Ida with those big, puppy dog eyes piped in, “Yes, please give the ticket to us. Please.” The officer replied, “Sisters you know I can’t do that.” “Well,” said the now quite disarmed trooper, “we’ll let it slide for now, but don’t try to get to heaven before it’s time.”

In January 2004, Sr. Josephine fell and fractured her hip. She had to undergo surgery, but while still in the hospital, she suffered a cardiac attack that brought her nearly to death’s door. She understood that she could no longer go to North Haledon and gratefully accepted the Provincial’s assignment to the Provincial House, where she would receive the care she needed. During the two and a half years she lived at the Provincial house, there were further episodes of heart attacks which consequently necessitated hospitalization. Needless to say, every new event undermined more and more her already fragile constitution.

Sr. Josephine was never afraid of death; rather she waited almost impatiently for it, in fact, with ardent longing she would say, “Come Lord Jesus, I am ready.”

In October of 2005, Sr. Josephine had a second major cardiac crisis and the doctor herself predicted that she would not have passed the night. However, the Lord had other plans. Sr. Josephine overcame the crisis and recuperated enough strength to follow the community practices of piety and activities. In the meantime, the news of Sr. Josephine’s decline spread instantaneously and many past pupils, religious and lay, arrived from Canada, Texas, California, New York and New Jersey to receive a last encouraging word from her. Outside the room, a line was spontaneously formed, and for a few days, Sisters and past pupils waited patiently for their turn to go in for a few minutes.

During the last six months, Sr. Josephine passed many hours in silence and prayer, reading and reflecting on the Word, talking gratefully with those who would visit her and keeping up with world events. She was deeply appreciative for all the nurses did for her and “thank you” was a constant refrain on her lips. On days when she felt a bit stronger, she would go back to the computer trying to continue writing for Partners in Giving.

On August 10th, last day of her earthly life, she was still writing an article about Sr. Irene Zaccagnino who had passed into eternity ten days before. The day went by normally and there were no indications that death was so close. The morning of August 11, Sr. Amelia Callegarin had just arrived to help her get ready for the chapel. She soon realized that Sr. Josephine was having trouble breathing. She immediately called the nurse, Sr. Virginia Dickey, who administered the oxygen and the medications Sister usually took in such cases. But this time, all proved futile and in a few minutes our dear Sr. Josephine instead of joining the community in the chapel, was already participating in the eternal liturgy of heaven. The Provincial, Sr. Phyllis Neves, and the Superior, Sr. Hèlène Godin, who were at Sacred Heart Center in Newton for the Triennial Verifica, were informed and returned quickly to the Provincial House to make the necessary arrangements.

Years ago, Sr. Josephine had decided to give her body to the New Jersey Medical Institute for research so that young doctors would be able to prepare well for their medical profession. In this way, Sr. Josephine, who had been an educator par excellence all her life, continued to do so even after death.

There was no funeral or burial, but many FMA, friends and past pupils attended the Memorial Mass in suffrage for her soul. In his homily, the celebrant, Fr. Anthony Mastroiani, who had known Sr. Josephine for many years, highlighted how she strove to live the Beatitudes authentically, particularly poverty, chastity, humility and suffering. At the end of the Mass there was a PowerPoint presentation of her life that awakened nostalgia, memories and emotions in those present. Now we pray that we, too, may live our consecration in totality and generous humility as she did.

This tribute is from Sr. Mary Terzo, FMA a grateful Salesian Sister who grew up under Sr. Josephine's care:

She soared like an eagle,
seeing things we could not see.
dreaming dreams we could not envision.
Intelligent beyond our ken,
she urged us to higher realms of knowledge and of action.

She is the prophet among us,
bearing the prophet’s fate.
Looking beyond our limited sight
to hopes far vaster than our own.
Her persistence taught us to value education.
Her foresight led us to become
Religious women
Professional in our service to the young.

No half measures were acceptable.
As she gave her all, so must we.
She honed us and formed us,
giving us new dreams
that brought to life our dormant gifts.

A woman of prayer,
a woman of strength,
stalwart in suffering,
loyal, generous, hard-working,
humble and ever gracious,
She is still
the wind beneath our wings,
our dream-maker,
pillar of our Province,
our steady light,
beaming Hope and
Possibility.