National Catholic Sisters Week Events Include Honoring Three Local Sisters

Sisters Marlene Bertke, OSB, Rita Brocke, RSM, and Mary Claire Kennedy, SSJ, will be honored for their many years of dedicated social activism as part of National Catholic Sisters Week, on Sunday, March 11 at 2 p.m. at Mount St. Benedict, 6101 E Lake Rd. The public is welcome. The title of the event, “Women Who are Called,” reflects the local theme for National Catholic Sisters Week which is celebrated each year from March 8-14. The event will include a short video tribute to each Sister, produced by Lilly Broadcasting. Additional honors and a blessing also will be part of the afternoon.

Each sister will be presented with a tree to be planted on her congregation’s respective property as a living and growing reminder of her contribution to social justice. Another tree will also be planted in the community with a plaque honoring the three sisters.


Sister Marlene Bertke, OSB, came to Erie in 1973 to be part of Pax Center for peace and justice, and later transferred from the Benedictine Sisters in Covington, Ky., to the Erie Benedictine community. She co-founded national Benedictines for Peace (BFP) and served as director of Erie Benedictines for Peace for 23 years in addition to other ministry: teaching at St. Benedict’s Academy, Erie, Pa., followed by ministry at Pax Christi USA, the Alliance for International Monasticism (AIM), and teaching English as a Second Language. She participated in protective accompaniment delegations to communities at risk during U.S. funded wars which took her to Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Chiapas, Mexico. On her return, she shared her experiences and advocated for change in U.S. policy. She was one of the originators of the annual Good Friday Pilgrimage, Take Back the Site vigils and monthly First Friday vigils for peace, an end to the death penalty, and justice for immigrants. Sister Marlene was named an Erie Times-News Person of the Year in 2016 for her peace and justice work.

Sister Rita Brocke, RSM, was an educator before becoming a nurse to work at DuBois (Pa.) Hospital (now DuBois Regional Medical Center) and at Mercyhurst College (now University). Trained as a nurse practitioner, she ministered at Martin Luther King Center, Erie, from 1975-88, at the Mercy Nurse Managed Center in Detroit from 1989-99 and at the Thea Bowman Wellness Institute in Highland Park from 1997-2001, both in Michigan. She returned to Erie in 2002 to start the first House of Mercy in the United States to provide activities and advocacy that engage adults and children in positive experiences for them and their neighborhood. Awarded many times for developing primary care health services for those in poverty, Sister Rita is a proponent of liberation theology, a view of Christian faith, doctrines and the Bible through the experiences and eyes of the poor. The Mercy Center for Women named her as a Woman Making History.

Sister Mary Claire Kennedy, SSJ, ministered as social justice coordinator for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania from 2000-20017 after a distinguished career in science education and research. As social justice coordinator, Sister Mary Claire was known as an outspoken crusader against human trafficking. She organized a local collaboration in 2005 that offered a series of presentations and workshops featuring Dr. Kevin Bales, author of “Disposable People.” She helped form the Northwest Pennsylvania Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition. She was involved in many local and global initiatives to promote peace and justice, providing advocacy and action on issues from war to health care, from the environment to human rights. She led the Sisters of St. Joseph Thanksgiving Dinner for several years, which has provided thousands of free Thanksgiving dinners to those who are alone or less fortunate. In 2015, she received the Archbishop Oscar Romero award from Mercyhurst University which recognizes the accomplishments and commitment of local and international peace and justice leaders. She worked closely with other Erie Catholic Sisters in coordinating the local Take Back the Site vigils and she worked tirelessly to engage members of her congregation and the local community in advocating for the rights of others.

For more information on the “Women Who are Called” event, contact Sister Anne McCarthy, OSB, at 814-460-5522 or

Two other events planned during National Catholic Sisters Week are a panel discussion on religious life and an evening of conversation for young women ages 17-25.

The panel discussion will include JoAnne Courneen, RSM, Susan Doubet, OSB, and Nancy Fischer, SSJ, and will be moderated by Gary Loncki, Sisters of Mercy communications director. It will be held on Wednesday, March 14 at 1:30 p.m. at Mercy Hilltop Center, 444 East Grandview Blvd. For more information on the panel discussion at the Mercy Hilltop Center, contact Amy Chevalier, program director, at or 824-2214.

The Sisters of St. Joseph will host an evening for young women, ages 17-25, on Wednesday, March 14, beginning at 5 p.m. at the Sisters of St. Joseph Community Living Center, 5031 West Ridge Road. The evening will include an informal dinner and fireside chat about the many things to which God calls us in our lives and how to be open to God’s prompting. For more information or to RSVP (by March 9), contact Sister Rosemary O’Brien or 814-836-4212

Billboards and television spots will also promote this year’s National Catholic Sisters Week throughout the area and are funded through a grant from National Catholic Sisters Week.