When 21-year-old Ann Venita Britto announced that she was entering the convent to become a nun, she received two different reactions from her parents.
“My dad was happy,” she recalled.
But her mom knew her middle child well and reacted to her religious vocation with some degree of skepticism, flatly stating, “You won’t last because you talk too much.”
That was 50 years ago.
On Saturday, the Sisters of the Cross nun simply known as Sister Ann by an untold number of parishioners at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church and many others in neighboring South San Joaquin communities and beyond, will mark her 50th jubilee as a “bride of Christ.” The celebration for that high water mark in her life will be held on Saturday with a concelebrated Mass led by Bishop Stephen E. Blair at 5:30 p.m. followed by a dinner reception in St. Anthony’s gym where she will be greeted by an expected 200 to 250 guests.
Among those attending, besides three siblings from Canada, will be the other four Sisters of the Cross nuns who are ministering at St. Bernard Church in Tracy where all five of them live in the parish convent. They are the only members of their international religious order, founded in 1833 in Belgium by Blessed Marie Therese Haze, who are serving in California. The oldest in their group is Sister Bernadette Mascarenhas who is 93 years old. The others are Sister Mary Lancaster, Sister Marlene Sylas, and Sister Cecilia D’Mello. All serve St. Bernard’s parish in various ministries.
The gift of the gab
and the ‘party sister’
Sister Ann herself started her ministry at St. Bernard’s, beginning in 1976 when she joined the teaching staff of St. Bernard School. It was the Sisters of the Cross who were the first teachers on campus when it opened in 1958. Interestingly enough, the 71-year-old jubilee celebrant’s penchant for talking, as precisely noted by her late mother, was the very same characteristic that fueled the longevity of her vocation. Her gift of the gab proved to be a divine blessing. It made her a natural for the teaching profession which spanned about three decades.
She taught at St. Bernard’s until 1985 when she went to work at St. George’s School in Stockton where she was mainly a kindergarten teacher. While at St. Bernard’s, she also took the helm as school principal from 1978 until her move to the Stockton campus. She was at St. George’s for 19 years before she came to St. Anthony’s in Manteca to work in the parish’s Ministry of Caring. It’s a parish program that encompasses a plethora of services - from a grief support and visitation of seniors who are homebound and in nursing homes, to coordinating bus field trips, and organizing with the help of her crew of volunteers special luncheons accompanied by entertainment for adults with special needs and seniors. It’s the latter group that has earned the India-born nun the moniker, “the party sister,” bestowed by the hundreds who have enjoyed the sit-down hot-meal luncheons in the last 10 years or so. The “parties” are held roughly once every two months and usually coincide with traditional holidays such as the Fourth of July, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of the parish.
Sister Ann’s luncheons, as these events are now commonly known, are not for parishioners alone. Also welcome are members of other church denominations regardless of where they live. Many of them come from the neighboring communities of Stockton, Lathrop, and Ripon. There’s even a group that comes from the San Andreas area.
Luncheon volunteers don’t just serve the hot meals to all the guests. Some of them have been known to pick up residents at nearby St. Jude Care Center next door to the church (formerly Palm Haven), pushing their wheelchairs to and from the party.
Helping serve the food and drinks as well during special occasions are the seventh and eighth graders of St. Anthony School.
Sister Ann’s luncheons have become so popular that it even got the attention of the Bishop of the Diocese of Stockton. During one such visit, Bishop Blair celebrated his birthday along with the guests who happened to also mark the red-letter day that month. They were serenaded by a community “Happy Birthday” sing-along complete with a birthday cake and the blowing of the candles.
While guests enjoy their sit-down hot meals, they are entertained by music provided by various local bands - such as the Jubilee Singers and Club 40 - whose members share their talents entirely gratis. Many guests also take advantage of the music and dance the rest of the luncheon time away after the gastronomical feast.
Sister Ann is quick to admit that the luncheons would not be possible without the many generous individuals who step up to the plate each time to sponsor the events by providing the food and drinks. The philonthropists’ names comprise a long laundry list, with many remaining anonymous. This is where the caring nun has earned another moniker - that of Mother Teresa of Manteca. If you happen to bump into her, don’t be surprised if you are asked if you could contribute to this cause.
“There are many nice and generous parisnioners who are always helping us,” she said.
“And the people here in Manteca have been very good and supportive. I love this work; I love my seniors,” she added.
Bus trips to such destinations as the casinos in the foothills have become quite popular as well among many local seniors. But, Sister Ann quickly qualifies, they don’t go with gambling as their main agenda. No. They like to go there primarily to enjoy the casinos’ famous buffet luncheons.
And, she added, “they like to go out,” which many of them don’t get to do at all otherwise.
“They like to go because they want to eat there. Some of them don’t even gamble,” she said.
The bus trips are offered only about four times a year.
Giving praise, thanks
like Mary’s Magnificat
Looking back as she celebrates 50 years of work in God’s pasture, Sister Ann smiled and said with a tinge of awe in her voice, “I can’t believe it’s been 50 years. (The years) have gone by very fast.”
In the decade or so she has labored at St. Anthony of Padua, her outreach programs have been recognized and singled out. She was installed in the Manteca Hall of Fame in 2008 for her community service. In 2010, the same honor was bestowed by the St. Anthony School Educational Foundation. Four years ago, she was one of those honored as a Woman of Distinction by the Women’s Connection of 2012.
She gives all the credit to God.
“Like Mary, I give praise and thanks to the Lord for all He has done to me all these years. Through the good, bad, and sad times, He’s always been there for me,” she said.