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Dinner paying tribute May 6 to Mother Teresa of Manteca
Sister Ann Venita Britto, shown in front of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, will be honored at the annual St. Anthony Education Foundation awards dinner on May 6 to be held at Chez Shari at the Manteca Golf Course. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
She would rather toil in anonymity. However, like the saint of the slums in Calcutta, India, the work she does quietly proclaims her identity to a grateful public. And inevitably comes the attention and tribute.

Such is the situation in which Sister Ann Venita Britto, whose ministry to those who are often the marginalized or the invisible in society, humbly finds herself anew in the limelight. Less than two years after being inducted into the Manteca Hall of Fame, she is being honored by the St. Anthony’s Catholic School Educational Foundation for her service and dedication not only to parishioners of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Manteca, but people of other faiths in the area.

Her reaction to this latest kudos is typical Sister Ann.

“I was in total shock and really surprised how they ever thought of me. I never dreamed of ever being awarded for my work with the sick, old, lonely, dying, grieving, the C.A.P. consumers and St. Anthony’s students,” said the former school teacher and principal who was appointed eight years ago by former pastor Father Richard Morse to work in the pastoral care and senior ministry of the parish.

“I just felt so unworthy but then, like Mary the Virgin Mother of God, my spirit rejoiced and I felt happy and thanked the Lord for the great things He has done and is doing for me in my life,” added Sister Ann.

What she has been doing since coming to Manteca is simply finding the needs in the community and filling them any which way she can.
One of the first things she introduced in her ministry is holding luncheon parties for the seniors in the area. The multi-pronged goal was to provide an opportunity for the seniors to have a sit-down meal in a formal setting complete with covered dinner tables and colorful centerpieces that she herself often created with the help of her small army of volunteers, and  a chance to socialize with old and new friends, dance or be entertained by local talents. For some of her guests, like those who live in care homes such as Palm Haven next door to the church, the luncheons are like special field trips. On a few occasions, Sister Ann even welcomed guests who came in their hospital beds.

Area seniors look forward to parties
Through the years, her themed parties held to celebrate special holidays such as Christmas. Thanksgiving, Easter, Fourth of July, and Halloween have become special events that area seniors looked forward to every year. Her army of volunteers – the cooks led by former St. Anthony School’s “cafeteria lady” Barbara Jaeger, servers, centerpiece crafters, and clean-up crew among others - also look forward with anticipation to these occasions.

Later, Sister Ann started organizing parties for those in the Manteca CAPS, a nonprofit program for adults with developmental disabilities. Today, St. Anthony’s hosts four parties a year for the group which have also been highly successful in terms of attendance.

While many refer to her as “Mother Teresa of Manteca,” those from the Manteca CAPS simply call her as “The Party Sister.”

For all these programs, Sister Ann relies solely on the generosity of individuals and groups in the parish and in the general community. She often jokes about being a “beggar for Jesus” in the tradition of the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta who went around asking for people to help the poorest of the poor in India. The generosity of many people has allowed Sister Ann to continue providing the luncheons for area seniors free of charge, and to give away drawing prizes that each visitor can take home.

In the eight years of her Ministry of Caring, Sister Ann has managed to reach out to people from the cradle to the grave, literally. A few years ago, she started a “Baby Shower for Jesus” as a way to reach out to the needs of pregnant women and babies in the area. This unique baby shower is held one weekend before Christmas during all the Sunday masses and the vigil mass on Saturday. Parishioners are asked to bring a baby shower gift to place in a crèche at the altar – sans a Baby Jesus in the manger – or cash donations, if that’s their preference. The wrapped gifts and money are then collected after the masses and brought to the Pregnancy Help Center in Manteca.

Born in Bombay
Sister Ann has also organized a Ministry of Consolation in which volunteers reach out and help grieving families cope with the loss of a loved one. In conjunction with this ministry, she formed a Grief Support Team which not only helps St. Anthony’s parishioners but people of different faiths in the community who are grieving and dealing with stress and loneliness.

Born in Bombay, India, where she grew up, Sister Ann was educated by the Daughters of the Cross, a religious congregation that was started in Belgium by Marie Therese Haze. After finishing college, she received her secondary teacher’s certificate and taught for two years before deciding to join the Daughters of the Cross.

While in the convent, Sister Ann received her Bachelor of Arts and her Bachelor of Education degrees. She taught in India for eight years before she volunteered to come to America in 1976 to teach at St. Bernard’s School in Tracy where she eventually became a principal. That was followed by a stint in 1985 at St. George’s School in Stockton where she taught for 17 years prior to accepting the Ministry of Caring position at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Parish in Manteca.

Tickets to the Thursday, May 6, Education Foundation awards dinner are $50 per person. The event will be held at Chez Shari restaurant in the Manteca Golf Course starting at 6 p.m. For ticket reservations or for further details, call Lenna at 239-2944.