The 17th annual Bishop’s Awards on Saturday, Oct. 6, will recognize five people in the six-county Diocese of Stockton who are “committed, generous and faithful people who bring the Light of Christ to others.”
Among them will be Sister Ann Venita Britto who is in charge of Pastoral Care and Ministry to Seniors at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Manteca. She will be receiving a Lifetime of Religious Ministerial Service Award.
She and the other awardees will be honored during the Saturday dinner event to be held at the Mark Gallo Health and Fitness Center at Central Catholic High School in Modesto.
Bishop Myron J. Cotta personally telephoned Sister Ann to tell her the good news which initially made her wonder if the call was someone’s idea of a joke. It was not.
“I was shocked,” she said of her first reaction to the congratulatory message from the head of the diocese which is comprised of the counties of San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Calaveras, Tuolumne, Alpine, and Mono.
“This is a big thing. I couldn’t believe it,” she added about the recognition.
“She is amazing,” commented diocesan assistant director of development Martha McCoy after going through the laundry list of reasons why the India-born nun was singled out for this year’s Bishop’s Awards.
Sister Ann coordinates the church’s Ministry of Consolation and the Grief Support Team. She visits the sick, the lonely and the homebound including those in care homes, taking communion to them.
Once a week, she goes to the Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy to pray with the prisoners. She also serves on the board of Haven of Peace in San Joaquin County, a respite home for homeless women and their children, which is an extension of her ministry to the marginalized members of society.
She is not alone in the aforementioned outreach tasks. She trains lay volunteers, including children, to perform these services to those in need regardless of whether they are members of the church or not.
But it was the luncheons for seniors that made her name a buzzword in and out of the parish. She organizes as many as half a dozen of these each year in conjunction with the celebration of popular holidays — Valentine’s Day, Easter, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua which honors the patron saint of the parish, a summer social in August, Halloween in October, and Christmas. The sit-down hot meals are served on beautifully decorated dinner tables with centerpieces that are later given away as door prizes to the lucky winners of a drawing. Further enlivening these events, which often see between 200 and 250 guests each time, are performances provided by various band groups playing gratis for these occasions. They also play the music for dancing. The luncheons have become so popular that Sister Ann was simply being referred to affectionately as the “Party Nun.”
One highlight of these parties is the celebration of the birthdays of guests complete with a cake, blowing of the candle, and the celebrants being serenaded with the Happy Birthday song led by members of the bands. Retired Bishop Stephen Blaire was one of those who have received this honor during one of his visits as a guest.
The all-volunteer senior luncheons — the food served are all donated by individuals and various businesses — was Sister Ann’s first project after she started working at St. Anthony of Padua.
The idea came to her soon after she began her outreach to the seniors and the homebound. She saw that no one seemed to “notice old people,” and that “there was nothing for seniors and they were so lonely,” she said.
It was 2002, and the pastor at the time was Father Richard Morse who is now pastor of the church in Oakdale.
She recalled the conversation she had with Father Morse when she broached the subject of luncheons for seniors.
“Father Morse, can we have this for the seniors?”
“How about the money?” countered the pastor.
There was no budget available for such an undertaking, so Father Morse suggested that if she can come up with the funding, she can go ahead with her idea.
“So I went begging,” Sister Ann said laughing at the memory. And she was not ashamed to do that. Soon, she was given another nickname: Mother Teresa, after the nun in Calcutta, India, (now St. Teresa of Calcutta) who went around begging for food and money for “the poorest of the poor” in that country.
“It started with 50 or so (guests),” Sister Ann said of the early luncheons, “and then the news spread; we now have between 200 and 300” attending.
During some of those early luncheons, several of the guests from the former Palm Haven Convalescent Home next door (now called St. Jude) were brought in wheelchairs by volunteers or family members into the gym where the parties were, and still are, being held. One of those early guests was a non-ambulatory Palm Haven female resident who came to the party lying in a hospital bed pushed by volunteers. She was always accompanied to the luncheon by her faithful husband who handfed her. At first, he visited her at the care home regularly, driving here from out of town where he lived at the time, and always feeding her himself during meals. After the wife died, he himself became a resident at Palm Haven. He also has since passed away.
Seniors are not the only ones who enjoyed the luncheons provided by Sister Ann and her devoted circle of faithful volunteers. The physically and mentally handicapped were guests as well to these events.
In later years, and in response to seniors who wanted to do other things, Sister Ann organized bus trips to various recreational destinations.
Manteca Hall of Fame
and other recognitions
The Bishop’s Award is just the latest recognition Sister Ann has received through the years. She was inducted into the City of Manteca Hall of Fame in 2008, an honoree of St. Anthony’s School Education in 2010, the Diamond Lady of Influence Award from Manteca Women’s Connection in 2012, and the Change Award from the Eleanor Project for women who shape communities in 2017.
One of Sister Ann’s favorite Scriptures is the following quote from Isaiah: “For I am the Lord, your God, who grasp your right hand; it is I who say to you, fear not, I will help you.”
Immediately before she came to Manteca, she taught kindergarten for 17 years at St. George’s School in Stockton. Before that, she worked as a teacher and principal until 1985 at St. Bernard’s School in Tracy which she and four sisters helped establish in 1976. She initially was a volunteer teacher at St. Bernard’s.
Before she came to California, she taught in India for eight years.
In India where she grew up, she attended college and earned a Secondary Teacher’s Certificate. After graduation, she entered the convent of the Daughters of the Cross where she continued her education and later earned her Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education degrees.
When she was a little girl, Sister Ann said her mother prayed to St. Ann to bring her three daughters “good men” for marriage.
She received no opposition from her parents when she revealed to them her calling to the religious life.
“When I told my mom about my calling, she said that I had found the best man,” she said.
During her early years in India, she would accompany members of the Daughters of the Cross and her fellow school teachers going to the poorest parts of Bombay, India, her home town, to care for the babies and children, and to feed and teach them. It was during that time that she discovered what she wanted to do with her life.
Sister Ann will end her 16-year stint at St. Anthony of Padua in Manteca at the end of this year to join her congregation in England where she and the three other sisters also serving here will be in community with the other Dughters of the Cross. Their departure will mark the end of the presence of Daughters of the Cross in the United States.
The Daughters of the Cross was founded by Blessed Thérèse (Jeanne Haze) who was born in Liège, Belgium, in 1782. She was beatified in 1991.
The religious community responds to the needs of times as its mission. Their varied ministries have included nursing the sick in their own homes, caring for the women prisoners, and teaching children by day and adults in the evenings.
Daughters of the Cross communities were later founded in Germany (1849), India (1861), and England in (1863). Sister Ann and the three sisters serving here were the first, and the only Daughters of the Cross, here in the United States.
The other recipients of the 17th annual Bishop’s Award are Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, Abby Newton, OP and Katherine Hamilton, OP for Lifetime of Religious of Service; Jennifer M. Overby for Lifetime of Lay Ministerial Service, and Patrick W. Velasquez for Lifetime of Service to the Community.