(I met Sister Georgine for the first time, June 21, 2016, when we had our initial meeting for her interview. My comments, Mary Gene Frank, SCNA, will be in parentheses and in italics.)
Sister uses a wheelchair and is on oxygen support all the time. Early in the interview, Sister related to me that she had just lost her sister Betty. Betty Bires died on May 2, 2016, in a nursing home in Parma, Ohio. Although Georgine, using a calling card, spoke with Betty almost every day, the two sisters had not seen one another since December of 2012.
Sister Georgine and her sister Betty were reunited for a visit in 2012.
Betty was a retired Captain in the Air Force and a Registered Nurse. She served in Korea during that war. Besides Korea, she was also stationed in England and San Antonio, TX – altogether nine years. She continued nursing for additional years until her retirement.
Sister Georgine’s sister, Captain Betty Bires, USAF, RN.
Georgine was not able to attend Betty’s military funeral. However, two of Sisters from St Louise Convent did attend the ceremony as her representative. Sister Corrine Giel relates the details, “Sister Cecilia Ann Fatula went with me to the funeral. There were only five of us there – Georgine’s sister-in-law and her niece and nephew and the two of us. One of the very touching things that I will remember for a long time is that Ignatian High School sent six young men and a teacher to serve as pallbearers. The funeral home notifies the school when there are relatives unable to act as pall bearers. The six young men were all in school uniforms, were very attentive, and presented themselves so well. It was a great witness of how Catholic Schools can add to the experience future leaders.”
Georgine said, “Betty made all the arrangements for her funeral. She even made her own flower arrangement for the casket with a ribbon marked: Sister, Aunt, and Great Aunt.”
S. Georgine has had the added grief of losing her brothers Gerry (6/28/01) and Jimmy (3/2013) to mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer formed on the thin layer of protective tissue of the lungs and abdomen. Her only living sibling, her brother Steve worked for Dresser Industries, and he and his wife Eleanor retired to Gateway Villa, Marble Falls, TX.
Georgine’s own history begins on May 25, 1926; God gifted George (1897-1984) and Anna Oros (1905-1999) Bires with the second of their five children. They named this child Mary Frances. Her father was born in Czechoslovakia and her mother was born of Hungarian parents in Brownsville, PA. These faithful, God-loving parents did all in their power to provide a good home and to supply the needs of their children. Dad worked hard and was employed by the J.L. Steel Mills in Aliquippa, PA. Her mother stayed home to care for the growing children and to attend to household chores. Sister Georgine and her four siblings: Stephen L., George Gerard (Jerry), Elizabeth (Betty) and James (Jimmy), were blessed to grow up in a pleasant environment. Her parents always treated the children as individuals. Georgine learned many life lessons from her family and always loved order. (I could tell this was so because I was replacing a picture on the table and wrinkled the doily. Sister stopped me and had me straighten the cloth right away.)
Four members of the Bires family.
Her autobiography states: “My elementary school life started at the age of six as I was enrolled at St Joseph’s School, West Aliquippa. This school was staffed by the Vincentian Sisters of Charity. Do you believe in dreams? At the age of seven, I had a very strange but real dream. A huge, strange building appeared before me. This structure had no doors but did have high windows, so a ladder was needed to get inside. I climbed the ladder and found myself inside where there were rooms full of nuns of various orders. My guide led me through. As each door opened my only response was a nod of the head- meaning “ No”, however when the guide opened the last door, filled with Vincentian Sisters of Charity, my mouth opened and I uttered, “I want to be one of them.” This was only a dream but became a reality later.
After completing elementary education my high school choice was Vincentian Academy. Four years of high school being completed, my next step was to enter the Novitiate of the Vincentian Sisters of Charity. This step was taken on February 2, 1944. Novitiate days were full of prayer, work, study, and preparation for religious Life. The important step was made on August 18, 1946. “A dream comes to reality.”
Shortly after this event, her teaching career began. This included many schools and various dioceses, namely Pittsburgh, Greensburg, and Cape Girardeau, MO. Other involvements included the Head Start Program and Vincentian Child Care. During this time Sister Georgine’s own education continued. She attended various classes at Duquesne University, completed a Bachelor in Education, and attended Carlow University, formerly Mount Mercy in Pittsburgh. Finally she finished a Masters in Education and became a Reading Specialist, in1959. She attended Mt St Joseph, Cincinnati, OH for classes in French (This was simply because a French teacher was needed in one of the VSC missions.)
Sister got her degree with a designation as a Reading Specialist. (This would have been early recognition of dyslexia and other learning difficulties.) She began special classes for those who were recognized with learning difficulties.
Sister Georgine has good memories of teaching in Missouri and she remembers traveling by train to get to the farming community where her mission was located. One of her students, Jimmy, was asked, “What did you name your baby?” Jimmy replied, “Which one? The one we got this year or the one we got last year?” Another student, Caleb was heard to ask his mother, “How long are we going to keep this one?”
Sister said, “I always liked the little children better.” (It certainly was a good attitude for her because her life had taken on a career of being with the little children.)
In 1974, the VSC Community opened a new ministry and Sister Georgine was assigned to the Vincentian Child Care program. The new appointment of teaching kindergarten was one that she enjoyed and cherished. She loved it so much that she remained there as an aide, eventually became Director, and finally worked part time. Now she is their praying Sister. (This “new” ministry has lasted over a period of thirty-three years.)
At first, the Child Care Center was located in the Motherhouse. Because of increased enrollment, a new building was needed. In January 1995, Georgine shares, “God blessed our endeavors by allowing us to take residence in a new structure.” This was not just a whole new experience for the program, but a broader program-Infant Care through Kindergarten. The children formerly accepted had been three to five years old, but the new area added was for accepting children from six weeks to six years. They soon enrolled over one hundred children. The ratio of children to day care workers was four infants to a worker and for the older children ten children to one worker.
(When speaking with Sister about the program in Child Care, I asked her about sick children and what policies they were required to implement.)
The difficulty is that children can become sick so quickly. The parents leave the child at Day Care and cannot believe that their child now has a fever, or cold, or diarrhea. The worst part is convincing them that they must pick the child up. Sister Georgine said, “The child with an earache was our greatest worry. There was so little we could do for them.”
By 2005, this active ministry required her to slow down and pause. “Now I was able to be of service to a family member that required my assistance.” (I really must check on the definitions of “slow down and pause.”)
Sister Georgine’s humble reflection, “These years of ministry and service were full of God’s blessings and for this I am very grateful.” (And we are too!)