Mary Judith Seman, SCN, interviewed in August, 2016, by Maria Vincent Brocato, SCN
(The remarks of this interviewer are in italics.)
Because Sister Judy (Mary Judith Seman) was very busy preparing for a parish festival, it was necessary to travel to St. Thomas a’ Becket Parish for our visit. Judy has been a parish social worker there for twenty nine years in October. This is only the latest in the ministries where Sister Judy has given generous service. Having been a vital member of the VSC/SCN Community for seventy two years, she has a wonderful story to tell. I was honored to share it. Those of us who know Judy marvel at her gifts of joyous energy and openness. She brings these faithfully to all that comes her way.)
Sister Mary Judith, born Dorothy on August 15, 1926, was the second youngest of ten children born to John G. and Eva Bucko Seman. Both parents immigrated from Brezovitce, Slovakia and first settled in Bonne Terre, Missouri near John’s brothers. Working in a lead mine seemed to be dangerous for John’s health so, with their six children, Mary, Julia, George, Cecilia, Clare and Edward, they relocated to Cleveland, Ohio where there were other settlers from their hometown in Slovakia. The rest of their family,-John, Evelyn, Dorothy and Ronald, were born in Cleveland.
Judy shares, “Ours was a happy, simple family. Dad was employed as the maintenance man at St. Ladislas Church, which was our home parish. Our family was always close to the Church and to our VSC Sisters who staffed the school. Hence, this is where my vocation to religious life began to blossom as well as at home and in Church. The kindness and example of love of for all she did were instrumental in my vocation.”
Sister Mary Judith’s brother Ron was inducted into the Ohio Veteran’s Hall of Fame in 2013. Left to right: Donna Polomsky, Mary Ann Seman, Ronald Seman, Sister Mary Judith Seman, and Donald Polomsky.
Dorothy had hoped to go to Vincentian Academy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania after eighth grade and begin the process of becoming a Vincentian Sister of Charity. It was 1940 and her parents had two children to leave home – her sister married and her brother went into the military service. It was not a good time to have another child leave. The next year Dorothy had the same question for her parents. Her mother suggested that Dorothy consider the Bedford Vincentian Sisters of Charity whose location was an eastern suburb of Cleveland. The wise father could foresee that it would be quite easy for his wife to want to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Levocha there each Sunday and be a distraction for her “Little Dorothy.”
The father and Dorothy “won the day” and she became an aspirant at Vincentian Academy in September, 1941. There she was enrolled as a high school sophomore. ( In true Dorothy/Sister Mary Judith fashion, she says,” I was overjoyed to be there and every experience thrilled me.”)
On February 2, 1944 she entered the novitiate of the Vincentian Sisters of Charity with classmates, Mary Frances Elaine Bires and Dolores Alvero. In August of that same year they would receive the veil and their new names – Sisters Mary Judith Seman, Mary Georgine Bires and M. Carmelita Alvero.” Two years later, 1946, they made vows and then, when the Vatican wanted all religious to be affiliated with Rome, they made solemn vows. (Again we hear from Mary Judith,” All my days were joy-filled.” What a gift she has been given in joy of the Spirit!)
Sister Mary Judith with Sister Dolores Ann Therasse
Another excitement that came to Mary Judith was preparation for her future ministry by being admitted to Duquesne University. (She would complete her studies for a Bachelor in Education in 1957 and later would earn a Master in Reading Supervision in1965.)
August 15th was the traditional day for receiving assignments for the year. Judy describes the ritual this way,” It was interesting to see the dining room set with individual brown bags of food” for the journey. After Mass and breakfast, we all returned to the chapel where we waited in anticipation for out name to be called to receive the assignment card from our Mother Superior, Mother Gregory Kolesar.”
Judy’s first assignment was to teach the fifth grade at Holy Trinity School at McKeesport, PA. Sisters Cornelia Jozefov and Aquiline Sventy were mentors and
gave Sister Mary Judith/Judy the very welcomed guidance she needed for that first year of teaching. (As would be expected, Judy says,” I loved it!”)She would love teaching throughout all her assignments but her second mission was to be a challenge.
St. Clements’s was a rural parish in Ellsworth, PA. Besides teaching Kindergarten and Grades one, two, three Judy lived and taught in a difficult situation. For whatever reason, the pastor was not understanding of the needs of the Sisters. He did not find it in himself to give them his support. However, the Sisters in the local community did give one another the comfort and strength to remain in ministry. For Judy, it would be a turning point in her religious life. When this interviewer asked, “Why so?” she responded, “Until that time everything I had experienced in religious life has been so joyous and positive. Now I was learning that following Jesus sometimes means accepting the negative side of people and of life.” Interestingly, the VSCs withdrew from St. Clement School the next year. Reflecting on her time there and the challenge she had as a young professed, Judy says gratefully,” Thank God I didn’t have a dime for a telephone call or I might have called my Dad and left.”
In 1948 Judy was missioned to St. Mary School in Uniontown, PA where she remained for five years teaching the first grade. Next on her assignments was St. Michael in Braddock, PA for two years.
In 1955 Judy was assigned to St. Sebastian School. She has very happy memories of those years. She describes it in this way:” With the opening of St. Sebastian School in Ross Township, the next ten years of my teaching career were there. These were very interesting and exciting years and years of growth. Around the mid-fifties there was a great move for implementing the non-graded system in our schools. Since we had a large number in the school, we began as soon as word came from the Diocese. Sister Honoria Kral, our Principal, was always open to new ideas….She trusted us and gave us the freedom to be creative. Often the Diocese came to visit the school and/or send visitors to observe the classes. “
In the mid-sixties Judy was sent to Cardinal Stritch College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, now a University, to study Supervision of Reading in the Elementary School. She also had the opportunity to take classes in Reading Supervision from Boston College, Boston, Massachusetts. Judy was asked to be Community School Supervisor and then she became Diocesan Consultant for Elementary Schools for the Dioceses of Pittsburgh and Greensburg. It was very enriching to begin to interact with other religious communities and exchange ideas and experiences.
In 1970 Judy’s life began to change. (She uses the word “considerably” which, for Judy, probably means “dramatically.”) She was elected by the VSC Community to be one of the Councilors for Mother Anne Kremenik. Judy would hold this position for both of Mother Anne’s terms. In the second term she had special responsibility for the retirement needs of the VSC Community. She did her best to offer retired Sisters the chance to enjoy life and expand their “worlds” a little more.
In 1979 Judy herself was elected to be the VSC Major Superior. Very simply she says, “My life changed from working with children and parents …to working primarily with our Sisters and the business of the Congregation. God’s graces were always with me and I enjoyed working with the Sisters and watching their spiritual growth and the growth of the Community.”
Judy believes that this ministry of leadership was a time of personal growth for her as she visited the Sisters and shared their joys, pains, difficulties. One of the blessings of this time was the establishing of an early childhood program there on the VSC Motherhouse campus.
Judy shares, “As the end of my first term of office approached, it was apparent, with aging of the sisters that the present cemetery needed to be extended. The General Council began researching and communicating with Mr Ivan Bursik, the community lawyer and others on how to approach the matter. By the end of our term, the cemetery was extended going upwards to the present site.
In order to support the youth of the area, we leased a portion of our properties to McCandless Township to be designated for ball fields.”
In 1980 there were concerns about the need for a gathering space for the Sisters when large meetings were scheduled. Judy recalls, “We realized the need to expand the Motherhouse property so an auditorium was constructed on the upper level with additional rooms for smaller meetings and, on the third level, more bedrooms. This facility is named St. Vincent Hall, and is now used for activities by the Vincentian Academy.”
The second term presented more challenges. After the Vatican Council in 1965, religious congregations were affected with the loss of many professed religious. Some who left were unable to believe in the changes that were happening. Others felt they were no longer called to religious life. This left a terrible void in most congregations. Ours was no exception. This posed a great challenge when it came to assigning Sisters in the ministries that the Congregation staffed. We realized the need and initiated a pastoral plan for the Congregation.”
After her ministry of leadership Judy prayed and discerned about what God might want for her. The Diocese of Pittsburgh had initiated a Parish Social Ministry Program and this began to appeal to Judy.
She did take the classes and responded to the invitation of Fr. Gerard Kelly to take a position at St. Thomas a’ Becket Parish in Jefferson Hills, PA. That was 1987 and she is there still, very involved in the mission of the parish- visiting the sick, the elderly, assisting persons in need. She is likewise very involved with the Association of the Ladies of Charity. Judy is beyond busy, totally involved in the mission of the Congregation “Caritas Christi Urget Nos” and the motto of the Ladies of Charity “To serve rather than be served”.
She says happily, “These twenty nine years have been a time of joy and growth for me, seeing God in the suffering, the dying, the good willed persons of the parish.” With Sister Dolores Ann Therasse she resides in a simple dwelling there on the parish grounds. Even when they decide to retire — both have long histories at St. Thomas a’Becket — they have been asked to consider staying there as a parish presence.
As we ended our time together, I asked about the VSC/SCN merger, she responded,” It was hard but a blessing. Our Sisters will continue to benefit from our mutual choice.”
(This interviewer had known Judy well since the early days of the SCN/VSC discernment regarding a possible merger. Indeed blessing has come to both Congregations because of it. On a personal level, becoming friends with Judy has enriched my life immensely!)
Sister Mary Judith (right) and Sister Maria Vincent Brocato met as Mother Catherine Spalding and Mother Emerentiana Handlovits during the SCN/VSC merger process.