Amazing things happen when we step outside of our comfort zone. Sister Michele McQueeney, OSF, who now supports the St. Francis Hospice Bereavement Services team, has never shied away from new challenges and her contributions in the lives of others have made a lasting difference.
She has worked with the homeless and those involved with substance abuse. She has also felt the strain of having to meet payroll so that employees committed to the mission of a nonprofit organization can have paychecks. But her willingness to try new adventures has led to a rewarding life of service that has brought fruitfulness in the lives of others.
Born in Auburn, New York, Sister Michele McQueeney’s vibrant life of ministry has included both education of keiki and service to kupuna. She attended public school, while receiving religious instruction at a local parish. Sister Michele recalls at that time the Sisters of Mercy “didn’t really make an impression on me.”
Although Sister Michele admits that with a laugh that during her high school years she and her friends “didn’t always make it to class,” she did seize the opportunity to volunteer as a nurse’s aide at Mercy Hospital.
Attracted to the Franciscan Way of Life
After her initial training, she spent time on various floors of the hospital and met younger Sisters who were “full of life”. After high school, she continued her training at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse where she met more Sisters devoted to a life of compassionate care.
She saw something special in the Sisters of St. Francis that piqued her interest and drew her to the Franciscan community: “After reading about St. Francis and seeing the Sisters, it seemed like a natural fit. There was just something that attracted me, their way of life, their enthusiasm.”
Although she assumed she would continue training to become a nurse, Sister Michele’s ministry took on a different trajectory. In the late 1950s, many new Catholic schools were being built that created a demand for teachers.
Success on the Teacher Track
“I ended up teaching, but I was very happy.” She then adds with a smile, “I got summer vacations, but that wasn’t the main reason. I enjoyed teaching.” Pursuing education as her vocational ministry, Sister Michele continued on to become vice principal and then principal at St. Francis School in Hawaii, and then moved to California to serve in Catholic schools in Long Beach and Santa Barbara.
God’s Call to Do More
After 30 years as an educator in her early 50s, Sister Michele felt a yearning and calling to do something more. “I enjoyed education, but I wanted to do something new, and I wanted to go back to Hawaii. I read the want ads and saw one that really sounded interesting.” Sister Michele took a job in Hawaii at the small non-profit that specialized in managing the financial affairs of the elders and those with disabilities.
“I had never worked directly with homeless people or substance abusers. It was quite interesting. It was a learning experience. I was able to get out into the community. We found clients to help, and eventually had to hire more staff,” Sister Michele said.
Growing the Nonprofit Business
Sister Michele grew personally and professionally, and in the process helped to grow the non-profit organization to serve more people.
After 10 years of dedicated service, the non-profit had grown from three employees and 25 clients to eight employees and 300 clients. In 1998, Sister Michele was recognized by the Hawaii Women Lawyers and received the President’s Award for helping Hawaii’s seniors navigate complex financial challenges and social circumstances.
“It was probably my most rewarding ministry. I prayed a lot, especially when it came to payroll time. In the beginning it was difficult, but we eventually received contracts, and donations would come in unexpectedly.”
That opportunity in Hawaii led to work in San Diego as the Social Service Director of an assisted living facility. She was then invited to work at a parish in the same city leading adult education and adult formation.
“It was such a rewarding experience just to see people come into the church each year and how they could feel the Holy Spirit there. Just to see them complete the program, get involved in church or parish ministry. That really brought myself, my faith, me closer to Christ by their example.”
Prayer and Action
When asked to reflect on the canonization of Saint Marianne Cope, Sister Michele shares about the sweetness of the Franciscan community:
“I certainly feel very proud and grateful that I’m a member of this community. Sister Marianne’s canonization took place in 2012 when I was still in the parish in San Diego. It was nice to be in a parish, where we could talk about it. People were excited. We can encourage the continuation of Saint Marianne’s legacy by our prayer life, actions, and expressions of how we react when we see people.”