In 1926, Mary Panetta was welcomed to her family home in Dorchester as the first girl after five boys. A year later, her sister Catherine became the last of the 7 children and a special friend to her over the years.
After graduating in 1943 from the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur High School, St. Gregory’s in Dorchester, she joined the religious community and took her sister’s name Sister Catherine Alice. She described her vocation as a call to serve God’s people.
Sister Catherine’s first mission was at St. Michael’s School in Hudson, Mass. where she taught 75 children in the first grade. With the help of other Sisters, she succeeded! Despite this overwhelming start, she went on to enjoy a 25-year career as an educator, serving as a primary school teacher in many schools throughout Massachussets.
After receiving her Master of Arts degree in Religious Education, she chose to become the Director of Religious Education at St. Michael’s Parish in Exeter, NH. After 5 years of service in NH, she accepted a position in South Boston as Religious Education Coordinator at Sts. Peter and Paul and St. Vincent’s Parish where she ministered for 22 years.
Of all her missions, her time in South Boston was outstanding. Sr. Catherine (Kate) was able to develop her many pastoral skills because of the relationships she made there. After living for several decades in St. Augustine’s Convent in South Boston, she chose to move into the West Broadway Housing Project with a small community of Sisters. There Sister Catherine got to know the children and their families in a whole new way. She listened to the stories of mothers and understood the needs of the people. She arranged family events such as apple-picking trips, beach parties and special celebrations like St. Patrick’s Day.
Her ministry made her a beloved part of the parish community. One of the priests called her the “Mother Teresa of South Boston,” for her kindness and her big smile. “It was the best mission anyone could have,” Sister Catherine reflected.
Looking back at these past 80 years of service, Sister Catherine remarked that she has had a good life with lots of friends. She was thankful, too, for the support of her large extended family who visited her regularly at Notre Dame Long Term Care Center. “I have been very fortunate. God has been very good to me.” In her new home, Sister Catherine continued to share that spirit of joy and contentment of 97 years with her many visitors, residents and staff.
Sister Catherine went home to her good God on November 23, 2023.