"The Lord will complete what He has done for me"-Psalm 138:8
The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur are sometimes called “The Smiling Sisters” and Sister Catherine Perroni surely fits that description! She smiles and laughs easily, often spontaneously rejoicing at the goodness of God and the wonders of creation.
Sister Catherine’s parents, John and Anna (Ranno), immigrated to Massachusetts from Sicily. Catherine and brother Leo were born and grew up in Ward 3, the Italian neighborhood of Salem, Mass. The Catholic faith, lived through the Santa Maria Bambina Parish, was central to the people living in the area, though Catherine attended a public elementary school.
Catherine vividly recalls that when she was in fifth grade, two Catholic Sisters from Italy visited her aunt. “The Sisters were just beautiful,” she remembers, “so peaceful. And something spoke to my heart at that time, and I felt that I wanted to be a Sister because they showed great kindness in their whole demeanor.” In the seventh grade, when her teacher asked the pupils what they wanted to do after they left the eighth grade, Catherine declared she wanted to be a Sister. “That was in my heart,” she explains.
Catherine attended St. James High School, which was led by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. “They were wonderful teachers!” she exclaims. “Each student was special to the Sisters there.” Naming several of her teachers, she says that her time there helped her to flourish: “It was a joy and a gift to be there.” She graduated from St. James in 1950.
Though becoming a Sister remained in Catherine’s heart, her mother was reluctant for her beloved only daughter to leave their home. So for two years, Catherine attended Salem Teachers College. One day, her father took her to the SNDdeN novitiate at Waltham, Mass. for an interview, telling the Provincial that his only desire was for Catherine to be happy.
In 1952 she entered the novitiate with the support of both her parents, who made the trip to Waltham to see her on every “Visiting Sunday.” Catherine took the name Sister Catherine Johanna, honoring her parents, John and Anna, by combining their names. She earned a degree in history and education from Emmanuel College and in later years took special courses in various educational disciplines and in adolescent psychology.
A highlight during her years as a teacher came in 1973, when Sister “Katie,” as she is often called by other Sisters, took a very special trip with her mother and aunt to visit her mother’s birthplace in Sicily. They connected with relatives there and had a wonderful time.
From 1955 until 1979, Sister taught in elementary schools, mainly in Connecticut. “I was happy in the classroom,” she explains, “but it was time for me to have a change.” Sister Catherine felt her gift was more for interacting with people one-on-one, so she trained to become a nurse’s aide and began working in care homes.
“Since that time,” she says, “my life has been enriched by many good people. And because I help people on an individual basis, I do the best I can to help them recognize God’s goodness.” To express her gratitude to God for allowing for such a change in her ministry direction, Sister quotes the Kenny Rogers song lyric, “Through the years you never let me down, you turned my life around. I’ll be with you through the years.”
In time, as the Sisters of the Connecticut Province consolidated the care of their elderly and infirm members, Sister Catherine also tended to her religious sisters. “It was a pleasure to be of assistance to the Sisters of Notre Dame,” she states. “We had a really happy community.”
Sister Catherine retired from formal ministry in 2009, but for many years after she volunteered with an organization called Foodshare. Local retail stores donated food items to this organization. She and others collected them and would sort them to be distributed to people in need. Unfortunately, she has not been able to take part in this work since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.
Sister loves gardening and nature and finds joy in both: “I love springtime and to see the first robin … I keep my eyes open. If God takes care of the sparrow, He surely will take care of you! I have great trust in God’s goodness. Things work out, His way!” Reflecting on some of the work the SNDdeN do to care for creation, Sister Catherine says, “I’m a great one to care for the earth. I can’t do too much but I pray for people who put up solar panels in my neighborhood. I’m glad they do that! God made the world beautiful, so I try to do my part to keep it beautiful.”
Catherine is grateful for technology and she is happy to live in an era that allows her to stay current with news about the broader Notre Dame community: “I’m grateful to see the Sisters from so many units and I’m happy to see the good they do in Ohio, in California, in Baltimore, in Ipswich, in Connecticut … there’s a sense of unity there.”
Sister Catherine enjoys music and there are lyrics that she loves, including from an Elvis Presley song, “I’ll never know the reason why you love me like you do. That’s the wonder, the wonder of you.” “God is good!” she exclaims. “There are always surprises, there’s always goodness.” She is also grateful to live in a delightful neighborhood with two “very good and very caring” Sisters, Ellen Agritelley, SNDdeN and Irene Holowesko, RSM. Though her dear brother Leo died in 2021, Sister enjoys staying in close touch with her sister-in-law, nieces and their children.
Asked about her 70th Jubilee as a SNDdeN, Sister Catherine responded, “I can’t believe it! Seventy years in Notre Dame. Wow! I’m happy to be a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur all these years and my life has been enriched by the lives of so many good Sisters that I have met who shared their talents and use their gifts to make life better.”
Watch Sister Catherine in the video below as she reflects on her life as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur.
Sister Catherine’s Ministries
|1955-58||Teacher Grade 2, St. Patrick School, Lowell, Mass.|
|1958-62||Teacher Grade 2, St. Aedan School, New Haven, Conn.|
|1962-66||Teacher Grade 2 & 3, St. Justin School, Hartford, Conn.|
|1966-67||Teacher Grade 3, St. Gabriel School, Milford, Conn.|
|1967-69||Teacher Grade 3, St. Pius School, Fairfield, Conn.|
|1969-79||Teacher Grade 1 & 3, St. Rita School, Hamden, Conn.|
|1992||Resident Assistant, St. Mary Home, West Hartford, Conn.|
|1992-94||Assistant Coordinator, St. Christopher Convent, East Hartford, Conn.|
|1994-2009||Nurse's Aide, Julie House, Windsor, Conn.|
|2010-20||Volunteer, Foodshare, Bloomfield, Conn.|