Celebrating the Sisters of Charity — Sister Clementine O’Friel


Editor’s Note: The Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill are celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the founding of their community in Altoona.  The original six sisters came from the Sisters of Charity in Cincinnati. They were invited by Rev. John Tuigg at Saint John Parish in Altoona to work in the school that had started earlier. Over the years, more than 100 Sisters entered from the now Altoona Johnstown Diocese.  There are presently 17 sisters living from the Altoona-Johnstown Area. Throughout this anniversary year, we would like to recognize some of these sisters here on Proclaim!.

Submitted by Sister Donna Marie Leiden, SC

Sister Clementine O’Friel, the oldest living Sister of Charity to enter the community from Altoona, Pennsylvania, looks forward to an exciting year 2020.  On March 23, 2020, she will celebrate her one hundredth birthday and on August 23, 2020, she will join her sisters celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Founding of the Community in Altoona.

Joan O’Friel, the third of nine children of Lillian and George O’Friel was born in Altoona and baptized at Saint Leo Parish on March 28, 1920.  She lived on 20th Street and attended Saint Leo’s Grade School and Altoona Catholic High School (now Bishop Guilfoyle).

On September 8, 1938, Joan entered the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.  She received the habit and the name Sister Clementine on January 1, 1939, and pronounced her first vows on January 1, 1941.  As the years passed, Sister Clementine earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at Seton Hill College (now University) specializing in history and psychology and a master of Arts at The Catholic University of America with emphasis  on Religion and Philosophy.  During her active professional life, Sister served in education in many of the grade schools and high schools staffed by the Sisters of Charity in the Dioceses of Altoona-Johnstown, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

Sister Clementine returned to minister in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese on many occasions.  From 1969 until 1971, she was Principal of Visitation School in Johnstown.  From there she moved to McNelis Catholic School in Altoona from 1971 until 1975.  She also taught at Bishop Gilfoyle High School from 1979 to 1984 and in 1984, she moved again to McNelis Catholic School as Principal from 1984 to 1988.

In later years, Sister Clementine was responsible for the lunch program and served as Tuition Accountant for Sacred Heart School in Altoona.  Her final ministry in Altoona was at Kelly’s Discovery Daycare from 1992 until 1995.  In 1995, Sister Clementine fully retired and moved to Assumption Hall, the retirement home of the Sisters of Charity.

Today, Sister Clementine resides in Caritas Christi, the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity.  Although needing a motorized wheelchair to get around, she manages to spend time in the chapel where she is a daily participant at the morning liturgy.  She also enjoys gathering with her sisters in the dining room to share lunch, dinner, and conversation.  While her hearing is diminished her interest in the community and the activities of her sisters continues to be vibrant.

As Sister Clementine prepared for one of her jubilees in religious life (now in her 82nd year) she said, “I spent 63 years in one ministry – religious education and, as I share this joy, I pray for all those who labored with me, and for the hundreds who were under my care. My hope is that they were drawn a little closer to the Lord because of our association.”