The Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania are pleased to announce that Mary Drexler, SSJ; Phyllis McCracken, SSJ; and Carol Morehouse, SSJ, will begin serving a second four-year term in Leadership for the congregation on July 1, 2023. Sister Mary Drexler will serve as president, Sister Phyllis McCracken as treasurer, and Sister Carol Morehouse as secretary. Phyllis DiFuccia, SSJ, and Clare Marie Beichner, SSJ, will serve as councilors-at-large.
The Sisters of St. Joseph follow a participative governance model in which each member shares responsibility for vision and values. Every four years, the Sisters participate in a process that includes a Chapter of Affairs and a Chapter of Elections. The congregation concluded a Chapter of Affairs in March, resulting in directional statements which will guide the next four years, and they aided in discerning the Sisters who would best lead the congregation during that time. A Chapter of Elections took place in May, and Bishop Lawrence Persico affirmed the elected Sisters on Sunday, May 7. The congregation formally installed the Leadership on June 25, 2023.
“This is an exciting and challenging time to be in leadership,” said Mary Drexler, SSJ president. “Working together, and with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we will do our best to lead the congregation in following the directives. We are eager to meet these challenges and hopeful that we will effectively serve our sisters.”
Mary Drexler, SSJ, served in the education ministry throughout the Erie Diocese. She also served as a campus minister at Penn State Erie, the Behrend College, and in vocation/formation ministry for the Sisters of St. Joseph. The Mercy Center for Women recognized her as one of the Women Making History in 2013; she was inducted into the Villa Maria Academy President’s Hall of Fame in 2014 and received the Monsignor Wilfrid Nash Principles of Christian Conduct Award from Gannon University in 2017. She served on the Board of Trustees for Gannon University, the Board of Directors for Erie Catholic School System, and the SSJ Board of Directors.
Phyllis McCracken, SSJ, served for more than 35 years at Saint Mary’s Home of Erie, including nearly 18 years as president/CEO. Before that, she served in the nursing ministry in numerous capacities, including patient care and administration. She was a staff nurse and hospice consultant at Spencer Hospital, Meadville, PA; Director of student health services at Villa Maria College; developer/director at St. Martin’s Health Center; director and geriatric staff nurse at Villa Maria Convent; director of nursing continuing education for Villa Maria College and Edinboro State College; Director of nursing continuing education for Erie Institute for Nursing and as admission analyst, quality assurance at Saint Vincent Health Center. Sister Phyllis served on many boards, including Saint Vincent Board of Incorporators and Board of Trustees, HVA Senior Living Alliance, Villa Maria Center, Saint Mary’s Home of Erie, Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania, Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network and Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association. She also served on the Erie Diocesan Medical Moral Ethics Committee. She is a member and Paul Harris Fellow of the Rotary Club of Erie and was named one of the Outstanding Young Women of America in 1977. She received the Medaille D’Or Award from Saint Mary’s Home of Erie in 2008 and was recognized as one of the 2019 Women Making History by the Mercy Center for Women.
Carol Morehouse, SSJ, served as Director of pastoral care and mission integration at Saint Vincent Hospital before being elected to Leadership in 2019. She previously served at Saint Vincent as senior vice president of mission integration. Sister Carol taught at several Erie Diocesan elementary schools and served as principal and administrator at Villa Maria Academy. She served in private practice as an attorney and was affiliated with the Moran, Morehouse, and Bruno firm. She served the Sisters of St. Joseph as councilor/treasurer and on the Sisters of St. Joseph Board of Directors, the SSJ Neighborhood Network Board, and the Sisters of St. Joseph Mission and Ministries Foundation Board. She is a past board member of Saint Vincent Health Center, Villa Maria Academy, Villa Maria Elementary School, and Harborcreek Youth Services.
Clare Marie Beichner, SSJ, serves in the Pastoral Care ministry at St. Vincent Hospital and is on several nonprofit boards. She served for eight years in Leadership for the Sisters of St. Joseph and in congregational formation ministry as a vocation and novice director. She previously worked with the Erie Diocese synod and pastoral planning processes, and Catholic Rural Ministry in the Oil City Deanery. She was a social worker and Director of the Prince of Peace Center and taught in several Diocesan Schools. She ministered to those experiencing poverty with the mission in Yucatan, Mexico, the Lakota Indians of South Dakota, and in Appalachia with Young People Who Care. She continues outreach ministry to the impoverished.
Phyllis DiFuccia, SSJ, taught and was principal and administrator at Villa Maria Academy in Erie. She later taught at Villa Maria College, Erie, and served as dean for adult learning. She ministered at Saint Teresa Parish and Maria House Projects in Union City, PA, and was the Director of mission effectiveness at Saint Vincent Health System. She spent 18 years in Chicago, IL, as an independent consultant specializing in participative processes and systems for various organizations, including several religious congregations. Sister Phyllis was a member of the first Leadership Team for the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1999, and of the U.S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph research team responsible for translating the Sisters of St. Joseph primitive documents from French to English. She retired from a position as vice president of mission at St. Joseph Academy in Cleveland, OH, and currently ministers as a consultant and with the U.S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph on its Spirits on Fire mission immersion program.
Founded in 17th century France, the Sisters of St. Joseph first came to the Erie Diocese more than 150 years ago to minister to the sick, teach children, and respond however possible to the needs of the day. They did this by staffing numerous schools, including Harborcreek School for Boys, and by establishing ministries such as Saint Vincent Health Center, Spencer Hospital in Meadville, Saint Mary’s Home of Erie, Villa Maria Elementary, Academy and College; St. Patrick’s Haven in Erie and St. James Haven in Meadville, among others.
The Sisters’ presence has moved beyond hospitals and classrooms and includes pastoral, social, and liturgical ministries in Catholic parishes, global mission projects, outreach to the elderly, campus ministry, youth ministry, and numerous other efforts. Today, more than 270 Sisters, Agrégées and Associates continue to carry out the Sisters’ mission of unity of neighbor with neighbor and neighbor with God.