The Department of Lifelong Faith Formation serves to support devout Catholics in maintaining their faith through all stages of their lives. Sister Barbara Schiavoni, GNSH, joined the department as associate director of adult faith formation in February, returning home after coming full circle in her ministry to serve her community.
A native of Buffalo, Sister Barbara most recently came from the Diocese of Ogdensburg, where she was a pastoral associate. Today, she assists Mary Beth Coates, director of the Department of Lifelong Faith Formation, as well as associate directors Maureen Poulin and Mario Vinti. Sister Barbara said last month she is "excited and happy to be back in the diocese," working with people she knows.
"I'm really working in two specific areas, and one is sacramental preparation from baptism through First Communion. The Second Vatican Council taught very strongly that parents are the first and most important educators of their children, especially in the faith, so we want to really help parents return to that role," Sister Barbara explained. "The other area for me is faith formation for adults, and what falls under that is preparation for Confirmation for adults post-high school. Sometimes adults don't get confirmed. We think of the normal time as high school, but for many, it doesn't happen for various reasons."
When Sister Barbara returned to her home in the Diocese of Buffalo two months ago, she brought with her a rich background of serving others that dates as far back as her college career.
Before joining the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, Sister Barbara grew up in Buffalo, where she went to St. Gregory the Great School and Bishop Neumann High School, both in Williamsville. She went to college at the State University of New York at Binghamton for her undergraduate degree. She initially started to work in business and banking, but she sensed this was not going to fulfill her life's interests.
"I wanted my work life and my spiritual life, and what was going on inside of me, to kind of be on the same track," Sister Barbara recalled. "They were on really different tracks. I thought about my career and did some discernment and soul-searching, and at that time, decided I wanted to get into the helping professions."
After graduating with a degree in psychology, Sister Barbara began classes to receive a Master of Social Work degree from SUNY Buffalo. While studying at UB, she met a Grey Nun, Sister Rosemary Cauley. At the time, Sister Rosemary had just developed a new residence for people with developmental disabilities, known as Providence Community, where Sister Barbara soon began to volunteer.
"The career discernment and the vocational discernment, they were really kind of going on at the same time," added Sister Barbara. "I got to know the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, and their spirituality is based on serving the poor and vulnerable in the spirit of St. Marguerite D'Youville."
In 1992, she applied to join the Grey Nuns and was accepted into their formation program the same year. After becoming a social worker, Sister Barbara moved to Philadelphia, the home of the order she just joined, and served homeless families for five years. In 1999, she returned to Western New York to serve Catholic Charities' Lackawanna office as a social worker in family counseling, co-parenting groups, emergency financial assistance, advocacy, preventive services and "the whole gamut of serving families."
While at Catholic Charities, she wanted to learn more about her faith at an adult level, since after being raised Catholic and going to Catholic schools, she did not pursue much formal learning in the faith until she joined the Grey Nuns. She attended Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora to study theology, which she said built on her religious commitment and lifelong formation as a woman religious.
"In 2005, I started studying at Christ the King Seminary. I attended the seminary part-time; I took one class per semester for about three years," she said. "I began working toward a degree in pastoral ministry. At the time, I was volunteering at my parish, Holy Cross in Buffalo, offering faith formation opportunities for adults. I was working with the parents of the children in the religious education program."
Through volunteering in this community, she found parish life "very rewarding and interesting." Sister Barbara wanted to continue in this field. In 2008, she went to the Diocese of Ogdensburg and accepted a position in the town of Malone, where she served with another Grey Nun who was also a pastoral associate. She helped people in their faith formation from birth through the end of life.
While in Ogdensburg, she continued to study at Christ the King Seminary. "The seminary staff were very accommodating and very helpful, and I was able to continue and even complete my degree through independent study and distance learning courses. I graduated from the seminary in 2014 with a master's degree in pastoral ministry," Sister Barbara said. "I'm very grateful for that."
Soon after, she returned to the Buffalo area due to a combination of family needs and a desire to be in closer proximity to more Grey Nuns. Once here, she needed to find a place to live. Fortunately, three other Grey Nuns were in the process of forming a new community in the convent of Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish in Cheektowaga, with the goal of being present in the parish and neighborhood.
"We're calling this Sacred Heart Center, and our plan is to offer spiritual enrichment opportunities. We are just getting it off the ground. We don't have any programs scheduled yet," she said. They also plan to offer retreat days and other spiritual enrichment opportunities on a volunteer basis.
"We'd like to be a resource for people who want to grow in their faith, grow closer to God and learn about Grey Nun spirituality. We're still here and active in the diocese. Although many of our sisters are retired, they are present in many ways to the people, Sister Barbara said. "For example, one of our sisters does radio reading for the blind. Another volunteers regularly for Little Portion Friary. Another is a parish nurse. We do all these things in the spirit of St. Marguerite, who had a great love for the poor."