IHM sisters to leave St. Michael School

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Decreased vocations and a desire to strengthen community life has led the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in Immaculata, Pa., to end the sisters' presence at St. Michael School in Annandale.

The sisters have taught at St. Michael School for more than 60 years. Currently four sisters live in the convent on the campus of St. Michael Church.

Sister Therese Bauer, who has been the principal at St. Michael for 10 years, said it's going to be sad to leave.

"It's difficult," she said. "You get familiar with the people."

Sister Therese said that by the end of January the St. Michael sisters will know where they will be assigned next. She hopes to stay in education.

Sister Bernadette McManigal, diocesan superintendent of schools, said that the decision to leave St. Michael was a community one.

"We are grateful for the years of service of the sisters, and we wish them well in their new assignments," she said.

Father Jerry J. Pokorsky, St. Michael pastor, said that there was talk of the sisters moving a few years ago, but nothing came of it. He is grateful that they stayed at St. Michael for as long as they have.

Father Pokorsky is moving ahead with looking for a new principal. Ideally, he would like another religious community to come and stay in the convent and teach, but it's not easy finding religious to teach. He called several Dominican houses, but there is a waiting list of schools wanting them to teach.

Whoever is hired as principal, he said, will need to meet certain standards.

"We'll get someone who is hard working and in the IHM tradition," he said.

Father Pokorsky said the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary have instilled a sense of politeness in the students.

"It's always, 'Good morning, Father,' or 'Good morning, Sister,' he said. "They're very respectful."

Jo Ann and Joe Sieve have four children who attended St. Michael School. Joe was taught by the sisters at St. James School in Falls Church. Jo Ann was taught by the sisters at Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington.

"It's sad," said Jo Ann. "They added a flavor to the school that you won't have anymore."

Peggy Albrecht sent three children to St. Michael.

"The dedication of the IHM sisters to the education of our children formed the heart and soul of our school. As parents, we were the primary educators of our children. However, having our values taught and reinforced in the classroom made our jobs easier," said Albrecht.

If Father Pokorsky is unable to fill the convent with sisters, he would like to repurpose the building for "some apostolic purpose." That could include a diocesan office. He said the building has been well-maintained.

Although the sisters' departure is difficult, Father Pokorsky said that it also presents an exciting challenge with the possibility of new opportunities.

The sisters will continue to teach at St. James School and O'Connell.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016