The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Religious women have given decades to church ministries

Six women will be honored for dedicating 25, 50, 60 and 70 years of service to the Church

Published: December 3, 2016   

25 years

Sister Lisa Atkins, who lives in northwest Arkansas, has been a Religious Sister of Mercy for 25 years. She grew up in New Jersey and was taught by the Franciscan sisters. During high school her family moved to North Carolina where she got to know Poor Servants of the Mother of God sisters. When in college in Belmont, N.C., she volunteered with the Sisters of Mercy on the Mexican border and in Honduras. After graduating from college with a degree in psychology, she entered the Sisters of Mercy.

As a Sister of Mercy, she helped open a women and children’s shelter in Belmont, supervised a residential facility for homeless people with HIV and served as a parish minister in the North Carolina mountains.

She became a nurse practitioner in 2004, serving in the Mercy Health System, mainly at Mercy Convenient Care Clinic in Bentonville. Lately her focus has shifted to a new ministry called Community Health and Benefit at Mercy Hospital in Rogers, where she strives to increase access to medical care for the poor, marginalized and vulnerable.

“I feel so blessed to be a Sister of Mercy for 25 years,” she said. “It has been such a privilege to minister alongside my faithful and dedicated Sisters of Mercy community members in serving God’s people and the Church. I have received far more from God than I could ever have given or imagined in the past 25 years.”

Sister Lucia Ellender is a Discalced Carmelite nun in Little Rock. She was born in Houma, La., the ninth of 13 children. She attended high school as a boarding student at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau, La., where she was taught by the Religious of the Sacred Heart.

After earning a degree in architecture from the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, she began working for an architectural firm. During that time she felt a deep desire to give herself totally to God and entered Carmel in 1988.

She loves creation and working with her hands. With the help of friends, she has become a carpenter to help renovate and beautify the monastery and grounds. She has served on the community’s council and has assisted in initial formation.


50 years

Sister Teresa Kelone, a Religious Sister of Mercy, currently lives in Hot Springs. A Little Rock native, she earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Maryville University in St. Louis in 1972. After teaching for 22 years in elementary schools in the dioceses of Amarillo, Lubbock and Brownsville, Texas, and Jackson, Miss., she was family services coordinator for Catholic Charities in St. Louis for seven years. She received a certificate in hospital trustees board ministry in 1992 and a graduate certificate in pastoral theology from Aquinas Institute in St. Louis in 2003. She worked in hospital mission integration ministry in Mercy hospital and clinics in the Diocese of Wichita before coming to Hot Springs in 2004, where she serves as hospital chaplain.


60 years

Sister Hilary Decker, a Benedictine from St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, did not have much contact with sisters in Pep, Texas, where she lived, but her parents and grandparents told stories about their experience of the Olivetan Benedictines in Rhineland, Texas, where they had grown up. As a child, Sister Hilary’s only experience with sisters came from one hour of catechism each week.

She was impressed with the liveliness and happiness of two Benedictine sisters from Fort Smith who she saw while they were visiting their brother in her hometown. She liked their habit too, so she applied.

During her teaching career, she worked with kindergarteners through high school students in schools in Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana and Texas. She also served as business manager of the monastery, campus minister and director of religious education in Canyon, Texas, and director of the retreat center in Fort Smith. She is currently co-director of oblates at St. Scholastica Monastery.


Sister Eileen Schneider, an Olivetan Benedictine sister from Holy Angels Convent in Jonesboro, is also celebrating 60 years of monastic profession. Sister Eileen grew up in Jonesboro in a family of 11 children. She attended Blessed Sacrament School and Holy Angels Academy. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Arkansas State University and completed the Theology Institute at St. Norbert College in DePere, Wis.

She entered Holy Angels Convent in 1955 and taught primary grades for 22 years in Jonesboro, Little Rock, Pocahontas, West Memphis and Lake Arthur, La.

In her community she has served as formation director, subprioress and prioress. She was vice president of the Diocesan Council of Women Religious for four years and minster to religious for the Diocese of Little Rock for two years.   

Currently Sister Eileen serves as secretary to the prioress, takes care of medical billing for the sisters and serves on the board for St. Bernards Medical Center. She also volunteers at the food pantry in Jonesboro.


70 years

Sister Elizabeth Rossi, a Benedictine sister from St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, is the only religious in the diocese celebrating 70 years of profession. She grew up in the Italian community of Center Ridge in a family of nine children. She attended grade school and two years of high school in Center Ridge, taught by the Benedictines from Fort Smith. As a junior in high school she entered St. Scholastica.

She taught for 56 years in elementary schools in Verona, Mo., and Fayetteville, Russellville, Fort Smith and Little Rock. After retiring, she served as subprioress and house coordinator at the monastery. She currently lives in the monastery infirmary.

“I can say I have really enjoyed living out my call to religious life,” she said. “I am happy I said yes to this way of life. I am 90 years of age, and I look forward to the time when God calls me to him one day.”

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