Like many of our sisters, Sr. Deborah Krist’s first encounter with the Sisters of St. Francis was during her secondary school years. Little Flower High School in Philadelphia was, like many diocesan high schools, staffed by various congregations of sisters. So…what led Debbie to the Franciscans? “I experienced a joyful spirit in our sisters that could not be contained—and I resonated with it, she explained. “I researched other congregations and visited their motherhouses but the Glen felt like ‘home’ to me.”
During her early years in the congregation, Debbie ministered in elementary education. In a 2005 article by Pete Kennedy in the Bridesburg Star, she reflected on what she saw as the focus of education. “The thing that was really important to me was to have the children feel good about themselves, to really develop their self-image.”
In 2001 Debbie was appointed vocation director for the congregation. In that capacity she held weekend retreats for high school girls that provided a relaxed atmosphere in which the young women could meet team members and learn about religious life. She also attended vocation events in various areas. A 2003 article by Mary Beth DelLisi in The Catholic Spirit describes a vocation Awareness Fair in Somerset, New Jersey in which Debbie participated. In one of her discussion sessions, she explained that “God wants one thing for everyone and that is for everyone to be happy.” She then went on to explain that for some that involves married life and for others a vocation to religious life.
In 2006 Debbie returned to education as principal of Our Lady of Perpetual Help School (OLPH) in Morton, Pennsylvania. Her ministry took on a new challenge when closure of another school resulted in a merger with OLPH. Together they became a regional school. Undoubtedly this presented challenges for all involved, challenges that Debbie dealt with in a positive way and encouraged students, families, and staff to do likewise. The name of the school was changed to Our Lady of Angels, making it “our” school rather than “their” school.
That brings us to 2016 when Debbie became director of the Sisters of St. Francis Foundation. “I felt led to move from my ministry as an elementary school principal,” she explained. Simultaneously I became aware of this opportunity and, through God’s grace, I saw it as a new way of sharing our chrism with others and filling a community need.”
Debbie directs the work of the foundation and works with the board seeking financial support for our ministries with the poor, retirement needs, and other designated needs. Outreach takes varied forms: direct mail appeals, hosting participation in various events, the Good News publication, and personal contact. During a typical day, she might meet with donors or offer a tour or lunch with our sisters at Assisi House. The foundation also explores ways to attract new and younger donors by providing opportunities for them to experience our ministries firsthand and to sponsor events such as the 5k run scheduled for this coming fall. And then there are the “old favorites” such as the annual golf outing. Our 25th will take place in the fall!
Then there are staff meetings, networking with others, and planning future events. As in any position, there are challenges, including the inability of scheduling appointments with major donors due to their busy lives and schedules. Although the foundation is blessed with wonderful volunteers and a dedicated staff, Debbie herself is the only full time member. However, there are also many blessings. “The greatest for me is that I constantly get to be in relationship with others—meeting new people, sharing our charism, and deepening relationships. I am also grateful to our sisters for their ongoing, faithful support.” And through it all, Debbie herself reflects the joy she sensed in the sisters she met in high school. Her broad smile greets sisters, coworkers, donors, and guests alike, a visible reflection of the Franciscan spirit that is her life.
Read about how Sr. Debbie recently donated one of her kidneys to a fellow sister, Sr. Lynn Lavin, here.