Weitzel 1966_John Celeste626When we reflect on our vocation stories, we usually recall one or more individuals who served as a deciding factor in our choice of which congregation we would ultimately enter. For Sr. John Celeste Weitzel, that decisive voice was her mother’s. In elementary school Sr. Celeste was taught by our sisters at St. Clement School in Rosedale, Maryland. During her high school years, she attended local public schools. Also during those years, Sr. Celeste became acquainted with the Good Shepherd Sisters, attended monthly retreats with them, and by graduation time felt that might be where God was calling her. When she explained this to her mother, Mrs. Weitzel, who had been taught by our sisters in both elementary and commercial school and who was actively involved at St. Clement Parish, simply said, “Go to the Franciscans!” Sr. Celeste heeded that voice and the rest is history!

In an exercise to strengthen her quadriceps, Sr. Jude Seaman—wearing weights on her ankle—kicks her leg up to reach Sr. Celeste’s hand.
Working to improve balance, Sr. Jude bounces on a large ball and twists and extends with the smaller ball. Sr. Celeste holds onto the belt that Jude wears around her waist.

During her early years in the congregation, Sr. Celeste ministered in education but later studied to be a physical therapist. When she moved from Baltimore to the Aston area in November 2015, she came with a dream—to work with our sisters at Assisi House who were not getting PT for a specific problem. However, she learned that this would not work because of the arrangements with Mercy LIFE. Sr. Celeste, however, had other dreams as well. When she came to OLA for liturgy, she observed the sisters, noting that some seemed to be having problems with balance or displayed other indications that PT sessions might help. She spoke to Srs. Mary Farrell and Mary Smith about possibilities, conferred with Sr. Ellie Moore about space, did a little shopping and rearranging, and the dream began to take shape. Sisters who were interested in a program for balance and strength got scripts from their doctors. Sr. Celeste began by evaluating individual needs and developing individualized programs that met with each sister’s needs. Recently she opened the program to sisters not living at OLA.

Asked about what challenges she encounters in this ministry, Sr. Celeste admitted that one challenge is making PT interesting in a way that makes the sisters want to keep coming back. It is obviously a challenge to keep motivating each individual to want to do “just a little more” and to move on to the next step. As in any ministry, working with different personalities necessitates finding a variety of ways to generate that motivation.

And blessings? Celeste recalled her earlier work—especially with children—and the two-fold feelings of joy at seeing them overcome difficulties and of gratitude for her own health. She admits to that same sense of duality when she sees the sisters with whom she works walking just a bit straighter, standing and sitting with greater ease, and handling steps with a greater sense of security. And she added, “Because I exercise with each sister, my own balance is better and my muscles are really getting strong!” Then she added, “Earlier in my life, I was grateful to be able to study PT. Now I’m grateful that I’m able to continue to work—without the stress of a ‘job’—and grateful to the community for allowing me to pursue my dream!”

Sr. Teresa Boland lifts hand weights as she works to strengthen her back and neck muscles.
Sr. Celeste helps Sr. Teresa Boland with exercises to strengthen her arm and back muscles.

As one of those sisters who has been fortunate enough to avail myself of Sr. Celeste’s skills, I can attest to the personal satisfaction I feel when I walk up to Communion without reaching out for a pew to steady myself or when—after a workout—I hear that enthusiastic “Good job!”

Ann Marie Slavin, OSF