Prestigious Award Helps 'Renew' Sr. Alice's Zest to Serve Others

by Melissa McNally, Staff Writer
ROSELLE-For her years of service with RENEW International, Sister Alice Yohe, S.S.J., was honored with the organization's "President's Award" on June 4.

Sr. Alice was executive assistant to RENEW International founder/president Msgr. Tom Kleissler for 23 years and still volunteers as the organization's archivist. She is also director of religious education at Saint Joseph the Carpenter Parish, Roselle, and volunteers as administrative assistant to the school's principal.
"Sr. Alice is an incredible gift to the Church, both locally and far beyond our archdiocese," Msgr. Kleissler said. "She was often the face of RENEW and the person people first came in contact with. Her pleasant and winning ways guided them. She is a great factor in the tremendous growth of RENEW in her time."

When first asked to accept the President's Award, Sr. Alice was hesitant. "I was humbled by the nomination. At first, I had to think it through. I am very pleased to receive the award and I accept it on behalf of all the religious Sisters who have dedicated their service to RENEW," she explained.

For Sr. Alice, the organization brings the faithful closer to the Church and she is grateful to aid in the mission. Based in Plainfield, RENEW works to revitalize parish life and faith communities throughout the United States and in 23 countries through ministry services and education programs.

"RENEW helps people get in touch with their own faith experience," she explained. "The Small Christian Community group is very important and I was coordinator for the group at Saint Joseph the Carpenter Parish. It is enriching and the group offers support through hard times. I've seen people who were at first timid start to open up and share their experiences."

Sr. Alice was involved with RENEW before it was a worldwide operation and has enjoyed watching it expand throughout the globe. "People were very responsive. There were lots of people hungry for spirituality. I would take inquiry calls and you can hear and experience the spirit moving in a particular town," she remembered.

Working closely with Msgr. Kleissler for years, she described him as a "faith-filled person" who knows the spiritual needs of the community. "He works well with people and he helped to carry them through. Sometimes I had to keep up with him, but it gave me energy and it was rewarding."

One of her fondest memories was participating in the international training sessions in the late 1980s. During the summer sessions in Plainfield or Convent Station, teams from diverse countries as Samoa, Guam, India, South Africa and Australia came to RENEW International for a six-week immersion experience. Each country prepared a liturgy or prayer service and, in turn, shared their culture and spirituality with the group.

"No matter where you are in the world, there is a hunger for God. It was a broad experience of faith and Church," Sr. Alice said.

She recalled a particularly touching session with a RENEW team from South Africa. "It was the time of apartheid and we had a group of both white and black Africans. It was hard for them to open up. It just showed how people came together in faith and, no matter what your ethnic group, the Church is for everyone."

As coordinator of volunteers, she oversaw many people from her parish and around the archdiocese who offered their time and talents to RENEW. "I invited ladies from Saint Joseph the Carpenter Parish to help and they stayed with us. When we expanded, we received even more volunteers. I'm not afraid to ask for help and people usually respond. The volunteers were involved in everything from retreats to celebrations. We were always a family."

Always looking for new, innovative ways to minister, Sr. Alice took her hobby of making candy and turned it into "Morning Star Chocolates" in 1990. With a store located in the basement of Saint Joseph Parish, proceeds from the sales go to the retirement fund of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Peace, Chestnut Hill, PA.
"At first I made chocolates for families and sold them at my community's Christmas bazaar. The table was very successful and my brothers purchased a candy case for me. I started making the chocolates in the convent basement and sold them outside of Saint Joseph the Carpenter Parish around the holidays. We now have a store in the former music room of the parish."

As director of religious education at Saint Joseph Parish, she heads a group of volunteers and close to 100 children in the Roselle/Linden area. She also works in the school and finds the experience of helping the diverse parish rewarding. Parishioners from Haiti, Central America and the Philippines make up the faith community.
"I'm a people-person and I feel that it is my place to welcome the immigrants. It is all fun to me and I do balance my time," she explained.

With her many activities, Sr. Alice is grateful for her busy schedule. "This flexible ministry is very rewarding. Wherever there is need, you respond. I feel blessed that the Lord has given me the opportunity and good health. I live in a wonderful local community with 10 sisters. We support each other-that is what gives me the energy."

Courtesy of The Advocate, the Catholic Newspaper of the Archdiocese of Newark.