Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Obituary for Sister Emma Mary Steckel, Director of the St. Mary's Franciscan Shelter

Sister Emma Mary Steckel, shelter director

By Sally A. Downey

Inquirer Staff Writer

Sister Emma Mary Steckel, 77, an educator for 35 years who became director of a homeless shelter in Phoenixville, died of ovarian cancer Sunday at St. Basil the Great Convent in Kimberton.

Sister Emma Mary taught in elementary schools staffed by her order, the Sisters of St. Francis, in Philadelphia, Montgomery County, Delaware County, Allentown, Bethlehem and Puerto Rico.

In 1989, she became director of St. Mary's Franciscan Shelter. The facility, for adults with children, had opened in a vacant convent two years earlier. Sister Emma Mary instituted a drug test for the residents. She wrote grants that paid for a case manager, parenting classes and child care, as well as transportation and car repairs for residents. She used her artistic talent to decorate the shelter with used furniture, plants, and paint.

"St. Mary's has became known as a tidy welcoming place to stay when a family is in crisis, and her leadership and organizational skill are the reason," said the shelter's current director, Sister Christine Kranichfeld. Sister Emma Mary was a founder of the Consortium to Prevent Homelessness, a union of several agencies to avoid duplications of forms, intakes and interviews.

Sister Emma Mary remained on the shelter staff after she retired as director in 1997. When she reached her 70s, she reduced her hours to part time but still shared overnight duty and provided meals with her special culinary touch, Sister Christine said.

Though she underwent surgery and chemotherapy treatment when she was found to have cancer two years ago, Sister Emma Mary continued to help when she could, sweeping the floor and washing towels or ironing curtains, though she had to sit while working, Sister Christine said.

In 2001 Sister Emma Mary received a Phoenixville Citizen Recognition Award, and last year she received a Champions of the Community Award from the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation.

Sister Emma Mary attended Allentown Central Catholic High School, then worked as a packer at Quaker Shoe Co. in Allentown for several years before entering the convent in 1952.

She earned a bachelor's degree in English from Neumann College in Aston.

She is survived by brothers Charles, Joseph, John, Vince, Frank and Steve; sisters Grace Steckel, Agnes Dolan, Kitty Kovacs, Peg Roth, and Regina Hausman; and nieces and nephews.

A Funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. tomorrow at St. Basil the Great Roman Catholic Church, 2300 Kimberton Rd., Kimberton. Friends may call from 9 a.m. Burial will be at 3:15 p.m. tomorrow in Our Lady of Angels Cemetery in Aston.

Memorial donations may be made to the Franciscan Ministries Foundation, 609 S. Convent Rd., Aston, Pa. 19014.

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