Praise for Sister Jerome, Her Work, at ‘Centennial’

BOARDMAN, Ohio – Some 300 people honored a woman who took the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience 82 years ago for her never-ceasing efforts to help the poor.

When she turned 96 in 2012, an age when most have long retired, Sister Jerome Corcoran, began yet a new mission: to help poor families pay for food, clothing, utility bills and gasoline. “Poor families are suffering acutely from the lack of bare necessities,” reads a brochure from her latest – and probably last – calling, Sister Jerome’s Poor.

In this calling, she and other Ursuline nuns serve the poor – not “low income” or ”the needy” or “less fortunate” – but the poor families in Youngstown with only one parent who live meager paycheck to meager paycheck and the bright students with promise who can’t afford college.

The former aspect of Sister Jerome’s ministry is “Working Poor Families,” the latter “Mission College.” She is working to raise $60,000 each this year for both.

In responding to the flood of tributes Sunday night at The Georgetown, the Ursuline nun announced she is looking for a successor to run Sister Jerome’s Poor, and asked her audience to encourage candidates to send her their resumes. “I know I don’t have 20 more years to work,” she said with intended understatement.

Her energy, spirit and love of humanity belie the calendar that says she will turn 100 in April.

The master of ceremonies, George D. Beelen, set the tone by calling evening, billed as “Sister Jerome’s Centennial Celebration on Behalf of the Poor,” a “jubilee” and a celebration of her long and eventful life of achievement. She has taught elementary school, high school and college and from 1953 to 1963 was supervisor of education for the Diocese of Youngstown.

Sister Jerome holds a baccalaureate, master’s degree and doctorate, all earned while she was working full-time serving others.

“Her work has been for the least of us and those most in need,” Beelen said.

When most are beginning to slow down and prepare for retirement, Sister Jerome was getting her second wind. In 1976, she founded the Millcreek Children’s Center on the South Side and in 1998 the related charter school, Youngstown Community School, for inner city children in kindergarten through grade six. Today it has more than 300 students.

And when Sister Jerome left Millcreek, she didn’t pause. She launched Sister Jerome’s Poor.

Sister Mary McCormick, the mother superior of the Ursuline convent on Shields Road where Sister Jerome and the nuns who support her live, noted, “My parents were taught by Sister Jerome at Ursuline High School.” Then she provided this insight as to why the evening’s honoree and her staff have accomplished so much: “We see something that needs done and then we go ahead and do it.”

Sister Jerome’s efforts on behalf of the poor have made her well-known among the leaders of the Mahoning Valley — political, business, media and academic – as evidenced by the many accolades given, proclamations issued and tributes offered. Gov. John R. Kasich, both chambers of the Ohio Legislature, both U.S. senators from Ohio, Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio and Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, and Youngstown Mayor John McNally issued proclamations honoring her many good works.

The Rev. Robin Woodberry, leader of the Mahoning Valley Association of Churches, Andrew Lipkin, executive vice president of the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation, and Randa Shabayek, president of the executive committee of the Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown, also saluted Sister Jerome.

The vicar of the Diocese of Youngstown, the Rev. Monsignor Robert Siffrin, one-upped the bearers of political proclamations when he noted he had an honor “from a little higher authority” and then presented Sister Jerome a framed “apostolic blessing from [Pope] Francis.”

Sister Jerome’s talent for getting the financially comfortable to share their success with the poor, as Beelen noted, “has made her a local legendary figure. That’s no exaggeration.”

It’s a reputation Sister Jerome delights in as last night she recounted her support from powerful leading figures of a generation of two ago: Esther Hamilton, a longtime Youngstown Vindicator columnist and her annual “Alias Santa Claus” held at Stambaugh Auditorium; Marie DeBartolo, the wife of Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. and mother of Denise DeBartolo York; Margie Rosenblum; and Bill Lyden, a leader in the rebirth of Youngstown and former chairman of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber.

As Sister Jerome told the story, she was late to a meeting of the chamber and so stood in the back of room, trying escape notice.

Lyden, presiding over a meeting, nonetheless spotted her and loudly announced, “Well, what do you want now? Fellas, hold on to your wallets!”

Pictured: Sister Jerome Corcoran’s family gathers for a photograph at last night’s “Sister Jerome’s Centennial Celebration on Behalf of the Poor.” 

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.