AMITYVILLE, L.I. — Sister Francis Piscatella, OP, a member of the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville for 90 years, turned 108 years old on April 20. She is loved by her fellow sisters and former students, having fostered the faith of so many women and displaying fierce determination in overcoming obstacles and following God’s path.
After Sister Francis took her vows at the age of 18, other Dominican sisters were sent out to “the missions” to begin teaching. Sister Francis, however, was kept back due to a perceived disability — her arm had been amputated when she was a child. Although her teaching skills were proven to be exemplary, she had taught her fellow sisters at the Motherhouse Complex to help them earn their high school degrees.
However, as her close friend and fellow Sister of St. Dominic Francis Daniel Kammer recalls, that changed soon after.
A new sister, who had been sent to teach at Fourteen Holy Martyrs in Bushwick, returned to the Motherhouse due to the stress of the job. The congregation sent Sister Francis as a substitute, for just a week, until another replacement could be found.
When the pastor was told of the situation, he simply asked, “Can she teach?” Sister Alfred, who had accompanied Sister Francis there at the time, retorted, “She is a great teacher.”
The pastor, as Sister Francis Daniel remembers, said, “Then she stays!” Sister Francis went on to teach at Fourteen Holy Martyrs for eight years.
“She is one of the greatest teachers that the Dominican Order has ever had,” said Sister Kammer, who was one of Sister Francis’s students at Dominican Commercial High School in Jamaica, and was sponsored by Sister Francis when joining the order. The two currently live together.
“Taking a math class with Sister Francis was like opening your head and pouring the knowledge in,” Sister Kammer said.
Sister Francis’s reputation went beyond the classroom at Dominican Commercial High School — where she taught for 17 years — and spread to surrounding schools in the area. Students who failed during the year were sent by their own school administration to Dominican Commercial for summer school, seeking out Sister Francis specifically — with the assurance that they could learn math and pass the class with her help.
Sister Francis went on to tutor and teach in other schools, including St. Michael’s in New York for three years, St. Bartholomew’s in Elmhurst for one year, and Molloy College in Rockville Centre for 52 years. She also served in the financial aid office at Molloy College during her career. Sister Francis retired from Molloy in the late 1990s when she was 84 years old.
“She was a dynamic teacher,” said Sister Margaret Schmit, who was also sponsored by Sister Francis and was one of Sister Francis’s students at both St. Michael’s and Dominican Commercial. “Everyone loved her. She also had the sweetest singing voice.”
Sister Jeanne Brendel, another sister who was sponsored by Sister Francis, said she always admired Sister Francis’s loving ways and perseverance. She recalled that when Sister Francis followed the call to religious life, she was declined by four communities due to her disability.
“They didn’t know what she would be able to do,” Sister Jeanne explained. “The Amityville Dominicans, under the leadership of Mother Anselma, embraced her, and she became the most wonderful role model for all of us — young sisters and older sisters too — because she is so loving and so determined.”
Sister Jeanne also recalled a time when they went to a restaurant and bumped into a former student who was thrilled to see Sister Francis. The student had excitedly recalled her favorite memories of Sister Francis.
Afterward, Sister Jeanne marveled and asked Sister Francis, “Do you see the impact you have made?” Sister Francis just smiled.
“She is so humble,” Sister Jeanne added.
Though Sister Francis has kept a low profile during the pandemic, her prayer life remains fervent as she continues to attend and watch Mass and spends much of her time in prayer.