Sister Francis Piscatella of East Williston celebrates 108th birthday

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Sister Francis Piscatella, of East Williston, celebrated her 108th birthday on April 20. (Photo courtesy of Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville)

An East Williston resident and a member of the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville, Sister Francis Piscatella, turned 108 years old in April, making her one of the country’s oldest female religious figures.

Sister Piscatella’s life has not lacked adversity, starting with her left forearm being amputated at just 2 years old. Born in Central Islip on April 20, 1913, Piscatella has survived both world wars, the Great Depression, and now two worldwide health pandemics (Spanish flu and COVID-19).

She spoke about the role of independence her mother taught her and the importance of always lending a helping hand.

“Nobody has ever had to help me,” Piscatella told Catholic News Service. “If anyone was helping somebody, it was I helping them. My mother made me completely independent. When I went to the convent, I had to prove to my superiors that there was nothing I couldn’t do.”

Sister Piscatella joined the Dominicans in 1931 after being turned away from several other religious communities due to her disability. Piscatella earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at St. John’s University before becoming a grade school math teacher in Brooklyn.

Piscatella also spent 52 years teaching at Molloy College and worked at its Financial Aid Office before retiring at the age of 84.

“She was a dynamic teacher,” Piscatella’s colleague Sister Margaret Schmit said. “Everyone loved her. She also had the sweetest singing voice.”

Piscatella eventually sponsored Schmit when she applied to enter the order, along with another former student, and current living companion, Sister Daniel Kammer.  Kammer, who is 81, praised Piscatella’s abilities and the influence she had on her students.

“She is one of the greatest teachers that the Dominican Order has ever had,” Kammer said. Kammer also said taking a math class with Piscatella felt like “opening your head and pouring the knowledge in.”

Sister Jeanne Brendel, who was also sponsored by Piscatella when she applied to the order, lauded Piscatella for being one of her inspirations inside the classroom and out. Brendel lauded Piscatella for overcoming her disability.

“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,” Brendel said.

The religious organization said in a statement on Facebook that Piscatella has kept a “low profile” since the pandemic hit in March 2020, and has had to celebrate her past two birthdays waving to friends, family and colleagues from inside her East Williston apartment.

“On behalf of the Sisters of St. Dominic and all who love S. Francis, we would like to thank her for her amazing dedication to her students, for fostering the faith of so many women and for her fierce determination to overcome obstacles to follow God’s path,” a statement from the organization said.

The organization said she has remained busy with attending virtual masses and spending a great deal of time praying. According to what Piscatella told Catholic News Service, there may be a much simpler explanation as to why she remains alive after 108 years.

“I guess God doesn’t want me yet,” Piscatella told Catholic News Service. “He just wants me to hang around.”

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