The Joliet Franciscans elected and appointed new leaders — here’s who they are

Installation ceremony for the 6 sisters was Sept. 4

The Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate recently elected new leadership from within its membership.

They were installed on Sept. 4 in the chapel of the University of St. Francis, which is the site of the former motherhouse, and will remain in office until 2025, according to a news release from the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate in Joliet.

The following sisters were elected: Sister Jeanne Bessette, president; Sister Peggy Quinn, vice president/councilor; and Sisters Roberta Naegele and Phillis Wilhelm, councilors.

The following sisters were appointed: Sister René Simonelic, general secretary; and Sister MJ Griffin, reappointed as treasurer of the community.

Sister Jeanne Bessette

Bessette spent four years as the Joliet Franciscans’ councilor for mission (2000-2004) and the next four years as both counselor and general secretary (2004-2008).

In 2009, the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, Ohio, hired Bessette as the founding president of DePaul Cristo Rey High School, part of the Cristo Rey Network of high schools, which serves urban youth with limited financial resources.

Bessette has also served as principal of Trinity High School in River Forest and taught English at the former St. John the Baptist School in Joliet and St. Francis Academy in Joliet, now Joliet Catholic Academy.

She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the College of St. Francis, Joliet (now University of St. Francis), a Master of Arts English literature from Loyola University of Chicago, and a Doctor of Education in private school administration from the University of San Francisco.

Sister Peggy Quinn

Quinn was the councilor for Franciscan spirituality for two terms, 2008-2016. She served as the vocation director of the congregation before the current election.

She has a Master of Arts in theology from the University of Notre Dame. She taught theology and served as campus minister for over 20 years at the former St. Francis Academy, which included the transitioning phase into Joliet Catholic Academy. She worked an additional eight years at Holy Family High School in Colorado.

Quinn is a member of the Human Trafficking Collaborative Illinois and a member of the Joliet Catholic Academy board of directors. She serves on the core committee of the Bluestem Earth Festival among other membership and affiliations.

Sister Roberta Naegele

Naegele is a certified family nurse practitioner and a licensed acupuncturist. For the last five years, Naegele has worked as an independent wholistic practitioner with an office in Joliet.

She previously worked as a nurse-midwife, with three years in the Amazon area of Brazil. While there, Naegele learned to speak Portuguese, which helps in communicating with the congregation’s sisters who live in Brazil.

Sister Phyllis Wilhelm

Wilhelm most recently lived and worked in Northern Wisconsin. She went to Bayfield, Wisconsin in 1974 and served as teaching principal to the mostly Native American Chippewa children from the Red Cliff Reservation for 21 years.

In 2009, Wilhelm served as a pastoral associate for the Bayfield cluster of five parishes in the Diocese of Superior and worked with the Chippewa Native Americans on the Bad River Reservation in Odanah, Wisconsin.

While stationed at St. Mary’s Catholic Indian Community, Wilhem served as pastoral associate and later became the director of religious formation. She was appointed the diocesan vicar for religious from 2015 until August 2021.

Sister MJ Griffin

Griffin has served as treasurer of the congregation since 2004. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in mathematics from St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana and a Master in Divinity and a Master of Science in administration from Notre Dame University

She also sits on Joliet Catholic Academy’s board of members and Our Lady of Angels Retirement Home.

Sister René Simonelic

Simonelic earned her Bachelor of Arts in education from Fordham University, a Master of Science degree in music from Indiana State University and a Master of Arts degree in liturgical studies from St. John’s University in Collegeville Minnesota. She was also recognized by the Kellogg School of Management in 2005 as an executive scholar in nonprofit management.

She has served as project manager, director of music, a liturgical consultant and as a member of various pastoral councils throughout the Midwest. In 2004, she became the congregation’s development director and then worked in the office for divine worship for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

In her new role as scretary for the congregation, Simonelic will “serve as legal secretary of the corporation, keep the records of the congregation, and maintain communications with the sisters,” the release said.

Denise  Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland is the features editor for The Herald-News in Joliet. She covers a variety of human interest stories. She also writes the long-time weekly tribute feature “An Extraordinary Life about local people who have died. She studied journalism at the College of St. Francis in Joliet, now the University of St. Francis.