My dear mother was a rather "private" Catholic. We were taken to church every Sunday but we never prayed together. It was Sister Regis who told me in clear simple terms that I could understand that God really loved me...not just all people, but me! It was Sister Regis who would sit with me in the chapel. She taught me to listen to God speak to me, rather than have me blabbing on about what I wanted all the time. The sisters in grammar school and high school taught me how to study, how to laugh, how to dream and how to treat others as my brothers and sisters. Thank you, Sisters!
Sister Theophane came to St. John the Baptist Catholic Community in Silver Spring, Maryland, after teaching English in a parochial high school in Illinois for many years. She was not given a regular teaching assignment in the parish school, but coordinated media and technology for its teachers. She also wrote and coordinated lessons for young students in the Office of Christian Formation and served as a mentor and informal spiritual director for CCD teachers.
I came to know Sister Theophane when I joined a spiritual book club of which she was a leader. She had unique insights into our monthly reading. I would look forward to hearing her reflections each month. She wrote poetry and saw beauty in every facet of God's creation. She radiated the love of God by her very presence.
When she became sick and knew that she was dying, she invited her friends to a Mass in the convent, where we said our goodbyes before she returned to Illinois. At a memorial service held at St. John's, we celebrated Sister Theophane's life, which epitomized love and joy. Our book club continues many years after her death and it is called Sister Theophane's Book Club.
Sister Theophane was a member of the Servants of the Holy Heart of Mary of Kankakee, Illinois.
She wasn't my teacher. She wasn't my mentor. She was my high school classmate and (for two years) my classmate at The Catholic University of America. After that Paula Goettelmann entered the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross in St. Mary's, Indiana, and became "Sister Paula," whose vocation lay in nursing. Paula (I can't quite bring myself to call her "Sister" (and she's more than OK with that) and I were born on the same day and in the same year in Washington, DC. I'm ying to her yang or vice-versa. Paula has worked all over the world bringing health care to God's most neglected children and adults. Paula also worked closely with former Holy Cross nun, Irene Morelli, in the practice of therapeutic touch. Currently, Paula is a hospice nurse for AIDS patients at the Hospice of the Chesapeake.
But what I really want to tell about Paula is how she cared for Irene during Irene's final fading long months due to dementia. Paula constantly cared for Irene, boosted Irene, took Irene on outings, and gave Irene the best life and best love possible under the circumstances. And, of course, Paula prayed with her and over her as Irene's days grew short. It was in this sister-to-sister relationship that Paula most tirelessly and faithfully lived out her vocation--not in some globally remote location but right here "at home" with her close comrade-in-heart. After nearly 50 years as a Holy Cross sister, Paula--for me--represents all that is good and true and beauty-full, full of God's love, as a vowed woman religious. She also has a hoot of a sense of humor!
My story is different. There is really no one sister I can name and it would be unjust to do so! From the age of 5 I attended St. Agnes Academy in Alliance, Nebraska, a boarding school run by the Franciscan Sisters. For eight years, these women proved to be my surrogate mothers; they shared their learning, their faith and love not just with me but with many of us children of the high plains. When not assigned to St. Agnes, the sisters educated the children living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation at Holy Rosary Mission, run by the Jesuits. Despite our different locations, all of us read from the same books, studied the same math and science, learned Latin and even were given classes in etiquette! In later years, one of the sisters told me how she loved the freedom that the reservation provided. She could go wading in the creek with the skirt of her habit pulled up!
But perhaps the best of what I learned from the sisters was a tremendous appreciation for the liturgy. We went to Mass every morning at 7:00AM and said all of the prayers of the Mass in English. But they also taught us to sing the Latin Mass of the Angels and, of course, the Requiem Mass which we sang every day of November. Does one ever forget the haunting words and chant of the Dies Irae? And only these women whom we all loved and admired could have gotten a group of fifty children to observe a week of silence when the Franciscan retreat master came to town!
While I was with the sisters a bit before the feminist revolution, that women were capable of doing anything simply went unquestioned at St. Agnes. Those women, our models, could face any trial or hardship; they could do and achieve anything they set their minds to - and we learned from them that we could, too.
So, my heartfelt thanks to these ladies who now rest in their graves on the barren Nebraska prairie - to Mother Virginia, Sr. Adeltrude, Sr. Emily, Sr. Bartholomew, Srs. Fides, Spes, Caritas; Sr. George, Sr. Doloreta, Sr. Agnes, Sr. Electa, Sr. Constance, Sr. Florence, requiescat in pace!
In July 1966 at age eleven I had been learning about Vatican II and sincerely believed my wish to be a Catholic priest would come true. I had spent the end of the last school year rehearsing religiously the Mass in both Latin and English. I was going to be an ‘altar boy’ like my male classmates. Serving at the altar would be just the prequel to my life’s calling to serve as a priest. The sister in charge of training the new crop of altar boys was Sister Monique Schwirtz of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Rochester, Minnesota. She agreed to train me privately. I memorized the responses in both languages, just in case. I practiced the movements. I was eager. I was prepared. I was good. But I was told I needed the bishop’s permission to actually serve. So I planned to ask the bishop. I knew that I was faithful, loved to be close to Jesus at the altar, and was well trained. That Bishop was attending all the Vatican II sessions. How could he say anything but “yes”?
Archbishop Gerald T. Bergen of Omaha arrived in our town on July tenth to dedicate one of his many new church buildings. After the dedication I was escorted into the sacristy to plead my case. The room was full of men taking off their cassocks and vestments. I felt small, nervous, and female. Someone directed Bishop Bergen’s attention toward me, and I asked him if I could “be-an- altar-boy-I-know-the-Mass-in Latin-and-English-and-can-do-all-the-prayers-and-actions-and-I-trained-real-hard-and-I-really-want-to-do-it”. He barely stopped moving as he looked at me and said “You can’t be an altar boy because you are a girl.” “I know I am, but I want to be a girl altar boy”. “But the Church only uses boys and you’re a girl so you can’t”. He turned away to end the conversation without another word. That was all my nerves could take. I was a girl, a lesser, an unwanted, an unneeded thing. I left the sacristy sick and blinded with disappointment and embarrassment.
This incident came to mind often throughout the next 35 years. Mostly with pain and the embarrassment of youth, but later with a well justified rage. Then I began to remember the sister who stepped out of line to train me. I remembered how quiet she was. How once I caught her tiny smile at my eagerness during a session. How she saw nothing wrong with a girl serving at the altar, and cautiously encouraged me in my mission. I needed to thank her. The same week I finally remembered her name I happened to be in another state driving to an event with strangers. I discovered one of the strangers was from Sister Monique’s same motherhouse… and knew Monique’s phone number by heart.
I called Monique and thanked her. We became friends and visited in person. Her kindness, compassion and wisdom have only grown over the years. The incident that once made me feel helpless with rage and rejection was diffused and replaced with a new relationship of trust and understanding. Sister Monique is now on staff at The Holy Spirit Retreat Center in Janesville, MN. It is a beautiful and healing place where you can find yourself surrounded by beauty, held in the clear knowledge of the goodness of the Creator. Monique fills my heart with gratitude, with love, and with peace. Thank you, Sister Monique, for being the living body of Christ in my life.
Sister Terry Falco! I was blessed to have Sister Terry stand by my side with support, know-how and spiritual counsel when I accepted a parish position for which I had little training. “Thanks for not making me feel stupid” was my feeble thanks one time.
Sister Terry is a Sister of Mercy. She comports an ongoing integrity that I witnessed caused her to give up a place of daily comfort and security and journey to the unknown. She has a heart wide open to all, and she is never too busy to give her time to anyone in need of assistance, teaching, or someone with whom to talk, and, sometimes, she simply offers her quiet presence when there are no words that can be said.
She seeks and celebrates sacrament in both the small and large forms, embracing the sacred in common ritual, and comes alive when she teaches about it with a particular delight in the occasional dance. She taught us to pray with Creation, with song and movement, with the scriptures, as journeyers with the labyrinth, with the Lord’s Prayer and with the Liturgy, and brought great enlightenment about the Eucharistic prayer to our catechists. As a leader of prayer, she had a way of including many people, and engaging people in full participation of the Mass.
While most people would not normally expect this from a liturgist, Sister Terry was, in fact, involved in most aspects of our parish life, and in the very lives of the people of our parish. She was a reminder of the presence of a loving God. She did not try to be the center of attention, yet she was known by all because she was present to people week in and week out as they crossed the threshold for Mass, came to classes, or dropped by the parish office, and she remembered people by name, delighted in children’s comments, and asked about sick relatives.
Sister Terry was successful at impressing upon us that we are ONE church. Parishioners still say, “Remember when Sr. Terry taught us…..”
Graduating college, I was a starry eyed idealist ready to go out and do good in the world. Thankfully, I found the Medical Mission Sisters and their program for lay volunteers. MMS had a great partnership with many organizations around the country wherein they would place people for year-long volunteer stints in exchange for room and board and a monthly stipend. The MMS would serve as our mentors, trainers, inspirers, teachers and challengers during that time. I applied and was accepted and in August of that year I, along with several other recent college grads and a woman in her early 60’s who had been recently widowed (a dear, dear friend to this day), arrived in Philadelphia, PA for a 2-week orientation before being sent to our placements.
We had little idea what we were getting into but I suspect for every one of us, it was a life-changing experience. For those two weeks, we learned alongside these women who were trained as healers and lived their charism of being the “healing presence” of Christ. They prepared us well for the work we were going to engage in by helping us find our own ways of being a healing presence and recognizing that healing is not simply physical but also spiritual. We also learned to live in community, to accept the challenges of different perspectives and personalities and to include prayer as a regular part of our time together.
But it was the day-to-day life with the Medical Mission Sisters that taught me the most. While I remember few names, I remember faces and experiences well. I remember one sister carefully composting all the vegetable trimmings and when the bucket was full, burying the contents in a hole in the yard as one small action to be a good steward of the earth. I have been a dedicated kitchen-scrap composter ever since. I recall another sister talking about the value of being alone with self and God, and indeed there were one room cabins on the premises for spiritual quiet and solace. I appreciate quiet, and find God in that quiet, in a way I did not at age 22. Another time several of us were talking with the sisters about our concerns about the role of women in the Catholic church, concerns the sisters seemed to share. When asked why one would ever choose to become a sister and stay in an order, one sister responded saying, “If I leave, who is going to make change?” Both within the church and in the world, I have been continuously inspired by the thought that I too must be the one to make change.
But what I remember most is the real joy they had in their lives as a healing presence both as sisters and as a community. Would that we all find our own charism and find such joy in living a life dedicated to being Christ’s presence in the world.
Do you remember what you were like in 9th and 10th grade? Fortunately for my self-respect, my memory is hazy. I recall being an odd bundle of awkwardness and happiness, of insecurity and confidence, of groping idealism and shy romanticism, undergirded by faith, curiosity, a strong family, and a few really great friends.
Back then, the job of counselor in my high school focused solely on getting us girls into college. It never occurred to me to talk with her about the confusions of being a young teen.
Instead, I discovered the open door of Sister Agnes Maureen Badura, SP. Actually, it wasn't always open: fairly often, some other girl had gotten there before me, after school, and had closed the door for her own private counseling time. At 4 or 5 pm along the spacious third-floor corridor, Room 316 was the only occupied room as Sister Agnes Maureen sat at her desk, generously available - and maybe sometimes she actually got a bit of time for her own work of grading papers and preparing classes.
She was my favorite teacher. She made math a clear and fascinating exploration of logic as expressed in numbers. She taught with an unhurried capacity to both lead us into learning AND follow our confusions so she could turn us in the right direction again. She even mixed in life lessons. I remember putting up a long solution to an equation, meandering to the correct answer; then she pointed out a route that would have taken half the steps, mentioning the value of simplicity.
My favorite story is from a friend who was valedictorian for our class. Sister Agnes Maureen was the "coach" for Karen's speech. Karen initially wrote the pious pablum that she felt might be expected. Sister Agnes Maureen looked it over, looked up, and said, "You can do better. Write what you really want to say."
THAT is what Sister Agnes Maureen offered us: her calm, contagious confidence that we would use the intelligence, common sense, and other gifts God has given us. She did it through math and personal coaching. She did it through her example.
As I've read my alumnae news through the years, this expectation seems to me to be broadly characteristic of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary of the Woods - plus a profound readiness to follow the path that God's Providence opens, wherever it leads. Sister Agnes Maureen modeled that openness, too, as well as amazingly generous and sensible kindness.
What gifts. And can you guess how much it meant to have them begin when I was 14?
As I participate in organizing this rally, I think of all the sisters who taught me from kindergarten through college. Of all of them, however, one continues to inspire me to this day. She is Sr. Rosemary Flanigan, Sister of St. Joseph of Carondolet. When I first met her…over 50 years ago…she was Sister Thomas Marguerite, and she was my high school English teacher. After Vatican II, she opted to reclaim her birth name, so she has been Sr. Rosemary Flanigan ever since.
Little did I know at the time we first met that we would become close friends, emailing each other on a daily basis and spending time in each other’s homes. Sr. Rosemary has been a role model, not only for me, but for countless others. After she taught English in Denver, she got a PhD in Philosophy and taught for many years at the college level. She was among the clergy and handful of sisters who marched in Selma, and she is featured on the DVD “Sisters of Selma.” Her quick wit, infectious laugh, intellect and enthusiasm in the classroom have always made her a very popular teacher. She made learning fun.
After retiring from teaching, she became a well-known expert in the field of ethics. She became a highly sought after speaker because of her knowledge of the field and her dynamism and enthusiasm as a presenter. She worked well into her 80s, and now that she is officially retired, she does volunteer work at a local Catholic Academy and continues to get involved in a variety of activities that serve the church.
Throughout all the changes in her life, she has lived the Gospel through her many years of dedicated teaching, by leading by example by constantly doing things for others, visiting the sick, and sharing her gifts and time in any way that is needed. At the same time, she has continued to nurture her religious vocation through daily mass and prayer. She is an outstanding example of how a modern day, Vatican II nun can preach the gospel through her actions while living in the midst of the world . She is a wonderful example of giving of oneself for the greater glory of God by serving others and by humbly using the gifts she has been given.
During each of the chapters of her life, she has received many, many accolades and honors, including an endowed chair in her name, yet, she remains humble, grateful for her many experiences, and willing to pitch in wherever needed. She has taught me to keep active and to get involved in activities that serve others. By her willingness to march in Selma, she taught me to not be afraid to speak out when I see something that should not be, lest I be complicit…which is why I am speaking out on behalf of the sisters at this time. I cherish my friendship with her, and I am thankful for her friendship. So, I proudly salute you, Sr. Rosemary, the LCWR sisters, and all sisters who show us how to live the gospel in the everyday world.
Thank you, Sister Dorothy Feehan, BVM
It's late here, our first day of an active website, and I'm thinking of Sister Dot Feehan, BVM, now retired in Missoula, Montana. She has twinkling eyes and merry smiles, from her big Irish family back in the Chicago area. She has profound awareness that We Are the People of God, from her small-group 1960's work in parishes where she helped people to comprehend the radical (i.e., deep-rooted) truths of Vatican II. She has grounded experience of Jesus present 2000 years ago and in Spirit today, from co-leading retreat journeys through Galilee to Jerusalem. She has grit and grace and compassion and courage and diplomacy, from her discernment and travels in BVM leadership as she had to tell bishops that smaller numbers of Sisters could not support the same numbers of diocesan schools. She creates community wherever she is, by skillfully and gracefully inviting people to enter an environment of welcome, openness, inquiry, and blessing. In her 80s, she has stood in frigid vigils to witness for peace. She lives Incarnation daily - and, most amazing, she expects us to realize that we also carry God within us... and so we live differently. She has touched and changed my life, and my daughter's, and many more.
Part of her gift to me was an introduction to the publications and wisdom of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. And now I am privileged to stand in solidarity with LCWR - and (I hope forever) with Sister Dot.
We're a grassroots team, learning & discerning as we go. We get our energy from our enormous gratitude and respect for Catholic Sisters who have touched our lives, and for the leadership of LCWR.