Growing Spiritually

…and fostering communities of faith

Sister Nancy Sell characterizes her vocational call as a winding road with curves, unexpected turns and beautiful sights: “There are times when you feel the promptings and sometimes the struggle and then the grace.”

Sister Nancy Sell

Sister Nancy’s life as a member of a religious community and a minister serving the people of God has involved unexpected curves and surprises.  Her parents were her first mentors, showing her the way of hospitality, generosity and faithfulness.  She grew up in Ohio with her two brothers and her sister.  Her dad, siblings and extended family are still very much a part of her heart and energy; her mom died in 2000. The beginnings of her ministry within the faith community started with family.

For almost 40 years Sister Nancy has served the people of God in various aspects of church ministry. One of her first experiences in ministry was as a Glenmary volunteer in rural Kentucky and Tennessee in the early 1970s.  Her eyes were opened to new realities of how rich people could be even in the midst of living in poverty.  Many of the people taught Sister Nancy about service, generosity and strength.

In 1973, she became a member of the Precious Blood Sisters in Dayton, Ohio. The sisters previously taught her in school. Her vocation was nurtured by serving with the sisters as a teacher.  She was involved in music ministry during those years.  She will always be grateful to those religious women for their spiritual formation, encouragement of her gifts and friendship. 

After a time of temporary vows, Sister Nancy chose a different path that seemed more congruent with her journey at that time.  She also enriched her ministry with two degrees – a Master’s degree in Theology and a Doctor of Ministry degree. She met the School Sisters of St. Francis while serving as Director of Pastoral Formation and Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology at St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee in the early 1990s. The promptings and urges to be a part of a religious order grew stronger once again.  She became a School Sister of St. Francis Associate in 1999.  Her discernment led her to be accepted as an Affiliate in 2002.

After 11 years at St. Francis Seminary, Sister Nancy served as Pastoral Associate at St. Mary Parish in Waukesha, Wisconsin. At St. Francis Seminary she worked with candidates for priesthood and for lay ministry in the Church. “This is the Church,” she said, “men and women working together.”   In the parish she was there for people, through liturgical rituals, being present with families when a loved one was very ill and at times of family celebrations and through adult formation and human concerns.  Sister Nancy cherished the significance of a faith community that enriches the spiritual lives of parishioners.

Sister Nancy’s present ministry is with her School Sisters of St. Francis community as the Director of Spirituality and Formation.  She sees this ministry providing a place to share her gifts and what she has learned and to blend with the wisdom and yearnings of others. This involves offering opportunities for ongoing spiritual formation for the sisters and for the broader Church, as well as supporting and collaborating with the community’s vocation and formation ministers.  

Sister Nancy says her greatest challenge is to stay balanced in life. Time with her family and friends helps her achieve this balance. While she enjoys working with others, her spirit is also nurtured through times of prayer, solitude, walking, biking and swimming. The refreshing water, the cool breeze and the sounds of nature call her to a place deep inside where she is fed. Indeed, Sister Nancy is a faithful follower of Francis and Clare.

Adapted from an article by Sister Patricia McCarthy for the School Sisters of St. Francis Pastoral Ministry Network.