Taking Risks

…to respond to the needs of the times
Sister Margaret Earley

Our world, nation and Church are very different today than they were 40 years ago. So, too, the ministry of higher education at Alverno College has evolved to meet the needs and challenges of the times. Sister Margaret Earley has been engaged in the Alverno theology department’s “community of learners” over this period and change has been the hallmark of these years.

Sister Margaret’s life has been peppered with change. She began as an elementary educator and then became a mathematics teacher at St. Joseph Convent High School in Milwaukee. From 1956 to 1959, she studied at the Pontifical Institute Regina Mundi in Rome. When she returned to the U.S., she was a formation minister in the postulancy for seven years and worked with young women as they entered the community. In 1969, Sister Margaret became part of the Alverno College community and began her Ph.D. studies in theology at Marquette University.

Upon completion of her doctorate, Sister Margaret began teaching theology at Alverno – then a typical Catholic college of primarily 18 year olds. The college also had a “Sister Formation Center.” Over the years, Alverno College has evolved into a multicultural place of learning “where all belong.”  Today, the student population consists of women who are diverse in age, experience, race, culture, and faith. “In one class of 25 students, there are 11 different faith traditions,” Sister Margaret said.

To teach theology in this milieu, Sister Margaret puts the students in touch with the source of their faith and spiritual lives. When asked what was life-giving and most challenging about her ministry in higher education, Sister Margaret said, “It’s always new, unique and energizing to be engaged in a community of learners whose focus is their life in the Spirit and its development—it is really a privilege.”

It’s also challenging for her to be personally in touch with the culture of young adults today. “They are clearly ‘seekers’ and it is important that I am able to respond to their needs, perspectives and experiences academically and pedagogically,” she said. Sister Margaret has also mentored Catholic, Lutheran and Baptist students who were preparing for further education at seminaries.

Although no two days are the same for Sister Margaret, each day begins and ends in the company of her living group of sisters who gather for prayer, meals and sharing the news of the day. On a daily basis she spends time doing professional, spiritual or theological reading, and preparing for various committee meetings with faculty members across departments.

Sister Margaret’s passion is the ministry of higher education in which she facilitates the development of the “spiritual life” of college women—helping them find the core of faith inside themselves and giving expression to that faith in religious practice and public service.  

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