Only a few months after I was born, I developed whooping cough. The doctor said to my mom, “Why did you get her here now? It is too late.” My mom told me she went home distraught and prayed and “gave me to God.” It was not too late for God!
People like my mom – an uneducated but loving, warm, intuitive person – have always showed me what God must be like. Going to Alvernia High School and interacting with people like Sister Maria Crucis, Sister Claire Marie, and Sister Angelica, along with several dedicated lay teachers, helped solidify my desire to emulate their qualities and, even as a teenager, to think beyond myself.
My faith formation was furthered during the ten years I spent as a School Sister of St. Francis. For some reason I could not bring myself to take final vows in the condition that I was in at the time. In a letter I wrote to all the community, it indicated that my goal was to return after a year with a heart filled with peace in becoming a whole-hearted member. God had a different plan. The plan that was very clear to me, no matter where the plan took me, my purpose, direction, and mission in life was no different than it had been as a sister. That perspective was codified when my husband gave me my School Sister of St. Francis ring at the altar at our wedding. It was a sign that now Tom and I were all connected in different ways with the congregation’s mission of service.
Within the mission, my ministry has always been education in one form or another. I was so fortunate to receive a quality education that I want that for everyone. For me, education is so much more than the “the R’s.” In the long run, it has more to do with opening minds and hearts.
At various times, I was a director of religious education, a teacher (kindergarten through college), principal, superintendent, and now I am serving in the poorest schools in Rockford, Illinois, substituting for principals one or two times a week. This is my way of preaching the gospel without saying much. By the way I conduct myself, I feel I help focus on what is really important in education: listening to teachers, and helping students find direction for their lives. This ministry is life giving for me. Make no mistake, after 50-plus years of involvement in education, I am still trying to “get it right.”
My biggest challenge in this ministry is to remember that Jesus invited people into his world, never using power or position. As a control freak, my challenge is to constantly remind myself to serve in a way that emulates Jesus’ leadership style. My great joy has been to see fellow colleagues, present and past students follow in a servant leadership role. To me that is the community’s mission to serve wherever the needs bring them.
Being an associate connects me daily to School Sisters of St. Francis all over the world. Through that association, I am connected to all they are connected to. It connects me to a world so much bigger than my world.
On the local scene it has been life giving to be a part of the Chiara Area Community in Rockford. It is always a place where I can bring my ministry concerns, find fellowship, spiritual insights, and leave nourished and refreshed. My greatest accomplishment in ministry has been and continues to be journeying through life in the company of ordinary people doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way. I have never felt alone on this road.
So where does the future bring us? No one knows. It’s evolving. I do see various kinds of Associate Relationships as key to the future. What structures need to be in place so that people in all walks of life can band together with shared common purpose, supporting and encouraging each other along the journey? How can vowed religious, permanent-temporary vowed religious, lay institute folks, associates, and others continue in smaller groups but band together in ways that preserve their individual identities while living under the common umbrella of Jesus’ community?
A tribal mentality is not just a concept seen in government; it also permeates the way that we look at the various groups within our own Church. With an overarching community we can all identify with, anyone searching for a meaningful spiritual life could find a home.
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