Sister Julie Dermody

Sister Julie DermodySpirituality has always been a key part of Sister Julie’s life.  Even as a young child, she remembers her grandmother praying in German for her older sister, she thought, and not including Julie’s name in the prayer. Her grandmother was praying the rosary and the name Maria sounded like her older sister Marie’s name. As a result of Julie’s consternation, her grandmother included Julie’s name in her prayers.

Sister Julie had the Sisters of St. Agnes as her teachers in grade school, but the influence to join the School Sisters of St. Francis came from her aunt, Sister Gereon Esser. Sister Gereon convinced her that becoming a Franciscan was what she should do.  All along Julie was dogged by the thought “If God is calling me, I should try it! I need to trust in God.” 

She feels that prayer and Mass were important activities for her to do God’s work in the world. Prayer, Mass, participating in Bible Study, and making retreats in different places fueled her spiritual life. She remembers making a retreat with Jesuit Father Paul Chetcuti from Malta who served as spiritual director for preached retreats for St. Teresa of Calcutta and her sisters. He used audio visual materials creatively, and Sister Julie adapted some of his ideas for use in her classroom.

When Sister Julie entered the community, she received the name Sister Rose Francis. After being a young sister for only a short time, Vatican II took place and religious life changed. The great emphasis was on social justice, which colored much of Sister Julie’s ministry.  She participated in summer programs in Mississippi; New Orleans; Hayes, Montana; El Paso, Texas; and Washington, D.C.

Sister Julie is a life-long learner. Beginning at Alverno College, she has participated in many learning opportunities that have come her way, not least of which have been her years of ministry in education. Her first assignment was at Our Lady Queen of Peace School in Milwaukee where she was assigned on New Year’s Eve.  After teaching one semester, she returned to Alverno for summer school and graduated along with the sister she replaced. Next, she was assigned to teach at Holy Rosary School in Medford, Wisconsin, where she learned to drive. She also began working on her master’s degree in Reading at Cardinal Stritch College (now a university), which has proven invaluable in her teaching.  She also ministered in schools in California and Mississippi. In September she will begin her twentieth year of teaching in Watertown, Wisconsin.

Other ministries Sister Julie was involved in were catechizing elementary and high school students. For several summers, she taught language arts and math at Alverno College’s One-on-One Learning Center. She served as a mentor for new teachers and enjoyed serving as a member of school accreditation teams. While teaching, she also assumed responsibility as a director of religious education, and was an area coordinator for our community as well.

Sister Julie served as a member of the Los Angeles Sisters Council and the Milwaukee Sisters Council, as well as on its board. She remembers outreach activities they did, such as serving a meal at St. Ben’s in Milwaukee. One time was especially memorable, since their volunteer group made stew from potatoes picked up from the field after the initial harvesting. It was truly a community effort, as the sisters from all the parishes in Kenosha contributed something to the meal and the home economics students from St. Joseph High School helped make the stew. Students from St. Mark School made decorations for the tables. Led by Sister Antona Mueller with her accordion, a small group of sisters entertained the guests while others served the meal. 

She also recalled how her superiors were always welcoming and their living communities were life-giving as they prayed and had fun together.

Reflecting on what she would tell a young person today who is discerning joining a religious community, she recommends that she should “pray, go to Mass, do Bible study, and get to know some other sisters. Talk with a spiritual director regarding where she is being called. She needs to be open and grateful that God has led her in the right direction.”

Sister Julie says she is “deeply grateful for my sisters in community who have supported me throughout the years, and all the wonderful people I have met. We are all one working for the same goal. God bless everyone.”

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