Sister Noel, the youngest of ten children, was born in Escanaba, Michigan. Since she was born two days before Christmas, she was named Noel at her baptism at St. Ann’s Church.
Her family was known as a “song and dance” family. After each evening meal while doing the dishes, the whole family enjoyed the songs of the times accompanied by the boys with their many instruments including guitars, harmonicas, violin, a horn, combs and washboards. The music also included tap dancing.
After attending public school for kindergarten through second grade, Sister Noel went to St. Ann’s School, taught by the School Sisters of St. Francis. She loved the sisters and would often help them after school and on Saturdays. She also enjoyed the visits with her aunt, Sister Jocunda, a School Sister of St. Francis. Because of her close relationship with the sisters, she pursued her dream of becoming a sister herself. She followed her sister, Margaret, who had entered the School Sisters of St. Francis two years earlier.
Her years of ministry included teaching in elementary school for a number of years before being asked to go to Rome, where she studied theology for three years. Upon returning to the United States, Sister Noel spent two years working with the aspirants at the motherhouse followed by returning to teaching in the primary grades. She also earned a master’s degree in theology from Marquette University and was an instructor at Alverno College.
Sister Noel’s ministry focus changed after spending two summers in Kentucky, where she and a small group of School Sisters of St. Francis worked and lived among the poor in the Appalachian Mountains. This led to a longer commitment to work among the people there. Sister Noel’s background in music, singing, and playing the guitar accompanied many activities including religious education of adults and children. The sisters established a Friendship Center in Williamsburg, Kentucky, where the mountain people could come for clothing and household needs.
Gradually a bigger, multipurpose center provided crafts, used clothing, food, health programs and met other needs. It was also a place for prayer, music, and dancing. The song “Jehovah, Alleluia, the Lord will Provide” gradually changed to “Jehovah, Alleluia, the Lord DID Provide.” Five years later, another Friendship Center was established in the Mulberry region.
After 16 years working with the poor, Sister Noel took a sabbatical attending a special course in Toronto, Canada. She felt called to work for peace and justice and the need to address the systems that cause poverty and oppression. When the United States bishops asked the people what their greatest need was, the response was “Help us to get off welfare and get jobs.” Working together with local and national peace groups, great strides were made in changing Kentucky’s welfare legislation.
In the 1990s, Sister Noel spent two years as a social worker for Sacred Heart Southern Missions in Mississippi. There, she helped create a program called Economic Alternatives which became a full-time business with counseling, job placement, and skills assessment that helped hundreds of people get off welfare.
When Sister Noel returned to Wisconsin in the 2000s, she became involved in various volunteer activities with children, prisoners, and the elderly.
Sister Noel now spends her days in the ministry of prayer and presence. She is grateful for the freedom to follow the path of ministry she chose. “Jehovah, Alleluia, the Lord DID Provide,” and still does.
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