During the 1940s when I grew up, career options for young women were pretty limited,” said Sister Regine Barry. “Teaching, nursing, secretarial work, or getting married and raising a family were pretty much it for young women.”
Sister Regine had planned on being a nurse until her friend, Lillian Schiavoni, entered the School Sisters of St. Francis. At that time, one of Sister Regine’s teachers said to her “What about you?” A year later - after graduating from Notre Dame High School for girls on Chicago’s northside - Sister Regine entered the convent.
Her first assignment was at St. Peter School in Skokie, Illinois, where she taught over 50 children. “In those days, children were easy to manage, and parents supported the teachers,” she said. Some of her best memories were at Our Lady of Victory School in Chicago. “We had many young sisters who were fun to be with and who enjoyed a good game of volleyball. We had the opportunity to go on a variety of outings, such as trips to the museum, to the botanical gardens, and to the first ‘Cinerama’ movie,” she said.
Before entering the community, Sister Regine had learned to drive, so she became the chauffeur for all 23 sisters at Our Lady of Victory. In spite of the fact that she had not driven for ten years, she proved to be an expert driver. Being a Chicago native, she knew her way around any part of the city and was able to navigate rush hour traffic with ease.
At age 65, sister retired from teaching and moved to St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport, Wisconsin. “The small-town atmosphere and open spaces of the countryside were truly a breath of fresh air,” she said. Her driving services took her to many new locations where she got acquainted with a variety of new friends and convents. During these years, thanks to her mother’s generosity, sister had the good fortune to travel to Europe. “I took advantage of the opportunity to learn to drive on the left side in Ireland, to keep the speed limit on the autobahn in Germany, and to find my way around Rome.”
One of the high points of her retirement years was her decision to begin a new career doing simple home repairs. Sister Regine served as the maintenance coordinator for St. Priscilla Convent in Chicago and accepted requests for basic home repairs from many customers. “I learned that if you feel the need for a change in ministry, turn to something you enjoy doing, ask for God’s blessing, and go for it.”
“If I were approached by a young woman today who might be considering religious life, I would suggest that she pray for guidance and that she seek God’s will, not just her own. It is important to examine motives for entering religious life: is it security, or seeking relationships, or making a difference in the world? I would suggest that she do some volunteer work with community members to see how she might fit in. It might also be good idea for her to look for a sister she can relate to and share her thoughts and questions.”
Sister Regine values the sisters who inspired her along the way by their example and stories of their past experiences. In the words of Shakespeare, she says, “I can no other answer make but thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks.”
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