Sister Joan Cecile Bonvouloir

Sister Joan Cecile BonvouloirI was baptized at the French parish, Our Lady of Notre Dame, in Chicago. It is now known as Our Lady of the Holy Family Parish. I attended St. Peter Canisius grammar school where the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur taught. Those sisters were comfortable to be with, and school was enjoyable. I began to think about becoming one of them by entering religious life.

The world moved on and my family relocated to St. Philomena Parish. The School Sisters of St. Francis taught in that grammar school. Even though I enjoyed the Sisters of Notre Dame, I enjoyed the School Sisters even more. I was so attracted to them that I enrolled in Alvernia High School, which was staffed by the School Sisters.

The sisters at Alvernia had a great spirit. They worked with loving care and looked out for every one of their students. They wanted me personally to succeed in whatever I wanted to do. They were intensely interested in me and how I would grow. These sisters enjoyed work as much as I did. They were lively, caring, and generous. Most of all, they liked having fun.

After high school, I entered the School Sisters of St. Francis community. I knew it was a German community – was it ever! German language all around, German food. Then came Vatican II. Things changed! We started praying in English. We were becoming American. This became exciting and more comfortable for me. Well, the German food didn’t change. I liked it.

I felt the most alive when I was teaching junior high. The students were very lively. At that age, they don't know who they are, but they are very honest. They would say what is on their minds. I just enjoyed being with them because of their authenticity.

My first assignment was in an affluent suburb of Chicago, St. James in Arlington Heights. Though there were 24 sisters, and I could always find a group where I could have the most intimate conversations. That's where much of my spiritual life and identity developed.

While teaching math in Arlington Heights, I went to Harlem, New York one summer. Monsignor Robert Fox had started an anti-poverty program called “Summer in the City.” I remember hauling art supplies down from the second floor of the school to do art in the streets with a lively bunch of junior high students.

After I got back, Sister Laureen Haben called me to ask if I would consider teaching at Alverno’s lab school. I wound up teaching there for 19 years, and lived with Sister Laureen for 45 years.

At the lab school, I taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. After I left Alverno Elementary School, the school moved to St. Stanislaus parish, then to Bluemound Road, known today as the Woodlands Academy Charter School.

After all those years of teaching, I retired and moved to Maria Linden. There, I teamed up with Sister Charlita Foxhoven to begin an “eBay ministry.” We would sell many of the cards the sisters made. The sisters would bring us all sorts of things to sell on eBay. We sold vestments, relics – whatever people gave us.

Sister Laureen and I had a well-worn path to the post office where we shipped these things off. It was fun doing research on what the donated objects were, what we would charge for them, and how to send them out. The money we made went to our international community. We continued to do that for 19 years. When eBay gradually changed to become more “efficient,” the process became too challenging to sell things, and we discontinued our involvement. 

As I look back, I ask myself how people would describe me? They say that I am creative and that I love work.  A plaque I have on my dresser – I forgot who gave it to me – says it well. It’s a quote from Henry David Thoreau that I’ve changed for gender sensitivity. “If a person does not keep pace with their companions, perhaps it's because they hear a different drummer. Let them step to the music which they hear, however measured or far away. “

I do march to a different drummer, and I like who I am. I enjoy working. I enjoy working on research and figuring out how to get different things done. My eBay ministry was a good example. I was not that interested in how much money we got, I just enjoyed doing it! That is what I am celebrating this jubilee year.

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