Sister Arlene Welding

Sister Arlene WeldingAs she celebrates her 85th Jubilee, Sister Arlene Welding is most proud of her involvement in the struggle for justice for the poor both in the United States and in Central America.

Sister Arlene (baptized Marcella) and her twin sister Catherine were born in Oakdale, Nebraska, on May 12, 1921, which means she just celebrated her 103rd birthday! They grew up on a farm in a happy home with five more sisters and two brothers. Through the examples of her parents and the School Sisters of St. Francis, Marcella felt called to religious life and entered St. Joseph Convent in Milwaukee in August 1936. She was received in 1939, made her first vows in 1941, and graduated from Alverno College in 1943. She was then ready to “go on mission.”

After teaching for ten years at St. Matthew School in Campbellsport, Wisconsin, she was sent to teach in Yazoo City, Mississippi. It was there that she began to see the evil of injustice toward Black people and to question political policies that were discriminatory.

That action had to wait because her next assignment was to teach in Costa Rica, and then to teach first grade in Honduras. There was one big problem. When she got to Honduras, she did not know Spanish very well because she had not had to use it much in Costa Rica. The superior told her that God would help, and so God did! After the school closed, Sister Arlene stayed in Honduras to work among the poor.

One sad experience made a lasting impact on her. A doctor called her to see him in the hospital. He led her into a room where a woman had just died. He said, “This woman starved herself to feed her children.” Then he added, “We must fight the systems that create and perpetuate the need for a mother to starve herself to feed her children.” Sister Arlene needed to hear no more to become involved in the struggle for justice for the poor.

After Sister Arlene left Central America, she worked in a parish with a primarily Hispanic congregation in Phoenix and joined the Catholic social justice NETWORK Lobby. When she relocated to Los Angeles, she noticed a woman on the street who was in distress. She found out that the woman did not have enough food to feed her family. This led Sister to start a food pantry. She asked for a donation from the actor Paul Newman and received more than $1,000 from him. He sent her several more generous checks, and many more hungry people were fed.

The next transition came when Sister Sandra Smithson asked her to come live in Nashville (but first she went to Nicaragua with the Witness for Peace group in 1985 to protest President Reagan’s unjust policy during the Contra War.) As coordinator for social concerns at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Nashville, she reached out to start the Room in the Inn Program for homeless persons, and was active in a local Witness for Peace group. She wrote more than 100 letters to the editor of the local newspaper addressing social justice issues.

When asked to document her many activities, it turned out to be 50 typewritten pages. This included an article she wrote for America magazine on the Prayer of St. Francis in which she took each phrase and applied relevant thoughts.

Sister Arlene is a valiant woman who, with courage and honesty, helped set things right in our country and in the world.

Sister Arlene is very grateful to be celebrating her 85th Jubilee. She expresses her gratitude daily and promises to pray for everyone, especially those who care for her at Our Lady of the Angels Convent.