In my senior year of high school, Sister Lynda Thompson asked me if I had ever considered being a Sister.
I went to St. Mary’s High School in Eugene, Oregon, and was in the parish youth group. Sister Lynda and Sister Carol Bird were two of the adult leaders for the group along with a Marist brother. I felt a real sense of connection with them. When Sister Lynda asked me if I had ever considered being a Sister, it was an affirmation of what I’d been feeling. But I didn’t yet know what that meant or what it looked like.
I went to college at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. When I came home to Eugene, I would often stay with the Sisters at St. Mary’s, and I got to know the community better. I felt comfortable and at home with the nuns there.
During my senior year of college, I began my candidacy as a Sister and lived with the Sisters at Our Lady of Lourdes Convent in Spokane. Moving from life in a college dorm into a convent was a big learning curve, but it was a good experience. After graduation, I went back to Eugene and began teaching at Marist High School. It was during this time that I discerned and made the decision to enter the community.
I moved to Portland, Oregon to begin my novitiate. Sister Judy Bertoli was my wonderful novice director. During the second year of my novitiate, I volunteered at Holy Redeemer School which led me to many years of teaching in elementary schools. I taught for two years at Holy Cross and then I taught for nine years at Holy Redeemer.
It was fun to live and work with people who were all focused on the same mission.
Living in community with Sisters who were working in education was a great support to me and I learned so much from them about teaching and about life. I was also blessed with several co-workers who were around my age – 20s and 30s – they provided me with support and friendship.
Next I went to St. Peter’s School in Ontario, Oregon, where I taught first grade and then became the principal. I was there for four years. When I was looking to come back to Portland, Sister Jane Hibbard (former principal at Holy Redeemer) said, “They need you at Holy Redeemer.” So I went back and taught 8th grade. I had actually taught about half of that 8th grade class when they were in the primary grades so it was fun to see how the students had grown and developed.
It was during this this year that I was asked to be novice director for the newly forming U.S.-Ontario Province. I worked with Sisters Anna Keim and Crystal Clark. This ministry reawakened my love of theology so I asked to study theology. I received a Master of Divinity degree from Marylhurst University. I was having so much fun studying that I went on to get a Doctor of Ministry in Christian Spirituality at Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C. Sisters Pat Parachini and Carol Ries both taught at WTU and I was even able to take a class with Sister Pat. While doing my graduate work in theology I taught religious studies and worked in campus ministry at Marylhurst University.
Two years ago I started working at St. Mary’s Academy in Portland. The administration is very supportive of me highlighting our SNJM charism. For example, In October I led an all-school prayer service for the birthday of Mother Marie Rose. I have been teaching our students about the twelve Oregon foundresses – helping the students understand them not as “extraordinary” women, but as regular women who put one foot in front of the other and did what needed to be done. These women were young, they did not all speak English and not all of them were trained teachers. I ask my students to consider, “What it would be like if you went to Siberia – no cell phones, no Internet – how would it be to be placed in a completely different culture without access to anyone at home? Upon what inner strengths would you need to depend?” We need to recognize the humanity of the foundresses; otherwise we lose much of what they have to teach us.
I teach freshman students about the New Testament and help them understand how concerned Jesus was with social justice and women. We also study Mary – as a real woman, a woman of justice, a woman who was feisty and who broke a lot of social taboos. It is fun for me to unpack these two figures for my students.
I want to help people in the St. Mary’s community connect to our SNJM story and discover that they are also part of the story.
No matter what our beliefs are, we are called to honor the dignity of the human person, and help them develop to their fullest potential.
Read more about the places Sister Carol talks about in her story:
St. Mary’s Academy - http://www.stmaryspdx.org/
Holy Redeemer School - http://school.holyredeemerpdx.org/