Women of Faith

Recently during a virtual papal audience via satellite from the Vatican, Pope Francis called out to Sister Norma Pimentel who runs a welcome center in McAllen, Texas, which has served more than 20,000 asylum seeking immigrants.

“I want to thank you,” Francis said. “And through you to thank all the sisters of religious orders in the U.S. for the work that you have done and that you do in the United States. It’s great. I congratulate you. Be courageous. Move forward. I’ll tell you one other thing. Is it inappropriate for the Pope to say this? I love you all very much.“

Three of my aunts were Sisters of the Most Precious Blood and they were testaments to devotion, service, and joy in Christ. What amazing examples of faithfulness I was blessed with.

Circa 1957 That's me on Gene's lap - a happy place to be.

Noel, Gene Marie & Lucy with my grandparents, my brother, my cousins and my dad – circa 1957
(That’s me on Gene’s lap – a happy place to be.)

My three aunts, Lucida, Noel and Gene Marie, embodied all that is good about religious life. They were loving women who served God by serving others. They lived in community and shared their talents accordingly. They were intelligent women who were well-traveled and well-educated, not something to be taken for granted by women born in the 1910’s and 1920’s. They were teachers, administrators, catechists, and persons of authority. But to me they were simply my Aunts.

They were our family’s “Blessed Trinity”. They were honored guests and were afforded certain special privileges. When they would visit, Mom would be sure to make their favorite meals (particularly their favorite desserts). At my grandparents’ house it was always a treat when all three Sisters would visit at the same time. Growing up Catholic in the 1950’s and 60’s while having three aunts that were Sisters was the pinnacle of holiness for me – I wore it like a scapular medal. And I must admit that I bragged about it at school or with my friends. I remember that there were kids at school who were afraid of nuns but I knew how loving my aunts were and understood that the Sisters who taught us were also daughters, sisters and aunts, too. It was de-mystifying having nuns in our family. They were just like us (only holier). Some of my happiest childhood memories are laughing and playing with Lucy, Noel and Gene Marie.

Mom & Dad celebrating Gene's 60th year as a Religious Sister

My Mom & Dad with Aunt Gene ~ Celebrating her 70th year as a Religious Sister

As I grew, I understood the many sacrifices my aunts had made in serving God’s people. I was also keenly aware of the joy that they knew while living in community with their Sisters. They modeled for me a progressive faith; where service to others was the ultimate service to God. Instead of dogma and hierarchy; rules and regulations, their focus was on loving ALL of God’s creation. They taught me how to love even the unlovable (which sometimes included me).  There were times when I didn’t believe in God but I always believed in Lucy, Noel and Gene. Priests and bishops would come and go. Crises in our Church (mostly caused by men) would dominate the headlines but my Aunts remained steadfast. Perhaps they saw the folly in a “male only” clergy or perhaps they realized it was insignificant in the grand scheme of God’s promise. Even as cancer and Alzheimer’s took their lives, it didn’t distinguish their light.

They remain alive in my heart and in the thousands of lives that they each served. I for one will always be grateful for their unconditional love. And I share Pope Francis sentiments. “I love you all very much.”



Sister Stories

St. Catherine University in Minnesota is inaugurating National Catholic Sisters Week as part of Women’s History Month. Part of the planned events include Sisters telling their own stories.

“In an attempt to record untold stories by women who have served for decades in challenging ministries, St. Catherine is sponsoring a student-led initiative. Students are producing interviews or short films about sisters they know to create an extensive oral history.”

You can read more about here: http://ncronline.org/news/sisters-stories/inaugural-catholic-sisters-week-set-march

I’ve been honored in my life to have heard some Sisters tell their stories. And I have been even more honored by actually being a small part of some of those stories.

Deb with two of our favorite Sisters - Annette & Mary. They visited us when we lived in England.

Deb with two of our favorite Sisters – Annette & Mary. They visited us when we lived in England.

As one of millions that was blessed to be taught by religious Sisters, I thank God for their dedication and guidance that carried me through my grade school and high school years.

As a nephew of three religious Sisters, I thank God for the love that they brought to our family and the remarkable examples that they each gave me. Simple, courageous, faith-filled, loving women – all three.

Some of my very dearest friends are religious Sisters and I have received countless blessings and boundless joy from them. What would my life be like without the vocation and service of these women? Thankfully I will never have to know.

I have three granddaughters and while I don’t know if they will ever become religious Sisters, I do pray that the examples of the women religious that I know and have known will strengthen them on their journeys through life. I hope that they are fortunate enough to hear all of these Sisters’ stories: Courage, compassion, dignity, devotion and love.

What more could I ask for my beautiful girls?



School Daze

Growing up there were two choices in my little world: both were Catholic schools. In my hometown there was also a Lutheran school, but it seemed foreign and exotic and I never knew anyone who actually went there. And Public School was taboo and frightening. We simultaneously prayed for and pitied the Public School kids but mostly we feared them.

St_Peter_Grade_School_1960Such was life in a small town in the 1960’s. There were as many as 40 kids in a single classroom. We sat in long rows. We took turns. We did as we were told. We attended Mass daily. We were (mostly) quiet, polite and respectful. We studied hard. We burned off excess energy on the asphalt playground. We helped clean chalkboards after school for fun. And Sister kept order and discipline at all times.

Nostalgia has a way of white-washing and sweetening our memories. But Catholic school in the 1960’s was far from idyllic. Learning disabilities were discounted or ignored (kids were either smart or stupid). Physical abuse went unreported. Bullies controlled the playground and bathrooms. And although Sister was always right, she was under-valued, under-paid and likely took out her frustration on the students in her care.

My granddaughters are now in school and tremendous advances in education have been made in the 50+ years since I started elementary school. As a society we are more aware of bullying (and have adopted zero-tolerance policies), we embrace and celebrate diversity, and learning disabilities are diagnosed and accommodated.

One granddaughter attends Public School, the other attends Catholic School. Each attend quality schools with small class sizes and safe classrooms. Both have sound nutritional and physical programs, as well as art and music at their respective schools. And both have attentive and engaged parents who value education.

Yet I’m in a bit of a daze. Teachers in 2013 still seem to be under-valued, under-paid and under-appreciated. Our children are in the hands of teachers who are often struggling to make ends meet. Not surprising that gifted teachers often leave their careers for better paying jobs in the corporate world. As a society it seems we pay more attention to the kind of athletic shoes, iPhones or fashion that our kids are sporting then to ensuring that they are being educated by well-paid, well-trained teachers.

Let’s invest in our future. Let’s appropriately fund our schools. Let’s support educators. And let’s thank the ones that taught us by working for a better life for the ones that will teach our future generations. I was blessed to be taught by Sisters who loved God and their communities and sacrificed their lives that we might learn. If you want to be nostalgic think of a teacher that you loved (and who loved you). And then pay that love forward to a future teacher who might just improve the lives of your grandchildren.