There were many of us in our loving family. I remember having only one contact with Sisters while we lived in Minnesota. When I was in the seventh grade, two Sisters, who lived 16 miles away in Perham, came to teach us the Baltimore Catechism II so that we were able to answer the bishop’s questions when we received Confirmation. Our parish was so small that the bishop came only every four or five years. I remember clearly learning to sing, “Holy God We Praise Thy Name.” To this day, that song has special meaning for me.
After we moved to Oregon, my younger brothers and sisters were taught by the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon in Visitation Parish in Verboort. During this time, our family attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help devotions at Visitation Parish each Tuesday. At the end of the devotions there was a time to pray for special intentions. I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I would pray that I would know what God wanted me to do in life. I remember my mom asking me if I ever thought about a religious vocation.
During my junior year of high school, I was invited to go to Rochester, New York, where mom’s sister, my aunt Alice, lived. Barbara, her oldest child and only daughter, had died from a brain tumor when she was just 14. When Grandma came back to Oregon from Rochester, she asked my mother, who at that time had five girls, if she would send one of us to help Aunt Alice. Being the oldest, I was asked to go. I boarded a train with my grandpa Gus and was on my way to a totally new adventure. Little did I know what I was getting into. In Rochester, I was enrolled in an all-girls Catholic school with 1,000 students. It was taught by the Sisters of Mercy; hence Mercy High School. I had never been in any school with more than 100 students, nor did I ever take a bus to school prior to my stay in Rochester. In Rochester, I not only took the bus every day, but I also had to transfer to get to school. That was where I got to know by name the first Sisters I had greater contact with. They were wonderful and helped me a great deal. There was a Sister Bernadetta who taught me bookkeeping, who also befriended me and helped me along. In August I was on the train back to Oregon. And back into Verboort High School.
That is when the interesting part began. I again went to Our Lady of Perpetual Devotions and had the same prayer intention, asking what God wanted me to do. That fall, my Mom and her sister Evelyn went to Portland for a doctor’s visit. When they passed by St. Mary of the Valley, Evelyn remarked to my mom that women seeking to join their religious community entered in February. That day after school, as I was ironing some of our blouses, my mom told me about their conversation. I immediately said, “I am not waiting till next year!” Then came the difficult part. I needed to go and talk to the Sisters in Verboort. I remember being so nervous walking up their front stairs and asking them if I could become a Sister. Sister Pulcheria answered the door and said I could join them at St. Mary’s for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which has always been a big feast day for our community. So I rode with them to St. Mary’s and decided I wanted to join them. Sister Pulcheria gave me a book about St. Mary Margaret Alacoque detailing religious life.
On January 9, 1956, I became an aspirant. This is a stage when young girls see if they really want to be a Sister. I only had about a month to decide, but I was allowed go home on weekends. I would formally join the Sisters on February 14, with eight other young women.
Wearing a cape as a postulant and joining the Sisters for prayer was both new and wonderful for me. The nine of us were postulants for six months, then we received our white veils and habits. This first year was our canonical year, in which we were required to learn the rules and study to be a religious. We worked hard in the kitchen, garden and laundry. I am sure we were watched carefully to see if we had what it took to be a religious. During the second year of the Novitiate, some of the Novices went to school to become teachers. I was asked and decided school had been hard enough. My high school stay at St. Mary of the Valley had been hard, because I had started in the middle of the year. During my second year I was assigned to work in the laundry with Sister Vincentia, mending, folding and washing clothes for all the Sisters. She was great to work with. We also continued with regular instruction in religious life.
After two years of Novitiate, we were invited to take our first Vows for three years. We received our rings and black veils and were given our first parish assignments. I was sent to St. Boniface as the cook and housekeeper for 10 other sisters. There, I was responsible for canning and freezing the food for the year and I remember that the families in Sublimity were very generous to the Sisters. I was in Sublimity for two years. The next year I was asked to become the baker for the large Convent in Beaverton. I had two wonderful older sisters who taught me to bake in large quantities. At that time we had approximately 150 sisters living at home and 100 students boarding who needed three meals a day. This was in addition to serving a hot lunch program for our grade and high schools.
In 1961, five years after we joined, some of us made our final vows. That was the year of the first simplification of our habits in which we removed our large collars.
I truly loved the ministry of housekeeping as I felt I helped the Sisters who were in ministry do a better job as they did not have to worry about meals and laundry. But I had a desire to work with young children and, in 1966, I volunteered to teach religious education during the year and teach summer school. I taught both for 15 years.
After celebrating my 25th Jubilee in 1981, I was asked to serve as Director of Religious Education for St. Boniface in Sublimity. By that time, my knees and back were bad from standing on cement floors for so long. (The last year I was the main cook in the Convent kitchen, our small crew had served about 1,000 meals a day on those hard floors.)
During a one-year sabbatical from St. Boniface and for two years when I returned, I studied to earn a certificate in religious education, which I received in 1986. When I accepted a new position at St. Thomas in Camas, I was encouraged to earn a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry. My class sessions leading up to my degree were filled with so much grace and joy as I became more ready to work full time in a parish.
In 1989, I was enrolled in a six-week study tour in the Holy Land. What a marvelous experience it was. I grew in my Christian Faith realizing that Jesus came to a most fought-over piece of land where there were more rocks than soil.
After studying for eight years, I earned my bachelor’s degree from Marylhurst in 1991. In 1996, having fulfilled my position in Camas, I went to St. Paul’s in Silverton, where I worked as the Director of Religious Education until 2000. That year, I succeeded SSMO Sister Barbara Jean Laughlin, working in staff development at St. Francis in Sherwood. I continued serving there until my retirement in 2002.
In 2006, Sister Ruth Frank and I celebrated 50 years in religious life. I thank God for leading me to serve you and others in this way.
My ministry in various parishes was rewarding and I am now enjoying my retirement by volunteering in many ways, giving time at Maryville, St Vincent’s and Valley Catholic. Each day brings me joy.
Even now, I am still learning about being a religious. I have never regretted joining the community of the Sisters of Saint Mary of Oregon. I urge you to begin to pray that God will direct you as to what vocation he has in store for you.