Friday, June 16, 2017

Special Father's Day Post: Interview with the Dad of a Daughter-who-is-also-a-Sister

By Sr. Tracy Kemme, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Tracy

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

A few years ago, when I was keeping a blog as I discerned religious life, I interviewed my mom about her experience of being the mom-of-a-sister-in-training.  Almost five years later, in honor of Father’s Day, I decided to do the same with my dad.  There’s a lot of honesty in here, and yes, there are some #dadjokes.  Read on to get a sneak peek at what Dan Kemme thinks it’s like to be the dad of a daughter who is also a sister!

Tracy: Ok, dad, first questions: What was I like growing up? What did you think I would be when I got older, or what did you think I would do with my life?

Dad and I at the Reds' game
a few years ago.
(June 2014)
Dan:  Well, let’s see…You were a lively, happy, friendly child.  You weren’t shy at all; you always seemed to like people, especially as you got older.  When you were young, we used to joke that you would be a waitress when you grew up, because you were always pretending to take people’s orders at family parties.

As for the career I thought you’d follow, I’m not sure.  You were always smart and bright, so I thought you might pursue a profession like doctor or lawyer, maybe even engineer.  Then in high school you started to really like languages, so I thought you might do something with that. I thought you might be a teacher.  But, career aside, I always thought that you would grow up to get married and have kids.

T: So, since you always expected that, what was it like when you first learned that I might want to be a sister?  What did you think or feel initially?

D: I was a little surprised at the beginning.  I was confused as to why you would consider that life.  Yea…confused was the biggest thing.  And surprised that it was something you were seriously considering.  It seemed to me like it could be a lonely life, an isolated life, because you wouldn’t have that immediate family, you wouldn’t have a husband or kids.

T: What did you know or think about Sisters before I became one?

D: I hadn’t had much contact with sisters over the years; I did have a few in grade school up until 7th grade.  Overall, the sisters I knew in grade school had joined their congregations as teenagers, and some could honestly be mean and nasty, but not all the time.  When you were growing up, you had one sister for a teacher.  I remember that she was a nice lady, and you liked her.  Also, we had a nun at our parish for a while.  But yea, I didn’t know too many sisters.  Once you got out of college and were living in Texas, we got to know those sisters.  They and all the other ones we have met now seem to be friendly, happy, caring people.

T: What was it like watching me go through the process of becoming a sister?  Is there anything that sticks out as surprising, or difficult, or confusing, or good?

D: It wasn’t necessarily surprising. I had to learn about the process itself, because I didn’t know anything about it.  We talked about it with you but weren’t super involved in it.  I liked hearing about your classes and stuff.  And…oh, I guess there was one surprising thing! I was a little surprised when you were a novice and had to be home by a certain hour and were only allowed to have a few days away.  I know that’s a universal church rule for novitiates, but it seems more appropriate for teenagers maybe.  For young adults entering, and especially for adults like Andrea who had previously made a life for themselves and lived on their own, it seemed a little silly.

T: Haha!  I agree, Dad.  Ok, so now that I have been in the congregation for five years, has your perception grown and changed at all? How do you think this life suits me?

D: Hmmm…I don’t think my perception has really changed all that much.  I do have a better feel for what being a sister means and what sisters in your congregation do since I have met more of them.  As I said before, the sisters I meet are uplifting, positive, and seem to be happy people.

I think I will always have some questions or confusion as to why you chose this life, but you seem happy and fulfilled in what you’re doing, so I’m happy for you in that.  It’s very different than anything I ever wanted out of my life or what I expected of your life.  I struggle with some aspects and probably always will.  But like I said, I see that you’re happy.  I know you like living in community and that you find fulfillment with the sisters in your house and the people you serve.  It seems like the life suits you well.  I hope it continues to fulfill you.

T: What it is like being the Dad of a young Sister?  What is hard?  What are the gifts?

D: What do you mean young? (laughs at himself.  Dad joke #1.  I laugh, too, and groan a little.  J)

Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is what happens when I meet people, or when I run into people I don’t see that often, and, you know, you talk about your family.  When I tell people you’re a nun, it usually sparks a conversation. Most people say, “That’s great!” or “That’s wonderful!”  I usually explain that, yes, you felt called to work with the poor, and they think it’s a really good thing.  And then, people remember that, because it’s a somewhat unusual path in life.  Of course, I always tell people that my son is an engineer and is married with a baby.  They think that’s great, too, but more normal.  So when I run into people again, they usually remember, “Oh yea, you have a daughter who is a nun.”  Like the doctor I see, she always remembers that I have a daughter who does “interesting things.”

T: Have people asked you weird questions?  Or have people had anything negative to say?

D: Honestly, no, not that I can think of.

T:  Very cool.  Ok - What new things have you learned or experienced as a result of me taking this path?

Dad and I in Quito, Ecuador, when he came to visit me
during my volunteer years. (February 2010)
D: I’ve experienced the places you’ve been. I’ve learned a lot more about the Hispanic culture…and become practically fluent in Spanish (laughs again.  Dad joke #2.  He did definitely learn some great go-to phrases while visiting me in Ecuador; I’ll give him that).  When you were living in El Paso, we went to the clinic in Mexico to meet the people there.  We got to meet the different people you worked with there and go to different churches.  I’ve also experienced various ceremonies at the Motherhouse that I wouldn’t have gone to otherwise.

As I said before, I’ve learned about the process of becoming a sister.  But I still think they should just call it 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on.  (I giggle) The steps are confusing to keep track of!  When you entered the novitiate, I thought you took vows.

T: (laughing) I know!  Andrea’s brother thought so, too.

D:  Yup!  You stood up there and pledged to do something.  I thought it was vows. (Playfully assertive) And I believe that Annie’s father agreed with me on that, too. 

Seriously, though, I’m proud of you, and Nathan and Jenni, too.

T: What are your hopes for my future?

D:  I sort of already answered this one.  I hope you continue to find your life fulfilling and enjoy living in community.  I hope you always have good friends and relationships.  That’s important.

T: Knowing that it was confusing for you, what words of wisdom do you have for other parents of young women or men discerning the religious life?

D:  It would depend on what they were thinking or feeling.  If someone was distraught or confused, I would probably reassure them.  I’d remind them that it’s not an overnight process: “Your daughter or son will try it, and they’ll have time to see if it’s what they really want.  Your daughter or son may discover that it’s what they’re called to do; they might find it fulfilling.”  And I’d tell them that you went through it and that you really enjoy your life.

T:  You know, I’m thinking about my upbringing, and how you raised me in my faith.  You yourself were always a dedicated Catholic, participating in the church fathers’ group, being a Eucharistic minister, going to Mass every weekend, and praying with us each night before bed.  I remember you always asked us, “What are you thankful for from today?”

D: (I can hear him smiling) Yea…I always wanted to end the day with you like that.  If you were upset, or if you had a tough day, I always wanted you to go to bed thinking about the good things.

T:  I’m so grateful for that. I still need that practice today!  But you know what, it’s interesting – you instilled the Catholic faith in me, and yet, it was still surprising and confusing that I became a Catholic sister.  I think it’s probably that way for a lot of Catholic parents; they don’t want their kids to become sisters, brothers, or priests.  I wonder why that is. 

D:  Yea, that’s true.  Maybe it is just the perception that people have of religious life; people still have old ideas about it.  But I know you are happy.

T:  Knowing that your faith has always been important to you, I wonder what would be more difficult for you as a dad:  if I had gotten married and had a family but totally abandoned the church and had no faith life whatsoever, or the fact that I embraced it so much that I became a Sister.

D: (chuckles) Hmm –  I don’t think that first scenario would be any easier.  Yea, they both have their struggles.  If you abandoned your faith but were still living a good life, I would be okay with that.  I think I would hold out hope that someday you would come back to your faith.

T: What do you think it was that made you hold onto your faith all these years?

D:  I’m not sure.  I’d have to think about that one for a while…Well, part of it was just growing up. My parents were pretty involved in church and made sure we went every week.  My Dad was in the choir, and my mom helped out at school which was also a part of church.

You know, I haven’t always been perfectly steady in my faith.  There were times when I struggled or questioned things.  But I never walked away.   I identify with being a Catholic, practicing the faith, going to Mass every week.  I find meaning and purpose in it.

If I think about it, I know that my Catholic faith helped me in family life.  I always felt a strong obligation to my family.  I always wanted to make sure to provide well; I never wanted to do anything that would hurt or bring shame on the family.  I always wanted to have a happy home with mom and you two.  Faith helped me; it nurtured that feeling of responsibility. 

T: Hopefully faith gave you support and strength when you needed it. 

D:  Yes, definitely.  And also the fact that it was a partnership.  Mom was very committed, too, to living out our faith and family life as a partnership.  Neither one of us was going anywhere; we were going to get through rough times together.  That helped us.

T: So, in honor of Father’s Day, what do you most enjoy about being a Dad?

Dad with granddaughter Lucy.
(January 2017)
D:  I knew I wanted to be a Dad.  I think I most enjoyed watching you two grow up and having fun with you, and helping you learn and grow.  Now, I still enjoy watching you both grow and evolve as you move from being young adults further into adulthood.  Of course, now I also enjoy Lucy, my grandchild.  I love seeing her almost every week and watching how she grows and changes.

T:  And, finally, what would you most like to do on Sunday for Father’s Day?

D:  I’d just like to spend a good part of the day with my family, having a good time with everyone.  For me, I don’t have to go anywhere.  I mean, I guess some years we have gone to the Red’s game, and I like that, too.  But for Father’s Day, mostly I am happy being at home or Nathan’s house or your house just spending day together and having dinner.

T:  (I smile) You don’t need much more than that, huh?

D:  Nope.  I’m a very boring person. 

T: (I laugh) Anything else, Dad?

D: I think that’s it.

T:  Well, thank you.  I hope you know how grateful I am for everything you do…and for playing along for this interview.  I’m glad you’re my dad.

D: And I’m glad you’re my daughter.  I wouldn’t trade ya.

(We both laugh)

Thank you, Dad!  Happy Father’s Day!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Bearers of Hope

By Sr. Meg Kymes, SC Federation Under 10 Years Vocation

      Click HERE to learn more about Meg

A few weeks ago, one of my Sisters told this story of a recent experience at her ministry.  While visiting an elderly woman, the woman asked her, “What do you think of me?”  My Sister, taken aback, said to the woman, “I believe you are a generous, kind, loving person, who loves our Blessed Mother.”  The woman replied, “I hoped you’d say that.  I wanted to know if you would do the eulogy for my memorial so people could know I am a good person.”  As I was preparing to write this post, I thought of this story.  I also was reminded of my students who have recently received their First Communion.  In class we have discussed at length how as Christians we are called to bring Christ to others.  One of my students put it this way, “I’m so glad I got to have my First Communion because it keeps me closer to Jesus and makes me a good Christian.”

Just like our Blessed Mother that the elderly woman loved so much, all Christians are called to be bearers of Christ, bearers of hope.  I recall a statue of the Blessed Mother we had in Seminary.  The statue had our Blessed Mother standing holding out the Baby Jesus towards the viewer.  Our Directress taught us in her lessons that we as Daughters of Charity were to be like Mary brining Jesus to those most in need.  Now, as a teacher, I teach my students that they too are called to be bearers of Christ and therefore bearers of hope to all people we meet especially people who are in need.  My Sister who visited the elderly woman too was a bearer of hope to the woman.  Sister was able to give hope to the elderly woman that someone could speak of her kindly when she was gone. 

May we all remember we are, like Mary, a bearer of hope.  O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Way of Elizabeth

By Sr. Romina Sapinoso, SC Federation Canonical Novice

  Click HERE to learn more about Romina

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Come walk Elizabeth’s Way with us through this video of our pilgrimage to the places that were touched by and became part of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s life and the life of her daughters in the Sisters of Charity Federation.

Pilgrimage Video:

“Look up, my love, and be thankful for the good that yet remains.”
- St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

“God has given me a great deal to do, and I hope always to prefer
His will to every wish of my own.”
- St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

To learn about the different places in the pilgrimage, click on the following links:

National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Mt. St. Mary’s University National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes
Gettysburg National Military Park
St. Mary’s Spiritual Center and Historic Site
St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Gettysburg
Our Lady of the Rosary (Seton Shrine in New York)
St. Paul’s Chapel (Trinity Church)
St. Andrew’s Church
Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill
Sisters of Charity of New York
Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth New Jersey

Friday, May 26, 2017

Transitions lead to Transformation

By Sr. Judy Donohue, SC Federation Apostolic Novice

      Click HERE to learn more about Judy

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

During Palm Sunday weekend, my sister Margaret, visited me during my mission time in Belize City, Central America. When I became impatient waiting on an event, she would then sing me this song: “Have patience, have patience, don’t be in such a hurry, when you get impatient, you only start to worry. Remember, remember, that God has patience too- And think of all the times when others have to wait on you!” It calmed my anxious, demanding spirit. It settled down my impatient soul.  As a result, we were able to see a Mayan Temple, the Belize Zoo, do some sight-seeing and be together is a spirit of joy not frustration.  

In Belize, from left to right: Barbara Flores, Maggie Cooper, Margaret Donohue,
Judy Donohue, Elisa Ariola, Carlette Gentle, Bev Hoffman
Over the past two years, during my formation, I noticed in the moves I’ve made, it took me a while to get settled in and establish a routine. I wanted to feel comfortable, loved and at home, right now!  Yet it took time for all these things to evolve.  I needed patience.  Moving to another country, Belize and now being back in the USA has given me gratitude. I’m grateful for what I have and what the USA has to offer. We have the comforts of air conditioning, fast food restaurants, less mosquitoes, a developed road infrastructure among many other blessings.

I’m also grateful for what I’ve learned from my time being in Belize. I was impressed by the deep faith and love of these Caribbean people for each other and their church, not to mention their great food.  They daily face struggles with poverty, gangs, the heat and humidity, lack of health care, etc.

Over the years there has been progress in the country in developing programs for the poor.  Hand in Hand ministry, based in Louisville, KY has built over 313 homes for the poorest of the poor. Each of these homes house several people and each of these families blesses many others. In their school system there is no separation of church and state, yet the Catholic Public Schools’ teachers take Catechism certification programs to assist them in teaching theology and the Catholic faith in their schools. I taught a Scripture and Sacrament class to seven teachers on Saturday mornings. It was a blessing to work with these faith filled teachers who want to make a difference in showing and being Jesus to their students.

During the period of adjusting to my new normal, I sometimes felt out of it, not quite sure of my schedule, role identity. Who am I? What am I supposed to do? But thanks to the love and encouragement of my local Belizean Sisters I felt worthwhile and of value. I had something to give. I discovered my gifts were needed there.

While in Belize, I work as a volunteer chaplain at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital.  I saw how my Chaplain experience and availability were greatly appreciated. I was able to pray with many patients for healing. The patients and family members received the comfort of someone who cared.  

Developing flexibility has allowed me to go with the flow. I enjoyed a trip for the weekend down to the Mayan area in the southern part of the country. Sisters Chris Kunze, Higinia Bol and I prayed the rosary with the Mayan people of the Toledo District in English. They sang a song between the decades in their own language.

God wants to meet the deepest desires of my heart. For me that is mostly achieved in loving God and others. I am a better person for having gone through the transitions of the last three years. I have grown in my communication skills as well as my faith. Some of these transitions were difficult but I have been transformed through it all by being more patient.  May God continue to call all of us to be a light for others who are in need.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Way of Elizabeth

Sisters of Charity Federation novices and candidates began their "Way of Elizabeth pilgrimage" on Wednesday, May 17.  Women in formation with our congregations undertake this journey to enter deeper into the life of our founder, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and to connect to the roots of our Federation.  The pilgrimage began with a stop in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, to visit the Sisters of Seton Hill’s motherhouse and Archives. Currently, they are spending a few days in Emmitsburg and Baltimore, Maryland, visiting the The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and other sites related to the Sisters of Charity founding.  Following that, they'll head to New York and New Jersey to visit more Federation Sisters and the places important to Elizabeth's early life.  Please pray with them!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Happy Nurses Day

By Sr. Carlette Gentle, SC Federation Perpetually Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Carlette

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

There is a prayer called the Nurses Prayer.  I don’t know who wrote it but it goes like this:

      Lord, help me to bring comfort where there is pain
      Courage where there is fear
      Hope where there is despair
      Acceptance when the end is near
      And a gentle touch with tenderness, patience, and love.

As I read this poem out loud to myself, I thought of people around the world who give of themselves daily to offer assistance.  Many I know do not do it for the love of the money but for the genuine concern they have for others.  Nurses give of their time and energy to keep up with their practice, they utilize patience when working with difficult patients, they have to stay focused and alert when diagnosing tests, they have to be on the alert when a patient’s symptoms change.  This list can go on.  But, on a daily basis in this fast pace world, nurses stop to offer servant leadership to others.  I think we fail to realize that the personal contact and care given to another is very important.  Just greeting someone the time of the day can uplift their spirit.

Nurses give of their life to help others in their times of need, worry and concern.  So on this special day for Nurses, let us all give thanks to those in this profession who selflessly give of themselves to assist others.  We are deeply thankful to you for the services you offer to us.

Thank you, Nurses.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Sisters pronounce perpetual vows in Bangalore

Congratulations to sisters Jansel and Josephine Arul, who pronounced their perpetual vows
on May 6, 2017, at Nazareth Convent in Bangalore, India!

Sisters Jansel and Josephine Arul
From left to right: SCNs Franciska Sanga, Suchita Kujur,
Sushila Marandi, and Chandrakala Tigga

Friday, May 5, 2017

Call a Midwife, or Maybe a Sister!

By Sr. Andrea Koverman, SC Federation Temporary Professed

Today is International Midwives Day! Did you ever think about how much in common we religious sisters have with midwives? If you are a fan of the popular television show, Call the Midwife, you no doubt have seen the shared mission of bringing love to birth in the world played out in episode after episode. Like Sister Julienne who says in one of my favorite scenes, “Let’s see what love can do,” women religious are called to be the loving presence of God in whatever circumstance they find themselves in, and to witness what that love can do for the people whom we serve.

I was very surprised recently to be asked to be on a panel of parents sharing their unique experiences of parenting as part of the Cincinnati Storytellers series organized and hosted by our local newspaper, The Cincinnati Enquirer. One of the reporters, Mark Curnutte, has covered many of the events hosted by the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, where I am a program manager, and we have had the opportunity to share some of our personal journeys and experiences with each other. Even so, I was surprised when he called and asked me to be on the panel of storytellers sharing unique experiences of parenting. There was a blind man, a same-sex couple, a single mother, a single father, a woman whose husband struggled with serious illness as she became pregnant, and me. A nun. Never married, no children.  He explained that I came to mind as soon as he heard the topic for the panel because of the many stories I had told him about the students I taught. Though I have no children of my own, he said that I had mothered and helped raise hundreds of children during my years of teaching and continued to nurture people as a sister, and he wanted people to hear that story, too.

On this International Midwifery Day, I thought I’d share the story I told them with all of you. I hope you will see the connections between midwives and those of us who don’t deliver babies, or have our own children but dedicate ourselves to bringing love into the world, nurturing the people we encounter who are most vulnerable and in need of “mothering.”

Here is what I shared with the audience:

I know you all are surprised to see me up here as part of a panel on parenting since I’m a Catholic sister--a nun, because even if you know little else about Catholic nuns, you know that we make a solemn promise not to engage in the activities that produce a baby!

But, sisters are also called to be life bearers, to nurture and love not children we bring into the world, but the wider circle of all God’s children--and in particular those who are in most need of it. How I came to realize that I had a call for that kind of love is my story.

It was a gradual realization, and I started out like most little girls assuming that I’d grow up and have kids--and I wanted bunches and bunches of them! But looking back, I remember that I always preferred playing school or Sacagawea to playing house. I found that game kind of boring and wanted something with a mission or some adventure.

The first time I ever considered that I might not follow the typical trajectory of marriage and children was when I was in the fourth grade. I was at the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse in Cincinnati where two of my great aunts lived. We had our summer family picnics there because the aunts were told old to go elsewhere. I loved going to the “mount” and was fascinated by all the ancient-looking but sweet-as-pie old sisters. As I was running around in a game of tag with my siblings, one of the aunts, ancient and growing more and more senile herself, reached out and stopped me in my tracks. I stood respectfully in front of her, red-faced and sweaty with my messy long braids and skinned knees that let everyone know what a tomboy I was. I expected her to tell me to stop running around or some such thing, but instead she took my hand and leaned forward from her wheel chair. She looked closely into my face and said, “Darling, I just want to welcome you to the community and tell you not to worry about a thing. You’re going to make a fine, fine sister!” I should have been surprised by what she said, but somehow I wasn’t. It resonated somewhere deep inside me, and it just felt right and true. So I turned to the rest of my family and announced, “Hey! Aunt Mamie says I’m going to be a nun!”  My proclamation was followed by a round of hearty laughter, which was more confusing than what Aunt Mamie had said. What was so funny?

Through all the years of Catholic schooling that followed, and despite the fact that I had two additional sister relatives, no one ever brought the topic of religious life up to me again. I assumed that Aunt Mamie was wrong in thinking I’d make a good nun, or simply that people just weren’t doing that anymore and let go of the idea.

What I didn’t let go of was my love of children and my desire to help them--especially the ones who were struggling. I still felt called to mission and adventure and dreamed of joining the Peace Corps, but couldn’t afford to. I got a special education degree from Miami University and landed a teaching job in a little town in South Carolina called Beaufort. I realized on my first day of school, that this was God’s answer to my Peace Corps prayer and I didn’t need to leave the country to get it. When I got to school on St. Helena Island that first day, I found that I couldn’t understand a word the children were saying. It was absolutely a foreign language. I came to find out that I had been assigned to teach in a school within the Gullah community. I had never heard of that before, and quickly had to educate myself about this unique and amazing part of our country.

The Gullah people are direct descendants of people who were brought to America as slaves from Africa. They were intentionally selected from countries that did not share a common language to reduce the threat of revolt on the plantations. Over the years, the people developed their own unique language that was a compilation of individual languages mixed with English words. When they were emancipated, they were allowed to purchase the land on the Sea Islands, off the mainland of Beaufort. The intercostal waterway provided a natural barrier between the white community and the African American Community. They remained isolated for almost a hundred years before bridges to the islands were built, which allowed their language culture to remain in tact.

But years of isolation and lack of access to quality health care, education and employment resulted in many of them living in really impoverished conditions. It was shocking for me to see people living without electricity or running water, and I found it hard to remember that I was in my own country. I never felt so needed and I was determined that I was going to be a good teacher and to give them every chance in life that I could.

The room I taught in came equipped with exactly one partial piece of chalk. That’s it, so we were starting from scratch. The children were in grades kindergarten to six, but many of the older children had been retained multiple times and were much older than expected. They had a range of types and severities of learning disabilities and came to me for special instruction from one to three periods a day. I had learned that the best way to teach children is to figure out how they learn, so we spent a lot of time getting to know each other. I asked lots of questions and as they opened up to me and shared what their lives were like and what they dreamed of, they became comfortable with me and learned to trust me. We created a community in which they felt valued and appreciated, and loved. And I really did love them. I was excited to see them each day and felt so privileged to be with them. Despite the hard lives they were living, they were full of enthusiasm, energy and hope. I saw in them the potential that they had and the innate goodness and dignity that all people are afforded simply by being created in God’s image.

My students felt loved, and they began to flourish. By the middle of the year, I knew they had made progress, but I was a nervous wreck as the first parent-teacher conferences came up. I wondered whether I had taught them well enough or fast enough to make their parents happy. I’ll never forget my first conference. I could hear one of my first grade students named Leona dragging her mother down the hall towards my room. She was saying, “Come on, Mama! Come on, Mama!" When they burst through the door, Leona said, “See Mama, see my white teacher? I told you she was white!” I didn’t quite know what to say standing there in all my whiteness except, “Hello, I’m Andrea Koverman, Leona’s teacher. And I guess you can see she was right, I am white.” She laughed and we sat down and began to talk about how much progress Leona had made. Leona leaned up against me while I talked about her with a sweet smile on her face. I was taken aback when her mother began to cry and said, “Miss Koverman, they told me my girl was retarded and she wasn’t never going to be able to do nothing.” I was shocked and didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t believe that someone had already put such cruel limitations on such a limitless possibility of a child. I said, “Well, I don’t pay too much attention to what the papers say, and you can see that they are wrong about Leona. She can do and be whatever she wants to be.”

As the year went on and the students continued to improve, I began to have other teachers come to visit my room on their breaks. I came to understand that my students were considered to be the “bad” kids by the rest of the school. But in my room, they weren’t bad. Like a child who wants to please their parents who love them, my students did not want to disappoint me and they did their best to do whatever I asked. Children with disabilities will often distract others from noticing that by misbehaving, but in our room where they felt safe and accepted, they didn’t need to. Because they were so eager to come each day, I think their regular teachers thought I just let them play. But when they saw them working, they wanted to know what my secret was. They couldn’t believe that the same students who gave them such a hard time were working so hard for me. It took me quite a while to figure out the answer to that question because there wasn’t a secret method or teaching strategy that I was using. The “secret” was simply that I loved my students and they knew it. I only grew more passionate about teaching each year that I did it. I believe education is a justice issue and the only real leveler of the playing field. Despite the poverty and other challenges they had, I was devoted to making sure my students were able to be as successful as any other students were.

I had a couple of close calls with my versions of Prince Charming or in my case, Captain Von Trapp, but the little seed that my Aunt Mamie had planted so long ago kept reminding me that my passion lie somewhere else. With all the pressure from family and friends, it was a scary and sometimes really hard decision not to get married and have kids, but I’m glad that I was able to follow my heart not to. When I was reintroduced to the Sisters of Charity as an adult, I found a whole community of women who were called to love in this broad inclusive way, and so I joined them.

I am now a program manager at the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center where we educate and advocate for peace, focusing on ending the death penalty and human trafficking, immigration reform, and nonviolence initiatives. Though I am not teaching children anymore, I am still teaching and hopefully helping people understand that we are all sister and brother to one another and that our circle of love needs to include the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our society.

When people who don’t know I’m a sister ask like they usually do, “Do you have kids?” I feel very blessed and privileged to be able to say, “Not my own, but yes, I have had many.” And I have seen what love can do.