Becoming Vice Principal

October 23, 2020

8 days till National Vocation Awareness Week

#18 in a series of 25 short stories

1986 through 1997 Vice Principal at St. Mary of the Valley / Valley Catholic High School

I was happy as a clam teaching at St. Mary of the Valley High School.  I was minding my own business, doing my own thing when all of a sudden, Sister Alberta retired from her position as Vice Principal to move on to less demanding work at the convent as religious women do not use the word “retirement”.  Sister Alberta had a formidable presence standing 6’2” tall with a great poker face when she needed it.  Most of the time she was laughing and telling stories but when something needed dealt with, she could put on the façade of serious business.

During Christmas break the year prior to her “retirement” three students showed up at school three sheets to the wind and one of them “lost their cookies” at my classroom door.  I remember Sr. Alberta having to deal with that issue the entire Chrismas break.  I thought to myself, “I could never do that.”  You guessed it, the following fall, I was “it” and I was terrified.

Chuck Lee was principal at the time and I thoroughly enjoyed working with him.  My first major case came not too long after the beginning of school when a couple of girls (we were still all girl at the time) were smoking behind the gym.  I gave them all of seven minutes to get to my office which should have taken them less than one minute.  I had to go ask Chuck Lee what we were going to do now!  J  I like to tell this story because it illustrates so perfectly the fact that we don’t know how to do some of our jobs immediately and it takes a little time to learn. 

I went to Chucks office and told him what was going on and asked him, “what now?”  He told me to bring them to his office and he would talk to them.  I brought the girls to his office, they were scared to death, so was I.  I am pretty sure I was shaking but they didn’t know that.  Chuck could not have been kinder to them.  He was firm, had a good conversation with them and suspended them for three days.  I learned a lot in that encounter, and I liked the way he dealt with the situation.  He was a wonderful mentor to me, and I have always appreciated those years working with him.

I will say over the course of the next 10 years in that role, I learned to deal with all sorts of situations.  Every encounter gave me an opportunity to help someone get back on track and find their way again.  In addition to what any of my actions may have done to help others, the role developed my courage and confidence.  Hard as it was initially, I have encouraged people to take on similar roles, such as sport officials to help develop the spine.  Those jobs have the potential to make us better and stronger people.

Morning Rituals

October 18, 2020

14 days till National Vocation Awareness Week

#10 in a series of 25 short stories

Morning Mass in the Chapel of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon 2020

There are various ways religious communities live out their prayer lives.  The rituals of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon include Morning Prayer also known as The Divine Office and the Prayer of the Church.  This prayer is said in common each morning before Mass and again each evening as the day comes to an end.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist follows morning prayer where we are fed by the Word of God and Body of Christ as we prepare for our daily ministry.   It is a fortifying way to start each day and I am always impressed by the consistency of the Sisters.   We are also asked to get an additional hour of contemplative prayer in during the day or evening.

“Prayer is being on terms of friendship with God, frequently conversing in secret with Him who, we know, loves us – Saint Teresa of Calcutta

The Canonical Year

October 13, 2020

20 days till National Vocation Awareness Week

#6 in a series of 25

Sister Fidelis Kreutzer gives an inspirational talk before giving my classmate and I our white veils.

My Canonical Year

I talked about “Formation” in an earlier piece as a time of discernment before making final vows with the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon.  This process can take seven and a half years in our community.  After finishing six months minimum as a “candidate”, I wrote a handwritten letter to ask to become a novice with the community.  This then began a two year “novitiate” and for the first time, we were then referred to as “Sister.”

The first year of novitiate is generally referred to as a “Canonical Year.”  This year is dedicated to prayer, studying all aspects of the vows and really learning about religious life and the unique charism or spirit of the community.  The second year of the novitiate is often spent in furthering education or ministry.  In my case, I entered after college but went on to get a fifth year at Portland State while teaching part time at the high school and engaging in formation classes at the convent.

I clearly remember the gift of my canonical year as I had the time to think, pray, work, study and come to really know the community.  Some interesting aspects of the year included ringing the electric bell which reminded us hourly to say a prayer and turn our thoughts to GodThe switch for the bell was located in chapel and I had to remember to ring it on the hour.  I found a simple egg timer to remind me as it was well before I phones with timers!

Canonically, most of our time was to be spent at the Motherhouse and we could make few trips outside to do things.  It was a year set apart, a special year and not one that was to be in competition with the distractions of the world.  I did not listen to music, watch TV, or go to movies that year. 

I cleaned the tables in the grade school cold and hot lunchrooms after their lunch each day which gave me an opportunity to meet people who taught or worked at the grade school.  My classmate and I also led a rosary every day at 1:00 to pray for vocations to religious life.  The elder Sisters would join us in the chapel.

We learned all aspects of setting up for Mass each morning.  The Sacristan would teach us everything about the liturgical seasons, the rites and rituals and it was our job to carry it out.  It was very interesting to me and I appreciated this knowledge.

There were many projects we were kept busy with during that year along with formation classes, writing papers on the vows and deepening our prayer lives.  By the time the canonical year was finished, we had a sound foundation about religious life, the sisters, prayer, the ministries of our community and much about ourselves. 

The Rule of Separation

October 9, 2020

23 days till National Vocation Awareness Week – post 3 of 25

Preparing cookies for Christmas celebrations LtoR: Sr. Ruth Etzel, Sr. Maryann Giesel, Sr. Magdalene, Sr. Adele Marie

Fourty years have passed since I entered Religious Life.  Things have changed as the world changes.  Nothing stays the same and that is for the most part good, I think.  Not in all cases but mostly.  When I was in formation, we had what was called a “Rule of Separation” which mean’t if you were in formation you could not talk with the sisters who were professed.  Why? You are probably asking?  Formation takes place through the interaction with one formation director.  Every single person has a suggestion for how something should be done.  If you want a uniform formation for your members in religious life, best it be done through one, trained director.   In my day there were a dozen of us in various stages of formation and we were able to create a good community of young sisters.

Today, we no longer have the rule of separation, but we do have 4 Sisters in formation, three of whom are under the age of 30.  They are a wonderful group of young women who give me a lot of hope and confidence in our future as a religious community.   The Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon accept women between the ages of 18 and 45.  Even though we no longer have a rule of separation, the older sisters have an understanding of what should be deferred to the formation director.