Friend, role model, grandma-figure, inspiration

“As my journey with Sister Susan comes to an end, I am beginning to reminisce about the time I got to spend with her and everything I have gained simply by being a part of this project. So much was added to my life – not just through the sisters I have met but also through the friendships that were formed between me and the other young ladies part of this project. One thing I will carry with me forever is that you are never alone, and if you have something you want to talk about, there always will be somebody to listen and help.”

So began Meghan Schwobe’s final blog post about her involvement in the SisterStory oral-history project through Marian University in Fond du Lac, Wis. The freshman is one of many SisterStory participants reflecting on a semester full of learning. Again and again, students are expressing their surprise at the depth of friendships that emerged with the Catholic sister whose life story they captured via oral history. Many describe their sisters as role models, grandmother figures and lifelong friends – one who provides equal measures of inspiration and comfort.    

“The SisterStory project not only gave me a sister to work with but a friend and role model all wrapped up in one of the best presents I have ever gotten,” Meghan concluded her blog post.  

Her overwhelming sense of gratitude is shared by many of this semester’s student oral-historians. In taking stock of the semester, a number of students examined their initial view of women religious.

“Going into this project, I imagined all religious sisters fell into one of two camps: harsh, smack-you-with-a-ruler school nuns or old-and-out-of-touch-with-the-modern-world nuns,” wrote Lin Kovacs, a senior from Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. “Meeting Sister Agnes changed this view for me from the moment she opened her door to my knock. There she was: a short, white-haired sister with the biggest smile on her face. It was as if God were smiling at me when she greeted me, and at that moment I knew I would fall in love with her.”

At the beginning of the semester, Micah McGuiness feared she would have difficulty bonding with a Catholic sister. “I have a strong personality and part of me thought I was never going to be able to mesh with a sister because I am not very religious, I am not Catholic and I didn’t know the first thing about being a sister,” wrote the senior from The College of St. Scholastica. She chronicled her first time meeting her assigned sister, Sister Marie Therese: “We hugged, and after that hug, it was as if all my nerves and previous conceptions melted away.”

For Shelby Chmielecki, a junior at St. Scholastic, the oral-history project helped her cope with worry. “I can really stress myself out with school and looking way too far ahead,” she wrote. “However, Sister Johnetta was able to give me advice about this by taking that time to have with God. Praying has become a way for me to relieve stress, and it really is time for me to reflect on the good things in life.”   

For Sarah Werner, a senior at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, Wis., forging a close friendship with a woman religious challenged the athlete to re-examine her own life. “Sister Joanne’s love for serving others fueled my fire in life,” Sarah wrote. “I was extremely active volunteering as a child, but when college came around, I stopped making time for it. Spending time with Sister Joanne made me want to get involved in my community again, to make a difference in people’s lives and ultimately have the community make a difference in my life. Once again, Sister Joanne continues to be a positive role model in my life, showing me what it means to be selfless and what it’s like to leave a legacy behind.”

Olivia Ruiz, a junior at Caldwell University in Caldwell, N.J., was similarly inspired. “Looking back on this project, I learned so much about not only the history of the sisters but also about myself,” she wrote. “Before this project, I was very liberal in my views and was quite nervous about sitting down with a woman of faith. As silly as it sounds, I was afraid she would try to convert me or convince me to become a sister. In all actuality though, I made a friend. I met a woman who has followed her faith and intuition from the start of her life and heard of only her success. I realized that even with all the hate in this world, there are still people who are pure of heart, people who only wish to make the world a better place.”

About Christina Capecchi

Christina Capecchi is an award-winning journalist from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She is the author of the nationally syndicated column “Twenty Something,” which appears in more than 50 Catholic newspapers across the country. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, America, The Chicago Tribune, The Star Tribune and The Pioneer Press. She also provides contracted editing and writing services. She holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a bachelor’s from Mount Mercy University.