Standup Sisters: Border Crossings with Sister Mary Lou Palas, SC

Many sisters' missions take them around the world. Welcome to a special episode of Sister Story Presents:. At live Standup Sisters events, women share their stories of service. In this episode, Sister Mary Lou Palas, SC, who is celebrating her 60th jubilee this year, talks about her ever widening circle of travel. She’s a Sister of Charity of Seton Hill.

Sister Mary Lou Palas, SC:
I grew up in a small town called Greg Station. There were only 13 houses. The closest store was about two miles away. And school was seven miles in the opposite direction toward downtown Pittsburgh. So, my radius, my world's radius, was about seven miles growing up. They say 'join the convent and see the world'. Well, I entered the convent, I entered the Sisters of Charity right after high school and when we entered they gave us a two week course in techniques of teaching and elementary school music and sent us out to teach.

So, 17 I was sent to Blairsville to teach third grade. This class had already had two teachers and it was only October. So they were very hard to handle. So, needless to say I didn't last very long either. By Thanksgiving I was sent to Juniata in Altoona to teach third and fourth grade. Luckily this class was well-trained and the principal was an excellent teacher guide. So I finished off the year and I really enjoyed it. Then when I made first vows I was sent to Phoenix, Arizona to teach third grade. And then the next year to Tucson, Arizona to teach seventh grade. So now my world had expanded over 2000 miles. When I came back, I was sent to Johnstown to teach biology and physiology at Bishop McCord high school. 'Physiology' I said, tell me what it is and I'll teach it. So I spent many hours preparing my lessons and I really enjoyed teaching it and I remained teaching biology for 23 years in four different high schools.

Then one of our sisters was being hired in the Diocese of Steubenville as the superintendent of Catholic schools and she asked me to come and be her assistant. At first I said no. Then I went down with her when she went to meet the Bishop and I met the Bishop and the Bishop taught biology for 16 years. So, immediately he and I had a bond. So, I ended up in the Catholic schools office in the Diocese of Steubenville as the coordinator of education for six years. Then I went to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in the Catholic schools office for 13 years. So now I had been in two other states. So I applied for the pastoral ministry program at Seton Hill.

In pastoral ministry you could work in a parish doing whatever the pastor needs or you could work in a nursing home or a hospital in spiritual care. So, I applied for the program. I was accepted. So now I'm working full time in West Virginia, going to school in Greensburg, and taking care of my mother who is now in a nursing home in Bridgeville. So after a short while the community told me I could quit my job.

So, I quit my job and continue taking care of my mother until she passed away in 2006. And then I completed that program in 2007. Then when I graduated I went to California for a 30 day sabbatical. I got to another state. When I came back from California, I found myself back in Ohio as the spiritual care coordinator at Humility House, which is a nursing home in Youngstown. After a few years the community told me to come back to Greensburg. So I went back to Greensburg and I volunteered in three different nursing homes, and for United Way, Faith in Action, caring for the elderly. And then one day when I come home for dinner, as I approached the table one of the sisters was saying maybe Sister Mary Lou will go. I said go where.

Well in our daily newsletter they were asking for volunteers to go to Korea to teach English. So after dinner I went and read the newsletter. Then the newsletter went up on the bulletin board and I passed it several times the next few days. Then I took it down from the bulletin board and I took it to my room and I began to pray. When I came back from Youngstown I thought I had come back to retire. But it seems God had something else in store for me. So as I prayed, it just seemed right.

So I volunteered and in 2014 I went to Korea to teach conversational English at some young girls high school. I was there for two and a half years. I just came back in December. School in Korea is quite different. Their school day begins at nine o'clock. But they're in school until 9 or 10 o'clock at night. Their last class is over at 10 to 5. Then they clean the school. Then they go and eat dinner, they have a short break, and they go back to their classrooms to study. Grades 1 and 2, which is like our sophomores juniors, are there till 9 o'clock and Grade 3 their seniors are there till 10:00 at night and they even come on weekends to study. They spend their whole year getting ready to take the test for the university. They have to memorize five books. My first day in the school, I was surprised at how noisy it was during the change of classes. But when I realized what their school day was like I figured they needed that release and then some. Another thing that struck me was when they would be walking through the halls they would be holding hands or have their arms around each other, but that's just their culture. You even see women in the streets holding hands or walking arm in arm. So, that just became common to me as well as the Koreans. The language, one of the sisters told me that it's the second hardest language to learn to speak, but the Hangul, which is the Korean alphabet, I found easy to learn so I could read the Korean, but not understand it. And I memorized the prayers, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be so I could say the rosary with the sisters. And also I could sing with the sisters as long as there weren't some eighth notes and sixteenth notes I could sing. And I learned several words and phrases like their typical greeting like our hello and thank you. And one of the things I needed to learn was how to say please do not write on this paper. When I would say it in Korean, I mean in English, everyone didn't know it. So a few students taught me how to say it in Korean. So I would say it in English and then in Korean for those who did not understand.

So, those are a few of my experiences in Korea which took me over 6000 miles away from home. Presently I'm working in pastoral ministry at our mother house with our retired sisters. And and I go and teach them every week, help to teach them English. I've loved all the ministries I've been in and I feel like God has guided me every step of the way. One of my favorite scriptures has been 'here I am the Lord, I come to do your will'. God has a plan for every one of our lives. God has a plan for you. So pray every day to know God's will for you because it is only in following God's plan that you'll be truly happy and maybe get to see the world. God bless you.

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SisterStory Presents: is a collective podcast for work without a series for a home. One-offs, mini-series, short audio clips, and anything in-between; this podcast serves as a point of connection for SisterStory and the various audiences we serve.