By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published May 14, 2015 | En Español
Sister Margaret McAnoy, IHM, our archdiocesan Vicar for Religious, sent me a link to a recent article observing the 25th anniversary of the death of Sister Thea Bowman, the charismatic African-American nun who played such a pivotal role in helping the Catholic Church in our nation to grow in our appreciation of the richness of our multicultural blessings.
I was fortunate enough to have known Sister Thea personally, and she was quite simply a one-woman dynamic movement within our Church. She sang, preached and witnessed her proud African-American Catholic heritage to anyone who was privileged enough to have been in her presence. She chose to join the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, a Wisconsin-based community of women religious who had touched her heart and life through their ministry in Canton, Mississippi. She entered as a pioneer Black member of that community.
Through her own dynamic personality, Sister Thea led her fellow sisters to understand that there were many blessings to be had well beyond their LaCrosse, Wisconsin, confines. They knew that they had a winner in Thea, and eventually the community sent her to doctoral studies—perhaps not fully aware at the time of where they would use her in the future.
Later during that same week in which I received Sister Margaret’s email, I received another email from a dear, devoted friend of mine from my first parish assignment, Sister Marie Krippner, OSF, informing me of the death of one of the sisters that I had known from that same parish. Sister Teresene Nemmer, OSF, had died in the motherhouse of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee at the age of 101. Although Sister Teresene was not famous like Sister Thea, she had lived her religious vows for more than 84 years and had taught music to countless thousands of Catholic grammar school students. Her fame and contribution to the life of the Church was not through any national celebrity like Sister Thea, but through her longstanding fidelity to the mission of Catholic education.
Finally, I received the very sad news of the death of Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a dear friend from my leadership service at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, where she worked as director of communications for the bishops of the United States. A Sister of Mercy, she was a media wizard, and she taught me so much, for which I could never fully express my gratitude.
Sister Mary Ann literally was often the voice and the communications’ gatekeeper for the USCCB during the height of our sexual abuse crisis. We could not have been more fortunate to have a person of her skill, faith and determination in that position at the time. She was deeply respected both by the U.S. bishops and by many of those in Rome. She had a common-sense approach about her that was disarming as well as informative for those with whom she dealt.
May she be in the heavenly press office serving the Lord with that same dedication and joy as she served him in his Church on earth.
With each of these three religious women, I rediscovered anew the great gift of consecrated life within the Church. They were each different in their backgrounds and how they went about their mission, but quite the same as they lived a religious gift within our family of faith that enriched us by their skills and their fidelity to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
We are currently observing the Year of Consecrated Life in the Church. The women and men religious who have blessed my life are countless, and I am sure that each one of you can recall a sister who helped you prepare for first Holy Communion, a religious brother who taught you algebra in high school, an order priest who presided at your father’s funeral.
However these men and women may have graced your life certainly deserves a moment of gratitude. If they have passed into the Kingdom of God, please say a prayer for them. If they are residing in a retirement community somewhere, please drop them a note of thanks. If you have lost contact with them, please try to reconnect.
Thea, Teresene, and Mary Ann are just three of the many religious who have enriched my life and the lives of so many others. May each of them be rewarded for their witness and their charity and, in the words of Pope Francis, for “waking up the world to God’s goodness.” Amen.