I began life on December 12, 1952 as a “Navy child” in San Diego, California. My father, Edwin, a native of South Bend, Indiana joined the Navy after dropping out of high school. My mom’s brother in-law introduced Edwin to my mother, Jeanette Shaffer. After their marriage, Edwin was deployed to San Diego and Jeanette went with him. Edwin served as a signaler on Navy ships patrolling the South Pacific north of Australia. I was born in San Diego during that time.
I began first grade at Holy Trinity School. Sister Carmen Maria of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters was my teacher. She impressed me, young, tall, and pretty. She sparked my first interest in becoming a religious Sister. After first grade, my parents moved back to Mishawaka, Indiana. My mother’s father, John Shaffer, from Hungary and an Orthodox priest, encouraged my mom to send me to Saint Monica School. There, I had Poor Handmaid teachers: Sister Jeanine, Sister Carmelita, Sister David and Sister Imelda. I remember in those early grades, playing with my dolls and stuffed animals as if they were in an orphanage and I was their caretaker. Perhaps this was another vocation sign. Sister David told great stories about the Motherhouse and the high school there. So, I chose to attend Ancilla Domini High School in Donaldson.
After high school, I entered the Poor Handmaid Postulancy in 1972 with Mary Agnes Hirl also from Mishawaka. Sister Conrad was our directress. She encouraged me to go into elementary education saying it would give me a good background for any other ministries I’d go into later on. After first vows in 1975, I attended Mount Mary College in Milwaukee. I majored in Elementary Education and resided at the large student residence, Ancilla Domini Convent, with six other students, Sister Roselia, Sister Mary Carolyn and other senior Sisters. After graduation I was missioned to Saint Henry, Chicago; Saint Ann, Black Oak; and eight years in Mount Carmel, Illinois teaching 4th and 7th graders. Sister Deanne Blume and I were the last Poor Handmaids there. I also lived and worked with Sister Deb Davis, PHJC there. Both of us like nature and the Prayer of Saint Francis was special to me.
We two developed an economical vacation plan where we went primitive camping. Our trips took us through most of Southern Illinois’s Shawnee National Forest and around Lake Michigan, sometimes when it was still cold. I learned how to wear all the clothes I had with me to stay warm. I continue to enjoy bike riding, reading good mystery books and watching movies. During summers, I studied at the University of Dayton and earned a Master’s Degree in Counseling Education.
After the closing of the Mount Carmel PHJC mission, Sister Annemarie Kampwerth, then Provincial, encouraged me to participate in the Community Growth Program at Saint Valentine in Chicago, with an emphasis on counseling and spiritual direction. My favorite Scripture Passage is Ephesians 1:17-19. I began seeking a Spirit of Wisdom and Knowledge of Jesus…. And experiencing God’s immeasurable power to…those who believe. Little did I realize that my shy self would be led to facing stern judges and abusive parents. Sister Annemarie encouraged me to follow my dreams in this new phase of my life. My dream at the beginning of my religious life in community was to work in one of our orphanages to help create family for the children. I never liked being an only child. I always wanted a bigger family. That was one of my reasons for entering a religious congregation.
However, the orphanages the PHJCs administered were gradually being phased out. In 1991, I applied to Catholic Charities in the Joliet Diocese. I was offered the position as a Case Manager for foster children. They were impressed with my being a teacher and not being afraid to drive in Chicago. The next 20 years were a learning experience in trying to build families for abused children, foster families, and in dealing with challenging judges, attorneys and guardian ad litem representatives.
Poor Handmaid Sisters, especially Sister Pat Kolas and Sister Joette in the Provincial office supported and encouraged me. Sister Joette had worked with foster and abused children at Angel Guardian Orphanage for years. Other supports were my community prayers, Eucharist, Psalm 139, and my parish, Saint Hubert. Driving to and from visits with the foster children, I played “smooth” jazz on the car radio to center myself and the children riding with me. In 1994 I entered more deeply into the life and times of Catherine Kasper as I traveled to Dernbach, Germany, and other places with Sister Deanne and her family.
In the 2000s many things were changing in the foster care system. I moved from Catholic Charities to Lutheran Child and Family Services and worked there for the next ten years. Most of the workers there were Catholic as was our director. In the mid-2000s, the needs of parents and children intensified, but the resources needed for them lessened.
I retired from foster care management on Dec. 31, 2022. I now reflect on how “surprising” my life has been. Who would have thought that a shy, sensitive Sister would have met the challenges of defending foster children against so many odds? I could tell you story after story about my 30 years of service in child welfare.
Now my idea of a “great day” is to sit on an Indiana State Park dune and read a juicy mystery. I know that God has not finished with his “surprises” for me yet!