Mission Years

How I went out into the world again, as a religious.

The honeymoon was over; the reality of my new life set in in 1955, after our first profession in the Congregation of Holy Cross. When I entered from St. Mary's, I had envisioned the convent as a regular life of study, prayer and work (teaching), with a modest social life-in a beautiful setting. The reality was not quite as I had hoped--it was not the same and I was not the same.

I had forgotten about my personality. In the novitiate I had willingly lopped off parts of my personality in order to fit in. I had squeezed myself into a narrow soul, playing the part of a narrow person content with and suited to the narrow life in which we never went anywhere, divided our time between domestic work, regular prayers, writing letters home, reading, socializing within the community, taking meals with the community, and doing whatever obedience work we were assigned to do. I had gone in with a lot of confidence; I had come out (to mission) with little left.

Was this who I really was? I didn't know. I had forgotten myself. Like an actress I had become identified with the role I had been playing. I had bent over so far that I had lost myself. In the novitiate I thought that stifling my differences was the best course. Just as I had been glad to put aside my Scandinavian-designed cutlery in the novitiate in favor of the convent-issue everyday stuff, I had been glad to put aside the outrageous personality I had brought in with me, putting it away in favor of the convent-issue personality. I was trying to fit in. I had had a struggle to suppress myself and had done it by imitating Miss Lutz who could sew perfectly, kneel straight up for hours and was "perfection in small things." I tried to become like her, but couldn't. I didn't have that ramrod spine or that perfectly even stitching.

Why suppress myself? After all the novitiate emphasis on externals and after all the lives of the saints and martyrs we'd read, I believed that God's favorites were those who denied themselves. "Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it does not bear fruit." I saw being a perfect religious as the goal of my life, and perfection meant overcoming ourselves in all the dreaded small details. I believed in Sr. Marianna's dictum that outward behavior was all-important and that inward docility would follow. I judged others by their outward behavior and so I judged myself by my own outward standard of punctilious external conformity. Only those who were perfect in small things would be perfect in great things.

I thought this was the ideal behavior for a nun, little realizing that it didn't incorporate much of my own personality, which had just begun to emerge in my teens-my romantic idealism and artistic bent. The self I had been on the way to becoming was literary, scholarly, artistic, self-confident, fun-loving and creative. The self that came out of the novitiate was practical, solemn, analytic, intense, diffident, conformist.

Could I ever regain that lost self? In the convent, once you fit into the limited role, most people don't want you to grow or to ever be outside that role-once you have adopted the nun-persona most of the nuns, the parents, even the students don't expect you to change. Would I allow myself to change? Would my superiors? These were questions I did not ask for years.

How we received our assignments

In the various provinces of our congregation, the nuns were assembled on August 15 the feast of the Assumption, (most bands were professed on August 5, Feast of Our Lady of the Snows) in a large hall. There, without any consultation or any mystical hodge podge like Hogwarts' sorting cap ceremony, our assignments were read by the provincial straight out calling out the various mission houses with their superiors and persons assigned, according to age, and the subjects they would teach. It was a practical, peasant-economy way of doing it, and for a young nun just out of the Scholasticate just one more of the personality-denying actions of the community.

Flint, Michigan, 1955

Our small band who had entered out of college made a retreat and then our first profession of vows in February 2, 1955. On that day we learned where we would be sent. I would be sent to Flint, Michigan, home of the Fisher Body Plant of GM, where I would replace Sister Anita Jane, a Home Economics and Business teacher who was ill. I was an English teacher, but what did that matter? I could teach bookkeeping and typing, couldn't I, with the help of the Holy Spirit?

The superior at Flint was Sr. Good Counsel, a bouncy science teacher who always looked perfect and had a fixed smile on her face. I could not confide in her. We could talk about students, however. In her I saw how the nuns followed their students' social lives, for she was disappointed that one particularly smart girl had fallen for one particularly dumb boy. "If he didn't wear pants, she wouldn't look at him," she shook her head.

The students were mostly children of GM plant workers. Fortunately or unfortunately, they were already broken in by the discipline established in Catholic schools and did not dream of taking advantage of-indeed were probably intimidated by the tall young serious young nun in black with the white fluted starched headdress and deep wide collar (starched imitations of a 19th century French peasant's garb) who greeted them the second semester in their bookkeeping class, explaining that Sr. Anita Jane was ill.

I felt like a fish out of water. The stiff and confining habit, pinching my neck under the large plastic collar and my ears under a white cap-left me little freedom of movement among 40 mobile students. But from watching the older nuns I could see that the habit was a protection; through it they exerted a firm hand on the students. They ordered students around with all the authority invested in them by the church. Even though I wore the habit, I could not do that. Authority had to come from within me, not be conferred upon me from without, by virtue of my habit. But those veteran nuns had the authority of years of obedient Catholic students and a system which I had just come through before entering the convent. I felt dishonest at first in passing myself off as an authority just because I had on a black robe. But I got used to its inconvenience and benefited by its authority.

How I trusted in the Holy Spirit and my Long Black Habit

As a result of our naivete and trusting the Holy Spirit as our implicit authority, we just went and taught whatever we were assigned, like day laborers in the field. We never questioned having to go into a classroom full of high school students and pretend that we were authorities on a subject that we may have known nothing about-bookkeeping was only the beginning for me. I might feel like a charlatan, but I got away with it by virtue of my long black habit. It helped that I was tall and could stand up and stare down the tall boys. I just swallowed my timidity and launched forth on whatever topic I was assigned. There was no such thing as going to the superior and telling her I couldn't teach economic geography or bookkeeping. The grace would come with the obedience. This extempore approach to life became an asset later; there was nothing I couldn't do. I didn't need training in something; interest was enough. I could launch forth upon film societies, plays, musicals, yearbooks, newspapers, humanities, art fairs, without any background, because that was the way we did things. The Spirit gave us the words and ideas and inspirations.

How I was shocked at the old nuns

I may have adjusted to the students quickly, but I felt utterly out of my element among the many older nuns in Flint. In school those nuns, clad in their armor, appeared formidable to me, as they did to the students, but at home they turned into ordinary old ladies gossiping, wheezing, complaining about their ailments. Only in chapel, at meals, at school and after dinner did they wear their full habits; otherwise they quickly divested themselves of the large collars and stiff caps and went around with white hair and wrinkled necks showing. They all seemed to have personal belongings and comforts --special diets, medicines, flowered kimonos, toiletries, crocheted afghans and pillow covers-special personal items that were forbidden in the novitiate and scholasticate. I who had made myself conform to an outward standard of "nunlike behavior" was scandalized by the very unnunlike behavior from all these veterans. At table they all had their special chairs and standing medicine bottles on their place mats; in chapel they had special seats with their little embroidered book covers. They had special needs and privileges. Some slept in for meditation at 5:30 and matins at 6:00 a.m. and didn't arrive until 6:30 for Mass. Here was another discovery. In the novitiate I had gone through every deprivation without being unhappy about it, because we were all in the same boat together. Who could complain? Yet here people complained. I realized that in real life nuns were much more self-indulgent than outsiders and I had supposed.

Again I faced the problem. We had given up sitting at the banquet of normal life, yet here we were scrambling for the crumbs. I told myself that these old sisters had lived hard lives for many years so who could begrudge them these little indulgences, especially when they were sickly, as many were. They didn't matter to me, and I didn't matter in this old veterans' world. They were hanging on. I was only a replacement, sent to fill the place of another veteran who was unable to go on.

I remember very little about that house or the nuns or students of that semester in Flint. It was February-- dark and snowy. There was nothing to look at anyway, except factories. I wouldn't be missing anything. All the better to pray and meditate and keep silence as we had in the novitiate. I was still trying to live like a contemplative, even "on mission." I did my preparations for school as quickly as possible, so as to have extra time for prayer and spiritual reading, which was much more interesting than spending time with the old nuns. Still we had to spend a certain amount of time with the community.

Living in the novitiate and scholasticate, we had emphasized the interior life. The social life, such as it was, with collation and recreation, hadn't been a big thing. We were all there for another purpose. On mission suddenly our social life became a big deal for the nuns. Yet we were the only social life available! Our breakfast, lunch and dinner were always spent with each other, our Saturdays and Sundays were spent with each other, always together, and always at the convent, unless someone came to visit us, and Flint was far off the main highways. Although I didn't admit it, I didn't want to spend all my free time socializing with a lot of old ladies.

After that first shock at Flint, I found that all the convents were the same. The youngest like myself did the jobs no one else wanted to do. The middle-aged nuns ran things and the spirit of the house depended upon them. The oldest nuns rested, at ease after a life of work. We were all basically taken care of. A cook prepared our meals; the priest/pastor worried about finances; the superior worried about a lot of practical things; the appearance of the house seemed to concern many, who thought up cleaning tasks for us young'uns. The rest of us never worried about anything. It was a comfortable life. The only things we had to do were go to prayers and teach our classes. Outside of that we could please ourselves, more and more as we grew older. I was ambivalent; I didn't want to become like those old women. I wanted some better models.

When, after some bad experiences in later years, I began reading about repressive regimes and prisons, I thought of convents and imagined them to be like prisons where the prisoners settle for a few creature comforts in exchange for giving up their liberty.

I begin graduate school and discover Emerson

I came out of my hole that summer, of 1955 when we all returned to St. Mary's, and I began taking graduate courses in English at Notre Dame. Dorothy Murnane-- Sr. Miriam Edward-- was getting her master's in French, so we often walked over together to ND and stopped for ice cream at the Huddle on the way home. I was reading Emerson's essays for Seymour Gross's course on the American Transcendentalists. Emerson was immensely consoling to me; he became my own personal philosopher. I could always find some epigram in his essays, sometimes just by opening at random to a page in the essays. "A man is a god in ruins." "The highest is present to the soul of man. " "Who can set bounds to the possibilities of man? Once inhale the upper air, being admitted to behold the abolute natures of justice and truth, and we learn that man has access to the entire mind of the Creator, is himself the creator in the finite." (Nature) His words filled and enlarged my soul. Some of my best meditations that summer arose while reading Emerson and his ideas about the Oversoul. I reclaimed some of my self through him and Thoreau. The self that had been narrowed in the novitiate and distressed at the gloominess in Flint was the same self who was inspired by the poetry of Emerson and Thoreau. There was something still left!

Without my understanding it, though I had lopped off aspects of my personality in the novitiate, those were only the externals; the core of myself was still present. As I discovered in reading Thoreau's essay on "Walking," "It's not where you travel, but who you are who travels." Some people can travel everywhere and never see anything; it's as if they've never have left home. Other people can see everything. That was my way. Things registered with me in high decibels, but they registered; they awakened some echo in my spirit. A trait of mine--perhaps a samskara or left over impression from a previous existence--is to be cast down in spirit by darkness and exalted by the light. A downed branch or hurt animal has the power to depress me, a bird's song to rejoice me. This has made my life both terrible and wonderful. I would like to think that this is what being a poet or an artist is all about. Probably this is what most people go through.

Mary's High, Michigan City, Indiana, 1955-56

There was always hope, in those early years. In the heat of August we were once more back in the old gymnasium/auditorium at St. Mary's for the reading of the assignments. "St. Mary's High School, Michigan City: Sister Elizabeth Ann, superior; Sisters Victorine, Lenore, Rosita, Amanda, Maria Concepta, Rosalia, John Joseph, . . . Joseph Frances." Michigan City is at least back in the civilization, I thought; someone might even come to visit me there.

The community had plenty of high school English teachers, but not enough math teachers, so that year and many other years, I was sent to teach math: algebra, geometry, trigonometry. I enjoyed teaching math. Algebra, geometry, trigonometry and solid geometry were my favorite math courses. I loved preparing and teaching them. The students stood out too. Ron Girard and John Root were stars in geometry. I let them work their way through the theorems and take tests separately. John Root, whom I met many years later, told me that I gave him the only B he had ever received--in geometry, because he had missed a few answers that Ron had gotten. He still remembered that. I must apologize to him; I must have given only one A that semester in geometry.

The superior, Sister Elizabeth Ann, was more open-minded than the previous superior. She seemed to understand me, she knew something of the world, and under her I reclaimed a bit of myself. She enjoyed concerts and movies, saw value in reading books other than spiritual reading. She and Sr. Maria Concepta made it a point to engage in uplifting dinner conversations. They were both well-educated women who enjoyed reading, music, and plays. They were women I could see myself becoming someday. They did not want to listen to complaints at the dinner table. In a sense, St. Mary's offered me a first glimpse of the possibilities of mission life. These were some of the strongest women I was to know all through my years in the convent. Although we never even got to the Michigan City Beach, which was within walking distance, I didn't feel confined that year because of the stimulating conversations as we walked around the block. I was amazed at how Sr. Rosita could laugh at things which I took as deadly earnest. Maria Concepta (English) was an inspiration because of her creativity. John Joseph (history) and Rosalia (biology) were a team whose sarcasm always amused me. Sr. Victorine was always reading a new biogrphy; Sr. Amanda was thinking up ways to make grammar easier or at least more formulaic.

It took being with Sr. Maria Concepta, who put on a wonderful production of Our Town that year, to make me come back to myself. I realized that I had more in common with her than I did with the saintly Sr. Francis de Sales, who taught language arts and catechism, and who had gotten me as her assistant on Sundays after Mass. This dear sweet innocent little nun, who was like my model Miss Lutz of the novitiate, saw nothing of interest in literature or music or art. They weren't necessary in her saintly world. She only valued the Bible and the lives of the saints, ( although she confided to me once that she used to write poetry). I realized how fortunate I was to be in English, where I could revel in literature without feeling guilty.

Bishop Noll High School, Hammond, Indiana, 1956-60

After another summer spent taking classes at ND, I went to the gym in St. Angela's Hall to hear mission assignments read out by Mother Verda Clare, the provincial. "Bishop Noll High School, Hammond. Sr. Cecile Marie, superior. Sisters Agnes Regina (religion & English), Agneta (religion and math), Alice Marie (commercial), Andrew (religion, history), Berenice (religion, French), Clarellen (librarian), Danielita (religion and English), Francis De Sales (religion, English, social studies), Dolata (science), Dolorine (religion, Latin), Edith (religion, English, choral), Francis Jerome (religion, commercial), Francis Raphael (religion, English), Gabrielita (religion, commercial), Georgia (religion, English, journalislm), Hortense (religion, science, mathjematics), Peter Julian (religion, English), Rosalia (science), Ruberta (religion, Latin), Verona (religion, history, Latin), and Joseph Frances (religion, math, English)."

Bishop Noll in Hammond was a large co-ed high school drawing upon students from many parishes in northwestern Indiana. The students came from central European families--Polish, Slovak, Czech --whose parents worked in the steel mills. I had never taught in such a large school. My own high school in Kansas City averaged only 100 graduates in 1948. Noll averaged over four hundred. I was overwhelmed by the numbers in the halls. There were more than 450 freshman, tracked by IQs into ten divisions of 45 each. My home room was Freshman 10, the brightest of the freshmen. When I entered the home room, I felt immediately the quiet concentration of intelligence. I would get to teach algebra to these good students. I had probably three sections of algebra and two of sophomore English (as I recognize a few of their faces in the yearbook and remember teaching the Idylls of the King)-which meant fewer lesson plans, one of the advantages of a large school. I would have extra time to work with students outside. Since I had these bright freshmen, I wanted to challenge them and give them something extra.

I was like a mother who finds her children much more interesting than her husband. Except for rare moments, community life at Noll was as bad as it had been in Flint. The average sister was in her middle sixties. I sat at the dinner table night after night and listened to them complain about their health or gossip about what the lay teachers were doing or about how bad the students were. Sr. Peter Julian had an angina attack at the table, Sr. Dolorine took hydro-chloric acid with every meal. Every old nun seemed to have some special diet. They couldn't wait to leave school each evening so they could come home, undress, and sit in the kitchen complaining about the students. When I saw what was uppermost in their minds--comfort, attachments to the few things that they had which gave them some compensation--shopping, cooking, reading, pampering themselves, I thought, "another Flint." I was 25 and felt like I was living with many grandmothers. I vowed I would never become like these women, so petty and so concerned with their health, so negative about the students. I was glad when we kept silence during dinner. What could I talk about with them? What did I have in common with them? I had more in common with the students, who were only a few years my junior. It was hard to pretend to be joyful on feast days with these nuns. I felt like I was in a strait-jacket. I couldn't be myself. I said little with them or had to pretend. I learned the nuns liked us to laugh at ourselves and our families. Pictures of me in the yearbook this year show me with dark circles around my eyes.

Noll students were eager for extracurricular activities. The many priests who taught there (pastors from the many Calumet area parishes whose students attended Noll) sponsored only the student administration (Fr. Zimmerman), and the Service Club (Fr. Junk, the principal). The men lay teachers often taught math or social studies or history in addition to coaching. The women lay teachers like Mrs. Devlin and Mrs. Kelly had children and couldn't take after school activities. This left the nuns to sponsor most of the activities. Sr. Edith was firmly dominating the music and upperclassmen English. She also directed the plays (with Fr. Melevage) and her sidekick Sr. Rosalia did the costumes and sponsored the Bi-Phy-Chem club. Sr. Peter Julian always taught senior English. Sr. Andrew was firmly in control of the juniors and the Red Cross which donated gifts to needy families at Christmas time and took dinner to St. Ann's Home at Thanksgiving.. Sr. Georgia , who always had an upbeat, matter-of-fact, no nonsense spirit, had an astronomy club and a chess club in addition to the newspaper and one of the upper-division English classes. Sr. Dolorine had the CSMC (Catholic Missions Crusade); Sr. Dolata headed the national honor society and founded the electronics club; Ruberta headed the Latin club, Berenice the French club; Sr. Gabrielita the "Tri-Opus" for commercial students (girls with a B-average in shorthand, typing and bookkeeping). That left (as the youngest)me and Sr. Francis Jerome to help Sr. Francis De Sales (who had come with me from St. Mary's) in CCD, preparing the eight girls who would spend an hour each Sunday morning teaching catechism to 132 grade schoolers. Sr. Lenore, the librarian, inspired the athletes.

Fortunately the superior, Sr. Cecile Marie gave me a free hand at school. It was simply too big a school to watch over us, and she was someone who had other interests herself. I reclaimed a bit of myself when I painted my homeroom bluegreen. Color always reassures me. Then I turned to my homeroom students, to whom I taught algebra. I see them now in the yearbook: Dan Bencze, Joe Bielefeld, Jim Feerst, Mike Gleeson (the class wit), Suellen Hoy, Mike Jakupcak, Pat Krizmis, Frank LaMantia, David Ligda, Gerard Walter, Pat Flanagan, Pat Whelan, John Kruzan, Gertrude Kovach, Jeanine Czepiel, Margaret Frechette, Justin Clarence Kolb, Karen Kocur, Jim Natonski, Mary Lu Wadas. I didn't want to stay in my room after school, and I didn't want to be associated only with CCD; I wanted to do something lively with these bright students.

I begin a speech and debate club

I had been on the debate and forensic team in my high school years and thought it a shame that a school this size had none. I would start one. I set out to recruit students for the debate and speech club by going around to homerooms of the freshmen, sophomores and juniors with higher IQ's, in those days before mainstreaming . "We are" --or perhaps "Bishop Noll is"-- " going to start a debate team," making it sound as if I were doing it at the request of a higher power, as if everybody at the high school were in favor of doing it and had authorized or appointed me to do it. I did not want it to seem that it was only I myself, not a large group, who had wanted to do it. It was not only personal timidity or diffidence that prompted me to avoid claiming the initiative came from me; it was also the fear that it would fail unless there were a big push from behind. Although I believe authority truly comes from within, yet "authority" -in the sense of prestige, weight, influence-were best seen coming from institution or large group. In fact, it was not the "authority" but my enthusiasm that convinced them.

I still remember the joy I felt when Pat Frankowiak, a very bright junior, signed up (and became the captain ), along with freshmen Gertrude Kovach, Karen Kocur, Jeanine Czepiel, Mary Lu Wadas, David Ligda, Tom Kuepers, and Tim O'Brien. That first year we were just getting the hang of it, but the fact that we joined the Indiana High School Forensic Association and the Calumet Forensic League and participated in tournaments through the year at various high schools and went to Purdue in December for the Indiana High School Debate Conference, laid the foundation for more students to sign up next year. David Ligda, John Kruzan, Jeanine and Karen stayed with me all through high school.

Noll, 1957-58

I was reassigned to Noll for a second year. The English faculty that year included Sr. Peter Julian (also speech) , Sr. Edith (also choral), Sr. Danielita, Sr. Francis de Sales (also language arts) , Sr. Agnes Regina (also religion) , Sr. Georgia ( also journalism). I was pictured in the yearbook with the English faculty (but listed also as teaching debate, world geography and general mathematics). Math faculty included Sr. Agneta (algebra), Rose Veronica (English, geometry). The coaches taught algebra, geometry, advanced algebra and Fr. Bach taught solid geometry and trigonometry. Even if I taught math, I would be limited to algebra and geometry here. Science faculty included Scholastica and Rosalia; Social Studies included Dolorine (consumer economics, modern history, political science), Marie Jeanne (typing and ancient history) and some coaches who taught ancient history, U. S. history, modern history, political science. Sr. Andrew who had seemed like an institution, was gone, so Sr. Francis Jerome took over Red Cross. Commercial subjects were all taught by nuns: Francis Jerome (religion, shorthand, ancient history), Gabrielita (typing and shorthand) and Alice Marie (typing, bookkeping, business English). Languages included Berenice (religion and French), Lorettyn (Latin and geometry), Mrs. Kelly (Latin), Sr. Victorine (Latin) and the ancient Sr. Verona (U.S. history and Latin). (Someday this may be of archival interest to someone.)

Again the elderly nuns dominated the community, while the few younger professed like Georgia and Edith had all the good activities like the newspaper and the plays, but by now I had my own activity in the debate club. Speech and debate had caught on. I could raise money, I could get permission to go to other schools; I could call meetings; I could ask mothers to drive us--just as Georgia and Edith and Scholastica did. I took over the sponsorship of the Prop and Publicity club because Sr. Cecile Marie knew I was an artist. Sr. Cecile Marie and I got along well; though she herself was very ladylike and genteel, she could see more of a person than meets the eye. Under her I could be exhuberant, and she didn't tell me to slow down. Once she said that I could could get paint out of grass. In the publicity club that year I met the fabulous Suellen Hoy. She was a natural leader; she took charge and made herself responsible. On top of that she and I were always laughing at the same things.

How Debate and Speech grew, and how I became a casting director

The students all came back into debate and some new ones joined. Mike Overdeck and Jim Lennertz, Pam Powell and Novelene Yatsko joined . The debate club picture in the yearbook for 1958 shows not only Jeanine Czepiel, Karen Kocur, Gertrude Kovach, Mary Lu Wadas, Margaret Frechette, Fran Buzinski Pat Frankowiak, but Dave Ligda, Pam Powll, Novelene Yatsko, Mary Beth McGrath, Janet Berkowicz, and others I can't remember. There were always those who joined and didn't work. By returning, at last, I found that I had a loyal clique of students, speech and debate students who loved to talk and interpret literature. I brought out these qualities in students. Encouraged by the response, I got cuttings galore and did some myself. I collected a dollar per person from my class to buy these cuttings. Novelene did marvelous acting. She could become anyone; she was a marvelous Mary Stuart. Sue Adams did an interpretive reading of Eloise; Mary Lu of St. Joan. Margaret Frechette did comedy --Arsenic and Old Lace., Auntie Mame, Pygmalion, Harvey over the years. Pat Krizmis, Gertrude and Karen did oratory and Jeanine and David did extempore. To them all I am grateful, for they made those years joyful for me. Many years later Margaret Frechette lent me her yearbooks, which brought back all the memories of those years.

The brightest students wanted to get into debate and drama. They reminded me of our own debate and speech group back in my high school. They liked doing readings and digging into debate topics. In response to their enthusiasm, I read more and more plays, looking for ones I could do ten minute cuttings from. I felt myself expanding; I was not just a nun or a teacher of algebra and geometry. I exercised new powers; I could cast students in new roles, introduce them to new imaginative worlds. I had the sense that I had something valuable to give. I saw beyond a student's face value into what he or she might be. I could seize the essential character of a person, seeing their capacity for other roles. They weren't just 14 -15-16 -17 year olds; they were Medea, Eloise, Elwood P. Dowd, Mary Queen of Scots, Joan of Arc. In discovering them I was discovering myself. I discovered that I liked to directing.

I liked to do casting with people, to see them with my imagination, to see what roles they could play in life. The wonderful thing about high school students was that they would listen to me, would take my suggestions seriously. I could make a difference in their lives. J. C. Kolb recently told me that he had never heard of Leonard Bernstein until I talked about him. I was discovering myself as a teacher. A teacher meant one who opened new worlds to a student, who gave the student the key to his own future, much as Sr. Marcella Marie had introduced me to a new world during my freshman year of college.

These students were my support group, not the community. Our success began to be reported in the Warrior, the school newspaper and was even reported in the Hammond Times. Our debaters' and speakers' success earned us points in the school community, but not in the convent community. The nuns did not value the students' opinions much; if students were enthusiastic about something, it was surely not worth the nuns' time; student approval diminished an activity, the exception being sports. But student approval energized me and enhanced my work.

Perhaps it was during that second year at Noll that I was asked to teach economic geography. Yes, that's right. The class was intended for students who couldn't take something more difficult. As I had learned bookkeeping in Flint, so now I learned geography. However, when I saw how indifferent they were even to geography I decided they needed a challenge, so I began teaching them Greek! Some of them actually perked up and seemed to enjoy the novelty.

Final profession of our band in August, 1958

During the summer of 1958 I took more courses at ND, and after the annual retreat, we made our final profession. I was very happy in the community because I had hope; I could see my future, working with the students at Noll. Religious life offered infinite possibilities of working with students as my mission in religious life.

After profession we were allowed a home visit and I took Sr. Mary Immaculate with me to Kansas City, where many changes had happened since I left in 1952. In 1955 my parents had moved into a new contemporary house on Seneca in Mission Hills, which my father had designed. When I first entered there, I felt I had moved from a black and white movie into a technicolor one. I heard about "mediterranean colors"-blues and greens and lavendars. The living room had a vast jade carpet. A large sectional wrapped around in front of an open stone fireplace. Mexican pre-colonial art was on tables. Scandinavian design predominated. I felt that I had reemerged from a long sleep of the senses into the world of art. I appreciated my parents and family as I never had before and went for a ride in my brother's Austin-Healey.

August 1958, SMI & I in my brother Joe's Austin Healey in KC.

Everyone in my family was now married. In 1957 both Kathleen and Joe had married. Kathleen and Dick Connor had a new son Keith, born March 31, 1958. I had missed that wedding but saw the pictures, with Bishop John Cody at the main table at the reception. My dad was doing a lot of building for him, as he had for Bishop O'Hara, his predecessor. Joe had graduated from ND in architecture in 1956 and was working in my dad's office. He had married Pat Graney in 1957 and their first son Michael had been born in May 1958. In June of 1958 Carol had married Bob Miller. So permanent changes had been happening within our family, and I had missed them all. I tried to pick up from where we were then in our lives. Their lives were assuming permanent shapes. Was mine permanent?

Back at Noll, 1958-60

In this home visit I gained back more of myself, rejoicing in the full lives of my parents and family. I was surrounded by things that were missing in the convent: color, art, family love, joy and fun. On the other hand, I had gained a lot on my own path. I was 27 and a successful high school teacher with debate and speech teams waiting back at Noll, looking forward to competitions.

The third year at Noll many of the same sisters returned with me: Sr. Georgia still had the Warrior, the school newspaper, Sr. Dolorine the Mission, Sr. Victorine the yearbook, Sr. Francis Jerome the Red Cross, Sr. Berenice "Le Cercle Francais," Sr. Raphaelita the National Honor Society, Sr. Good Counsel (in her debut at Noll) the Student Council. Other nuns included these English teachers: Sr. Francis Catherine, Raphaelita, Peter Julian, Berenice, Francis de Sales, Danielita, Georgia and Lois (new). Srs. Clarellen and Verona were still there. I was back in the math department, along with Sr. Clement Joseph, Agneta and some coaches. Holy Innocents ("Holy Terror" the students called her) had joined Francis Jerome and Gabrielita in commercial. Good Counsel and Scholastica were among the science teachers. Francis Catherine, Francis Jerome, Lois and Dolorine were among the social studies teachers (including 5 coaches).

By then I wasn't confined within the rotating identities of math teacher, English teacher, and occasionally Economic Geography teacher. I was established as the debate coach, like the other coaches! That year my freshmen debaters were juniors who were going around the state to contests and winning debates and medals. That year we even held the Calumet regional Forensic contest at Noll on Friday and Saturday. Twenty-two students were pictured with me in the yearbook, including John Kruzan, Pat Krizmis, Mary Lu Wadas, Margaret, Sue Adams, Pam, Jeanine, Karen, Gertrude, Dolores Rak, R. Silva, C. Koslow, Jim Seipol, D. Cole, Jim Lennertz, Carolyn Keckish, L. Grodzicki. David and John helped train them for debate, while I became more interested in the dramatic interpretations. In the 1959 yearbook the Debate Club had a two-page spread!

My students are my support group

The students were my friends, my helpers, my support group. They taught me to relax and have fun. Novelene, that engaging redhead who could move me to tears with her acting, told me that I was "swinging." She and Pam were authorities on the subject. Suellen and I laughed at all the same things. Margaret shared each of her ribbons with me. These students empowered me and I them. I was, indeed, leading an exciting life, a life not unlike any high school teacher's, traveling to other schools for tournaments. When I left the student world and returned to convent life for prayers at 5:30, a pall fell over my life. I felt unspoken criticism from the pews when I entered the chapel and genuflected. Perhaps they thought I should have been home right after school or driving them to the doctor? Perhaps they resented that I was getting out of the tedious renunciation that went along with convent life and was actually flourishing in the stimulating atmosphere of student activities. Later I faced over the dinner table the hatchet faces of Clarellen and Raphaelita, the misery of Dolorine, the bland piety of Sr. Francis de Sales, the self-pity of Sr. Scholastica, and the martyrdom of Sr. Peter Julian. Sr. Victorine and Sr. Cecile Marie alone of the older sisters seemed even remotely interested in what my students were doing, and I was chiefly interested in that. I was naively hoping for support from the community to validate my emerging self. Yet I didn't depend upon them; I had the support of my students behind me. This year also the freshman that I had started Noll with had assumed leading roles in activities as juniors. Sue Adams was a cheerleader. The operetta that year brought out Alberta Hap, Adam Gawlikowski, Margaret Frechette (in the chorus); Suellen was poised to take over the newspaper the next year.

1959: My best friend Dorothy is assigned to Noll

After another summer of classes at ND, I returned in September, 1959, for my fourth year at Noll, to an even larger debate and speech group. As Sr. Georgia had been transferred, I took over journalism and the Warrior. But the best of all was that my dear friend from college, Sr. Miriam Edward (Dorothy Murnane) was assigned to replace Sr. Berenice in French. We were a team, not quite as important as Sr. Cecile Marie and Sr. Holy Innocents, (who went shopping in Chicago at Fields as often as they could on a Saturday). My year there with Sr. Miriam Edward (Dor) turned out to be the highlight of my years on mission. We had studied together in the summer at Notre Dame. Sr. Cecile Marie, who had been Dor's superior at Twyckenham, was our superior again that year. Though she had us cleaning constantly, even stripping the varnish in the chapel during holy week, she was kindly and rather favored us--spoiled us the older sisters might say.

Many familiar faces showed up at Noll that year: Sr. Clement Joseph was again teaching the advanced math that I had taught in Michigan City. English teachers there were in abundance--Sr. Francis de Sales and Sr. Danielita had the freshmen, Sr. Agnes Regina and Sr. Francis Catherine the sophomores, Sr. Raphaelita the juniors and Sr. Peter Julian the seniors (or something like that). Sr. Scholastica taught chemistry; she was close to Sr. Francis Jerome, my roommate in the first year. Sr. Scholastica listened to classical music a lot and made a point once of telling me that I wasn't the only one who appreciated classical music. I must have done something to give her that impression. I liked Sr. Holy Innocents who taught typing and shorthand (which Dorothy later taught, as well as French). Sr. Victorine taught history; conversation with her was always interesting; she read history and biography; Francis Jerome read politics and followed baseball. Sr. Dolorine, who always talked of her health problems ( an overactive thyroid caused her eyes to protrude), taught religion and ran the sodality and mission. Sr. Miriam Edward had the French club; Suellen Hoy and Marida Highfield became her special friends.

A beautiful newly professed young sister, Marian Loretto (Donna Dries) had been assigned to Noll and had long talks with Dor, probably making the observations about the convent that I am now making. At the time I couldn't allow myself to discuss negative feelings, for I would have had to act on them. Besides, I had no time for negative feelings; I had so much positive energy which flowed out to embrace ever new students and projects. Donna Dries did leave after that year, but not I. Had she found something as rewarding as I, perhaps she wouldn't have left.

Margaret Frechette Adam Gawlikowski . . . . . .1958 Debate Club . . . . . . . . . . . . .Warrior staff, Mike & Suellen

How could I leave my pets? Dor and I each had our own outside group of friends among the students and their parents. These students or their parents gave us rides to town or to St. Mary's or to Chicago. In fact, it was through a trip to Notre Dame with Mrs. Wadas to attend the National Catholic Drama Conference with some of my drama students that I got the idea to do the Matchmaker as the senior class play. Of course, Dor had to do it with me, and we began casting, then producing The Matchmaker as the senior play in February and Sweethearts as the senior musical in April. A tradition of plays and musicals with those talented people that is still going on.

Margaret Frechette, who had been Anna in The King and I at the Marian Theatre in Whiting in the fall of 1959, was perfect as Dolly Levi in The Matchmaker. The irreverent and irrepressible Adam Gawlikowski was Horace VanderGelder; the lanky Mike Jakupcak (co-editor) was Cornelius Hackl, and naive Frank Bryja was Barnaby Tucker. Laurel Loverich was the perfect ingenue Mrs. Molloy, the "impulsive millineress," and Marida Highhfield was "her wide-eyed assistant," Minnie Fay. Bob Hart and Connie Gargas were the lovers Ambrose Kemper and Ermengarde. Carole Ann Langowski was the perfect aging beauty Flora Van Huysen; Dan Adzia enjoyed his role as the cabman. Even Suellen was in it as the cook . Her chief contribution was her irresistible laughing at everyone. She got me laughing at their characters, which I knew so well, instantly. I could cast them because I instinctively knew what their main traits were and what imagination each could bring to the role. I also knew that others would enjoy seeing them in character, that everyone would enjoy his/her part. It was my time in Shakespeare's company. Justin Clarence (JC) Kolb was the pianist. Pat Bojarski and Tom Cardis did the sets and Pat learned professional makeup from someone who helped us.. (J.C. went on to a career as a pianist. Adam Gawlikowski appeared in over 50 plays. Margaret Frechette continued her stage career and was in Steel Magnolias a few years back. Laurel Loverich also had a musical career. Sue Ellen entered the community, left, got a PhD at Harvard in history, wrote Chasing Dirt, taught off and on at Notre Dame. I found much of this out when I attended the class's 35th reunion in 1995.)

That senior year we found that Margaret Frechette was as good in tragedy as in comedy, as she showed us when she won the gold medal for first place in the state of Indiana with her dramatic reading of Medea and went to San Diego to the nationals. She claims that I called her to come to the convent one Saturday morning in June, just before she left for San Diego, to get Bishop Grutka's blessing.

I had much to look forward to for the following year. Suellen Hoy and Mike Jakupcak had been senior editors of the newspaper, and Dan Fabian, who was in journalism class had been junior editor and would be editor next year. He was also a singer and his group made a record a la the Kingston Trio. Perhaps we could look for a play with him in a leading role for the next year.. (Indeed, he starred in Brigadoon.) Everything was winding down. Suellen wrote up a senior class directory for graduation. Many new students wanted to get into debate and speech tournaments or onto the newspaper next year. Whatever we did was fun and students wanted to come aboard. I was finding talent all around: I got Pamela Powell and Novelene Yatsko into journalism as well as drama and debate. Novelene and Pam were stars, as was Jim Lennertz. I felt like a patron of the arts, helping to turn students on to literary activities.

1960 Graduation from Notre Dame, Trip to Canada and Cranbrook

The following summer at St. Mary's, inspired by our dramatic productions at Noll, I produced a musical comedy with the nuns during summer session. We performed it in Moreau Theatre. Sr. Mary Immaculate wrote it. Sr. Miriam Edward was in it and a lot of the other of our friends among the young nuns. It was a silly play about convent life, but we did it up as if it were a Broadway show with songs. As producer, I coordinated all the parts, got the permissions, got the cast, etc. The Matchmaker had given me the sense that I could do casting, directing, and production. When the curtain went down and all the nuns (including some from my missions) applauded wildly, I couldn't believe it. That summer too I finished my master's degree in English. Graduation was in August, so my parents and my brother came for it. By this time Ivan Mestrovic the sculptor, was at ND, so my father was interested in seeing his studio and work. Joe and I got into a picture of the famous "Touchdown Jesus" piece by Mestrovic.

After graduation I had permission to go with my parents to Windsor, Ontario to the Shakespeare Festival. Sr. Mary Immaculate, who by then was programming the Artist and Lecture series at St. Mary's College and arranged for the tickets, went with us. Of course I wanted Dorothy to come as well.. (She finished her MA in French in 1963). It was my first travel outside the country, and my first Shakespeare festival! Christopher Plummer (who was staying across from us) and Julie Harris were starring. HMS Pinafore was the operetta, directed by Tyrone Guthrie. Dorothy and I, flush from our theatrical debuts at Noll were amazed at the production. SMI was an old hand. She was definitely the kind of old nun I wanted to become. On the way home my dad wanted to see Cranbrook Institute of Design, by Eliel Saarinen, outside Detroit, another eye-opener to me of what was going on in the world of design.

We couldn't wait to get back to Noll. We were sure we'd both be reassigned.

Mission Life II