Several weeks ago, in celebration of the Year of Consecrated Life called by Pope Francis, which began the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 30, 2015, and will end Feb. 2, 2016, the World Day of Consecrated Life, we invited readers to tell us about the religious in their lives who have left a lasting impact.

Men and women living in consecrated life are sisters, brothers, priests who belong to a religious order where they have made public vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and can be lay people, such as consecrated virgins who profess a vow of virginity that is received by the bishop.

Because we received so many wonderful entries — which certainly speaks to the impact men and women religious have had upon our community — we anticipate publishing more of them before the Year of Consecrated Life concludes.

Following are the winning entries.

Shorthand skilled sister inspiration for secretarial career

I guess I was one of the “lucky” Catholic school students. I had wonderful, joyful, educated nuns throughout my entire Catholic school years.  

But the nun who started me in my career path was Sr. Rosaire. It was at St. Wenceslaus School and we were in a temporary classroom for the fourth grade. There were so many students that we couldn’t all fit in school.

Because she was removed from the building, the principal would frequently send her messages by way of a student. When Sr. Rosaire would get a message from the “office,” she would notate the information as a reminder to herself on the blackboard. She did it in shorthand!

I thought that was the neatest thing I’d ever seen and was determined to learn it. I did learn shorthand and typing and spent my early working days as a secretary.

I loved the job and was never sorry to have started with shorthand. It was a skill I used repeatedly for over 50 years.

Diane Sobotik
St. Mary of the Hill Parish, Hubertus

Sr. Karen models Dominican hospitality

I had the privilege of attending St. Mary Catholic School in Kenosha during my grade school years. I have never forgotten my first-grade teacher, Racine Dominican Sr. Karen (M. Annuncia) Vollmer. I remember so well her immaculate white habit and her youthful energy.

Sister always had statues and pictures of Mary and the saints around the classroom which inspired me.

She gave me a large family Bible which we kept on a special stand in our home for many years. When Sr. Karen was transferred to another school after my first grade, she came back to attend my first Communion.

My family has stayed in touch with Sr. Karen throughout the years and she even attended the first Communions of my children.

Sister has always shown a genuine concern and love for me and my family. Whenever I go to Siena Center in Racine, Sr. Karen always welcomes us and shows Dominican hospitality by inviting us to stay for a meal.

I love Siena Center and often just come to spend quiet time with the Lord.

Sr. Karen taught me as a child that one should be joyful in the Lord. She still has that wonderful smile and energy that made me love her in first grade and even today, warms my heart. God was good to bring this beautiful Sister and the Racine Dominican community into my life.

Susan Setter-Sheard
St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Kenosha

Priest shared secret of keeping joy in apostolic life

The religious that I wish to write about is Dominican Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe. He founded a religious order, the Community of St. John, in France in 1975. I entered the order as a postulant in Texas in 1996, and I was sent to France in 1997 to enter the novitiate.

There were over 100 novices from many countries in the novitiate. Occasionally, a novice would be able to spend about 10 minutes with Fr. Philippe, talking to him personally. This was considered a special time and a privilege.

On one such occasion, I dared to ask Fr. Philippe the following question: “What is the secret of keeping one’s joy in the apostolic life?”

After laughing to himself, he answered very precisely. His answer was, “The Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

I always thought his answer was insightful. Later, when I decided to leave as a novice, I requested that he sign a book that he had authored. He wrote (here translated from French), “Dear Daniel, may Mary, Throne of Wisdom, be always more your Mother.”

Fr. Phillipe passed away in 2006.  

Daniel Vogel
St. Josaphat Parish, Milwaukee

‘Role model for kids’ changed way mom prays

I’ve had so many wonderful sisters and priests in my life that it’s hard to narrow it down to just one. So I’ll narrow it down to two.

Fr. Christopher Collins is a Jesuit priest who I met before he was a priest, when he was a college student at a Halloween party, dressed as a priest.

Fr. Collins is so happy and full of joy that it spills over and comes out in his contagious chuckle. He has been a great role model for my kids, a man of faith who appears to have the world by the tail. He wrote a book recently, “3 Moments of the Day” that changed the way I pray.

I have a new sense of peace and a much closer relationship to Jesus; Fr. Collins has me talking to Jesus all day long, in “my prayers, works, joys and sufferings.” 

Another priest who made a lasting impact on my faith life is Fr. John Burns, a diocesan priest. He came to our parish when he was fresh out of the seminary. He was, and continues to be, on fire with his faith. In so many of his homilies, he’d say, “You guys! If you can do just this one thing, you’ll be amazed at how rich your lives will be…” So he’d send us on our way with just one little task for the week, but he did it often, and those little things added up to make a big difference. He also was a wonderful role model to my kids.

Ann Baker
Christ King Parish, Wauwatosa 

Sisters exemplified God’s love

Discovering fascinating Bible stories, creating art with images of Mary, learning to write with flowing penmanship, helping fix worn textbooks after school – these are among the many Catholic school memories that I have treasured for more than 67 years.

Little did I know that the happiness I experienced then would make such a lasting impression on my life. And I have two special nuns, Franciscans Sr. Blanche Marie and Sr. Donald Marie, to thank for it.

No matter how busy the day at St. Peter and Paul School, they started it with a prayer after our greeting, “Good morning, Sister!”

My day still starts with a prayer. They explained carefully and patiently when we didn’t understand something. Remembering their example, I’ve tried to do the same for my family and my students. They taught us respect for each other and for our faith, a big part of my life ever since.

They showed us, too, that life is joyous – that there is time for fun as well as for learning. We put on plays for the pastor’s feast day, we belted out “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” to win a neighboring school competition, we picnicked in the park on the last day of school.

Their presence and caring were important to us, but like all children, we often took them for granted. It was later, in reflecting on our early school days, that we realized the most valuable thing we had gotten from them. It truly was God’s love.

Judy Roller
St. William Parish, Waukesha

Multi-tasking priest is true Francisan who takes everything in stride

Fr. Ambrose Simon, a Capuchin Franciscan, has had a significant impact on my life. He has led by his example. One example was his witness of praying at the abortion clinic every Wednesday, year after year, hot or cold, with never a complaint.

While there, he multi-tasked. If he wasn’t hearing confession while standing under the bridge or in a car, he was forming those of us there to pray. One example of this was his encouragement to read the book, “Dressing with Dignity.” I read it and entirely eliminated slacks from my wardrobe.

When he knew it was time to stop driving, he simply did just that. It was not a big deal to him. Then came the move to assisted living … and again, not a big deal.

An even greater change was when his medical condition led to surgery, a feeding tube and no longer taking food by mouth. This didn’t phase Father in the slightest. A true Franciscan, he takes everything in stride and carries on – praying.

He even still celebrates Mass every day with his fellow priests at the assisted living home. Despite not having an altar in the upstairs chapel, Father uses a table in an adjacent room. He makes do … without complaining.

In his youth, Father was a missionary in Nicaragua. He told us stories of the primitive means of eating, of walking or riding a horse to various towns. He baptized and married countless souls there. His reward was malaria. He loved serving the Lord … and still does.

Diane Jacobson

Banister-sliding Sister left impression on teenage students

In my freshman year in high school we were lucky enough to have a wonderful Franciscan nun assigned to us, Sr. Adrianna. She was young, pretty, and exceptionally smart. And fun!

She taught math and science, was about 6’ tall, had a sense of humor, and was the first nun to treat us like people, almost adults, and explain things to us in ways that we could really understand. She even answered our questions about faith, the church, the Bible, religious history, and about being a nun and about her as a person.

She showed us being a nun was fun, interesting and rewarding.

She traveled in her assignments, more than any other nun we ever knew.

She talked a little about her family and in so doing, bridged the gap between being a Catholic schoolgirl and the life of a nun – making it feasible for those of us who had ever thought about joining a convent.

She was just like us – went to school, had a family life, and decided to give her life to God. If she could do it, maybe some us could, too.

We had many other nuns, of course, but they were older and didn’t talk to us like Sr. Adrianna did. Being closer to our age, we could relate to her.

She was a force to be reckoned with though; she expected respect and politeness and let you know when you had crossed the line.

She made her mark in the building and with Mother Superior, also the principal. Her fun side came out one afternoon after the school day when she thought everyone had gone except for a few of us who lingered; she slid down the banister of the long stairwell in our old condemned building. Of course, Mother was at the bottom and saw the whole escapade. Her “Sister, I need to see you in my office” echoed in the halls and made us fearful that poor Sr. Adrianna would be scrubbing floors all night.

She was also famous for the smells emanating from her chemistry lab from her various experiments – especially the ones that didn’t go too well, like the day she created a minor explosion. Fear of blowing up the building prevented, a repeat performance.

I lost track of Sister after I graduated, just knew she was transferred. But I have thought of her often all these years, grateful for her patience in teaching me, and prayed for her, hoping she continued to inspire and teach, and show the grace of God in all she did, as she did with me. 

Pat Mich
St. Anne Parish, Pleasant Prairie