Register Readers Respond: Religious Sisters Changed My Life
Beautiful, life-changing stories and memories reflect impact of those called to a special vocation.
When the Register asked readers to share their stories of how sisters have affected their lives, stories immediately flowed in. The steady surge of heartfelt responses proved both enlightening and inspiring in a cultural climate when nuns and sisters do not receive the appreciation they deserve.
Accept the greatest of thanks to everyone who responded and shared beautiful, life-changing stories and memories, all of which should touch the hearts and inspire readers and listeners, though not all could be shared or every detail included.
David Jackson in Vancouver, Washington, told the Register how he came to know Franciscan Sister Thérèse Improgo, who greatly blessed his life when he “came back into the Church in 2001.” He described her as “a tiny Filipino nun who is part of the community at Our Lady of Peace Retreat Center in Beaverton, Oregon. Despite her small stature, she is a spiritual giant who has guided and inspired me on many occasions. She taught me how to use lectio divina as a form of prayer. I’ve always been bolstered by her amazing, joyous disposition. I love how she constantly refers to Jesus as ‘my husband.’ I know her prayers for me have been powerful. She embodies her patron, Thérèse of Lisieux, in her humility yet obvious zeal for Our Lord. I feel blessed and loved by God for having him brought this amazing soul into my life.”
Molly Treadwell in San Diego is among many respondents who have found the smallest lessons unforgettable. When she was 12, she transferred from public school to St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Santa Ana, California. She explained, “I was the only new person in the sixth-grade class, a group that had been together since kindergarten. Our teacher that year, Sister Frances Irene, was also new to the school.” It was Sister Frances’ first year teaching, in fact. Having something in common, the two were walking across the playground one day, “and she bent down to pick up a straw that had been thrown on the asphalt and she said, ‘I am doing this for the love of Jesus.’”
Treadwell was “amazed and somewhat shocked at her declaration, as I had never heard anyone talk about personally loving Jesus and, secondly, connecting it to an action of theirs.”
Treadwell was brought up in a Catholic home where they only said grace before dinner and attended Mass on Sunday. But sister’s example “was a completely new revelation to me,” Molly wrote, “and it stirred in my heart a longing to love Jesus as she did. … That was more than 60 years ago, but it began, I believe, the beginning of my search for the love of God, and it has never left my heart. Thank you, Sister Frances Irene!”
First Communion Memories
Marge Lukas in Baltimore shared a similar impact Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Faith Marie had on her life. Lukas recalled being among children ready to practice for first Holy Communion. Everyone was quiet and nervous, as this would be the first practice approaching the altar to receive Our Lord.
“Sister motioned for each row to stand together, turn and face the aisle,” Lukas recounted. “She reminded us how to hold our hands prayerfully. Then each of us exited the pew, slowly and with reverence toward the altar rail. Sister stopped me while exiting the pew. She stooped down, smiled and whispered a question, ‘Would you like to please God, Margaret?’ I nodded ‘Yes’ vigorously and said, ‘Yes, Sister.’ She softly and sweetly asked, ‘See where your hands are?’ I looked down and nodded. My hands were folded as directed, but at waist level. She gently placed her hand under my hands and raised them just ever so much. She smiled, looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Raise them that little bit for Him. It is easy to please God, Margaret. Can you do that with all your heart, giving Him that small but loving bit?’ I answered, ‘Yes.’”
Lukas continued that “what this sweet young sister did not know” was a night or two before, she did something quite by accident that would likely make her sibling, a sister, angry at her. Quickly, she knelt and prayed, “God will I ever make you happy? Will I ever please You?”
“I never dreamt that, a few days later, I would learn how to please him, and that it was easy,” Lukas added. “It was little things to offer and give Him. A lifetime of offering is what Sister taught me and gave me. My life and relationship with God has been enriched and blessed by her sweet openness to the Holy Spirit.”
Sharon Conklin of Steubenville, Ohio, also described preparing to receive her first Holy Communion with hundreds of other public-school children attending CCD classes taught by the Dominican sisters from Amityville, New York.
Conklin said she owes to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, New York, who taught her in sixth through eighth grades in Sacred Heart Seminary and Sacred Heart Academy, “whatever good I have accomplished as a wife, mother, teacher, citizen and pro-life activist. It was the Sisters of St. Joseph who gave me an intellectual and faith foundation so strong that I was able to recognize and avoid the craziness that accompanied Vatican II in my ‘Catholic’ college in the early ’60s. It was the Sisters of St. Joseph who formed in me a vision of ‘Valiant Womanhood’ and challenged me to live that vision for Christ in the unseen, quiet moments as well as the public, in the minute daily choices and the difficult, even terrifying, life-changing choices.”
Now in her “sunset years,” Conklin often thinks “of those sisters who loved us enough to challenge us and modeled so well a valiant love for our dear Lord. I pray I have been a worthy student.”
Many readers have similar memories about the indelible impressions the sisters had on them and the lessons they learned from early in life and retained and that made a world of difference for them today.
“I was blessed to have received private religious education from a sister when I was a child,” wrote Joachim Rick from Decatur, Georgia. He grew up in a house without a mother, and because of some behavior problems, he was not allowed to be in his second-grade CCD class when the children were preparing for first Communion.
“My father brought me to the local Catholic women’s college in Wilmette, Illinois, where I received private tutoring from a Sister Renee,” he explained. “Sister Renee was instrumental in my faith formation at a young age. She taught me to appreciate the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and inspired in me a deep reverence for his Blessed Mother. Sister Renee taught me about the sacraments, and I especially think about her each time I receive an additional sacrament (confirmation and holy matrimony, so far). I am sad that I’ve lost touch with Sister Renee, but I’m grateful for what she did, and I keep her in my prayers.”
Through their prayers and kind attention, sisters have brought many to the Catholic faith. Marjorie, from Canada, who is currently living in the Netherlands, recalled how she was invited in 2020 to a Carmelite convent for a retreat. An atheist, she “went reluctantly,” simply to support a friend who really wanted to go. Things turned out differently than expected. There, she said she “received the grace from God to open my eyes and my heart to things I had openly denied and rejected for many, many years. That was the start of many more experiences that ultimately led me to accept everything about the Catholic faith and to believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. My life took a complete and radical 180-degree turn, and I’ve never felt more at peace and happy.”
When the retreat ended, those attending were informed that a cloistered Carmelite nun at the convent was praying for each one individually. “To this day, I don’t know specifically which nun prayed for me,” Marjorie said, “but I’m forever grateful that she was praying for me, for my conversion, in the days leading up to the retreat and during the retreat. When Catholic nuns and sisters pray, something incredible and powerful happens, even though sometimes we may not see the effects or results of those prayers, as in my case.”
“They have even inspired me to consider consecrated religious life — me, a former atheist now an ardent lover of Jesus Christ,” she added. “This is thanks to the intercessory prayers of Catholic nuns and sisters, but in my case of one specific Carmelite cloistered nun. Thanks be to God for these beautiful, strong and dedicated women.”
Joan Lai from Malaysia wanted to honor Franciscan Sister Bernard, who is also her aunt, for bringing her to the Catholic faith. She was baptized, but grew up with grandparents whose religion was ancestral worship.
One day, “out of nowhere, it seemed like a vision, there was my Aunty Sister Bernard on the doorstep, looking for me. My mother must have asked her to check on me. Aunty Sister Bernard did more than that: She brought me to church every Sunday, made sure I attended catechesis for my first Holy Communion and confirmation, and always invited me to stay with her in the convent during school holidays.” Consequently, Lai became strong in her faith.
Kim Wilcox of Florence, South Carolina, was brought up Protestant until she met her “best friend and husband of 26 years” when she was 15. She began attending Mass with her boyfriend and his family at St. Charles Catholic Church in Lima, Ohio.
“One Sunday, I heard a voice call my name from the altar. Jesus was calling me home to the Catholic Church,” she explained. “My heart yearned for full communion with the Lord through the Eucharist. I asked my boyfriend’s mom to be my sponsor and go to RCIA with me.”
On the first night of RCIA, she met Father Art and Sister Jonine, who “had such a holy presence surrounding her, like a mantle filled with God’s grace, just like Mother Mary,” Wilcox continued. They “connected instantly. … Sister Jonine would explain the Catholic faith so well that her words glistened like the stars above.”
In 1995, Sister Jonine was present at the Wilcoxes’ wedding. “Shortly, thereafter, sister had passed away.” Wilcox reminisced, “Sister Jonine impacted my life just with her presence, kindness, love and understanding. If it wasn’t for her, RCIA would not have been such a pivotal part of my life” — so much so that Sister Jonine was one of the two people who inspired Wilcox “to become a [recently retired] director of religious education.”
Sisters have inspired countless vocations, too. Father Patrick Beidelman, a priest in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, wanted to “celebrate the witness and service of Sister of Providence Frances Joan Baker of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Her care, compassion and wisdom as my fourth-grade teacher and her friendship and prayerful support throughout my discernment and formation for the priesthood were an inspiration to me,” he wrote. “She lived a prayerful life of service with humility and a generous spirit. She was kind, selfless and full of hope, and I will strive to imitate her example of discipleship for the rest of my life.”
Similarly, Benjamin Duphiney described how, as a high-school sophomore in 2016, he would go after school to meet the sisters attending a college for nuns opened in the old convent on the premises of his high school in New Jersey. They had come from the developing world to learn English. He had always wanted to go to Africa and, looking for service opportunities, asked Sister Cecilia, a Little Sister of St. Francis from Uganda, if he could help. With her superior’s permission, he said, “In August of 2017, my dad, Sister Cecilia and I traveled to Soroti, Uganda. We stayed for just under two weeks, and it changed my life. Looking back, it was the first authentic witness to the Franciscan life. The sisters were simple women who prayed, worked hard, laughed, and led over 3,000 students across three schools. I prayed with the sisters and watched them interact with the surrounding community. … When we returned back to school, I remember thinking that I could not live my life for myself. However, I was going to live my life, it was going to be lived for others. Everything changed that day. … I desired to bring others closer to Christ because Christ had found me.”
Today, in Philadelphia, Duphiney is a postulant for the Capuchin Franciscans in the Province of St. Augustine, ready to begin his novitiate year in California. “I am fully convinced,” he wrote, “that I am here only because of religious sisters, namely Sister Cecilia.”
Several people value a sister’s help during troubled times the saving presence in their lives.
Catherine Fahey, in Hanover Township, Pennsylvania, credits Sister Sophia Peters, a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist, for her help. “She transformed my life, and was (and still is) one of the Lord’s main instruments of redemption and entering the Divine Life in my life.” Among sister’s attributes were her love, incredible patience and understanding. Fahey wrote, “Her spiritual maternity invited me into the Heart of God, creating a space within her spiritual womb of encountering my true identity: that of a beloved adopted daughter of God.”
Patricia Molseed in Springfield, Virginia, found a way to honor some of the many sisters who have been in her life the past 20 years. She selected one sister or religious order per day to feature in a Facebook post.
One day, she honored the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration for their gift of making the first low-gluten host, and “thus allow myself and others with Celiac to partake in the Lord’s Supper,” she posted. On another day, it was “Sister Analiza Pacheco Juan (Sister Annie) of the Sisters of Our Lady of La Salette, who manages the local Catholic Charities homeless shelter/soup kitchen/food bank where we have had the pleasure of volunteering for the past 12 years.”
Another day’s post honored “the beautiful Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, who lovingly ran and taught our last two children at St. John Paul the Great High School. What a blessing and rarity to have religious sisters’ presence and influence daily … to foster our children’s faith.” And there were Sister Deirdre Byrne and Sister Michael Bochnowski, director of religious education for more than 30 years, too. Molseed said, “Our children received early Catholic education and sacraments under her direction. She is a strong presence and faithful stability for military families that move frequently.”
Doug Kelchner of Chula Vista, California, fondly remembers the Sisters of Divine Mercy at St. Joseph’s School in Berwick, Pennsylvania, where he grew up; credits the sisters for providing him “a foundation of faith that has remained with me and increased even to this day,” he wrote, adding, “I credit the sisters for much of the success in my life as a son, a husband, father, Knight of Columbus and Catholic war veteran.”
He even keeps a collection of items he saved from those early days, like a note from Sister Mary Leocadia to each student before summer break reminding them to say their prayers, go to Mass and confession, read, do works of mercy, and pray for her as she was going to pray for all of them.
Kelchner said, “May God bless our sisters, and may the sisters who formed me all those years ago have earned their eternal reward and be at rest in peace and in the arms of Jesus.”
This story was updated after posting.