By: Sr. Jean Marie Cleveland, O.S.F.
During my senior year in high school, I felt a call to religious life. Since I attended Little Flower Elementary School and Scecina Memorial High School and they were each taught by Sisters from Oldenburg, I decided to join them. I did not know any other Sisters and appreciated the care and concern I felt they had for each other and for us students. Little things like laughter, teasing, joy, and care made an impression on me. I knew that they cared for us because they showed us through their actions in the classroom, in the halls, and everywhere we met.
At Oldenburg we learned stories about St Francis and St Clare. Most of their works had not been translated into English so did not have the major documents. The translations began to happen after Vatican II asked Religious to go back to their roots and learn from them. Gradually we became more and more familiar with Francis and Clare. For example: we did not know the San Damiano Crucifix, which all at Marian should recognize because it is in so many places. It was in the Convent adjacent to the Saint Clare basilica in Assisi and was not available to the public until one of the Popes asked that it be put into the basilica so that the world would know it.
Today I know so much more than I did when I was a senior. I have had the opportunity to visit Assisi for a pilgrimage. I have attended workshops and done reading about Franciscan life. I know that Francis and Clare centered their lives on Jesus Christ and His Gospel message. Franciscans treasure The Crib, The Cross, and The Eucharist. Conversion, Poverty, Contemplation, and Minority are key characteristics we strive to adopt in our lives.
We Oldenburg Franciscans have always tried to respond to the needs of the times. Mother Theresa Hackelmeier came to America at age 24 because she heard a call to come to a small village to teach young German immigrant children. Gradually the Sisters responded to needs in other rural areas around Oldenburg. We branched out to Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St Louis, and other cities. Eventually we found ourselves in China, on the Crow, Cheyenne, and Navaho reservations and in Papua, New Guinea. Several Sisters worked in South Korea and Africa.
When the need arose, we trained Sisters to be social workers, counselors, pastoral workers, and nurses. We ministered to prisoners and in inner city. We taught teachers at Oldenburg beginning in 1851 and formed Marian College from St Francis Normal School and Immaculate Conception Junior College in 1936. Marian College moved to Indianapolis in 1937 and located on the James Allison estate. Today six Sisters are teachers or staff members at Marian. Another seven Sisters serve on Marian’s Board of Trustees.
When I became a Sister, there were not many careers which were open to women. I chose to go to Oldenburg because I felt called to religious life and because I wanted to become a teacher. I did not know that I would find a family which would be a support my whole life. I did not know that I would teach with the teachers I had in school and would be the principal for some of them. I did not know I would be a teacher, a principal, a pastoral associate, a parish life coordinator, a member of the leadership team for my community, involved in national organizations, and work at Marian. I had no real idea that I would meet thousands of students and parishioners. I did not know that I would grow to appreciate living in community and having friends of all ages.
I had some idea of these things but did not realize what an impact they would have on my life. I value the friends I have made in my life as a Sister of Saint Francis. I thank God for a community with whom I can share prayer and dreams – sorrows and joys. I thank God for each of you and how you impact my life today.