The Sisters always have had a warm relationship with the family members of the daughter who becomes a Sister. Years ago, the Sisters provided college and university educations to each new member. The young women often entered at 18-20 years of age. Parents wanted to help with the expenses of the daughters’ education and told the Sisters to “expect a Windfall!” Through their efforts one of the best events for fund-raising began. A whole Saturday was devoted to arranging donated pieces in the Divine Savior High School gym for an auction! There was food and fun, but the best part for the families was to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the Sisters! Parents longed to know more about their own daughter’s life and this way could ask, as one mother recalled, “my million questions.” Windfall became an annual event and drew a large audience. Salvatorian Sisters were seen to be ordinary, educated and a lot of fun.
New parents of the Sisters-to-be were invited to associate with other parents in a group called The Parent Guild. Today we would say it carried the mission of the Sisters to many more people. Once in awhile a panel made from the parents and 1-2 Sisters new to the life as a Sister would speak in a Catholic Parish to explain what the daughter’s life would look life if she chose religious life. The panel included both a mother and a dad of a daughter in the community, but also a parent whose daughter had left religious life if it was not the life she thought best for herself. The panel also had a Sister who was quite young to the life style – we would say she was in initial formation – and an experienced Sister who worked with the young women who stayed or left the convent. This was one of the best ways to “normalize” convent life and what their questions as parents would be. There were times of laughter during the panel discussions and sometimes the audience, “held their breath” when a question was asked that seemed very personal! The honesty and frankness of panel members was very poignant and put others at ease with the answers.
The Sisters were generous in the times that were given to young Sisters to visit at home. Usual times were the Christmas holidays and a week during the summer months. I remember going home at Christmas when my only brother had just been adopted by my parents. It was more fun to me to see Mickey in our home than it would have been to visit in a room at the convent. He was so excited to see the Christmas tree “turned on” with all the lights glowing that at 3 ½ years old he was speechless! Another time I was home for the day after Easter and got out of bed when he was screaming that the family’s small dog had just swallowed a two pound chocolate rabbit and Fido was going to die because it would kill the dog for sure! I rushed into the living room and caught the dog so that I could pull the rabbit head-first from its throat. I became Mickey’s hero for that visit!
There also were monthly “visiting Sunday afternoons” for families of young Sisters. Before the 1:00 PM visit began, folding chairs had been arranged in the backyard of St. Mary’s Convent. You saw a circle of chairs under the orchard trees and the families came and waited a few more minutes – all of them looking toward the back door! At 1:15 on the dot, a flood of Sisters appeared, running to find their families! Later in the afternoon, pitchers of lemonade and plates of cookies were carried from the convent kitchen to each group of families. Only at 4:00 were there some tears from the mothers or the Sister-daughters – because another month seemed like forever until the next visit!
These are a few of the ways that our Sisters made sure the parents felt good about their daughter’s chosen life.
By Sr. Karlyn Cauley, SDS