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Sister David Ellen Van Dyke

Sister David Ellen Van Dyke

“And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.” (John 15:19b)

“In a small spiral-bound appointment book, Sister David Ellen referenced the portion of St. John’s Gospel we have just heard. Here she has recorded notes from retreats or passages from her reading that spoke to her, giving us insights into the heart and soul of the modest, unassuming sister we all knew. It has been said that we are what we read. If that is true, these passages culled from her reading of Scripture as well as many of the great spiritual writers, give us a rare view of that inner self where Sister David Ellen lived her life with God,” said Sister Mary Roger Madden in her commentary for Sister David Ellen Van Dyke, who died July 9.

“Sister David Ellen rarely speaks directly of herself in these notes, but when she does she is straight forward and unambiguous. In one instance she writes: ‘What do people think of me? I know not. And it matters little. But what am I? That’s the question.’ And later: ‘The moments when I am most really myself are the moments when I feel most keenly the presence of God within me.’ And again ‘What God desires in all things is that we should be most true to ourselves.’ These reflections should not be seen as a sign of over self-absorption but as the early signs of a deep search for God,” continued Sister Mary Roger.

Luella Mae Van Dyke entered this world March 12, 1929, in Chicago to Peter and Minnie (Golnau) Van Dyke. She had one sibling. She attended St. Genevieve Grade School, Chicago, and graduated secondary school from Notre Dame High School, also in Chicago. Sister David Ellen entered the Congregation July 22, 1947, and professed first and perpetual vows Jan. 23, 1950 and 1955, respectively. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and a master’s degree in education from Indiana State University.

Sister David Ellen began teaching at St. Paul, Sellersburg, Ind., in 1950. Her teaching missions were all in Indiana except for a brief stint at Blessed Sacrament in Burlington, N.C. Her other pedagogical missions in Indiana included St. Andrew and St. Matthew, Indianapolis; Holy Trinity, New Albany; St. Rose, Vincennes; St. John, Evansville; Annunciation, Brazil; and Sacred Heart, Terre Haute.

“She began her long love affair with Sacred Heart Parish in Terre Haute” in 1962, said Sister Mary Roger. Sister David Ellen ministered in the school as a teacher or principal at various times in the 1960s, 1970s and 1990s.

“In 1983, Sister David Ellen’s life took a new and potentially disconcerting twist. She was called to come to the Woods to assist the aging Sister Cecile [Morse, RIP], who had served for over 40 years as community printer in the Providence Printery. After two years, Sister Cecile retired and Sister David Ellen took over the management of the Printery,” said Sister Mary Roger.

“During the span of time between 1983 and 1988, Sister David Ellen wore many hats, usually at least two at a time. Printer, manager of the Printery, coordinator of the Sewing Department and clerk in Central Services. In 1988 she was elected councilor to the Provincial of Sacred Heart Province which consisted primarily of the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods community. In 1990, with the Congregation’s return to centralized government, she remained for two more years at Saint Mary’s as administrator of Providence Hall,” continued Sister Mary Roger.

Sister David Ellen then returned to Sacred Heart School for another 10 years as principal.

“A serious stroke in 2002 brought her back to the Woods and Health Care,” said Sister Mary Roger.

“These last years of diminishment may seem like a harsh, even cruel, resolution for a life of such generosity and self-giving. But we turn to what she wrote in her notebook on this subject and we read: ‘The unpurified soul cannot be happy. There is no happiness without pain: no purification without suffering. Thus we have the paradox that through suffering the soul is purified and achieves true happiness in union with God.’

“So although for those of us who loved her and cared for her these years have been difficult, we think that from her perspective it was a different picture. Let her tell us how she saw it: ‘The threads of the tapestry of life that look so unsightly and so hopelessly entangled begin to reveal a firm design of order and beauty. The interrelation of circumstances that to another would look wholly unconnected becomes apparent.’

“We call this Divine Providence,” concluded Sister Mary Roger.

The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated July 14, with her nephew, the Rev. Michael Class, SJ, presiding. She was preceded in death by her sister.

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar Ashley Powell (Osborne) on March 10, 2021 at 8:38 pm

    Sister David Ellen was my grandmothers closest friend. Growing up, there are very few memories that don’t include Sister David Ellen. She was such a wonderful addition to our family. She cared for us so much and did so much for my grandparents. I always enjoyed spending time with her. I am forever thankful for her love and feel so blessed that she was such a huge part of my life. She is missed so much more than she knows.

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