Sister Nancy Nolan
Years in the Congregation: 57
Contact Sister Nancy at: NNolan@spsmw.org.
Q. What do you like best about Saint Mary-of-the-Woods? A. It’s integral to who we are. It’s home.
Q. Name one thing you miss about being a child. A. Getting out and being more active.
Q. On weekends, I love to … A. Relax, be with friends, watch Sister Dawn clean house.
Q. I am passionate about … A. Sisters of Providence and our mission.
Q. What the world needs now … A. Is love sweet love. One of my ministries is responding to prayer requests that come through our website. People write about family and financial problems, sickness and loss. It is amazing how grateful they are for a few caring words and the promise of prayers.
Q. Why did you choose to become a Sister of Providence?
A. I was born in Galesburg, Illinois, and the Sisters of Providence went to Galesburg to teach in 1879 at St. Joseph Academy. My mother and her three sisters all went there to school. They came in from the farm and boarded at the school during the week. My grandfather’s sister, Sister Modesta Nolan, joined the Sisters of Providence, so the Sisters were always important to our family. My memory is in fourth grade when Sister asked what we wanted to be when we grew up and I knew I wanted to be a Sister. I know I was influenced by the sisters who taught me. That is important because my two sisters joined the community before I did, but I remembered I wanted to join before they did.
Q. What was it like when you arrived here?
A. There were 24 of us who entered in February of 1955. We wore the old habit and kept the 5 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. schedule. As postulants we took classes, as canonical novices had instructions and employments. Sister Jean Fuqua and I made altar breads. In scholastic year, more classes. The winds of change were already in the air however as our group was the first to stay at home for two more years and finish college.
Q. With your sisters here, was it harder or easier for you?
A. Oh, I think it was easier. They were always watching out for me. In those days, we all taught school. They thought I’d start out as a primary teacher. We always would decorate our classrooms. We had what we called in those days board corners in the primary grades. My first class was in Indianapolis — sixth and seventh grades, so I never could use any of their board corners. In community there is a “sisterlyness” among us but a blood connection is special.
Q. What do you value most about the ministries that you have had?
A. What I really value is the relationships through the years: the relationships with the sisters I lived with and the relationships with the students and parents. I don’t think there is any place I have ever been that I have not continued some relationships. Something that was important in my life were the mentors I had from the sisters who taught with me. We had graduated from college but that didn’t mean we knew how to teach. Older sisters kept an eye out for the new ones and helped and gave tips along the way.
Q. You have the experience of being general superior, an experience that few sisters have had. What was that like for you?
A. Certainly, it was the greatest privilege of my life. I felt very honored to be in that position. And I said many times that it probably was the best 10 years of my life. It was during that time that we celebrated our sesquicentennial, which, I think, was a great moment for our history. We worked on getting the cause for Mother Theodore to go forward. And, most important, we deepened our understanding of Providence spirituality and its relationship to our charism.
Q. Do you remember what it was like when you were elected general superior?
A. Yes, I was happy, humbled and overwhelmed.
Q. Why would a woman today enjoy being a Sister of Providence?
A. Number one, I think, is the opportunity to be with other women of faith, be a part of something bigger than themselves, to live with women who strive to see the same future as how we as Sisters of Providence carry out our mission. We are women who aren’t afraid to be challenged, to grow, and to change.
Q. What role does prayer have in your life?
A. Prayer, as conversation with God, I think is the foundation to any woman religious. It’s certainly changed in terms of ways, shapes and actions through the years, but it’s always there. It’s an integral part of your personal life, but also your community life.
Q. How important to you is the community lifestyle that the Sisters of Providence have?
A. Once again it’s a relationship. I remember when I was in high school. We had a book on justice. I can remember the definition it gave: justice is right relationship. That was back in the 1950s. Today, we still talk about right relationship with God, with one another, with Earth. I feel like that’s a part of our mission. How we live our lifestyle is part of our mission.
Q. How much influence does Saint Mother Theodore have for you?
A. In the novitiate, we had a course on Mother Theodore, but it never affected my life in the way it did in the 1980s and 1990s when we were looking to revive our charism, when we celebrated our 150th year and Mother Theodore moved forward toward canonization. It’s a living spirit that really, I think, is essential to who we are.
Q. What is the most important thing in your life right now?
A. The Sisters of Providence, of course, are the most important thing; my participation in community, how we are with one another, how we are for others is so closely intertwined with me in who I am.
Q. Of all the things you learned from your parents, what do you believe was the most valuable?
A. Probably the importance of faith and family.
Q. Have there been any world events that have particular impact on you?
A. Well, 9/11 certainly did. I was at Guerin Prep (in River Grove, Ill.). I can still remember I was supposed to go to a meeting and I was actually supposed to pick up someone at the airport. I remember calling the school because I was on my way to the airport. I wanted to make sure they knew. Then I went back to the school to plan an assembly to talk to the students. We told them the United States had been attacked. Some started to cry. One girl’s father worked in the Sears Tower and she thought it would be hit. We tried not to frighten them.
FavoritesQuote: “When caution is everywhere, courage is nowhere to be found. We shall die yet of prudence you will see.” – Cardinal Suenens, Second Vatican Council
Book: Leadership and the New Science by Margaret Wheatley
TV program: 60 Minutes and Person of Interest
Sport: Chicago Cubs; they foster patience and hope. (Any team can have a bad century!)