Sister Pauline Brockelsby
“In the Book of Psalms, we read:
(66) Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
Come and see what God’s deeds among mortals. …
Bless our God, O peoples,
Let the praise of the Holy One be heard,
who has kept us among the living,
and has not let our feet slip.
For you, O God, have tested us,
You have tried us as silver is tried;
You brought us into the net
You laid burdens on our backs. …
We went through fire and through water;
Yet you have brought us out to a spacious place. …
I will pay you my vows,
those that my mouth promised …
Come and heart, all you who fear God
And I will tell what the Holy One has done for me.
Truly God has listened and has given heed
To the words of my prayer.
(131) O God, my heart is not lifted up,
My eyes are not raised too high,
I do not occupy myself with things
Too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with its mother,
(33) Sing to God a new song!
Yes, Pauline loved to sing. Like the psalmist, she sang to God both in times of trouble and times of peace. This evening, as we sing our Vesper psalms, we might even hear her singing along in the midst of the heavenly chorus, said Sister Maureen Abbott in her commentary for Sister Pauline Brockelsby, who died on Friday, July 13, 2018, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 79 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 58 years.
Sister Maureen continued, Sister Pauline was born Janet Brockelsby on September 5, 1938, in Omaha, Nebraska, to James Brockelsby and Pauline Blanchard Brockelsby. Her twin sister did not survive the birth, yet she grew up with her old sister, Jude. She attended St. Thomas More Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia, and Immaculata High School in Washington, D.C., graduating in 1956. She then came to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, completing her bachelor’s degree in Journalism in 1960. That very September, she “crossed the bridge,” and was among the first band to enter in September and go on to complete their entire novitiate in Owens Hall. She later went on to earn a Master of Religious Education from the Catholic University of America and certification as a pastoral associate for health care.
Pauline first visited Saint Mary-of-the-Woods when Jude enrolled at the college and she accompanied her to the campus, where she promptly fell in love with the Woods. As a journalism major, during her senior yer, she served as editor of the college literary magazine, The Aurora. These were the days of Sister Formation when first profession of vows simply ushered each group into the next phase of initial formation, the Juniorate, moving from Owens to the “old” novitiate building. While most of her band members continued a full load of college classes, Pauline began her ministry of teaching in the Aspirancy. One of her students from those days, Alberta Lewis, remembers her zest for life, stating, “Sister was more than a teacher, she was a life-coach.”
As much as she loved the Woods, after nine years Pauline was likely ready to head out on mission. At Central Catholic High School in Fort Wayne, former student Thom Bauer recalled that the energy and excitement that exuded from his freshman English teacher, Sister Pauline, continued through sophomore English. She helped him through some tough times, establishing a friendship that continued through the years.
Pauline’s early mission experience coincided with times of major changes within the congregation when driving, home visits, changing to the modified habit and the choice of wearing contemporary clothes were the order of the day. Expressing a choice of ministry was also an option, encouraging her to try parish catechetical work for a year before returning to high school teaching. When she and Sister Mary Blanche Murphy were invited to participate in a summer program visiting patients in a 900-bed hospital, she discovered a real calling. In an article she wrote for lay ministers, she phrased it this way: “Ministry is persons. Nothing fancy. Ministry is serving, getting involved, (using) the beautiful and supportive gift of compassion.”
She went on to study clinical pastoral counseling at several hospitals, including Walter Reed and Veterans’ Hospitals in Washington, D.C. Like many who choose to study C.P.E., she found it wasn’t easy. Referring to a difficult moment with her supervisor, she stated, “It was not until the poignancy of his direct clarity hit me did I appreciate what it could mean to be called to life by someone who really cared.” During these years of transition, she continued to be in touch with her former student, Thom, through correspondence and phone. Commenting on this time, he states, “In the late 1980s, Sister was given her own personal crisis and demons to fight. She returned to the Motherhouse and during this period came home to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.” In recent years, Thom would come to visit Pauline and take her out to breakfast, allowing her to introduce him to square donuts, “the best in town.”
During her years of ministry here, Pauline proved to be very adaptable, serving as driver, printer, mail deliverer, and phone room receptionist. Sister Mary Ann Phelan noted that as she made her rounds, during the lead-up to Mother Theodore’s canonization, her own devotion was such that she would stop by the office to request prayer cards with a relic so she could give one to any sister who had requested prayers for a family member or friend in the Day-by-Day and would supply extra cards if the sister wanted to send them to those who had requested prayers.
When her health required her to move to health care, maintaining a spirit of adaptability was her challenge. To give her day a boost one only needed to offer her a coke, but going out to eat was a favorite activity for Pauline. At times, she would call up her band member, Sister Rose Ann Eaton, to suggest that may it was time to go out for some ice cream. Family visits were a definite highlight. The entire Brockelsby clan seems to have come under the spell of the Woods when her sister Jude brought her daughters to visit. This tradition continued when niece Kati later brought her daughters along. They would stay for a week at a time, allowing the grandnieces to explore the campus as they got to know their great aunt.
Having become a patient herself seemed to have revived Pauline’s call to ministry as she contributed to life in Mother Theodore Hall. Sister Betty Donoghue commented that, “She seemed to blossom!” She was a regular and enthusiastic participant in the Wednesday sing-a-long, calling out suggestions of what the next selection should be. According to pianist Sister Gloria Memering, one request would always be for “Edelweiss.” As for listening to music, Sister Huong reports that her top choice was “Bridge over Troubled Waters.”
Pauline found ways to reach out to her roommates and ease their transition to a confining situation, continuing friendships when they moved to other rooms. She maintained an active phone ministry with a variety of friends. Former band member Ann Mooney was often surprised by a call – even a couple of day – but always enjoyed hearing from her. She could be counted on to lead the rosary in Mother Theodore Chapel, adding traditional hymns in her clear and true voice. Sister Ann Casper noted that she seemed to regard her attendance at Mass as a necessary support to the cantor. She was a gentle and pleasant presence among the other residents, attentive and gracious.
Among her many gifts, Pauline was a poet, distilling her life experience into words and images which captured moments among the amazing twists and turns that make up our lifelong journey of conversion. It seems fitting to end this reflection with a poem published in the Spring 1983 issue of Aurora.
Seasons of spring and April
I waled these woodland paths —
Sometimes in the winter to return…
But silently crossing the threshold
into blue skies and tight-bud treas.
Dawn unfurls daystar behind morn
And I reach for memories as my heart
Speaks to the blooming magnolia
Of maturity, growth
Paschaltide, fragrance and light!
Fortress of love and solitude
Where Sisters listen to life
At Saint Mary-of-the-Woods
Calling Home a foretaste of heaven
As here we’ve loved, love in still greater measure.
Darkened days of rainsoft quietude bring
Joy in giving and receiving, in pain
And loss – as tears fall
Time heals, transforms.
A second Spring –
Love knows where Spring grows
And life is forever.
Funeral services for Sister Pauline took place on Tuesday, July 31, and Wednesday, August 1, at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
Memorial contributions in Sister Pauline’s honor may be made to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Pauline in the comment section below.
Sister Pauline Brockelsby
Teacher for 11 years in schools in Indiana, New Hampshire and Virginia.
In Indiana: Central Catholic High School, Fort Wayne (1965-67), Our Lady of Providence High School, Clarksville (1967-70).
In New Hampshire: St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Dover (1974-75).
In Virginia: Roanoke Catholic High School, Roanoke (1971-73).
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