Sister Charles Ellen Turk
A reading from the Gospel of John (2:35-42)
“The next day, John (the Baptizer) was back at his post with two disciples, who were watching. He looked up, saw Jesus nearby, and said, ‘Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb.’” The two disciples heard him and went after Jesus. Jesus looked over his shoulder and said to them, ‘What are you after?’ They said, ‘Rabbi’ (which means teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He replied, ‘come along and see for yourself.’ They came and saw where he was living, and ended up staying with him the day. … Andrew, Simon’s brother, was one of the two who heard John’s witness and followed Jesus. The first thing he did after finding where Jesus lived was find his own brother Simon … He immediately led him to Jesus.”
Like Andrew, Mary Cleophas Turk accepted Jesus’ invitation to come and see for herself where Jesus lived. Like Andrew, Sister Charles Ellen knew she wished to and would follow the Christ where he led her. In fact, she was determined (in her mild and firm Charles Ellen way) to follow Jesus, said Sister Denise Wilkinson in her commentary for Sister Charles Ellen Turk, who passed away on Wednesday, December 25, 2019, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 101 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 84 years.
Sister Denise continued: Let us hear the story in Charles Ellen’s own words. “I was in community about 30 years and Mother Rose Angela asked me when I committed myself to religious life. When I said after eighth grade, she questioned me and I told her this story. When preparing to enter the Juniorate (a high school for girls wanting to be sisters), my mother told me to speak with our parish priest. Summer activities on the farm and distance from the church limited opportunities to ‘drop in.’ I accompanied my sister to town one Friday and stopped at the rectory and told Father my plans. After a few questions from him, he said, ‘Well stop in next Sunday and I’ll tell you whether you can go or not.’ My prayer that week was, ‘Maybe I won’t get to Saint Mary’s this September, God – but I’m coming.’”
Mary Turk knew what she wanted when Jesus looked over his shoulder and asked her ‘what are you after?’ She knew what she was after and lived her call as a Sister of Providence for 84 years.
Mary Cleophas Turk was born to Charles Turk and Mary Ellen Ryan Turk on November 5, 1918, in Washington, Indiana. She was one of 11 children – seven sisters and three brothers, all of whom have preceded her in death. When last Charles Ellen updated her information sheet for the Office of Record, 112 persons called her aunt, great-aunt, great-great-aunt or great-great-great-aunt. She talked about you, her family, so often and with great love. As one sister remarked, “I’d visit her in Lourdes and ask about her family and we were good for 45 minutes of conversation.”
Charles Ellen earned her bachelor’s degree in education at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and her master’s degree in mathematics at Indiana State University. She taught in grade and high schools in Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. She served several times as Assistant Principal or Principal.
We get a glimpse of how students perceived her from this comment of a former student: “My memories of Sister Charles Ellen include our meetings when we started the Ladywood-St. Agnes alum association and her hard work and guidance. – and she was always the consummate hostess and had treats and snacks for us. She gave us little brass traveler’s prayer plaques for our cars (which is still in my car) because the committee (mostly northsiders) had to drive so far to the convent near Roncalli to the meetings.
Her style of leadership as Principal is captured in this tribute: “Cooperation among parents, administrators and students has been a characteristic of Mother Theodore Guerin High School … under the leadership of Sister Charles Ellen.”
Two more comments from women who worked with Charles Ellen as their Principal.
“As a Principal, she was so down to earth.”
And this from a woman, hired by Charles Ellen, as a first-time teacher: “Sister Charles Ellen was special to me … As a new convert, I was eager to share my faith, and I wanted to do so in the way she did. Not in any dramatic way – just being smart, kind and fun, day-to-day reaching out to kids and families in small but effective, life-changing ways. I liked her because she was honest and genuine.”
Charles Ellen also earned her certification as a secondary school guidance counselor. Upon retiring as director of guidance at an Indianapolis high school, it was said of her that she set a “trailblazing standard for all Catholic school guidance personnel.”
Charles Ellen ministered as treasurer of the Saint Gabriel Province. In 1986, she served on a committee negotiating “a new salary package for women religious,” working in the Diocese of Evansville. Increased stipends, housing provided by the parish, cars for professional use and insurance coverage were all part of the package accepted by the diocese. Charles Ellen, your work certainly made a big difference in how Sisters of Providence would answer the question, “where are you staying?”
Charles Ellen’s last ministry was “to pray for our benefactors.” As long as she was able, she came to liturgy in Church. When Father Dan asked us to add our own intercessions, we would always hear her voice: “For all of our benefactors, let us pray.” Charles Ellen often said the community’s biggest benefactors were the sisters’ parents for they had given their most precious gift – their daughters.
Charlie’s most recent home was Mother Theodore Hall. We grew used to seeing her walk herself up and down the hallways in her wheelchair – always smiling, always talking. Oh Charlie was a talker all right.
It seems to me that the following story best describes Sister Charles Ellen’s long life as a Sister of Providence, as a woman who knew what she was after and whose life led many others to Jesus.
Charles Ellen was living in Lourdes. Her health was declining and it seemed time for her to move to Mother Theodore Hall, long term care.
The manager of Lourdes called Charles Ellen’s health care representative and asked her to come to talk with Charlie about the need for her to move. This move always means losing yet another degree of independence. It’s difficult for any resident.
The health care rep talked to Charlie about moving: Why it was necessary; why the health care staff and her health care representatives thought it the best thing to do. Disadvantages of staying where she was were presented; advantages of moving were listed.
The health care representative came to the end of her rather long monologue. There was a pause; Charles Ellen looked right at her and said, “Do you want me to move to Mother Theodore?”
“Well, yes,” said the startled health care rep.
“Well, said Charles Ellen, “I’ve lived my vow of obedience all these years. Why would I say no now?”
Indeed, Mary Cleophas Turk, Aunt Mary, Sister Charles Ellen, Charlie – why would you say no now? You knew what you wanted when you received the invitation “to come and see for yourself.” You have led many to know and love the God whom we call Providence. And now you enjoy the fullness of God’s love.
Why would you say no now – you never have before.
Funeral services for Sister Charles Ellen took place on Monday, January 6, and Tuesday, January 7, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
A Wake took place from 2:30-4:30 p.m., on Monday, January 6, with Vespers at 4:30 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial was at 11 a.m., on Tuesday, January 7.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Charles Ellen in the comment section below.
Sister Charles Ellen Turk
In Indiana: Teacher/Principal, St. Ann, Indianapolis (1950-55); Teacher, Principal, St. Matthew, Indianapolis (1958-61); Teacher, Ladywood-St. Agnes, Indianapolis (1973-75); Guidance Director, Ladywood-St. Agnes, Indianapolis (1975-76); Guidance Director, Roncalli High School, Indianapolis (1976-78); Guidance Director/Assistant Principal, Roncalli High School, Indianapolis (1978-85); St. Gabriel Province Treasurer, St. Jude Convent, Indianapolis (1985-89); Convent Administrator/Province Health Assistant, St. Jude Convent, Indianapolis (1989-92); Area Assistant-Holistic Health Care, Indianapolis (1992-97); Residential Services Staff, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1998-2008); Prayer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2008-2019).
In Illinois: Teacher, St. Leo, Chicago (1938-39); Teacher, St. Angela, Chicago (1939-41); Teacher, St. Mel, Chicago (1941); Teacher, St. Mel-Holy Ghost, Chicago (1941-44); Teacher, St. Angela, Chicago (1944-50); Teacher, Costa Catholic High School, Galesburg (1964-68); Guidance/Assistant Principal, Costa Catholic High School, Galesburg (1965-69); Principal, Mother Theodore Guerin High School, River Grove (1969-73).
In Missouri: Teacher/Principal, Our Lady of Providence High School, St. Louis (1955-58).
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