Sister Regina Norris (formerly Sister Regina Clare)
It is not at all surprising to me that the two scriptures that Sister Regina Norris chose for her funeral liturgy both mention children. She began teaching even before entering the Sisters of Providence. Having graduated from Indiana University in 1958, she began her teaching career at St. John School in Loogootee, a school that we staffed. As a Sister of Providence, she taught for 35 more years plus 14 years after that as a tutor and substitute. Add it up. The sum is 52 years, said Sister Rosemary Schmalz in her commentary for Sister Regina Norris, formerly Sister Regina Clare, who passed away on Wednesday, April 29, 2020, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She was 84 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 58 years.
Sister Rosemary continued: Donna Regina Norris was born to Donald and Ora Keasling Norris on Jan. 24, 1936. She was their first child, and from the content of a very brittle scrapbook that I found in Regina’s file which her mother entitled Donna’s Doings, it is evident that she was a much-loved child. Her mother records meticulously the events of Donna’s first years, including the fact that Donna was born at Aunt Louise Keasling’s house in Bruceville, Ind. In this book are the lyrics of a song that her father wrote for her and sang to her when she was a baby. Its title is Red-Head:
Days were so dreary, nights were so long
Then you came and life was a song
With your blues eyes and dear red head
You filled my heart full of joy instead.
Red head, dear little red head, your little eyes are filled with sleep
Cuddle close to mother’s breast while the angels their watch will keep
Red head, dear little red head, blue days are just a memory
Red head, dear little red head, you mean more than the world to me.
Donna’s mother records that she was a very stubborn child. One method of discipline they tried was to give her five pennies at the beginning of each day. When she was misbehaving, she had to give up a penny. Her mother writes, “I don’t believe you ever got a whole nickel. One day, you were extra mean, and I had taken two of your pennies and you came to me with your bank and said, ‘Here, take my other pennies because I am going to do the same mean thing again.'”
In 1939, a second daughter was born, Vicki Ann. However, Vicki Ann died in 1942 of a brain abscess. Donna would have been 5-and-a-half, and I know that the death of her sister remained with her. When I lived with her as part of the LaSalle Street community in Indianapolis, we each cooked once a week. Regina occasionally prepared salmon patties for us and several times when that was her entrée, she recounted that when Vicki died, a neighbor brought the family a platter of salmon patties. For her, salmon patties held a sweet memory of a neighbor’s kindness at this very said time. In 1942, her brother Thomas was born. He preceded her in death in 2012.
By the time Donna had reached her teens, the family had settled in Crane, Ind. Donna attended 12 years of public school, and then as I stated earlier, enrolled at Indiana University and majored in elementary education. I don’t know if her teaching position at St. John in Loogootee was her first contact with the Sisters of Providence, but I do know that one of the sisters suggested that she consider joining the Congregation. Consider it she did and entered in September 1961. She received the name Sister Regina Clare. She took her first vows on Aug. 15, 1964, and final vows on Aug. 15, 1969.
Sister Regina might win a Congregation prize for “stability” in ministry. She served in only four schools and never left the Archdiocese. Since she had a degree when she entered, she was sent to teach at St. Leonard in West Terre Haute during one of her Juniorate years. There, she taught grades five and six, the only years when she did not teach primary grades. She then taught two years in Brazil and after that went to St. Charles in Bloomington. In the summer, she studied for and earned her master’s degree from IU in elementary education. In Bloomington, she told me that she learned to appreciate opera. Sister Rose Ellen O’Toole, the superior there, was an opera lover and somehow maneuvered permission for the house to take full advantage of the Indiana University School of Opera. Regina herself loved music and as many of us know, she had a lovely voice. She was a choir member at St. Jude Parish for many years. In fact, Sister Betty Donoghue shared with me that a few years ago, her rosary group in Mother Theodore Hall Chapel decided to sing a Mary hymn every day during May. However, only if Regina was present did the group manage to pull it off. And Marianne Reis, writing a comment on our website, says, “Sister Regina and I met about 10 years ago at a Christmas Party at the Knights of Columbus for all nuns from the Indianapolis area. She knew every word to every song that I played.”
She left St. Charles for St. Jude after 11 years. There is a note in her file signed by all the school board members thanking her for her service. Here is a quote from it: “You have made a significant contribution and we would like to commend you for it and express our sincere appreciation for your endeavors. Your work with the children, both in school and out, will have an effect far beyond what we can supply in this letter …”
Sister Regina then came to St. Jude where she taught first grade for 14 years. Then, finding the work with the very small children a little difficult as she was approaching 60, moved to third grade for seven more years. In 1999, she retired from full-time teaching but remained at St. Jude for another 14 years, serving as a substitute and tutor.
I am blessed with another source of information, this from Sister Regina herself. About four years ago, she had Sister Betty Koressel take some notes on her ministry experience to be incorporated into her commentary. Sister Betty said that she didn’t want a “dry commentary with just a bunch of facts.” Sister Betty recorded that Sister Regina won several awards for her teaching, both in Bloomington and in Indianapolis. Sister Betty gives us these words about teaching from Sister Regina herself: “I taught the little ones in primary grades, not for prestige or the Teacher of the Year Award. I taught because that was my calling to do so … I wanted to keep the flame of knowledge burning, to pass on to other generations what was given to me. There is no profession that is more rewarding. Teaching is watching a child finally make sense out of all the black squiggles on a page and seeing the sparkle in her eye as she announces, ‘I’m really reading!'” Regina notes that one of her former students, Father Eric Augustine, asked her to read at his first Mass at St. Jude Church since it was she who taught him to read.
Sister Regina continued, “Teaching is a warm hug and a sticky kiss at the end of the day. Teaching is making spelling easier for a young person and restoring that person’s self-respect. Teaching is listening as a young man on suspension pours out his worries and concerns and hopefully, making a difference in his life.” Let me add an aside to this comment before continuing.
As a tutor, she had her own classroom, and sometimes a child, usually a boy who was misbehaving, would be sent to her room for a “time out.” The rules were that the child was supposed to sit alone, keep silent, and do some assigned work. However, if a child was there during lunchtime, Regina always took pity on him and invited him to each lunch with her and, of course, chat. Perhaps that was when the above-mentioned sharing took place.
Sister Betty says that Sister Regina wanted a little humor in her commentary. She recounted these stories from Sister Betty to copy down. The first: A little girl had an accident in the classroom, not being able to get to the bathroom fast enough. She looked down and saw her puddle and asked Sister Regina if her plants needed watering.
And another: Sister Regina had been teaching before Thanksgiving why the pilgrims wanted to come to the United States. When she reviewed the lesson later, a child said that they came because the king wouldn’t let them “wash up.” Puzzled by this, she finally realized that she had used the word “worship,” the king would not let them worship.
And last, here is my favorite: A small child came up, gave her a big hug, and said, “Oh, Sister Regina, I love you so much. You’re so soft.”
For sure she was the embodiment of Mother Theodore’s admonition, Love the children first, then teach them. Nancy Meyer writes, “I taught third grade with Sister Regina for several years at St. Jude. She loved to socialize! She sang and read stories to her students but expected much from them.” She was also a faithful friend and advocate for the faculty, caring about them and their families and their lives. Rebecca Wooldridge writes, “I loved every moment I spent with her. She taught me so much about the Catholic faith and life lessons. She was dear to me. She was always smiling and just a heart of gold!”
Regina was very close to her brother Thom. Often on Sunday afternoons, she would go to Thom’s house to play an assortment of games. I remember that three of them were Dominoes, Sorry, and Boggle. We would usually send her off to these meetings saying that we were praying for Thom to win. It seems that Regina always won at Boggle and she had promised Thom that if he ever won, she would buy him a banana split from Dairy Queen. I understand that he did actually win ONCE and she had to pay up.
When Sister Regina returned to the Motherhouse, she took as her ministry visiting sisters in health care. She wrote this description of her ministry in 2015 when she was living in Lourdes Hall: “I … visit the sick in health care. Sometimes they just need a listening ear. I am a good listener and try to be a cheerful one, leaving the resident with something to smile about. I also write notes for people who have trouble with writing and I address cards for Sister Ann Casper’s (Mission Advancement) office whenever needed. I just try to ‘bloom where I’m planted.'”
We can only surmise how painful Sister Regina’s last months were for her. As one who enjoyed the company of others so much, her difficulty communicating must have been a great suffering. But let’s note her choice of John’s first letter as a reading for today. It has this wonderful line: “We are God’s children now. But it is not clear what we shall become.” But now, dear Sister Regina, you indeed do know what we are becoming, what it means, again to quote the reading, “to see Christ as he really is.” You are planted now as a new creation, blooming in the company of your parents, siblings, your many friends, probably a few former students, and of course, Mother Theodore and a myriad of Sisters of Providence. Rest in peace, Regina!
Funeral services for Sister Regina took place on Tuesday, May 5, 2020, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
A Virtual Wake took place at 10:30 a.m., with Funeral Liturgy Outside Mass taking place at 11 a.m. The funeral was closed to the public.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Regina in the comment section below.
Sister Regina Norris (Formerly Sister Regina Clare)
In Indiana: Teacher, St. Leonard, West Terre Haute (1964-65); Teacher, Annunciation, Brazil (1965-67); Teacher, St. Charles, Bloomington (1967-78); Teacher, St. Jude, Indianapolis (1978-99); Substitute Teacher/Resource Teacher, St. Jude, Indianapolis (1999-2011); Volunteer, St. Jude, Indianapolis (2012-13), Tutor, Educational Family Services, West Terre Haute (2013-14); Volunteer, Providence Health Care, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2013-14); Volunteer, Mission Advancement, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2014-17); Visitor, Providence Health Care, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2017-18); Prayer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2018-2020).
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