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Sister Eileen Rose Bonner: A spiritual and emotional support to neighbors

Sister Eileen Rose Bonner

When Sister Eileen Rose Bonner was an 18-year-old novice, she was told to go to the infirmary kitchen to replace a cook who was attending a funeral.

Not very confident in her youthful cooking skills, she nonetheless complied. Somehow, she succeeded in putting together a meal for the residents of health care.

“I never remember saying no,” she now realizes. And she has indeed lived a life of cheerful affirmations.

Saying yes to life

Her first year of teaching was to a class of 58 sixth graders. “I threw all my young enthusiasm into the task,” she remembers. “At the end of the year the school was still standing and so was I.”

Of her years in schools she says, “I loved the kids. I always remembered what Mother Theodore said: ‘Love the children first, then teach them.’”

For 12 years, she taught children she loved, in second, sixth, seventh and eighth grades. For 11 years, she served as school principal and superior to the sisters she loved — at Sacred Heart School and Saint Luke’s in Indianapolis and at Holy Family in New Albany. In her free time, she trained altar servers and took care of the Church sacristy. In return she received the love and support of her students, their families and her Sister of Providence community.

After 23 years in the schools, she was ready for a change. So, she dusted the chalk off her fingers, put herself gently into the hands of Providence, and spent a year preparing to be a hospital chaplain. Saying yes to new challenges and to the needs of people dealing with serious illness, Sister Eileen spent 20 years at Saints Mary and Elizabeth Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky.

“I loved every minute of it,” she says, adding, “Well, I loved some minutes more than others.”

Spiritual and emotional ministry

As a chaplain she realized she had to minister both spiritually and emotionally. She ministered to cancer patients during their chemotherapy treatments and touched many lives. A patient who was in despair told her she had helped him to experience God’s love, mercy and forgiveness in an unspeakable way.

Recently she had an appointment with a doctor she had treated years before. The doctor had experienced many loses, and she feels he changed her appointment time so that they could sit and talk for a while. “You just have to be available to listen,” she says. “God puts you where He wants you.”

Ministry to neighbors

After more than 20 years of sharing her gifts in hospital work, Sister Eileen Rose was ready for some rest. Now she spends her retirement years preparing food for shut-ins (that time as a cook in the infirmary paid off at last), working with the parish bereavement committee and tutoring students in English as a second language. She is also helping an immigrant from Guatemala with his citizenship papers. She and her sister, Sister Brigid Ann, with whom she lives, have companioned two Providence Associates. They also make it their ministry to send birthday, sympathy, get well and anniversary cards to just about everyone who celebrates.

Sister Eileen Rose believes that she and Sister Brigid Ann are where God wants them. “We are a spiritual and emotional support to neighbors. One neighbor told us, ‘I think God put you on this street just for us.’”

Time to also receive

Having spent a rich and joy-filled life never saying no, Sister Eileen now has to say yes to help from others. Sciatica, arthritis and back problems have made it difficult for her to walk and impossible for her to drive. After years of helping others, she is learning to deal with her limitations.

And the circle of giving keeps turning. She recently received a donation from a former student, who wrote: “This is a small token of gratitude for the input you and other vowed religious teachers had in my life. I had the good fortune to grow up during the golden years of Catholic education. You were a significant influence in the formation of my heart and mindset that helped me over the years. Your examples of service have continued to inspire me as I try to find my way in my faith journey.”

Sister Eileen Bonner continues to say “yes” and to believe that “God puts you where He wants you.”

(Originally published in the Summer 2020 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Sister Janet Gilligan

Sister Janet Gilligan

Sister Janet Gilligan is a volunteer in the Sisters of Providence Archives. A retired English professor, she enjoys her role as an archivist — answering queries, writing grants, and learning how to digitize collections.

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  1. Avatar Judy Copeland on June 25, 2020 at 11:48 pm

    I enjoyed reading about the life of this Sister and perhaps other Sisters would like to tell their life experiences as Sisters of Providence. Than you Sister Eileen Rose.

  2. Avatar Mary Win Ryan Gagnon on June 29, 2020 at 9:03 am

    I was in Sister Eileen Rose’s 1st class of 58 6th Grade Students at Immaculate Conception School in Chicago. What a wonderful teacher and example to all of us. I can still diagram a sentence..😆 So many great memories of my years being taught by the Sisters Of Providence. So thankful I was taught by Sister at the beginning of her very extensive career. We had a reunion some years back from Grammar School and were privileged to have Sister attend. It was such a treat to see her after so many years. Thank you Sister Eileen Rose for teaching those rouddy 58 6th Grade students as your 1st assignment. You werethe BEST.
    Fond Memories—-Mary Win Ryan Gagnon (I.C. Class of 55)

  3. Avatar Nancy Dinelli Wittenberg on June 30, 2020 at 6:55 am

    I was also in your 1st class of 58 6th grade students at Immaculate Conception School in Chicago and was pleasantly surprised to have such a young understanding teacher that year. I went to nursing school after high school and worked in outpatient Oncology administering chemotherapy for the last 12 years of my career. Thanks to teachers like you for inspiring children to be caring people. I will always remember you as one of my favorite Sisters.—Nancy Dinelli Wittenberg (I.C. Class of 55)

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