Quietly breaking boundaries, creating hope
When we see the elegant horses grazing in the fields of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and admire the splendid stables that house them, we probably think of Mari Hulman George. Her generosity helped establish the equine program at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Few would associate Sister Suzanne Dailey, SP, life-long educator, historian, college dean and general secretary, with an equine program. But then even fewer would probably imagine her running for public office; supervising an adult education program to train nursing assistants, security workers and construction workers; or traveling through South America on her last dollar.
What holds these many life experiences together? It’s her commitment to education and an inner confidence in God’s love. It’s also faithfulness and the conviction that the hopeful Christian’s task is to devise ways to achieve God’s goals for our time and circumstances.
“I ask myself daily how I can help us achieve God’s goals and then I get up and just start working on it.”
Sister Suzanne’s (formerly Sister Suzanne Marie) first assignment in 1964 was teaching a fifth-grade classroom at Saint Athanasius in Evanston, Illinois. It was January, and she was their fourth teacher. But it all turned out well. She says, “There was a deep spirituality within the parish that I found beautiful and sustaining.”
Specialization in history
In her next ministry in 1967, teaching English in Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville, Indiana, she was again impressed by the deep spirituality of her students. While there, thanks to a grant from the Lilly Foundation, Sister Suzanne earned a master’s degree in history.
In the spring of 1968, because Saint Mary-of the –Woods College needed a history teacher, Suzanne was told to get a doctoral degree in history. So, she found herself at Saint Louis University writing a dissertation about United States-Colombian relations during a time of social upheaval called La Violencia (1948-58). To verify some assumptions in her dissertation, she traveled to Colombia and spent a year teaching in a Catholic girls’ high school in Bogota. When the year was up, she spent her last dollars traveling as far into South America as her money would take her. “I kept aside what I needed for a flight back to the United States. When that was all I had, I came home.”
Sister Suzanne then taught history at Saint-Mary-of-the- Woods College from 1971 to 1982. She developed a women’s history course. And she became interested in community efforts supporting women. Sister Suzanne saw the need to expose students to the thinking of the women’s movement. So, she became a member of the Women’s Political Caucus, whose focus was getting women into elected political offices. In 1980, (before Pope John Paul II forbade religious to run for office) Sister Suzanne ran for an open Indiana state Senate position. She didn’t win, but the caucus to which she belonged was responsible for an increase in the number of women running for office.
Moving to administration
From 1982 to 1990, Sister Suzanne served as Vice-President for Academic Affairs at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Perhaps her most memorable achievement was the development of the equine program. “Well, our horses were at that time … mostly gerontological specimens. They were used only for horseback riding classes. I said, ‘We have got to do something about this! We needed healthier horses and better facilities.’” Sister Suzanne enlisted the help of generous and knowledgeable faculty, staff and friends. They wrote a proposal to Mary Hulman George requesting funding for new horses and the renovation of the stables. Mari George gave the college a million dollars for the project.
Another program Sister Suzanne initiated at the college, adult education, became the catalyst for the next phase of her ministry. She believed that self-esteem, stability and the ability to choose could lead the marginalized to a deeper faith. So, Sister Suzanne took summer courses in adult education. In 1990 she left Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College to take care of her aging parents in Belleville, Illinois. One day she saw an ad at the local bank for an administrative position in the adult basic education department at Belleville Area College, the local community college. She applied and was hired, first as GED director and eventually as head of the department. She initiated vocational programs in construction, security, and health care to help the students find work after they completed their GEDs.
Service to the community
By 2013, Sister Suzanne was ready to move on. “When I saw the general secretary position advertised, I thought maybe I could do that.” Sister Suzanne served as general secretary for the Sisters of Providence from 2013 to 2018. She did not quite retire at the age of 81, but instead moved to the ministry of taking charge of the Resource Room — the community library in Providence Hall. Today Sister Suzanne remains full of energy and hope, still confident of God’s love and faithfulness.