Sister Charles Van Hoy
Gospel of John 13:31-36
When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, “Now am I to be glorified, and in me God is glorified. If God is glorified in me, God will also glorify me in myself, and glorify me at once.
Little children, yet a little while am I with you. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.”
“Love one another!” If anyone epitomized Jesus’ new commandment, it was Sister Charles Van Hoy, wrote Sister Ann Casper and recited by Sister Marie Grace Molloy in commentary for Sister Charles Van Hoy, who passed away on Wednesday, January 27, 2021, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 91 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 72 years.
Sister Marie Grace continued: In fact, her style was very Christ-like, as described by her nephews: “Sister Charles was soft-spoken, but she used this to good advantage. She gave the person she was talking to her full attention, and her low voice beckoned one to come closer and listen carefully! This one-on-one style seemed to suit her. She did not need to command a room.”
Her love was especially evident in what she described as “the most rewarding ministry” she’d ever done: Teaching adult literacy classes. She expressed that love by patiently listening to people’s stories of their years of struggle to read and delighted in seeing them change and finally make the connections. She was described by her peers and students alike as a gentle soul, caring, helpful, insightful, nurturing and enthusiastic, with a keen sense of humor and a contagious laugh.
Margaret Mary, or Marjorie Mae as she was better known to her family, was born to William and Sarah Ann Sheetz Van Hoy on November 2, 1929, in Loogootee, Indiana. Marjorie was the youngest of the first three children: Kenneth (or Gene) and Dorothy, all three born in late summer or early fall – 1927, 1928 and 1929. Bill, Charles (or Larry), and Don joined the family over the next 15 or so years. Nineteen nieces and nephews have looked up to their Aunt Marjorie, and will miss her dearly.
Marjorie attended St. Charles Borromeo grade school in Bloomington, as well as the public high school there, graduating in 1947. In February 1949, she entered the Sisters of Providence and was given the name Sister Charles. She professed her first vows on Aug. 15, 1951, and her perpetual profession on that same date in 1956.
Sister Charles earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and a master’s degree in library science from Catherine Spalding College.
Sister Charles spent 24 years mostly as a middle school teacher before she became interested in adult education and later parish ministry. Her ministries spanned several states and the District of Columbia, including Oklahoma, Illinois, North Carolina, Maryland and most frequently, Indiana.
After reviewing her ministry assignments, I wasn’t sure if she had an unknown twin or if she was capable of bi-location for six years, at two different schools, she served as principal while teaching two grades.
Another time, she taught and was also the school librarian. When she began adult education, she taught classes and was the bookkeeper. For another 10 years, she ministered as pastoral associate for two parishes at the same time. As she expressed it when describing her ministry: “Whatever comes up is what I do. If I can do it, I do it.”
With all of this business, Charles still succeeded in attending family gatherings, for family was deeply important to her, and she loved seeing it continue to grow and expand. Her nephew Martin recalled one summer when he was trying to organize a softball game: “Counting all the children, I thought we were one person short. I attempted to recruit one of the adults to play, with no takers, until Sister Charles said, ‘Welll, you didn’t ask me!’ I’m pretty sure my response was something like, ‘You can play softball?!’ You see, she was still in the habit, and I could not imagine it. ‘Sure I can play,’ she assured me, and proceeded to hit a home run in her first at-bat. Many years later, I found out that Aunt Marjorie was always the best player on every school team.”
No doubt these experiences and others like them caused the family to dub Charles “The Cool Sister!” Her niece Mary recalled: “(She was) the one who wore Red Ball Jet sneakers under her habit in the early days in the convent so she would be ready at a moment’s notice to frolic with her nieces and nephews at the park near her Bloomington childhood home!”
Education in its many forms was special to Charles and she never missed an opportunity to teach or to reinforce learning. Her niece Marianne related: “I still have a hard-bound dictionary, bright red, ripped at the spine that Aunt Marjorie gave me as a graduation gift. It sits on the bookshelf right next to where I read every day, so I can see it and think of her. I haven’t used it in a while, but it will remain there so I can always remember her.”
Her nephew Martin recalled his early grade school years when “Church seemed like a grave affair, requiring patience and stoicism, even with the advent of Carey Landry and contemporary liturgical music. I think it was from Sister Charles that I learned that the Church also embodied compassion, and that many of its members and groups not only have stood for human rights, but fought for them as well.”
When she returned to the Woods in 1994, having already ministered for 43 years, she served another 24 years in various capacities: As director of the Activities Department for the sisters and a volunteer teacher and tutor at Educational Family Services for children and adults. She also managed to volunteer for Providence Food Pantry and Helping Hands. As her niece Mary observed, “She was always looking for ways to serve and to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”
An educational endeavor that she did “on the side” during these years of retirement was related to ensuring, as much as she could, an informed electorate. In civic election years she was in frequent contact with the county clerk’s office concerning registrations, absentee ballots, etc. For years, she organized a candidates’ night before elections and had them speak to the sisters and our nearby neighbors. Prior to their speeches, she laid down the ground rules, and you can be sure they adhered to them!
Family members also recalled Sister Charles’ love of nature. She was an avid gardener and made sure that the convents and schools where she lived had a touch of beauty, especially with flowers and other plantings. Her niece Ellen commented that “Charles derived great peace from her love of nature and from the pure pleasure she got sitting in her room at the Woods and watching the birds in the courtyard. She would always tell me about them when I came to see her.”
Sister Charles had many visits from her nieces and nephews. Her niece Peggie’s memory is so very typical of her aunt: “When visiting her one time at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, she wore my husband and me out with a two-hour walking tour of the chapels and other areas, which was very interesting. She looked at my husband midway and asked if he needed to rest.
“Another time after her surgery, she ‘disappeared’ prior to our being there for a visit, so we went to all the places she liked to take her walk and found her walking back to the health care building pushing another sister in a wheelchair, who was holding Aunt Marjorie’s walker. They were returning from the chapel where my aunt had taken the distraught sister because it was Christmas-time and she hadn’t yet seen the baby Jesus in the manger. I walked them back to the nurses’ station and told the nurses to call off the search party.” How very typical of the Sister Charles we sisters experienced all the time!
Among niece Ellen’s favorite memories of her Aunt Marjorie was “how human she was — from swimming at the beach to enjoying a glass of wine, to holding babies, to scratching the ears in a long line of dogs and cats — and her thorough enjoyment of it all.”
Both her niece Ellen and her nephew Martin had conversations with Charles the night before she died. Ellen said, “It was a deeply real conversation and I will treasure it always.”
Martin’s experience was similar. “I told her that for me and many in our family, she was a beacon, an example, and an inspiration. That when I wanted to quit, I would think of her; how she would find a way to act, to help others. She told me that most people have some joy in their lives, and good things happen for them, at least part of the time. But for some people, almost nothing good happens; still, they keep trying to make things better, to be better. She told me that she had known many such people in the course of her work and life, and that they had been her inspiration.”
“A beacon, an example, an inspiration.” Charles was all these things and more throughout her 91 years of life and service, years always grounded in love of God and others. May she now rest in Love’s arms for all eternity.
Funeral services for Sister Charles took place on Wednesday, February 10, 2021, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.
A virtual wake took place at 10:30 a.m., followed by funeral liturgy without Eucharist at 11 a.m.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Charles in the comment section below.
Memorial contributions may be made in honor of Sister Charles to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Sister Charles Van Hoy
In Oklahoma: Teacher, Immaculate Conception, Tulsa (1951-52).
In Washington, D.C.: Teacher, St. Ann (1952-53); Teacher, Immaculata (1957-62).
In Illinois: Teacher, St. Mel, Chicago (1953-56).
In North Carolina: Teacher, St. Therese, Wilson (1956-57).
In Indiana: Teacher, St. John the Baptist, Fort Wayne (1962-64); Teacher/Principal, St. Anthony, Indianapolis (164-70); Teacher, All Saints, Indianapolis (1970-71); Teacher/Librarian, St. Charles, Peru (1973-75); Bookkeeper/Adult Education Teacher, United Southside Community Organization, Indianapolis (1975-83); Pastoral Associate, St. Patrick/Holy Rosary Parish, Indianapolis (1983-93); Director of Activity Department, Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1994-96); Coordinator of Activities, Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2006-14); Volunteer, Helping Hands/Providence Food Pantry, West Terre Haute (2014-17); Residential Services, Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2014-18); Prayer, Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2018-2021).
In Maryland: Teacher, St. Clement, Lansdowne (1971-73).
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