December 2nd was the 28th anniversary of the murder of four American churchwomen in El Salvador in 1980. The best known of these is Jean Donovan, a lay missionary from the Cleveland, Ohio diocese. Also from the Cleveland Diocese was an Ursuline Sister named Dorothy Kazel, a graduate of our Ursuline College and a member of the local community of Ursuline Sisters here in Cleveland. These four women followed their hearts to work with the poor of that country, and in the process ended up giving everything for their beliefs.
Although I never had the opportunity to meet Sister Dorothy Kazel, I have been a part of religious education since my earliest years, and have been taught by and taught with many women religious throughout my years in education. And so, as our college pauses to remember her martyred daughter, I can’t help but recall some of the women who taught me throughout the years.
The first Sister I encountered in my academic journey invited me, a second grader, to occasionally stay after school to learn more advanced math. This was unusual, as it was the 1970s, when the assumption was still accepted that girls could not do math. I sometimes wonder now what the other students thought. Surely I must have done something REALY bad to have to stay late to study more math! However, to me, an exciting world was unfolding.
The next year a Sister who was my third grade teacher taught me how to play the guitar. I kept playing for many years, and played liturgical guitar as a young woman. It was our mutual interest in liturgical music that brought me together with my husband several states away and several decades later. My life would look very different today if it was not for the influence of these two amazing women.
Later, there were more Sisters who passed along knowledge to me. There was my fifth grade teacher who taught me to write in cursive and later my high school English teacher taught me how to be a writer. My senior year math teacher taught me pre-calculus in a high school that did not offer calculus. Her class gave me a chance to survive in a college where most my classmates had already taken a course in calculus. I never got the chance to thank them for all that they did.
Today, I work with another amazing group of Sisters. There are several Sisters who pass on a love of music, art and literature to their students. Some of these students have fought difficult battles to reach this point in life and have never before had the chance to learn to learn to just “be” in the presence of such art. Exposure to this art helps many of them find a creative voice they did not know they had. Our dean, an Ursuline Sister, encourages her faculty in the school of Arts and Sciences to stretch ourselves as scholars and teachers in ways we may not have thought about before. Meanwhile, our president, also an Ursuline Sister, brought our college into the modern world by building and renovating buildings and bringing sports to the women on our campus. Today, she serves as an inspiration to us all as she triumphs over cancer.
As an adoptive mother, I have learned to look beyond the biological definition of mother and see that “mothering” is what we do when we help others reach their full potential in life. Although these women had no biological children, they helped to mother me and many other young people. Today, as we recall the life of Dorthy Kazel and the lives of her Sisters in faith, we realize that all of our lives are richer for their works. They truly left the world a better place. On my best days as a mother, I can only hope for the same.
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