Sister stories

| February 25, 2014 | 0 Comments

St. Kate’s students to let cameras roll as they share the lives of women religious

St. Catherine University sophomore Laura Crepeau, left, talks about her National Catholic Sisters Week video project with Dominican Sister Mary Soher, co-director of the initiative, made possible by a three-year, $3.3 million grant from the Hilton Foundation. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

St. Catherine University sophomore Laura Crepeau, left, talks about her National Catholic Sisters Week video project with Dominican Sister Mary Soher, co-director of the initiative, made possible by a three-year, $3.3 million grant from the Hilton Foundation. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Dominican Sister Mary Soher had a brief career in television. Little did she know the dividends it would produce today.

“I worked for the CBS Television affiliate in San Antonio [Texas] for five years in the production department,” said Sister Mary, 48, who now lives and works at St. Catherine University in St. Paul. “It was an incredible experience.”

She is more than 20 years removed from that career, but her TV production skills are coming back to life in her new role as co-director of an initiative at the St. Catherine University in St. Paul designed to bring college-aged women in touch with sisters.

By spending one-on-one time with sisters during the course of a semester, the students will become aware of the rich tapestries of the sisters’ lives, and they also will record conversations that eventually will be put on a website, SisterStory.org, beginning March 8.

National Catholic Sisters Week events

The following are among the events St. Catherine University is hosting as a way to celebrate National Catholic Sisters Week:

  • March 8

2-3:30 p.m. — “Sister Stories: How Did I Know?” In Partnership with The Moth Radio Hour. Hosted by Soledad O’Brien, an American broadcast journalist, at O’Shaughnessy Auditorium.

4-5 p.m. — Inaugural eucharistic celebration, with Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn, at Our Lady of Victory Chapel.

  • March 11

6:30-9 p.m. — Sister panel presentation with instructor Deborah Organ. Sisters share their lived experience in the elementary school classroom, with the opportunity to ask questions, at Whitby 204B.

National effort

That date is significant because it is the kickoff of National Catholic Sisters Week, a week dedicated to build awareness of religious women that takes place during National Women’s History Month. St. Kate’s has a week of activities planned, including welcoming students from 33 other colleges and universities throughout the country who are hoping to continue this effort on their campuses.

Sister Mary, whose co-director is St. Catherine adjunct professor Molly Hazelton, arrived on campus last fall due to a three-year, $3.3 million grant awarded to the university by the Hilton Foundation.

So far, 12 students at St. Kate’s have signed up to spend a semester getting to know a sister one-on-one. They will meet regularly with a sister and film some of the sisters’ remarks. At the end of the semester, finished videos will go online. Then, in the fall, more students will continue the project.

One of the 12 students, sophomore Laura Crepeau, already has talked with the person assigned to her, St. Joseph Sister Susan Oeffling. And, she likes what she is hearing.

“She seems like one of the most upbeat people I’ve ever met,” said Crepeau, who is majoring in biochemistry and biophysics, and hopes to go on to medical school. “She shows a lot of excitement and energy for life, and I feel like she’s just as excited about the project as I am.”

It took very little for Crepeau, a Catholic who belongs to St. Andrew parish in Elk River, to become interested in applying for this opportunity. She was looking for ways to engage in her Catholic faith and already had gotten to know sisters on campus through weekend Masses at the campus chapel.

“I definitely feel that this project was tailored to something I wanted to do while I was at St. Kate’s,” Crepeau said. “When I originally read the job description for this project, I was like, ‘Wow.’ I want to learn the history of these sisters and let the world see their stories.”

Finding the perfect fit

Though Sister Mary is not one of the sisters who will be featured in the student-produced videos, she has her own unique and compelling story. She spent her childhood in Oklahoma, then relocated to California with her family. When she started work with CBS in 1987, she thought she would spend her entire career in the industry.

Then, she reached a plateau in her job in San Antonio and decided to go back to California.

She made a career change and then felt a desire to explore religious life.

She thought her investigation would be a casual look that she could do briefly and check it off her “bucket list.” But, an experience she had that resembles what the students are doing at St. Kate’s transformed her cursory look into membership to the Adrian Dominicans in August of 1996. It became permanent with her final vows in 2004.

The key element in her vocation journey came during a year spent meeting with a Dominican sister in California beginning in 1995. She now realizes that belonging to the order, formally known as the Order of Preachers, is a perfect fit for her role in this project, which will last for the three years of the grant, and hopefully, beyond.

“As a member of the Order of Preachers, we talk about preaching the Gospel with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in your other hand because you’re connecting the signs of the times to the Gospel message,” she said. “Now, I think it’s the smart phone or Internet connection in one hand and the Gospel in your other hand.”

For more information about National Catholic Sisters Week and the ongoing project, visit http://www.stkate.edu/ncsw.

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