Relationships that matter: Sister Philomena was with and for us

By Sister M. Clare Fichtner, OP

From the time I first knew Catholic sisters, I knew I was called to be one. They all impressed me one way or another. Sister Philomena, OP, my sixth- grade teacher, helped me decide which community to enter. She was one of the twelve sisters who traveled 500 miles north from Springfield, Ill., to staff my school, St. Augustine in Richmond, Mich. It was over-crowded and many creative solutions were needed to provide space and instruction.
Thirteen of us sixth-grade girls were assigned to a church basement classroom with 45 fifth graders. Sister Philomena needed to spend most of her teaching time with them, so the hope was that we could work quietly (sometimes together) on the lessons provided by our texts. We often used the cloak room between the classroom and the boiler room to work together.
One day Sister Philomena knocked on the boiler room door (It was kept locked.) so she could speak with us privately. She said her mother had died and she was traveling to Illinois to her funeral. A substitute teacher would take her place and she hoped we would help him with “all those fifth graders.”
That sharing of grief and enlistment of help led to a close relationship with her.

Sister M. Clare

Later in the year, I confided to her that I felt called to be a sister, too, when I grew up. She confided to me that her lungs would not survive the basement atmosphere and she would have to ask for a transfer. I wrote to her once or twice a year from then until her death—always as friends, keeping each other aware of how life was going.
When I had to decide on a religious congregation, her example of being with and for us, even while her mother was dying, made me decide in favor of the Springfield Dominicans. There were many religious motherhouses near my home in Michigan. I knew several sisters from those communities, but none seemed as dedicated to the ministry as Sister Philomena. As I taught throughout Illinois, I always told my students I was from Michigan, hoping it would make them appreciate their value to me.

Sister M. Clare, faithful Michigander, lives at Sacred Heart Convent.

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