Carondelet Sisters have full hearts as they prepare to move
Moving from a six-bedroom house to a room with closet space for three habits presents certain challenges, but nothing that Sister Roberta Houlihan, CSJ, and Sister Mary Shryock, CSJ, can’t handle.
What really matters, they said, can’t be put into moving boxes anyway.
That includes family and their many friends in central Illinois, although Sister Roberta has found a way for them to come with her.
“When I go to St. Louis, half of Peoria will be empty because they will come with me in my heart,” she said during a conversation in the living room of their house on Wagner Lane, which has served as the convent for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Peoria since 1987.
Faced with finding a smaller dwelling in Peoria or making their home at Nazareth Living Center in St. Louis, Sister Roberta and Sister Mary decided it was time to go “home” to their religious community. The “For Sale” sign went up in front of the tidy white house that sits across the street from Holy Family Church and School on April 23.
The Sisters of St. Joseph will continue to have a presence in Peoria, however. Sister Margaret Schulz, CSJ, has her own apartment and will remain as assistant principal at Peoria Notre Dame High School.
NATIVES OF PEORIA
While they will have 30 days after the sale to move, Sister Roberta and Sister Mary have already begun to sort through what they have and consult with their community about what to keep and what needs to find a new home.
Msgr. Charles Beebe, pastor of St. Joseph’s in Roanoke and St. John’s in Benson, helped the Sisters set up their chapel and will assist them in dismantling it when the time comes, Sister Roberta said.
She added that she has shared several items with the archives of the Diocese of Peoria. Among those gifts is a large throw blanket that was made years ago to show Peoria Notre Dame’s roots in the Academy of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, which was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in 1863. Until recently the blanket had pride of place on the sofa in the living room of the Wagner Lane convent.
Peoria natives, Sister Roberta and Sister Mary attended the Academy of Our Lady before entering consecrated life. Sister Roberta received the habit of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in 1945 and Sister Mary followed suit in 1947.
Sister Roberta, who grew up in St. Cecilia’s Parish, would go on to serve as a counselor, math teacher and moderator of the National Honor Society at her alma mater and its successors from 1978 to 2006. Her work in central Illinois included four years with Catholic Social Service.
She also has been active in Cursillo and until recently served as a lector and extraordinary minister of holy Communion at Holy Family Church.
Sister Mary’s family lived in St. Bernard’s Parish and she started her career as a music instructor by taking piano lessons from the Sinsinawa Dominicans who staffed the school. Her first experience as a church organist came the summer between grade school and high school when she was drafted to play “America” at the end of Sunday Mass, which was a must for Msgr. Maurice P. Sammon, pastor.
She taught grade school for 12 years in St. Louis and Denver, high school for two years in Kansas City and St. Louis and at Fontbonne University in St. Louis for 25 years.
HARD TO LEAVE
Both women returned to Peoria to care for their parents --- Sister Roberta in 1974 and Sister Mary in 1989.
After Sister Roberta’s father, Leo, died and her mother, Erm, was settled with her sister, Sister Roberta moved into the convent at the Academy of Our Lady. She remained there until 1987, when it was needed for diocesan office space and the community bought the house on Wagner Lane for the eight Sisters who were ministering in Peoria at the time.
In Sister Mary’s case, it was her mother, Della, who was ailing. She helped her father, Arthur, care for her mother for seven years. They died within three months of each other and after she cleaned out the house, Sister Mary joined Sister Roberta on Wagner Lane.
“I don’t like living alone,” she told The Catholic Post, adding that she was able to maintain a studio for piano students across the street in the former Benedictine convent at Holy Family Church. She retired last year, but is still an active member of the American Guild of Organists.
While she isn’t anxious for their house to sell -- “I’m finding it harder to leave Peoria this time than I did when I was 18 years old and entered the convent” -- she knows she will have her music wherever she goes. In fact, Sister Mary said she will probably be busier sharing her musical gifts at Nazareth Living Center than ever before.
“What I’m hoping to do is spend time in the skilled-care unit,” said Sister Roberta. “I want to be a visitor for the retired Sisters, reading to them or sharing Scripture. I’m drawn toward that as a counselor and spiritual director. I’d like to continue to do that.”
And they’re hoping to come back for the 150th anniversary of Catholic education in Peoria -- which the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cardondelet were instrumental in starting -- next year.
“I don’t know how it’s all going to work out,” Sister Roberta said, “but the Lord does.”
For the time being, mail for Sister Roberta and Sister Mary can be sent to 2311 W. Wagner Lane, Peoria, IL 61615-4238.