A Match Made in Heaven

The women religious who founded and lead this College are a sisterhood, one that is inextricably linked with the sisterhood of our Alverno Strong students and alumnae.

Today, however, fewer sisters attend classes alongside our students, who may not be familiar with religious life. Some may have never met a nun.

Enter Alverno’s new Sister Friends program, which pairs undergraduate students with School Sisters of St. Francis. “We’re all part of this legacy.
We have shared values and a shared history,” says Lisa Cathelyn, director of campus ministry at Alverno. “This program provides students with someone else in their corner to support them on their journey.”

Five pairs of students and sisters participated, including Sister Theresa (Tess) Engel ’67 and True Anderson ’20, an art therapy major who graduated in May. Alverno Magazine asked Sister Tess and True to interview each other. A lightly edited account of their conversation, which took
place in February, follows. (This article appears in the spring/summer 2020 issue of the magazine.)

Sister Tess: Why did you decide to become part of the Sister Friends group?

True: As an admissions ambassador, I’ve been telling incoming students about the School Sisters of St Francis and how they founded Alverno, but I never knew much about them personally. And so I wanted to meet a sister and get to know them and ask them questions.

Another reason why I joined the Sister Friends program was because I was in the middle of the process of becoming Catholic. I thought that I could ask you questions about that, including what it means for the rest of my life.

True: Why did you decide to become a School Sister of St. Francis?

Sister Tess: I grew up on a dairy farm in Iowa, in a small community. We would all go to church and the sisters would be there, sitting behind their grade. When I went to first and second grade, Sister Rhodana was the teacher. I don’t remember a time I didn’t know her; I don’t remember a time I didn’t want to be her, because she was so warm, so loving, so wonderful.

Throughout grade and high school, that desire stayed with me, but I also loved to have fun. I loved to dance; I played softball. I had a boyfriend who knew from the beginning that I intended to go to the convent. But we still went out to his ball games, my ball games, movies, dances. I had my last date a week before I went to the convent.

True: What is one of your favorite memories of being an Alverno student?

Sister Tess: Having Sister Bernardin [Deutsch ’53] as a psychology teacher. She just made it come alive.

And here’s another memory: I was working on a paper. I wanted it to be perfect, and it wasn’t working. I kept getting it back with changes. All at once this scripture passage from St. Paul, I think it’s Second Corinthians, that says: “My grace is enough for you, my power is at its best in weakness.” And I said “Okay, you have never felt weaker in your life. Just sit down and write.” And it flowed. That was life-changing.

True: What have you most enjoyed about Sister Friends?

Sister Tess: I never imagined how much the love of God would be flowing. God’s love fills every cell of our body. It’s all God had when He created the universe, so it’s all He had to pour out, so every cell of our body is filled with God’s love. And somehow, the love of Jesus flowing in you has just been like this, that somehow we can listen to the Spirit and follow the needs of the Spirit. All the different things that we’ve done, it’s just been a real gift.

Sister Tess: What have you most enjoyed about Sister Friends?

True: What’s really impacted me is just having a mentor but also a friend. We’ve done so many cool things together. We’ve gone to Culver’s. You gave me a tour of Blessed Sacrament that was so cool to see behind the scenes. And I think the most important thing is just having been able to learn that it is okay to spread the love of Jesus as a Catholic and showing everyone His love. You’ve really helped me to do that. Thank you!

During Sister Tess’s years as a parish educator, she came up with a surefire way to teach candidates for confirmation the 10 Commandments, the Sacraments, and other vital information. It’s called the “snap and rap,” and she kindly shared it with us!

This article appears in the spring/summer 2020 issue of Alverno Magazine.

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