January 9, 2009

Religious Vocations Supplement

Adopt-a-Sis program helps students get to know Franciscan sisters

Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception senior Julie Martin of Aurora, left, listens to Franciscan Sister Ruthann Boyle. They have gotten to know each other over the past four years through the academy’s Adopt-a-Sis program. (Submitted photo)

Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception senior Julie Martin of Aurora, left, listens to Franciscan Sister Ruthann Boyle. They have gotten to know each other over the past four years through the academy’s Adopt-a-Sis program. (Submitted photo)

Criterion staff report

Today’s high school students wonder about their future, and seek to hear God’s call much as young people did in generations past.

Members of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis in Oldenburg accompanied young people along that path of discovery for more than a century as faculty and staff members of their Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception.

In recent decades, their presence in the halls of that private Catholic high school in southeastern Indiana has decreased.

But their influence continues through the academy’s Adopt-a-Sis program.

Begun in 2002, the program connects students in the now coeducational school with the Franciscan sisters who live next to the school at their order’s motherhouse.

Today, more than 60 percent of the academy’s 207 students are paired up with a sister. They share lunch with them a couple of times a month. The sisters will often send cards or notes to their student at happy moments in their life or in more stressful times, such as when final exams roll around each semester.

Senior Julie Martin of Aurora feels particularly close to Franciscan Sister Ruthann Boyle, whom she has been paired with for four years.

But her connection with Sister Ruthann goes back even further. Julie’s older sister is also a graduate of the academy and got to know Sister Ruthann through Adopt-a-Sis.

“We have a lot of history together,” Julie said. “We have a lot of things in common now since we’ve been together for a long time.”

Knowing each other for a long time has helped Sister Ruthann get to know Julie well.

“Hearing God’s call in people and situations appears to be natural to Julie,” Sister Ruthann said. “Many qualities of Julie are evidence of the God-centered spirit of her family. She is open-minded, joyful, humble intelligent and

particularly helpful to the poor. Her positive personality often moves others to help where there is need.”

The Adopt-a-Sis program also helps keep the historic connection between the academy and the Oldenburg Franciscans with the students who now fill its halls.

“Our history is through the sisters, and they sponsor us,” said Alicia Tilly, who teaches religion at the academy and is the program’s moderator. “We’re only here because of them and the work that they’ve done. It’s a way to pay them back, in a sense.”

That history is written into the family of Oldenburg Academy senior Cassondra Hebauf of West Harrison. Her great-grandmother, aunt and cousin all attended the academy.

Participating in the Adopt-a-Sis program strengthens those ties for her.

“It kind of gives you an idea of how the academy was when they did have nuns teaching,” Cassondra said. “And it helps you get to know the Franciscan ideals, which is what Oldenburg Academy is about.”

Cassondra has been paired with Franciscan Sister Lorraine Geis for the past four years.

Sister Lorraine describes Cassondra as “a gentle, interested person, who uses her potential and is determined to reach her goal.”

In getting to know Sister Lorraine, Cassondra has also gained an appreciation for her counterpart’s vocation to religious life.

“It makes you realize how much hard work she puts into [her vocation] and how much she enjoys it, too, and how much she gets out of it,” Cassondra said.

Oldenburg Academy sophomore Sarah Lierman, a member of St. Lawrence Parish in Lawrenceburg, appreciates having that connection to the past through her friensdship with Franciscan Sister Claver Ehren. But she also gets direction for the present through her, saying that “she’s shined a light for me.”

“You see things from a different perspective, and you learn more about the past,” Sarah said. “Since she’s older, she has more experiences and has more to tell you. And you have a new friend.”

Over the year and a half that she has gotten to know Sarah, Sister Claver has seen a deeply spiritual side to this young woman.

“God comes into our conversation every time Sarah and I meet,” Sister Claver said. “She is looking for God when she comes to visit the sisters.”

Tilly said the Adopt-a-Sis program can help academy students open their eyes to the possibility of a religious vocation by helping them see that religious take part in and enjoy many of the same things they do, but consciously view them all through the eyes of faith.

“It’s good that they’re able to see that they have relationships and they live in community,” Tilly said. “They’re just like us [except] that they’ve dedicated their lives to something different.”

(Franciscan Sister Judith Warner contributed to this article. For more information about the Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception, log on to www.oldenburgacademy.org. For more information about the Oldenburg Franciscans, log on to www.oldenburgfranciscans.org.)

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