July 3, 2020

Sister Norma Rocklage served for 40-plus years at Marian University

By Sean Gallagher

Franciscan Sister Norma RocklageFranciscan Sister Norma Rocklage, a member of the Congregation of the Third Order of the Sisters of St. Francis in Oldenburg, died on June 22 at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis. She was 86.

Visitations were held at Marian University in Indianapolis, where she served for more than 40 years, and at her order’s motherhouse in Oldenburg before she was buried at the sisters’ cemetery.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a memorial Mass for Sister Norma will be celebrated at a later date.

Franciscan Sister Christa Franzer, who leads the Oldenburg Franciscans as the community’s congregational minister, said Sister Norma embodied the Franciscan calling well and shared it with countless people.

“Sister Norma and Saints Francis and Clare were kindred spirits—living lives of simplicity, joy, commitment to peace and justice, respect for each individual, and care of creation,” said Sister Christa. “Norma’s Franciscan spirit has impacted thousands of people during her lifetime; her memory will continue to inspire all of us in the time to come.”

In her decades of ministry at Marian, Sister Norma led the effort for Marian to help people in need receive a college education—from veterans in the 1970s to children of undocumented immigrants in more recent years. She also led a partnership between Marian and the archdiocese—the Indiana Catholic Principals Institute (ICPI)—to offer spiritual formation to Catholic school administrators across the state.

“Sister Norma’s fingerprints are all over that,” said Marian president Daniel Elsener. “She might be gone from this world, but the work continues on, because she was a good steward. Her spirit of generosity will live on, not only in her individual legacy, but in the institution of Marian University and the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg.”

Archdiocesan chancellor Annette “Mickey” Lentz worked closely for decades with Sister Norma, whom she described as a “dear friend.”

Lentz said the ICPI, beginning in 1989, provided critical spiritual formation to lay Catholic school principals at a time when they were taking over that role in many schools which religious sisters had previously led. Educators from all five dioceses in the state participated in the program.

“She was the catalyst,” Lentz said. “She led it all the way through. She really was an integral part of our Catholic education here in the archdiocese. She did a lot for the local and broader Church community.”

Marlene Dotson, president and CEO of the Indiana Latino Institute in Indianapolis, appreciates how Sister Norma was an advocate for Hispanics in higher education in more recent years.

“She had a great affinity for the Latino community,” Dotson said. “She welcomed all Latinos to the Marian experience with wide arms and an open heart.”

Like Elsener, Dotson believes that Sister Norma’s legacy will continue in the years to come.

“She planted the seed, and the fruits of that seed are seen today, and we will continue to see them for years to come,” Dotson said.

Although Sister Norma was involved in a wide array of initiatives at Marian and in the broader Church and community, she said in an interview with The Criterion last fall that it was all ultimately rooted in her Franciscan calling.

“To be a Franciscan is to be interested in community and deep relationships,” she said. “I felt that when you’re around people, it’s not so much what you say, it’s that you’re with them and being open to receive from them.”

Mary Ann Rocklage was born on July 18, 1933, in St. Louis. She entered the Oldenburg Franciscans on Sept. 8, 1951, and professed final vows on Aug. 12, 1957.

Sister Norma earned a bachelor’s degree at Marian University and a master’s degree and doctorate at St. Louis University in St. Louis.

Before serving at Marian, she taught at St. Mary School in North Vernon from 1953-56 and at a Catholic grade school in Missouri.

Sister Norma’s service at Marian began in 1965, teaching classical languages from 1965-74 and serving as dean of academic affairs from 1970-74. While she continued to serve on Marian’s board of trustees after that, she returned to Oldenburg in 1974 and ministered there at different periods as a councilor (a member of the community’s leadership team) and director of novices.

Sister Norma returned to Marian as vice president for mission effectiveness in 1989, a position she held until 2004. She then served at the university from 2005-19 as executive director of formation and outreach before retiring to her order’s motherhouse in July 2019.

She is survived by Mercy Sister Mary Roch Rocklage of St. Louis, Dee Schantz of Gresham, Ore., Joseph Rocklage of St. Louis, and Aloysius Rocklage of Rosemount, Mo.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Sisters of St. Francis, PO Box 100, Oldenburg, IN, 47036 (www.OldenburgFranciscans.org), or to the Sister Norma Rocklage, OSF Endowed Diversity Scholarship at Marian University. †

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