By Sister Nancy Becker
Sister Nancy Marie Becker

As I reflect on the last 60 years of religious life, my mind is flooded with many memories and blessings…the many students, parents and people who have touched my life. There are all the memories of the many schools where I taught, beginning with All Souls in Overland, Missouri, to the last school where I ministered, Christ Light of the Nations in St. Louis, and all those in between. The years took me from St. Louis County to the city and from inner city to rural areas. Each place had special meaning.

Several of the ministries stand out as life-changing experiences. The first one was at Notre Dame Elementary in St. Louis. The consolidated school included my home parish of St. Agnes. During my years there, I taught students whose parents went to elementary school with me. Some of the students heard stories from their parents about my early years.

After 20 years of teaching at the elementary level, I was asked to go to Bishop DuBourg High School in St. Louis as Campus Minister. This proved to be a life-changing experience for many reasons. I was the only School Sister of Notre Dame (SSND) on the faculty of 110, so I represented SSND. As Campus Minister, I was responsible for all spiritual activities in the school, including planning retreats for 500 seniors. While that was a challenge, it was also rewarding to minister to teenagers who were searching for meaning in their lives. The present Campus Minister at Bishop DuBourg, Jennifer, honored me when she told others she learned what to do from working with me years ago.

In 1993, I became the Vocation Director for the School Sisters of Notre Dame. This, also, was challenging and rewarding as I journeyed with women as they searched for what was God’s will for them.

My present ministry as Director of Maria Center has given me the opportunity to share the charism and spirit of SSND. In the last 11 years, I have met thousands of people, many of whom talk with fondness of their former SSND teachers. Many diverse groups have come through Maria Center, each of which blesses Maria Center with their presence.

Blessed Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger, our Foundress, encouraged the sisters to follow the star in our hearts. In following the star, Jesus, I have been blessed and gifted by the many sisters I lived with and the many people who have entered my life.

By Sister Rita Anne Kipka
Sister Rita Anne Kipka

Whenever I am asked how long I have been a teacher, my immediate and joyful response is, “I’ve been teaching since I was 8 years old.” From second grade on, I knew that I wanted to teach little children. My favorite after-school activity was to play school, and I, of course, was the teacher. If I could not recruit enough neighborhood children to be the students, I would use my stuffed animals as pretend pupils.

I was blessed to attend St. Agnes Catholic School in St. Paul, Minnesota, from kindergarten through grade 12. Many of my teachers were School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND), and I was deeply impressed by their joyful spirit, their ability to make learning a challenging but enjoyable experience, and their kind treatment of each student.

When I was in seventh grade, I had the opportunity to visit Our Lady of Good Counsel in Mankato, Minnesota. It truly was love at first sight for me and I knew then I would return one day and become a sister. I kept this secret close to my heart until my senior year of high school, when I shared this desire with a trusted SSND teacher, my family and closest friends.

I entered the SSND community on September 3, 1967, and spent three grace-filled years on Good Counsel Hill, learning about life as an SSND and preparing to become a teacher of young children. In my spare time, I would visit the curriculum library and copy down ideas from teacher magazines. I accumulated quite a collection of teaching tips before my teaching ministry ever began!

My dream of teaching young children was finally realized in the fall of 1970, when I was assigned to teach first grade at St. Michael in Minnesota. I especially enjoyed teaching religion and reading. Helping those children grow in their faith and experiencing their delight as they became readers filled me with joy and gratitude beyond words.

After nine years in first grade, I stepped into the wonder-filled world of kindergarten for 26 years! I learned so much about God and my faith from those precious 5-year-olds. Their enthusiasm for life and learning, their natural curiosity about life in general, and their ability to find joy in the simplest things were truly gifts in my life. Yes, those were my favorite years in the classroom!

I spent the next nine years teaching second grade. I was delighted to discover how independent nine year-olds are and we could actually have meaningful classroom discussions! It was such a joy for me to help prepare them for the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist. Helping them on this important step in their faith journey truly deepened my own spiritual growth.

Throughout my many years in the classroom, I was blessed to work with wonderful colleagues who supported me and challenged me to grow as an educator. I also had numerous opportunities to attend educational workshops and conferences to keep me attuned to new methods in education.

I am once again living at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Mankato and have the privilege of teaching in our learning center. I tutor primary-age children and also teach English to adults, many of whom are from other cultures. I am grateful I can continue to use my teaching skills to impact the lives of others in a positive way.

I often find myself praying to Blessed Theresa, foundress of SSND, who was indeed a gifted and visionary educator. I pray in gratitude for the gift my teaching ministry has been, and ask for the grace to follow in the ways of Jesus, the master teacher. Learn more about the 2019 Jubilarians.

Reconnect with a former teacher.

You may also be interested in:
  • SSND influenced new school in Kenya Because of a scholarship from SSNDs in Kisii, Kenya, Judith Odero defied the odds and graduated from high school. The opportunities she received from SSNDs prompted her to open a school in one of the largest slums in Nairobi to educate the underprivileged.
  • Celebrating Mother Caroline: A lesson in courage The passion and courage of Mother Caroline Friess, the American foundress of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, can be seen in the ministries of sisters today. More 100 years later, sisters continue her efforts to educate and aid immigrants and those less fortunate.
  • St. Louis sisters, associates Adopt-a-Highway Sisters and associates in St. Louis took to heart Pope Francis’ call in his second encyclical, Laudato Si’, for people to take swift actions to improve the world’s environment. The section of I-255 at Telegraph Road they were assigned as part of the Adopt-A-Highway program got its first cleaning in August, with a second planned this month.

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