Classmates reflect on God's call
through lifetime of changes
by Renae Bauer
Ask classmates Sister Geraldine Krautkramer and Sister Jane Riha what attracted them to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross 50 years ago and you'll likely see the answer before you hear it.
Broad smiles emerge. Then words such as joy, simplicity and humor tumble from their lips.
As a child, Sister Jane met Sisters of this community when they taught summer catechism at her parish in Tisch Mills in Manitowoc County. "What struck me about the Sisters of our community is that they really enjoyed one another. They were kind. They were happy people and it was the way they related to each other," says Sister Jane. "The other part was that they had a sense of humor. As a grade school kid I caught all of that and I remember thinking to myself, 'I want to be one of them.'"
Like her classmate, Sister Gerri felt drawn to religious life at a young age. During her senior year of high school she researched a couple of religious communities in- and out-of-state and talked with her uncle who was a priest, who suggested a religious community a little closer to her Wrightstown home. She visited the Bay Settlement motherhouse and "That was it. It just fit. The Sisters were joyful. You could see they loved each other," says Sister Gerri.
While Sisters Gerri and Jane are two of ten jubilarians this year, they share a unique milestone. On July 1, both will become pastoral leaders: Sister Gerri has been appointed to St. James Parish in Cooperstown and St. Joseph Parish in Kellnersville, both in Manitowoc County; Sister Jane has been appointed to St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Green Bay, a multicultural parish. In the Diocese of Green Bay, the bishop appoints pastoral leaders to parishes when a priest is not available. The parish's sacramental needs are still fulfilled by a priest.
Experiencing Vatican II
The establishment of the pastoral leader role is one of innumerable changes the Sisters have experienced first-hand in the Church and society. As young women entering community in the mid-1960s, they were keenly aware of and affected by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) as well as the civil rights movement. Yes, there were significant liturgical changes such as Mass in the vernacular and the celebrant facing the congregation, but the Sisters also experienced major interior and exterior changes.
"Our (class) was really the big transitional group. We experienced the shift in the community from the way religious life was in the past to the renewal of religious life after the Second Vatican Council," says Sister Jane. "After we were first professed, we went to Marquette University. That was a whole new thing for the Community. Now this group (of Sisters) was going to a university, and we were going to live in a house on a regular street in Milwaukee."
This immersion into everyday society meant experiencing the civil rights movement. Sister Ambrose, who continued the formation of the young Sisters in Milwaukee, encouraged them to participate. It was a natural extension of what Vatican II was calling women religious to do.
"Our call (to religious life) is not only to turn inward and tend to our spiritual life and education but that we need to go out in the midst of many others -- especially those in need," said Sister Gerri.
Being present to others is what each has been doing for many years, whether as a teacher, principal or religious educator. While both loved teaching for many years, they feel blessed by new ministries to which God has called them. Sister Gerri became involved in spiritual and pastoral services, and Sister Jane has become immersed in the Hispanic community.
In the late 1990s, "There was such an influx of Hispanic immigrants (in the Green Bay Diocese) and such a need for ministers. I asked (my community leaders) if I could prepare to work with the Hispanic community," says Sister Jane. "And that evolved into something I never would have dreamed of."
The gifts both Sisters have acquired over the years will serve them well as they begin their new responsibilities on July 1. Both have dreams of strengthening their respective parishes by inviting people to church, calling forth parishioners' gifts, and empowering people to be active participants and leaders. And all of this must be rooted in one thing - a relationship with God.
"I think the most important thing is that there be time every single day to prayerfully reflect and ask for God's assistance in whatever God's call is to you that day," says Sister Jane, "because without being a person of prayer and reflecting on Jesus' way of living through the Scriptures and participating in the Eucharist you cannot be a pastoral leader."
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