Proclaiming Jesus through education and Christian formation.

Sisters in Ministry October 2011
Sister Michele Morek: Always ready for the next adventure


A teacher is born

“I had never thought about being a teacher in high school, I wanted to be a scientist,” Sister Michele said. “Then I realized I could teach science.”

“When we made our vows and we started going into town to Brescia, they announced what we would major in,” Sister Michele said. “Sister Consolata (her former science teacher) was on the Council, she whispered that I would get to teach science.”

It didn’t take long to realize she loved teaching. “In the juniorate, I taught the postulants biology. I really loved it,” Sister Michele said. “That was half of my student teaching. I did the rest of my student teaching at (Owensboro) Catholic High, I taught 37 sophomore boys reproduction. My supervisor told me if I could teach that, I’d never have trouble teaching anything.”

She got her first teaching experience in the rural community of Knottsville, about 45 minutes from Maple Mount. “The only thing I was comfortable teaching was science and music – so I taught English,” she said. The next year she was sent to St. Margaret Mary Elementary School in Louisville to teach the final three weeks of school to 8th-graders. “Those kids ran all over me. It was awful,” she said. “The next year (1966-67) I taught the whole year there and it was fine. Science and music were the only subjects I didn’t teach.”

Joining the Irish

“The administration knew I was going to graduate school before they sent me to St. Margaret Mary,” Sister Michele said. “I was told I may as well take French, I would need that for my Ph.D.”

Sister Michele holds the Athena award that the Ursuline Sisters won in 2009, given to people or groups who help women attain their full potential. Also pictured, from left, are Sisters Annalita Lancaster, Rose Marita O’Bryan, Ann McGrew, Barbara Jean Head, Cheryl Clemons and Joseph Angela Boone.

She spent the year writing to graduate schools about financial aid, with the idea to pursue whichever school offered the best deal. “I got an acceptance letter from the head of the biology department at Notre Dame” saying that cost isn’t the best way to choose an education.

From 1967-71, she attended Notre Dame, skipping a master’s degree and working on her doctorate in developmental biology, which deals with embryology, genetics and cell biology. “It was an interesting time after Vatican II,” she said. “I lived in a dorm with 40 women religious from different communities, there were so many examples of faithful love. I made lifelong friends.”

One of those friends is Sister Victoria Marie Forde, a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati. “Michele was everyone’s friend, someone whose brilliance never got in the way of her outgoing personality, her friendliness to all, and her delightful sense of humor,” Sister Victoria Marie said.“No matter how pressured we were with papers due, oncoming exams, etc., Michele was upbeat and kept us all sane with her outlook of what was really important and normal. She was one of those who kept us ‘growing.’”

Sister Michele was impressed with the intellectual fervor that was going on, and the many resources from talented people. “I walked into one lab, there were bowls of tadpoles stacked up to the ceiling,” Sister Michele said. “When I heard they were doing cancer research, that’s where I wanted to be.”

During her years at Notre Dame, she had the opportunity to spend summers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “The two best summers of my life were when I went to Woods Hole and studied marine embryology,” she said. “They bring in animals, we’d extract eggs and sperm and recreate famous experiments. It was like someone brought you wonderful toys every day.”

Brescia

The joke among the Ursuline community was that “Ph.D.” stood for “poor home devil,” because once a sister earned one, she never left Brescia College, now University. But Sister Michele never wanted to leave.

She returned to Brescia in 1971 as an assistant professor of biology, just five years after graduating. “I loved it, I never looked back.”

She taught embryology, genetics, cytology, histology, ecology and comparative anatomy. “I started the marine biology and environmental science classes,” she said. “I loved teaching biology, I never wanted to do anything else. I would get ready for class some mornings and think, ‘They pay me to do this. I would pay to do this.’”

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