When Ursuline Sister Cheryl Clemons was a young girl, she was supposed to come home from school and start on her homework before dinner.
“I’d bring a library book home and read instead of doing my homework,” she said. “My mother found out and she started checking my library book at the door when I came home. So I started bringing home two library books.”
Sister Cheryl’s zeal to learn began as a child, and has yet to stop. “I love to do research,” she said, in one of the great understatements of the century. “I’ve never understood how people could get bored. I’ll be doing research in heaven.”
“She was a consummate student, as well as a teacher,” said one of her high school teachers, Sister Mary Jude Cecil. “She will be until she dies.”
In the Diocese of Owensboro, Ky., Sister Cheryl is considered an expert on Catholic history. That’s why she was asked to narrate the February 2010 ordination of William Medley, the incoming bishop of Owensboro, for those who were watching on TV, the Internet, or ultimately on DVD.
“That was fun,” she said. “I knew where to get the information, but I was nervous when it started.”
She watched the ordination on a monitor in a trailer behind the Owensboro Sportscenter, a bit disappointing since she was not immersed in the ceremony. But those who listened to her detail the intricacies of what was happening were quick to praise her.
“People love knowing why we do what we do, and what it means,” she said.
Sister Cheryl loves imparting the knowledge she’s gained in theology to college students and interested adults, and expected to head back to the classroom at Brescia University in 2010 when her six-year term on the Ursuline leadership Council ended. But a funny thing happened instead.
During the election of the new Council, Sister Sharon Sullivan, who had moved from the classroom at Brescia to academic dean and vice president of academic affairs, was elected congregational leader for the Ursuline Sisters, beginning in July. Father Larry Hostetter, the Brescia president, knew right where to look for Sister Sharon’s replacement.
“I had worked with Cheryl before she went into leadership at the Mount,” as professors in the theology department, Father Larry said. “I knew the quality that she would bring to any job. She’s a person of high academic standards, a person of great integrity and skill, and someone who would keep us true to our Ursuline calling.”
After six months with Sister Cheryl as academic dean and vice president, Father Larry couldn’t be happier. “She’s settled into the job quickly and figured out the complexities,” he said. “It looks like she’s been doing it for years.”
Sister Cheryl is enjoying her new ministry more than she expected. “I’m pleasantly surprised that what I learned in community leadership is helpful here – the budget process, human resources issues, big picture issues,” she said. “As an instructor, I was focused on my courses and the theology program. On the Council, instead of your own ministry, you look at the community as a whole.”
It turns out, Sister Cheryl’s selection for this ministry was foretold 22 years earlier.
In 1987, Sister Cheryl wanted to begin pursuing a doctorate. Sister Mary Irene Cecil was the major superior at the time, and told Sister Cheryl that she could pursue her degree if she would be willing — sometime in the distant future — to accept an administrative position at Brescia if the need arose.
“I told her I would, but I would prefer to be academic dean rather than president,” Sister Cheryl said. “I made the mistake of telling Father Larry that story when we were colleagues. He remembered.”
Sister Cheryl said she enjoys the challenge of solving problems, an important part of being academic dean. “I’m seeing where I can make a difference in academic quality. We convene the qualified faculty and staff here to think about problems no one thought about 10-15 years ago,” she said. “Education is changing so rapidly. I’ve been impressed with the generosity and skills of the faculty to deal with problems.”