Sister Cheryl Clemons: God’s researcher returns home to Brescia

One area that has advanced rapidly in the past six years is online education. She hopes to keep her foot in the door of teaching by offering Women in Christian Tradition online in the fall.

Her greatest satisfaction as an instructor has long been the moment when she knew a student truly understood not just the subject matter, but how the information would impact his or her life.

“In this job, the days are full of practical things to get done. The danger there is that I don’t focus on strategic planning,” she said. “Collaborating with faculty and partnering with such a talented group of folks is very satisfying.”

Sister Cheryl Clemons, left, and Sister Alicia Coomes practice the music for the Mass following the election in December 2009.

She has a morning of scheduled meetings each day except Friday, and most weeks a few students come in with an issue, she said. When a winter storm hit in mid-December, it was her job to get up at 5 a.m. and drive the roads to decide if school should be called off.

Her snow-driving ability was not why Father Larry wanted Sister Cheryl for the job.

“You have to be an intellectual, who understands what academics is about, someone who has been in the classroom and understands what the faculty has to do to maintain high academic standards,” he said. The academic dean needs to have good organizational skills, management skills, and diplomacy.

“She is the leader of a very diverse group of people, all extremely skilled in their area,” Father Larry said. “She needs to make sure they have the resources they need.”

Sister Cheryl credits the president with setting the right tone for the university.

“Father Larry is wonderful to work with,” she said. “He has a vision for Brescia that’s compelling to me. He’s an optimist about Brescia’s potential and speaks openly and easily about the Ursuline spirit.”

Sister Cheryl learns by reading, doing her beloved research, and consulting with others. “I’m not intimidated by what I don’t know,” she said. “Sometimes, I just think and ideas come.”

She doesn’t expect others to do the research she does, but she does expect an open mind toward being a lifelong learner. “I don’t mind how people learn, as long as they are willing to.”

A daughter of Wax

Sister Cheryl displays her bag made by Sister Mary Louise Knott featuring musical notes, during the Community Days honor of the outgoing leadership team. To her left is Sister Ann McGrew.

Cheryl Susan Clemons grew up on a tobacco farm in the small community of Wax, in Grayson County, Ky., about midway between Maple Mount and Louisville. “We called raising tobacco a 13-month process, even before you sell this crop, you’re already buying for next year,” she said.

She is the second oldest of eight children – four boys, four girls — and the oldest girl, with brothers the closest in age. “I played a lot of cowboys and Indians with my brothers, using a tobacco stick for our horse,” she said. “When I was in the fourth or fifth grade, Dad bought a small farm,” although she conceded it wasn’t the most fertile of land. “We spent a lot of time picking up rocks, or they would break the hay mower,” she said. “We all learned to drive the tractor.”

Her mother, Odaline, raised the children, while her father, Carmel, farmed. Carmel Clemons’ father owned a country store, and from the small amount of fertilizer sold at that store, her father built a successful fertilizer and farm supply business.

“We didn’t have books at home, but I always loved to read,” Sister Cheryl said. She enjoyed Nancy Drew mysteries, or reading encyclopedias and dictionaries. “I would read the same cereal box every morning,” she said.

The Clemons children began at St. Benedict School in Wax, where she first met the Ursuline Sisters when she was 5. She was allowed to join her older brother in school for a day since she would be starting the first grade the following year. “I got in a fight with a boy and bit him,” Sister Cheryl said. “Sister Rose Theresa (Johnson) gave me a holy card if I would promise not to bite anyone. I had a collection of holy cards, but that was the only one for not biting.”