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

Sister Cheryl ended up as the typist/editor for the prayer book, and did much of the research on the saints. As time went on, she became the sole person working on the prayer book, but she is hoping the final two volumes are completed in 2011.

The prayer book has become something of an odyssey for Sister Cheryl, who concedes that she never thinks she’s done enough research. She appreciates the advice of Sister Michele, who reiterated the same concept during Sister Cheryl’s prayer book work as she did during her dissertation research – “Done is better than perfect.”

So far, about 800 of the Advent-Christmas prayer books have been disseminated to sisters and those who’ve made donations, with nothing but praise for its content.

A return to leadership

Sister Cheryl with the leadership Council she served with from 2004-2010. From left is Sister Ann McGrew, Sister Cheryl, Sister Barbara Jean Head, Sister Michele Morek, and Sister Maureen Griner.

Sister Cheryl continued teaching at Brescia until 2004, when she resigned after being elected assistant congregational leader under her former Council member, Sister Michele.

“I was honored by the trust of the community,” Sister Cheryl said. “I was really excited about working with Michele. She and I have different gifts that are complimentary. We’re not intimidated by each other’s gifts.”

The Council, which included Sisters Barbara Jean Head, Ann McGrew, and Maureen Griner, ended its six-year term in July 2010. “We never gave up trying to work as a group,” Sister Cheryl said. “We began every meeting catching up on each other’s lives.”

Highlights of that Council were the merger of the Ursuline communities in Belleville, Ill., and Paola, Kan., the further development of the Ursuline Associate program, and helping to develop a focus for the Ursuline community, Sister Cheryl said.

Part of her role was to visit the mission sisters where they minister. “I learned how wonderfully esteemed our sisters are in their place of ministry,” Sister Cheryl said. “I saw how effective they are. They go about their daily ministries doing wonderful work for God and church.”

Being in leadership the second time taught Sister Cheryl about her limits, she said. “I had to do some things I wasn’t very good at,” she said. “I had the need to rely ultimately on God. It has to increase your relationship with God.”

Sister Michele first worked with Sister Cheryl at Brescia, when she was academic dean and they worked on creating the ministry formation program. “From the very first, I always admired Cheryl for her scholarship and encyclopedic knowledge — it is generally acknowledged that’s why she has so much trouble making any presentation fit a given time frame…she just knows too much about it,” Sister Michele said.

“When we were elected to the leadership team, I was prepared to be intimidated by her intelligence and obvious leadership qualities, but she always showed that she was comfortable with working as a member of the ‘team’ and supported its efforts 100 percent,” Sister Michele said. “Her intelligence, creativity, and – yes – wisdom were tremendous assets for our years in leadership. Cheryl is such a hard worker, and takes the initiative to make things happen,” Sister Michele said. “She has a good sense of humor and the ability to laugh at herself, which come in handy in leadership. I especially admire her ability to reflect on her experiences (both good and bad) and use them as a source for personal growth.”

When Sister Michele began a beekeeping hobby at the Mount during her time in office, she learned that Sister Cheryl’s first job was sewing protective bee screen hats onto jackets at the Walter T. Kelley Bee Co., in Grayson County, where Sister Michele gets her supplies.

“She said she took her first paycheck and went out to splurge on a pair of Bass Weejuns, much to her parent’s disapproval,” Sister Michele said.

New places to teach

Leaving the classroom at Brescia did not mean Sister Cheryl gave up teaching. Beginning in May 2004, she became an adjunct professor at the Hesburgh Center, Catholic Theological Union, in Chicago. “Sister Betsy (Moyer) went there on a sabbatical, and they asked for suggestions for staff,” Sister Cheryl said. Each semester she taught a three-day class on Christianity and feminism for priests and women religious from around the world.

“One of the greatest joys was hearing what was going on in the Church all over the world,” she said. She taught until 2009, when the program stopped using adjunct professors. On her last trip, she drove by the home of President Barack Obama.

Another way she continues to teach is through leading a retreat each spring at the Mount Saint Joseph Conference and Retreat Center. “It started out of my courses on Women in Christian Tradition and Women’s Spirituality,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite things I do all year.”