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

True to her belief that she can never do enough research, Sister Cheryl said her retreat preparation always feels unfinished. “Once the weekend starts, God takes over,” she said. “I do everything I can do to get ready, then I give it to God. That constant experience of me being the instructor and God delivering more than I can do never ceases to be a joy. Some people come back every year.”

One of the people who attended Sister Cheryl’s women’s retreat in February 2010 was her former teacher, Sister Mary Jude. “I was in awe,” she said. “Cheryl is such a gift to us. She’s just pure gift and uses it all for others, there’s no ego there.”

Sister Cheryl has been called upon to give talks to various groups, and received high praise for her 2010 address at Ursuline Associates and Sisters Day on what Saint Angela Merici can teach us about dealing with change. Sister Cheryl was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the 2008 gathering, but her father died the day before the program at age 82.

“He was a faithful man of prayer,” Sister Cheryl said. “I remember as a child he went outside every night after dark. When I finally asked mom what he was doing out there, she said he went outside to pray … he liked the stars. That was in addition to the family rosary and other prayers we said together every night. He was a faithful churchgoer all his life. The last year when he was agitated after some of his strokes, the only thing that would quiet him sometimes would be if one of us led the rosary and he’d try to mumble the responses.”

Sister Cheryl leads at least one retreat a year at the Conference and Retreat Center. Here she visits with participants in her “Women in the Bible Retreat,” Feb. 27-March 1, 2009. From left are Kelly May, Anna Conn, Jody Ziegler, and Karla Welch.

Her father changed dramatically after he retired, learning to be a better communicator, to be more affectionate, and growing in acceptance of what old age did to his body. “He always wanted to provide a better life for his family,” she said. “He was always proud that I was a sister.”

Sister Cheryl’s mother, Odaline, still lives in their native Grayson County, and the two of them continue to have a special relationship. “The last year with Dad was a bonding experience with Mom. She can talk to me about problems deep in her heart.”

Life is a mystery

In her free time, Sister Cheryl can still be found with a book in her hand, although it’s usually a mystery. “I’m trying to work through the public library’s women authors of mysteries,” she said. “I like mysteries, everything is solved at the end. It’s so unlike life.”

Some of her favorite authors are Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, Sue Grafton, James Patterson, and she never tires of the exploits of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Her TV is usually set to “Masterpiece Mystery,” “Diagnosis Murder,” or perhaps “The Mentalist.”

Even in her free time, Sister Cheryl continues to work on her spirituality. “For several years I’ve belonged to a spirituality group in Owensboro, and at this point it’s me and four guys who have become good friends,” she said. “Because of our shared spiritual seeking and explicit working on improving the quality of our lives, we’ve gotten to know each other on a very deep level. When life gets crazy, they are all people who can help me laugh at myself, help me find good in almost any situation, understand and accept my failures, rejoice in my successes, and generally help me continue to grow.”

And if there’s any research to be done, the group knows who to ask.

By Dan Heckel