Ursuline Sister Cheryl Clemons was ready for a sabbatical when her teaching career ended at Brescia University in 2004. She had been elected assistant congregational leader for the Ursuline Sisters, so there was no time to take off.
When she left office in 2010, she again hoped for a sabbatical. But Brescia President Father Larry Hostetter came calling, asking Sister Cheryl to serve as academic dean and vice president of Academic Affairs, a post that was being vacated by Sister Sharon Sullivan, the new Ursuline congregational leader. Again, there was no time.
After nine years in administration at Brescia, Sister Cheryl is finally getting her wish.
Co-workers at Brescia gathered at the Moore Center on Dec. 3 to wish Sister Cheryl well as she takes next semester as a sabbatical and then looks to find where God wants her to serve next.
She will finally get to visit Brescia, Italy and walk in the footsteps of Saint Angela Merici, the Ursuline founder.
“I talked with the leadership about a sabbatical that nourishes my spirituality, heart and soul,” Sister Cheryl said. “I want to pray in the churches of Italy and let the art feed my spirit.”
Jan. 5 will mark the 50th anniversary of the day Sister Cheryl became a postulant with the Ursuline Sisters, and later in the year she will celebrate her 50th jubilee as a sister. The vast majority of her ministry has been as an educator.
“I was looking for a sabbatical program, but I didn’t want it to be an academic program,” she said.
She will spend some quiet time at The West Virginia Institute for Spirituality in Charleston, W.Va. She was able to design her own sabbatical there, which will include a 30-day Ignatian silent retreat.
She has spent long weekends the past three months at the Charleston facility taking part in a spiritual direction training program. She will continue with that training on weekends in January through March and September through November 2020.
Sister Cheryl leads a highly popular women’s retreat each spring at the Mount Saint Joseph Conference and Retreat Center, and several participants over the years have asked her to be their spiritual director, she said.
“I’ve always declined because I didn’t have the training,” she said. (Her 2020 women’s retreat is March 20-22).
She will also use some of her free time to visit her mother in Grayson County. Sister Cheryl is one of four Ursuline Sisters who have a living parent.
Sister Cheryl is proud that during her tenure as dean, Brescia received accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Jeff Barnette, associate academic dean, will serve as interim dean until a permanent successor is chosen after the spring semester.
A high school teacher during her first 10 years as an Ursuline Sister, Sister Cheryl began teaching part time at Brescia College for two years in 1983, at the same time she was co-director of Social Concerns for the Diocese of Owensboro. She returned to Brescia in 1995 as a professor of religious studies following completion of her doctorate from Catholic University of America. She served there until she was elected assistant congregational leader in 2004, her second time to be elected to leadership, following a term as a councilor from 1992-97.
When she returned to Brescia in 2010 as academic dean, it was in response to prayer and a promise she made 25 years earlier.
“When I sought permission to pursue my doctorate, Sister Mary Irene Cecil was in charge of education,” Sister Cheryl said. “She asked if I would I agree to become either president or academic dean at Brescia if that were ever offered? I said ‘yes.’”
In 2010, she was hoping to return to Brescia to teach theology, but when Father Larry called with his offer to be academic dean, she thought of that promise.
“I read too many books about saints’ lives, I know God doesn’t always call you to do what you enjoy most,” she said. While praying with a friend, she was asked, “Which opportunity will give you the greatest opportunity to love?” That’s when she knew she needed to take the dean’s position.
Her sabbatical ends in June with the college year. She plans to spend time finishing the last installment of the Ursuline Book of Prayer, and then begin looking for her next ministry.
“My dream job would be in adult faith formation, spirituality and retreats. I’d also like to see if there is a commercial book in me,” she said. “God has always put me where I needed to be.”
Here are some photos from Sister Cheryl’s reception on Dec. 3.