Sister Larraine Lauter, OSU: Caring and responding wherever she travels

Sisters in Ministry Update:

Since 2012, she has been executive director of Water with Blessings in Louisville, Ky.

Sister Larraine gathers with some of the Hispanic children from Church of the Epiphany.

When Sister Larraine Lauter tries to pinpoint how she got such a heart to help the suffering, she thinks of her mother and of turtles at the five and dime.

When she was 5 or 6, she was saddened to see tiny turtles for sale that were kept in cramped, metal containers. “I had this goal to save up my money to buy all the turtles and set them free,” she said.

Her mother’s lessons were more grounded in reality.

“One of my earliest memories is my mom taking us to this terrible, state-run nursing home for the mentally ill, people who had no one,” Sister Larraine said. “Her lesson was, ‘You will care and you will respond.’ Somebody has to teach you to care. She was willing for us to have broken hearts. A lot of people are afraid to do that to their kids.”

In Sister Larraine’s 29 years as an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph, she’s been a teacher, a pastoral minister, an environmentalist, a fundraiser, an advocate for immigrants, an artist, and a musician. But the theme running throughout all her ministries is a desire to help those who are living in the margins of society.

“She’s not afraid to try anything to reach out to people who are suffering,” said Sister Rebecca White, who entered the postulancy with Sister Larraine 30 years ago. “She’s very tenderhearted.”

Today, Sister Larraine handles Hispanic ministry at Church of the Epiphany in Louisville, Ky. Just in recent weeks her duties have expanded to become minister for social responsibility, which means she works with 20 social concerns committees.

“I’d say the greatest thing she brings is experienced leadership,” said Fr. Jeff Nicolas, pastor at Epiphany. “She understands community. She brings her Spanish, her social justice knowledge and all her experience, but it’s her finely honed ability to lead that I find just wonderful. It helps my leadership.”

Epiphany was a homecoming for Sister Larraine, who joined the parish in 2006 when she came back to Louisville to care for her mother, who was diagnosed with cancer.

One enters the church along a curving, remote, tree-lined drive, leading to 20 acres of woodland. Deer can regularly be seen through the large office windows. Epiphany was begun in 1971 to fully implement the vision of Vatican II, Sister Larraine said. The church was designed to be inexpensive and flexible, a pilgrimage for travelers on their journey with God.

“There’s a heavy emphasis with lay involvement, social responsibility, peace, and justice,” Sister Larraine said. “Ten percent of what (money) we take in is disbursed to good works. In my years in pastoral ministry, I learned so much from this place.”

Sister Larraine gives instruction to guitar player Edgardo during choir practice for the Hispanic Mass at Church of the Epiphany.

Growing up

Lorraine Anne Lauter was born in St. Petersburg, Fla., but when she joined the Ursulines, she changed the spelling to “Larraine.”

“I come from a Southern family, where you have to be named for people,” she said. “I’m one of four ‘Larraines.’ When I was born, my father was sure he spelled it correctly as ‘Lorraine.’ I changed it back.”

She grew up about a quarter mile from the Gulf of Mexico, but her family moved to the Louisville suburbs when she was 10. Her father, Ron, was transferred in his accounting job with General Electric. In the 1980s he took up truck driving and was much happier, she said.

“He was outdoorsy, we did a lot of camping when I was a kid,” Sister Larraine said. That’s where she got her love of nature and protecting the environment. Her mother, LaVay, babysat for a living while raising her three children. In her 40s, she became a real estate agent.

The family lived on the remnants of a farm, where chickens, goats, dogs, and rabbits were common. She describes her home life as “ecumenical.” Her father was a Lutheran with suspected Jewish roots from his German father, and her mother was a Baptist who converted to Catholicism. She says she was formed by her parents with “a dollop of Ursuline formation on top.”

Ursuline Sisters taught her in grade school at St. Margaret Mary, and she recalls some of her “leading lights” were Sister Aloise Boone, because of her justice advocacy, and Sister Mary Christopher Williamson, who taught her math in the seventh grade. “She was the only teacher who made math clear to me,” Sister Larraine said. “There was an expectation of kindness.” Both sisters are now deceased.

“Sister Aloise talked my parents into applying for a scholarship” to Mount Saint Joseph Academy, and although she got an academic scholarship, it did not cover all the expenses. She worked off the rest of her board by cleaning a lot of dishes and a large amount of what is now the Mount Saint Joseph Conference and Retreat Center.

“Up until then, every report card said, ‘Larraine does not live up to her potential,’” she said. “I was a very noncooperative child in school. When I got to Mount Saint Joseph, I thought I would try. In the first quarter, I got a D in algebra, and I didn’t care,” she said. “Sister Mary Ephrem (Clements) told me it was not an option for me to not care. That sense of high expectation was a great environment for me, although I was not always conventionally obedient.”