Sister Sharon Sullivan, OSU: Exploring life inside and out

Sister Sharon poses in front of her nephew’s creation of “Search for the Borg” inspired by Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Update: Sister Sharon Sullivan completed her ministry at Brescia in 2010 and served six years as congregational leader of the Ursuline Sisters. She returned to Brescia in 2017, and is now serving as associate professor, special education coordinator and a special education consultant in the School of Education.

Sister Sharon Sullivan learned an early lesson from her public school teachers in Houston, Texas, who bucked convention and made sure to include the Hispanic students in the class instruction.

The lesson was reiterated throughout her life by her mother, who volunteered to work with children and adults with severe developmental disabilities.

“She had a sense that there’s a person in everybody wanting to come out,” Sister Sharon said. “These kids were called ‘throw-away kids,’ but she didn’t think that should exist.”

Sister Sharon credits her more than 35 years of working in special education to the lesson her mother taught her: “Life is happening here, it doesn’t belong just to us.”

Sister Sharon’s unusual path to the Ursuline Sisters took another unexpected turn on Dec. 29, when she was elected to become the community’s congregational leader, beginning July 18.

“It’s sort of a bipolar response,” Sister Sharon said a few hours after her election. “I cycled from excited to scared. Excited about the potential and possibilities, and scared about the possibilities.”

“Sister Sharon will be a good leader for this time in our history,” said Sister Michele Morek, her longtime friend who will complete her term as congregational leader this summer. “She is deeply spiritual and wise, collaborative and deliberative. She’s a dreamer but has excellent organizational skills to make and execute plans. She is one of the few people I know who actually enjoys studying a financial spreadsheet.”

“She definitely has leadership ability,” said her friend of 40 years, Donna Goetz, of Owensboro. “She listens to people. She has a guiding leadership.”

After 32 years in the classroom, Sister Sharon was named academic dean and vice president for academic affairs at Brescia University in 2007, a position that became permanent a year ago. She will continue in that role the rest of the school year before taking over as congregational leader.

“The academic purview of the university is my responsibility,” she said. “I recruit and support faculty, answer questions from students and faculty, develop programs like STARS (Success Tracks for Adults Returning to School), collaborate with other colleges, and handle accreditation.”

Sister Sharon receives a welcoming embrace from Sister Annalita Lancaster after news of her becoming congregational leader was announced. Sister Annalita was superior from 1972-80.

It’s been quite an odyssey for Sister Sharon, who was raised in the Presbyterian Church and spent her youth exploring nature with her wandering little brother in Texas. She worked for a fast food empire and the Girl Scouts, and chased answers to 12 years of questions about Catholicism. Although she entertained a career as a truck driver, she finally decided to come to Mount Saint Joseph, now entering her 28th year as a sister.

“Sharon is such a good teacher because she studies nature deeply and because she observes human nature with a keen eye,” said her friend of 30 years, Sister Julia Head. “When she brings them both together, anyone who is willing can learn and can come away with new appreciation for a woolly worm, a nebula, or a complex situation of how the human mind works.”

Nancy Keeton, a professor of social work at Brescia, said she most appreciates how Sister Sharon’s mind works.

“I greatly admire her ability to break out the pieces of a problem, putting the pieces into a perspective that allows for the possibility of a solution,” Keeton said. “I often find myself searching out Sister Sharon when confronted with a multi-part problem.”

Lone Star Sullivan

Sister Sharon was born in Austin, Texas, where she was often read to sleep by the law books her father studied at the University of Texas. She was the second child of Jack and Jane Sullivan, with her sister Shelby 2 ½ years older. The family moved to Houston when she was 3, where her father had a job as a tax attorney for a gas exploration company. Her brothers Rob and Rick came along when Sister Sharon was 7 and 9.