Sister Sharon Sullivan, OSU: Exploring life inside and out

Her dad – “Sully” to his friends – was a veteran of World War II and the sole provider for the family. Her mother – “Strick” to her friends, for her maiden name, “Strickland” – was a housewife, who had graduated from Texas State College for Women. During the war, she was a drafter for an oil company, but in peacetime she kept busy with her children and volunteering with the Girl Scouts and Sunday school, Sister Sharon said.

“Jane and Jack, Strick and Sully, Shelby and Sharon, Rob and Rick – we’re a very alliterative family,” Sister Sharon said.

On the day she entered the postulancy at the Mount in 1981, Sister Sharon poses with family members, from left, her brother-in-law Clark Shackelford, her sister Shelby Shackelford, her dad Jack Sullivan, her nephew John Shackelford (in her arms), her mom Jane Sullivan, and her nephew Stephen Shackelford.

The family lived in one of the most southwest neighborhoods of Houston, with a field and a chicken farm nearby. “I was 10, I had a 3-year-old brother who liked to wander, and a bicycle. There were a lot of opportunities to explore,” Sister Sharon said. “We explored blackberry patches, checked on new houses being built, played in the ditches. We had these 3-feet-wide holes in the field, we called them ‘foxholes.’ We had months of being outside, not minding if you got dirty.”

Her love of the outdoors continues today, as does her appreciation for reading, which she credits to her father.

“My sister and I were readers from an early age,” she said. “My dad read to us at night, such books as ‘Swiss Family Robinson,’ ‘Robin Hood,’ ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ ‘Treasure Island,’ ‘1001 Arabian Nights.’ It’s fascinating, this world of books.”

Her father was a Baptist, her mother an Episcopalian, but when Sister Sharon was 5, there was a dispute between her father and the Baptist church, so the family went in search of a new faith. “At 6 or 7, we found a home in the Presbyterian church.”

Sister Sharon began her affiliation with the Girl Scouts at age 7, which continues today in her role as a board member with the Kentuckiana Girl Scout Council.

When she was 13, her father, who had been involved in regional and national tax groups, was asked to move to Owensboro, Ky., to be an officer with Texas Gas.

Sister Sharon shares a laugh Dec. 15 at Brescia University with the people behind live-streaming the news conference of the new bishop-elect of the Owensboro Diocese, William Medley. From left are Chris Ford (of Brescia), Matt Monsour and Martha Hagan, who work for the Diocese of Owensboro.

“He came back after visiting and said, ‘Girls, you won’t believe it, but the tallest building in Owensboro is three stories,’” Sister Sharon said. “They gave me a tour of the city and it only took 45 minutes.”

Sister Sharon said she was disappointed when she got to Owensboro – because it was bigger than she expected. “I thought it was going to be a town with one gas station, one motel, and one general store,” she said.

A bright student, Sister Sharon skipped the sixth grade when the family moved to Owensboro in 1960. “My teacher at Southern Junior High School thought I wouldn’t keep up with the class, so she gave me the book they were reading and said, ‘Honey, do as much as you can.’” Sister Sharon returned asking for a new book, because she’d read all of that one. The teacher was surprised, but Sister Sharon responded, “You told me to do as much as I could.”

She was very involved as a teenager, at Owensboro High School, in the Girl Scouts and the Presbyterian Church. But it was during these years that her questions about Catholicism began.

“I thought I was a full member of the church at 7, but I couldn’t take the Lord’s Supper,” she said. “I pitched a fit.” They told her she could do so in the fourth grade. Then it became the fifth grade, then the sixth. But she skipped the sixth grade, and when she got to Owensboro and joined First Presbyterian Church, her age group had already made its communion. In her communicant class, the leader asked someone to explain the Lord’s Supper. After Sister Sharon gave her explanation, the class leader disputed her, and after discussing it further, he replied, “Honey, that’s what Catholics believe.”

“That’s when the questions began,” she said. “It took 12 more years.”