Sister Sharon Sullivan, OSU: Exploring life inside and out

Pirates and Girl Scouts

After graduating from high school, Sister Sharon received a full scholarship to Christian College in Columbia, Mo., an all-women’s two-year school. “I met people I never would have met, people of different faiths,” she said. Next she graduated from Maryville College in Tennessee, a Presbyterian college. “I stayed active in the Presbyterian Church, but the questions continued.”

Sister Sharon, right, leads members of Atenio, the mixed chamber choir from Palacky University in Olomouc, Czech Republic, to the piazza to start their tour of Maple Mount on Oct. 26. The group performed later that night.

As a senior at Maryville, she met some Medical Mission Sisters. One, Sister Lucy Whelan, told her she was a Methodist before she became a Catholic sister. “I was scared. I didn’t think (switching to Catholicism) was something I’d have to consider,” she said. “I wrote to her and told her about my thoughts of becoming Catholic. She told me to stay open to it.”

Sister Sharon graduated with a degree in history. “I thought I would be a politician, or run political campaigns,” she said. “I was in English, but I enjoyed it too much, I thought there must be something wrong. I thought you were supposed to suffer,” she said.

Upon graduation, she got a job in Lexington, Ky., with Jerrico, the parent company of Jerry’s restaurants. She was a double-entry bookkeeper, but in 1969, the company started 26 Long John Silver’s restaurants, and Sister Sharon became the account manager for all of them.

After almost three years of working for Jerrico, she was driving with a friend when she said, “I’m going to work for the Girl Scouts.” She gave her two weeks notice and the company offered to double her salary, but Sister Sharon was unswayed. “I didn’t want to work 70 hours a week in something I didn’t like,” she said.

She applied for a job with the Girl Scouts in Lexington, and was told it could be six weeks before she heard anything. “I was excited to have six weeks off,” she said. But her mother told her she’d run into the director of the Girl Scouts in Owensboro at church, and mentioned her daughter’s interest. That Friday, Sister Sharon came to Owensboro to interview, and by that evening, was offered the job. “I never had my six-week vacation,” she said. In 1972, she became district adviser and camp director for the Pennyroyal Girl Scout Council.

Sister Sharon, right, poses with Ursulines Sisters who in 2008 were ministering at Brescia, or who previously ministered there.

“One of the first places I worked closely with volunteers was at Immaculate Catholic Church” in Owensboro, she said. “Within three months, my dad had a massive stroke. The people I was working with at Immaculate sort of adopted me. Within two years, I joined the Catholic Church.”

The Girl Scouts is where she met Donna Goetz, who was a volunteer and later attended Brescia College with Sister Sharon.

“She’s just a very generous, nice, good friend, always there to help,” Goetz said.

The two worked Girl Scout camps in the summers for five years and had their own troop for three years, Goetz said. Sister Sharon is always unflappable, she said.

“One trip, we were canoeing on the Green River while it was in flood stage, so we didn’t really have to row,” Goetz said. “I was steering, and Sharon was reading ‘The Hobbit.’”

A naturally curious person, Sister Sharon said it might take her all day to lead her scouts on a boundary trail. “There are so many things to find,” she said. “I had women who didn’t think they could lead anything, we put them in charge of a troop, and soon they were leading a committee. It was fascinating to watch.”

Sister Sharon first met board resistance when she wanted to include developmentally disabled kids at the camp. Little did she know that her attempt to best explain her desire would lead her on a different path.