Sister Sharon Sullivan, OSU: Exploring life inside and out

Special education

“I met Sister George Ann Cecil in 1972,” head of the special education department at Brescia, the college started by the Ursulines, Sister Sharon said. “She said, ‘Why don’t you take this class, ‘Psychology of the Exceptional Child,’ so I could explain my position to the board. The next semester, I took two to three classes. I thought maybe special education was what I was supposed to be doing.”

Sister Sharon talks with Jill Sparks, one of her former students at Brescia University, who was preparing to teach a special education course.

Sister Sharon quit her job with the scouts and got her teacher certification from Brescia, graduating in 1975.

“My mother spurred my interest in special education,” Sister Sharon said. “Her volunteer work for years was at the Wendell Foster Center (for people with developmental disabilities). She would interact with kids and adults. She started a Girl Scout troop with the girls.”

Among her teachers at Brescia was Sister Michele, who taught her biology, a class she’d managed to avoid during her undergraduate career. “It was one of the most fun classes I ever had,” Sister Sharon, and served as a launching pad for a friendship that continues today.

“I remember her as a bright-eyed nontraditional student in pigtails – every teacher’s dream of an eager learner,” said Sister Michele. “We hit it off right away, both born Texans and outdoorsy types. Of course she made an ‘A.’ And she still sops up knowledge like a sponge, periodically testing herself to see if she still remembers the big words like ‘gametophyte generation’ or a species of wild flower that we learned on a previous summer’s hike.”

Upon graduation, Sister Sharon began teaching special education at Sutherland Elementary School in Owensboro. “I loved teaching at Sutherland,” she said. “In the summer, I worked at an Easter Seals camp, or a Girl Scout camp. I was very involved in the church.”

It was during one of these summer Girl Scout camps that she met Sister Julia.

“I was a farm girl and loved the out of doors, but never before did I have an opportunity for hiking, exploring fauna and flora of a Kentucky woods and enjoying the camaraderie of adult Scout leaders,” Sister Julia said. “Among these leaders was ‘Tex’ Sullivan.

“As I grew to know Sharon at the weekend events, I learned that she was an old hand at one-match fires, at canoeing, swimming, and all the other fun stuff that Scouts do,” Sister Julia said. “Sharon was appreciated by the other leaders at the weekend events for her Scout talents, but also for her ability to work with the children as well as the adult troop leaders.

Sister Sharon and Sister Michele Morek are longtime members of Watershed Watch. Here they are testing water samples taken from Panther Creek in Daviess County, Ky.

“Sharon was a great special needs teacher and I worked at a parish with volunteers who could use some improvement of teaching/catechizing skills,” Sister Julia said. “Sharon gave suggestions, especially in helping the child who was having difficulties with learning. She came to volunteer some time with our Sunday programs for high school youth.”

Sister Julia said Sister Sharon has a keen sense of preserving and appreciating life in all creatures, from water bugs, to garden snakes, to humans.

“She knows the legends of the stars and she knows astronomy,” Sister Julia said. “Sharon is an avid reader not only of professional resources, but of historical fiction and the unusual, maybe almost forgotten writers, like James Thurber. Sharon is a poet and an artist. She could have been a park ranger in any national park talking about the animal, plant and mineral worlds from sunrise to sunset. Sharon is one to remind all of us of the need for clean drinking water in her work with the local Watershed Watch.”

A deeper commitment

Sister Sharon spent seven years teaching at Sutherland, and pursued her master’s in education from Western Kentucky University. In 1980, she made a Cursillo, an intense retreat.