The emotional upheaval in Stephany’s life continued in 2010 when her dad died on Aug. 14 in Florida. “That was my hardest trial, it really rocked my world,” she said.
During Sunday Mass on Feb. 26, 2012, Lange was sitting next to Stephany and noticed she was crying.
“I was just overwhelmed with emotion,” Stephany said. “Why is God choosing me? I was afraid to tell Jan.”
“I knew she had lost her father recently,” Lange said. “After Mass, I asked if she was OK. She said, ‘I need to tell you something. I feel like I’m being called to religious life.’ I was shocked,” Lange said. “She didn’t know what to do. I am good friends with (Ursuline) Sister Suzanne Sims, she was the first person I thought of to call.”
From that call, Sister Suzanne gave Stephany the number for Sister Martha Keller, who was then the director of vocation ministry for the Ursulines Sisters, and her journey began.
That journey became known at St. Joseph during her third year of teaching, Stephany said. “They don’t treat me differently, but they know I have a strength in religion,” she said.
Lange said she’s learned a lot from Stephany through this experience.
“It’s exciting, this doesn’t happen very often,” Lange said. “I think she talks about her journey with the students. We tell the students on Saint Angela Merici’s feast day it is also Ms. Nelson’s feast day.”
Lange has been principal since 2001, but began as a teacher at St. Joseph in 1987. There has not been a sister at the school during her tenure. The Sisters of Charity were the main teachers at St. Joseph, but the last sister to teach there was Ursuline Sister Mary Timothy Bland, who left in 1986.
“It’s inspiring for the students to see her,” said Karen Stringer, a kindergarten teacher. “She’s a good role model and example for the students. We just see priests and seminarians. We were happy for her. You could see she was happy and excited for the future.”
Samantha O’Leary, the other first grade teacher, echoed those thoughts.
“She’s ‘our nun.’ It helps give the kids inspiration that a woman can have a vocation,” O’Leary said.
Anna Alexander has been a teacher at the school for 13 years, the last two teaching second grade, when the students learn about the sacraments.
“Stephany explains it to the students,” Alexander said. “When we talk about sisters, they always bring up Ms. Nelson.
“I remember when she came to my house and told me she was going to be a sister,” Alexander said. “I said, ‘You’ll be perfect for it.’ The way she sings at Mass, you can see her love for God. She’ll be excellent at whatever she chooses to do.”
In the classroom
The kindergarten, first grade and second grade teachers combine in a professional learning community to share ideas and support each other.
“Stephany is very compassionate, she has a lot of care for her students,” O’Leary said. “Last year was my first year teaching and she was very helpful.”
Stringer, the kindergarten teacher, said Stephany’s faith is her strongest attribute.
“She has high standards for her students, as I do, so passing them on works well.” Alexander is a former first grade teacher, so she knows how well Stephany is preparing her future students.
“She does a great job, you can tell the kids are ready for second grade,” Alexander said. “They are ready and eager to learn.”