Students reveal positive impact of women religious through gifts of words and wisdom

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

What do a community of nuns who spend their entire day in prayer, another who was active in the civil rights movement and yet another who is the beloved principal at a Catholic school have in common?

They were all honored for their contributions to the Church through an essay contest to highlight their historical significance and ongoing importance of women religious in the area.

In recognition of Women's History Month and National Catholic Sisters Week in March, the Incarnate Word Foundation sponsored an essay contest open to youth, in which they reflected on the contributions of women religious. The contest was co-sponsored by the archdiocesan Catholic Education Center.

Twenty-three students read their winning essays during a ceremony March 31 at the motherhouse campus of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Lemay. Students received a $100 gift care to Amazon.com; one school, St. Joseph in Farmington, was chosen at random to receive a $3,000 grant from the foundation.

Clayton Huck, a student at St. Agnes in Bloomsdale, shared the story of his former principal, Sister Donna Marie Kist, a Sister of the Most Precious Blood of O'Fallon, who died from cancer in 2008. Clayton recalled how he was one of the first students at school in the morning and often helped Sister Donna run errands and taking care of other needs for the school.

"Sister Donna Marie Kist was not just my principal, or a charity worker, but she was my friend, and I still miss her dearly," he wrote. "Sister Donna was a wonderful lady who started many things. Sister pushed hard to earn the money to add on a new building to our school, and thanks to her it ended up happening. Sister also did many things with the St. Vincent de Paul (Society) and also tried to teach the children to be more charitable, and give to the missions ..."

Adam Reider, a student at St. Joseph School in Cottleville, wrote about the Pink Sisters, a cloistered community of women religious in north St. Louis who dedicate their time to prayer. He described them as showing "the greatest amount of zeal for God. ... They show this by the way they act and the amount of seriousness they give to God."

Other students wrote about the achievements of Sister Antona Ebo, a Franciscan Sister of Mary, who was a leader in the civil rights movement, including during the march in Selma, Ala., in 1965; St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, who brought the Society of the Sacred Heart to the United States in 1818 and first settled in St. Louis and St. Charles; and other communities, including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the Sisters of Loretto, and the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus.

Bridget McDermott Flood, executive director of the Incarnate Word Foundation, said "we are fortunate in this archdiocese to have so many religious communities, and to have so many outstanding women in them. Their contributions have positively impacted the lives of St. Louisans for generations."

Flood also noted that the contest, which will become an annual event, is "a wonderful way to encourage vocations."

Mayor Francis Slay also signed a proclamation in support of Catholic sisters, which was revealed at the awards ceremony. The proclamation designated March 31 as Catholic Sisters Day in St. Louis City.

Students' essays will be featured on the Incarnate Word Foundation website,www.iwfdn.org.

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