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home : opinion : perspectives

1/9/2014 9:00:00 AM
WOMEN RELIGIOUS
Age 95 and still 'faithful to the life'
BY ANGELA CAVE
STAFF WRITER

When Sister Victoria Nolan, DC, entered her religious community at the age of 18, she never imagined her ministry would take her all over the eastern U.S., in roles ranging from teacher to nursing administrator to racial affairs director to hospital chaplain.

Now, as the 95-year-old settles into retirement at the Daughters of Charity's St. Louise House in Menands, she reflects on her vocation with gratitude and satisfaction.

"The community gave me a good start [and] formation for the life, and I've tried to be faithful to the life," Sister Victoria said. "That's what helps each of us on the journey - how we use the time we have. You're living your life moment by moment and helping others."

Sister Victoria was born Anna Nolan at the end of World War I; she and two younger brothers lived with their family in the Arbor Hill area of Albany. She attended the former St. Joseph's parish and St. Joseph's Academy; she remembers ice skating, playing tag and never locking doors at night. As a teenager, she went roller-skating and saw movies with girlfriends and even had a few co-ed World Series parties at her house.

"I was having a good time living my life," she said.

Close ties
Sister Victoria had a close relationship with the Daughters of Charity who taught her from kindergarten through high school. She often delivered letters for one sister and later found out they contained child support checks for a family in need, provided by the order.

"They were wonderful," she said of the sisters. "I was attracted to their work and what they were doing. They were really nurturing vocations without saying anything."

So, when her principal and her confessor started asking her about her future toward the end of high school, Sister Victoria and two of her peers decided to join the Daughters. They spent three months at a psychiatric hospital with 400 patients in Baltimore while living with older sisters, then 14 months at a seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.

"I was terribly homesick," she said, but "I had to grow up in the community. My father didn't approve of it; he thought I didn't know enough about life."

For 26 years, Sister Victoria wore a long blue habit with a large white headpiece and collar; that evolved into a shorter, simpler habit, followed by blue and white suits and optional veils.

Her ministry also evolved: She taught at a large school in a poor area of Baltimore for three years, visiting students' families at night to evaluate their needs; then taught in Utica for six years and attended college for teaching in the summers.

Now, nursing
But the Daughters had another idea for her future: nursing.

"I said I had never thought about it, but if that was a need, I'd see how I'd do," she remembered.

Sister Victoria earned degrees in nursing from The Catholic University of America in Washington and served at hospitals in Washington, Michigan, Florida and Rochester. For 19 years, she administrated schools of nursing and nursing departments.

At 59 years old, she moved back to Utica to do parish nursing in a poor neighborhood, where she helped establish a neighborhood health center and get doctors from the U.S. Public Health Service.

"I could stay there for the rest of my life," Sister Victoria said. "We really did a lot for the poor."

But she moved on to parishes in Philadelphia, where she was approached by the archdiocese to become associate director of ethnic and racial affairs. At the time, black families were moving into white neighborhoods - and encountering broken windows and other angry reactions. Black children were being chased and assaulted.

Racial tensions
Sister Victoria facilitated workshops on reducing tensions, got parishes involved, brought awareness programs to Catholic schools and advocated for the school district to hire black teachers and a black administrator. She was involved with an ecumenical group that encouraged community dialogue.

"I didn't realize that what I was doing was so great," she said. "It was something that needed to be done. I have a great respect for the human condition. We're just humans; we're not perfect."

After eight years, she moved to Binghamton to direct a pastoral care department at a hospital for a decade. Then she spent 15 years volunteering as a hospital chaplain in Connecticut.

The senior sister says all of her service has been important.

"There's many ways of being poor," she said. "People who are sick are really poor. Every kind of work I've had, I've liked and I've missed when I left it."

Filling her days
In 2009, slowed down by macular degeneration and arthritis, Sister Victoria came to the sisters' Menands retirement home. She keeps busy with Mass, prayer, a Scripture study group she started, bingo, a book club and socializing. She makes candy as a fundraiser for the Roarke Center in Troy and meets monthly with relatives she found through genealogy research.

There were 34,000 Daughters of Charity worldwide when Sister Victoria was young. There are about 17,000 today, she said: "I think it's the era in which we're living, and there are so many choices. [But] I think there will always be some" vocations calls answered.

"There has to be a desire for it and there has to be good spiritual direction. It has to be freely chosen. Just keep your sights on what you're in this world for, and I think God shows us the way," she counsels young people.

"It's just like any other life: You have to work at it," she said. "If God had wanted me to be married, I would be, but He kept me here. I'm very happy."





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