I was born June 5, 1928 into a loving, wonderful family that lived in Conway, Arkansas. I was baptized four days later as Emily Monica. I was the eighth child out of twelve, born to Mary and Emil Nabholz. My older sisters and brothers were: Margaret, Elizabeth, Alfred, Helen, Robert, Bernard and Edmund. A few years later, Elinor, Teresa Rose, Tom, and Charles were welcomed into our happy family.
Mom was a good mother who fed us, made our clothes, (of course we had hand-me-downs). Mama baked bread (nine loaves three times a week), listened to us, cried with us, sang with us and taught us how to pray and love one another.
My Mother was of German ancestry and told us that she still said her night prayers in German.
My Father was of French descendants from Switzerland. He spoke French as a child. My Father was a man of many talents. He cut all of the children’s hair and re-soled our shoes and sometimes he pulled our teeth. (I wished that I had learned to speak both French and German.)
Dad worked very hard to keep our family together during the depression. He was a man of deep faith. At his bedside in 1963, he said, that he didn’t have a million dollars to leave us but, he had his family. Then he added, “Take care of Mama!”
It was on February 13, 1937 at 5:00 a.m. that we were rushed out of our burning new home, Mama and Daddy counted us to see if we were all safe. The boys ran to the barn to let the animals out to safety. The church, our relatives, and the local community poured out their hearts and resources to us. We stayed with relatives for several weeks until our home was rebuilt. I stayed with my godmother, Aunt Monica who lived and worked in the church rectory. Father Anthony, Aunt Monica and I shared supper every evening.
Every morning, Mama lit the fire in our black pot-bellied stove, lighted the coal oil lamps and cooked our breakfast of oatmeal, toast and hot cocoa. Then she fixed six to eight lunches for us to eat at school. Each afternoon, Mama had our chores for us. We fed the chickens, gathered eggs, brought in wood, ironed a basket of clothes, churned the butter and prepared meals. In the summer, we gathered blackberries from the woods (chiggers too!), dug potatoes, shelled peas, snapped green beans and helped Mama in the garden.
Our main work was in the fields chopping and picking cotton. We sang a lot and sweated a lot. We went barefoot two-three months a year. Every Saturday night we would go to town and spend our money from picking cotton all week to purchase ICE CREAM. It tasted SO good. We always brought home a pint of ice cream for Mama who would be soaking her feet.
I often spent weekends at my Grandmother’s house, helping her clean and gather eggs. I would meet my family at Church on Sunday. Since I was the oldest of the second half of the family, I didn’t have to milk the cows! Instead, I helped Mama in the kitchen. Every night we all knelt to pray the rosary and other prayers. We offered blessings before and after meals. At family gatherings, someone always said, Let’s pray.”
We walked about a mile to catch the school bus. Sometimes we were called “cat-lickers” by the Protestants. We had excellent teachers who were the School Sisters of Notre Dame. It was while in school that my oldest sister Elizabeth found her vocation to enter the community of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Later, Elizabeth was a missionary in Japan and Okinawa for twenty-one years. Elizabeth died in 2018.
My contemplative approach to life really began when I was young. I remember gazing out at the million silver dew drops on the grass after a frost. I walked in the beauty and felt God’s presence. As I walked on the farm and listened to the birds and all the sights and sounds around me, my heart was happy. I talked with all the animals, trees and flowers along the way. I especially liked to go barefoot on cool, green grass and look at the colorful world around me. I felt so close to Mother Earth. Even the vegetables in Mama’s garden helped me to grow up. As a teenager, I often felt lonely and would slip out the backdoor at night to look for the moon! I fell in love with the moon. Her light guided me through my open window and healed me – even to this day. That experience helped me to be a light filled with compassion for others. A very happy memory was when we sat on the front yard waiting for the stars and moon to come out. The phases of the moon taught me how to live the seasons of my life.
My family liked to sing together and hear Mom and Dad sing old songs like, “When You and I Were Young, Maggie.” Then we would go inside our hot house and try to sleep, fanning, tossing and turning. One of my boy friends was Andrew Worm. I took a lot of teasing because of his last name.
I did well throughout my years in school. After graduation in September 1946 at Saint Joseph High School, I entered St. Vincent School of Nursing. This school was at St. Vincent Infirmary in Little Rock, Arkansas, operated by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.
I left home for Nazareth in 1947 to enter the Novitiate. The Sunday before I left home, Mama had prepared a delicious dinner. What made it more special was that Grandma, Fr. Anthony and relatives were there to share my leaving for the convent. Goodbyes have always been so hard for me.
Barbara, also a student nurse, and I had our first train ride to Memphis where we met two other postulants namely, Betty Vannucci and Catherine Arnold. The next day we left for Louisville, Ky. On September 24th along with fifty others, we entered the Novitiate. We prayed, studied, worked and as we discerned our call to religious life. On March 25, 1950, I made my first vows. I was then missioned at St. Joseph Infirmary to complete my basic college degree. On July 19, 1953, I made my final vows to God in the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. In 1954 I graduated from Nazareth College (now Spalding University) with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing.
After four years at St. Joseph Infirmary, I was sent to the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. for a Master’s Degree in Psychiatric Nursing. Then in 1958, I was assigned to Our Lady of Peace Hospital as Director of Nursing. I taught Psychiatric Nursing to student nurses from ten different Hospital Schools of Nursing. In 1968-1974, I studied at UCLA, in California and received a Doctorate in Public Health. My two year field experience was in Southeast Health Center in Los Angeles, California. Sister Elizabeth “Liz” Barry and I lived together and shared community life. We also found time to enjoy Santa Monica Beach.
One day when Sister Barbara Thomas, our Superior General visited us from Nazareth, we took our box of chicken and had a picnic at the beach. It was there, that Barbara asked me to discern returning to Nazareth as Director of Health with our Sisters who were missioned in our SCN hospitals in Arkansas, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. It was inspiring to meet our Sisters and share and celebrate our healing ministries.
After seven years as Director of Health, I was invited to Weber Retreat Center in Adrian, Michigan (Adrian Dominicans) to serve as a staff member for the Summer Institute. Later, I was asked to continue on the staff for three years. At the Weber Retreat Center I offered retreats, spiritual directions and holistic programs. I loved this ministry. This was a time to experience a larger version of the church across the globe.
In 1975 our SCN Leadership initiated a three-month Justice Experience for 100 SCNs. We could join others who lived in various parts of the USA, Belize, India and Central and South America. I was privileged to go to India with twelve others. We had unique experiences in visiting, working, praying and living with the poor where our Sisters were in ministry. During my time in India, I taught psychiatric nursing to students at Nazareth School of Nursing in Mokama.
It was a great gift for me to share life with my blood sister, Teresa Rose who was Provincial then in India. Teresa served fifty years in India and Nepal. She also served seven years in Belize and seven more in Nazareth. Teresa died in 2016 at Nazareth, Kentucky.
In 1984 was I elected the Southern Provincial, encompassing twelve states and Belize. This was quite an adjustment but also a tremendous privilege to share the vitality and enthusiasm for our SCN Missions. I visited all the mission sites and heard the joys and challenges of our Sisters whose lives reflected our Vincentian Charism. At the same time we did have fun.
In 1988 I was elected President of the Congregation and served in that capacity with Vice-Presidents, Judy Raley and Marilyn Shea for a five year period. Sister Pat Ferrell was asked to be our Secretary during that time. I cannot say enough for these wonderful women and the gifts they shared. With the four Provincials in the USA and in India, we participated in local, national and international meetings. We grew to trust and accept one another for the sake of the community and our mission. The Holy Spirit guided us all of the way.
Our Constitutions #51 states that “the President is a spiritual leader…[who] provides a focus of unity for the Congregation by advancing its life and mission.” Archbishop Kelly at the Installation said to me, “Call your Sisters to holiness.” What a challenge!
Some of the highlights of our Central Leadership Team are as follows:
-simple government structures;
-affirm the power of presence, listening, forgiveness and reconciliation;
-affirm the gifts of community;
-focus on calls of the General Assemblies.
There were ever so many meetings, some of which I indicate below:
-the UISG meeting in Rome that Pat Ferrell and I attended in 1989;
-the UISG meeting that Judy Raley and I attended in 1991 which greatly expanded our view of the global church.
In that same year, Barbara Thomas, Judy Raley, and I took our revised Constitutions to Rome for approval to meet with Sister Sharon Holland, IHM and Archbishop Joseph Galante. Our Constitutions were approved finally in December 1994.
Our entry into the Charity Federation
In 1991 our Congregation was accepted into the Charity Federation. We attended the meeting in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. In 1992 at a meeting in St. Louis, we shared gifts across the Federation. We expressed our desire to share our particular gifts, being an uniquely American-founded congregation in 1812.
During that meeting I met Sister Michaelette Pavlik, VSC from Pittsburgh, who invited me to meet with the Vincentian Sisters of Charity Leadership. The providence of God was certainly evident in that request, as after several years of discernment the VSCs asked to join our Congregation.
LCWR (Leadership Council of Women Religious)
Being in Central Leadership we were members of the LCWR and attended their national, annual meetings. The LCWR promoted leaderships of communities to meet regularly at a regional level. The SCNs also participated in these regional meetings.
In 1991 the entire SCN Executive Committee met in India with the Province Team for the first time. Prior to this, only the President and Vice Presidents met with leadership and attended assemblies in India.
We furthered our call as SCNs to become more international by developing a three month exchange program for Sisters in India and in the States and Belize.
To participate more fully with the laity in carrying out our mission, we evaluated our SCN Associate program which had been in existence since 1970s. Sister Marilyn Shea did an extensive study of the Associates while surveying the understanding of Associates with our SCNs. Sister Marlene Lehmkuhl began requiring six weekend sessions over a two year period to familiarize the Associates with the Congregation, the Church and their call to mission. It is a gift to the larger Church as both men and women, Catholic and other denominations offer so much wisdom and dedication to helping us carry out our mission.
Relationship with the larger Church
Archbishop Kelly was a gift in so many ways, but especially in difficult situations. There were growing tensions regarding the role of women in the Church. It was a time when political conservatism was becoming evident as we moved from Ronald Regan to George Bush in the presidency.
Our Community responded with courage to the demands of those years. Personally, I felt greatly blessed through the daily Eucharist and by the witness of our sisters in living out the SCN charism.
At the beginning of the Installation Liturgy, Archbishop Kelly introduced me as “Sister Emily Ann.” I loudly whispered from my pew: “I am plain Emily!” Thereafter and always, the Archbishop addressed me as “Plain Emily.”
Another time after a program at the Cathedral in Louisville, I was walking between the Archbishop and another man whose name I know not, but who asked me why we hadn’t begun a movement for the canonization for Mother Catherine Spalding. The Archbishop quickly interjected: “The SCNs are too busy carrying out her spirit especially with their work with the poor.” I liked that response.
NLBI (Nazareth Literary and Benevolent Institution)
I was the moderator of NLBI and listened intently while the Board of Directors of each of our institutions reported at the annual meeting. Members of NBLI made yearly visits to each institution.
There were many joys and some sorrows in my time in leadership. There were times of laughter as well as broken times and healing experiences that helped me to live the Paschal Mystery.
I had “Saving Grace” experiences and some personal difficult times. For instance, the fire that occurred in apartment in 201 in David Hall where Sister Pat Ferrell and I lived was a very frightening experience. The Campus Service Director Sister Marie Celine and others spent weeks cleaning, painting and renewing our home.
There were several tragic deaths during my years in leadership. Sister Mary Lynn Field died in a car accident in El Salvador in 1993. Some believe that it was a way to stop her work in social justice. Sister Sandyha Baxla drowned trying to save others during a flood in India in 1987. Sister Preeti Chalil was murdered in Nepal in 1993. These Sisters died for a cause of justice and love. We recall that in our own early history, Mother Catherine’s own Sister Ann Spalding was poisoned in 1848 by an enslaved girl. We honor these brave women and all our beloved dead. Each year we have an average of twenty sisters who die. We honor their precious memory.
After my five years in leadership Teresa Rose and I shared a sabbatical at the Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass. from January to May in 1994. During this time Liz Wendeln who was the President of the Congregation invited me to be certified in spiritual direction and other healing arts. Since then, I am serving as a Spiritual Director to men and women religious, priests, and the laity. It continues to be my most beloved ministry.
A special time for me was visiting India, Nepal, Botswana, Belize and USA offering retreats, holistic health sessions, and spiritual direction. Their local communities were places of SCN hospitality and joy. I must add, card games must be one of our favorite ways to Win or maybe Cheat!
After Pat Ferrell’s death in 1994, Teresa Rose and I were invited to live with Sisters Pat Hill and Alice Adams and Theresa Knabel. We shared a happy community life. Pat has truly become a faithful friend. I have been blessed with deep enduring relationships which continue to have a claim on my heart.
Friendships have been one of my greatest gifts
– Members of my Peer Group of Spiritual Directors for twenty years guided me as companions on the journey.
– My own spiritual directors and retreat directors of many years have shared with me the playfulness of God and challenged me to be open to Love Itself.
– Directees trusted me with their lives.
– My very cherished friends have shown me love in all seasons of my life.
-My SCN Community and Associates challenge me to “love to infinity” (as St. Vincent reminds us).
Teresa Rose and I were invited by Shalini to celebrate Teresa’s 50th Jubilee in India and Nepal. This was a time of healing and affirmation for Teresa who spent forty years in India and Nepal. Later she served seven years in Belize, followed by seven years at Nazareth until her death in 2016. Her years at Nazareth were filled with suffering. I loved her deeply. Teresa lived with Peggy Fowkes who eased a lot of Teresa’s pain by her gentle care and loving support.
Teresa and my other sister Elinor were only five to six years apart. We often said that we were like “three peas in a pod.” As adults, we enjoyed many memories. Elinor died in 2017. My sister Elizabeth died February 14, 2018. She was a holy woman who had the gift of a smile for everyone with whom she came in contact. I was home for my parents and siblings funerals and I thank God for being a part of this family. There are only two of the twelve children living. Though I only shared about Teresa, Elizabeth and Elinor, I wish I could tell you some stories about the rest of the family – how blessed I am. My forty-two nieces and nephews and their precious families are the joy of my life.
I am now in my 90th year – a new time of challenges in remembering words and name. However, I am still blessed with remembering faces and events in my life.
My time is spent in spiritual direction, singing, reading, coloring, sharing liturgy, praying together, and telling stories. Laughter resonates here at Nazareth especially at table and yes, RUMIKUB!
From a crowded busy life, I am coming full circle and moving into a quieter time of integrating all I have experienced to the NOW—
Moments of letting go, needing less of everything, feeling empty at
times. The dark night of soul finds me waiting for the dawn.
I am asking God to fill the new spaces Big enough to hold praises and all that is to come. May surprises keep tumbling out! When I recall all the graces of broken and healing experiences, the life-giving sacraments, especially Eucharist, my SCN community, faithful friendships, and the beauty a seasoned of life, my heart is filled with Thanksgiving. I sing, “Let It Be”.
May I sing new songs of praise for my whole length of days!
Jesus is My life, My Love!
Today I am opening wide into the life of the Trinity which invites me to surrender and join the DANCE.
My mantra is:
LIVE LIFE Now