According to my mother, I was born on a very hot August 1, 1941, at St. Joseph Infirmary, Louisville Kentucky. All she wanted was a fan and a box of chocolates. She got them both. Mother Anna Mae Greenwood and father Louis Ferriell were very happy with a second healthy child. My older sister by two years, Mary Ann, would try her mothering skills as my helper while she was not yet three I am told. Following me were the blessings of four more sisters and two brothers in order they came: Norma, Joe, Mike, Margie, Patti and Cathy. 

As a young child, life seemed beautiful and peaceful. Since our mother was trained as a teacher, she used some of her skills in helping us to learn. She and Dad made sure we had resource books at home to explore the world and read.

At the end of World War 2, there seemed to be a lot of noise that entered my world. I was told, “the soldiers and sailors are back from war.” I found them somewhat frightening. Their loud tones broke into a quiet world and took it away. I was unaware of the anxiety the rest of the world had been going through, as I don’t remember the adults talking about it.

At about that same time we moved to the ‘Southend’ of Louisville on the street where St. Thomas More Church and School were located. I was just four and had no idea the sacrifice our parents would make to give us a Catholic education, feed and clothe us, cover house payments, and be responsible parents.

As the family grew, our spaces were more organized and the attic converted to two large bedroom spaces by my father. Each of us had a marked space that was ours. The mothers in the neighborhood took care to arrange for the back and forth sharing of school textbooks, and passing on clothing from one neighbor to another as different ones outgrew what they had. We had what we needed but not much extra. We thought ourselves lucky to enjoy a ‘hand-me-down’, and no one was ashamed to have them. There were many school age children on our block and in the neighborhood. Everyone had plenty of youngsters in the same age range.

The Ferriell family shortly before Sarah left to enter the novitiate. Back row (L-R): Patti, Sarah, Cathy, Louis (Father), Anna Mae (Mother), Mary Ann, and Norma. Front row: Joe, Margie, and Mike

Some wondered how our parents managed a growing family, especially when we welcomed our paternal grandfather to come live with us for three of the last years of his life. Mother was a home manager and she frequently bargained with the older ones of us so that all the jobs in the household would be done, babies to entertain and care for, until supper was on the table at the right time. Thus the girls in the family learned how to “pitch in” and work along with her. She always let us know how much she appreciated our working together, or disappointed, when we failed to do our share.

“The Rosary on the Air” was a part of our prayer for many years along with night prayers. They ended with “And God, help us all to be good, healthy and happy.”

At age 8, I remember asking my parents if I could get up early and go to the 6AM Mass. “Yes”, was the response “…if your Guardian angel wakes you.” So I asked my guardian angel and I always woke up in time to attend. I remember loving the early morning quiet space of the church, pondering the statues, coming and going on my own and not being marched in and out with the snap of a teacher’s fingers or the ring of a bell. I continued to do that through the rest of my grade school years.

Sister Sarah and siblings celebrating their parents’ Golden Anniversary in 1987

Our father was employed as an electrician his whole career with Muench Electric in Louisville. He was, according to co-workers well respected for his work ethic and the quality of the finished job. It was the same at home. When needed he spent weekends at home on projects to make things better. He usually came home from work with energy spent and often napped on the couch while the youngest girls entertained combing and curling his hair whenever asked. They loved to do it, and I think it relieved his frequent headaches brought home from work.

As time went on and the family was a full household, the cost of living pressures, tuition for Catholic education through high school, along with house payments, groceries for ten were no small concern to my parents, especially my father. He never spoke of it to any of us, but there were times it weighed on him and he wondered if he would ever make it. In his later retirement years he would say, “I never thought I could ever be so happy.”

Play opportunities were abundant in the neighborhood since there were plenty of school age friends for each of us. Street ball, hide and seek, group games and exploring the park with a hike to the top, climbing trees, riding bicycles, and lying on the grass at night looking up at the stars, imagining what mysteries were out there, sharing the best of what we thought the moon and outer space would really be like were times of great imagination and wonderful sharing with neighborhood kids. 

School days for the most part were good times. The teachers wanted the best we could give most of the time, and we were held accountable. I was never an A+ star pupil but I got good grades most of the time. 

I was especially fond of Sister Catherine de Paul, later Catherine Arnold, who taught us in Grades 5 and 7, and Sister Mary Eugene Ivie, in Grade 6. She was, for me, encouraging. It was during these years that I frequently found myself thinking of what it would be like to be a Sister. 

In high school, at Presentation Academy Sister Mary Lucina Sheehan taught the second year Latin class, and soon she would have me thinking of the call to Sisterhood again. By that time, however, other teen attractions competed for attention. So the thought of religious life would go on the back burner, but never too far away. I thought most of the teachers were good, and they inspired us to reach for the best we could be, particularly as women.

Sisters Mary Ransom Burke, Julie Driscoll, and Mary Elaine Zehnder visit with Sister Sarah in Dangriga

In the parish during high school years, a Young Christian Students group formed under the direction of Father Bertrand Rapp, Sister Mary Uriel Rapp’s nephew. The experience of that group inspired in many of us the importance of reflecting on our experience, analyzing, and working together on projects we all believed would make a difference. This opened up a whole new dimension of ministry and the importance of the ‘whole’, being a part of something bigger than myself. I began to value the importance of the community and the power of being united.

Before my senior year began, I had made my decision to ask for admittance into the SCN novitiate. I waited for an opportunity for both my parents to be in the living room at the same time, so I could tell them together. It came soon, and I shared my desire and decision, though I was somewhat fearful. They were both positive in supporting me. 

Walking into the church at Nazareth for the first time gave me a powerful sense of walking into a deeper part of myself that could not be captured in words except to say “deep peace.” The reality of the everyday, however, presented much to be desired. Most of us, I believe were on the edge of Vatican II before it happened. Now we were placed in a way of training that was behind the times. Not that all was bad, but there was a struggle and restless spirit among many wanting to break out or bring to birth a fresh way of doing things and be able to dialogue. Years of learning how to begin a dialogue followed.

(L-R) First year novices Isa Garcia, Carlette Gentle, Elisa Ariola, and Paris Slapikas with Sister Sarah Ferriell at Nazareth

I was happy to be assigned to South Boston on my first mission, to again have Sister Mary Lucina, this time as superior in the house. There were eighteen wonderful women there including Evelyn Hurley, Wanda Banks, Pat Worley and Julie Driscoll. Life was far more upbeat, and each person had a unique contribution to make. Since each was trusted to do so, there was a spirit of freedom that made for a positive atmosphere. Sister Mary Lucina understood before many others what needed to unfold in religious life. 

I was especially happy to travel with Sister Ann Maureen McGrath each month to Harvard to sing in the All Sisters’ Choir conducted by then famous Theodore Marrier.

It was an education to be in Massachusetts for three years and to appreciate how deeply the ocean rhythms are ingrained in the psyche of the people. How kind they could be to welcome and accept someone with a Kentucky accent. 

I then had only one year at St. Edward’s in Brockton, but that year we were allowed to visit the homes of the students who wanted us to come. All of them wanted me to come and see where they lived. I began to understand the unspoken desire of these young students to be recognized as unique, coming from different environments and wanting to be recognized and affirmed. I learned more than they.

Sister John Loretto Mueller and Sister Sarah Ferriell enjoy a ride to the Cayes in Belize

I was grateful to be sent over the next three years first to Millington, Tennessee Naval Air Station. S. Shirley Nugent served as principle and superior of the community, an inspiring, practical person who dealt with challenging times. Sister Pat Norton followed her, and I learned a great deal from her ability to offer leadership in an evolving school environment. 

Meeting some wonderful Sisters in Community, and parishioners with very different cultures and backgrounds, I always felt I received more than I taught. While at the Naval Air Station, The Viet Nam War was still raging, and the children’s classroom restlessness gave evidence to uncertainty in their family life. Their school life often mirrored the greatly disrupted family life.

Sister Sarah Ferriell and Sister Adeline Fehribach on a venture to Guatemala c. 1983

Then, in 1969, moving to the Delta, in Clarksdale Mississippi for the next four years, I saw another beauty of earth in its massive cotton fields at harvest. There was however a harvest of justice struggling to break through at the same time – a long standing culture beginning to change as the integration of the Catholic grade school took a first step. I gained further insight into the unexpressed white privilege from which all white people have advantage. Still the long standing way of life of the South had a beauty about it which I continue to hope can rediscover itself in a more inclusive way of life. 

In 1973, I was asked to work in Vocation Promotion and initial formation. Returning to Nazareth, I joined Sister Ann Kernen, who was the director of Novices, and later Sister Margaret Rose Griesbaum. Formation by this time was in an ongoing state of transition and evaluation, as the Community made efforts to offer a different kind of formative process reflecting Vatican II values, relevant to the day, yet true to SCN core values. Again, I often felt I learned more than I could have ever given. They were simply rewarding, enriching, humbling years of getting to know those who were searching for a sense of ‘call’ and wanting to test the waters for themselves. The hopeful question that met us from Community members, “How many do you have?” was ever-present. It helped us gradually move into a new and different valuing of the work of the Spirit as we walked into a future that was not mapped out as it once had been. Both Ann and Margaret Rose were such women of faith and inspiration.

Springtime at Nazareth
(L-R): Sister Sarah Ferriell, Director of Candidates; Sister Janet Ballard; Fran Flores, now an SCNA; Marge Ryan; Sister Margaret Rose Griesbaum, Novice Director; and Pat Hansbury

In 1979, I had the opportunity to work for my Master of Theological Studies (MTS) at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago with plans to put it to use in Belize Central America when completed. Thus, in 1981, with the invitation to serve on the parish team, I joined Sister Anna Nalley, then candidate Barbara Flores, the two Jesuit priests, two Holy Family Sisters, and three lay parishioners on the ministry team for Sacred Heart Parish in the town of Dangriga and the thirteen surrounding villages. I can only say this mission enriched my life and gave me far more than I could have imagined in relationships and understanding of different cultures. The Garifuna were a gifted, hard-working, and lively group who welcomed and also took time to teach me how they saw life, and what they needed from me. I again learned so much, and more than anywhere else, I thought there were opportunities to draw close to the earth and allow the meaning of scripture to come alive for me in ways it never had.

Sister Ann Keren, Sarah Ferriell, Ann Moylan, Mary Lynn Fields, John Loretto Mueller, and Mary Ransom Burke gather in Belize City

I have a very clear memory of the day I took the Blessed Sacrament out to the nearby Garifuna village of Hopkins with a message that the priest was ill and not able to come for the scheduled Sunday Mass. There, upon meeting the Minister of the Word, Marcella Lewis, a village leader, I conveyed the message with regrets. Marcella looked at me, puzzled, and said with all reassurance, “Sis, you will be our priest today.” Being fairly new, I was amazed. It was the beginning of a growing sense that such power rests with the people. From that moment forward I had a deeper sense of the power of the faith community to name and confirm. 

(L-R): Sisters Barbara Flores, Mary Lynn Fields, Ann Moylan, Judy Raley, John Loretto Mueller, Mary Ransom Burke, and Sarah Ferriell in Belize City in 1984

I enjoyed working with the Maya and Kechi People of the Stann Creek district also. Their initiative and decision-making process as a tribal community enabled them to discuss their needs and shape a meaningful plan of training in their own languages that was, for these people, a way of life. All the members would then take various responsibilities to carry out the plan.

In 1983, Sister Sarah represented the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in the receiving line for Pope John Paul II when he visited Belize. Sister Barbara Flores, not pictured, was selected to be one of the few to receive Communion from the Pope during his visit.

In 1986, I returned to the States, and after a period of rest at Nazareth, I explored pastoral work at Central State Psychiatric Hospital in Louisville, while taking a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). That turned into six years of unforgettable memories, learning from some of the most vulnerable of people who lived with mental illness. They taught me a world of ministry by simply being who they were, and challenging my understanding of what ministry means – who was giving and who was receiving. I was affirmed as a minister in some surprising situations. In receiving the gift of friendship offered by a person suffering with paranoid schizophrenia, I learned better what it meant to be poor and yet so rich. His great love and trust for the Church was rooted in a second grade favorite teacher he recalled from his childhood years at Holy Name School – Sister Mary Teresine Carrico, SCN.

A Ritual of Farewell Blessing for Sacred Heart Parishioners in Dangriga, Belize in 1986

During that time I had the opportunity to participate in the three-month exchange program of the Community and travel to India. Illness affected much of my experience there. While I was learning another culture so very different, I quickly learned one needs to be cautious about what to eat. Still, there were rich opportunities to glimpse into the experience of culture from a very significant majority of the world. The U.S. was pared down to size for me, and I learned all the more how greatly the people from India have enriched our Congregation.

Susan Gatz, provincial, and Theresa Knabel and Eleanor Martin, vice provincials, gather with the Board Members at the time: Sisters Brigid Clifford, Adeline Fehribach, Eva Kowalski, Sarah Ferriell, and Michael Leo Mullaney

I returned from India and continued to serve as a chaplain at Central State Hospital for four more rich years. My identity as a chaplain was confirmed, not by any of the CPE courses, so much as by the recognition of the people who were there, and I so liked being confirmed as such by the patients. I could not leave Central State without recognizing both Sister Martha Discher with whom I lived, and the well-known Director of the CPE program at the hospital, Reverend Clarence Barton, a great teacher/mentor and co-worker.

In 1995, I accepted a position at Nazareth Home as the director of the pastoral department. This occurred at the same time my mother became a resident there. It gave me an opportunity to more easily be with her and serve in a ministry where I felt at home. Our family was there with Mother when she breathed her last.

In 2004, I moved to Nazareth to prepare for the role as Director of Novices. At the time, the wish was to move the novitiate to Chicago and to participate from there in the intercommunity novitiate program. It was an experiment, but I think we learned living at Nazareth was a better option. I was glad they decided to return the novitiate program to the Motherhouse grounds. The atmosphere of the community at Nazareth, we recognized, was a missing element.

Younger Charity Federation members including SCN members from India in the Tertianship program participated in the “Roots Anew” program at Nazareth in August 2007

 I am in awe of the working of the Spirit in individual lives of the young women who say “yes” to this journey, and the God who shapes each within all kinds of circumstances. This is a ministry of accompaniment and of self-giving. Rewarding in God’s own surprising manner, it is not like any other role I ever experienced.

In 2008, I assumed the role of Pastoral Director at Nazareth Motherhouse until the present (2020). It has never stopped being a source of learning. During that time, Sister Rose Chase, my predecessor had initiated an invitation to the Sisters to offer a weekly scripture reflection at one of the weekday Masses. This has been a great source of development for the Community in accepting women leadership at the altar, an opportunity for growth among those who participate. That it continues is a sign of a greater at-home-ness in church leadership roles, among us as a Community.

Sister Sarah participating in a reenactment to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the SCN Community becoming a Papal Congregation
The play script was written by Sister Reenie Daugherty and directed by Sister Rita Davis. Participating in the reenactment were (L-R): Sisters Maria Vincent Brocato, Ann Kernen, Charlene Jacobs, Sarah Ferriell, Theresa Knabel, and Carol Rogers

As I look forward from this point in 2020, I am looking to a process of beginning to retire. I want to ease off the being “on call” most days and structure a space for other things to become more central, to prepare for a future of blessing and letting go all that has been and all that is unfolding into eternity.

Conclusion – A Reflection

As I come to this point, I, too, am grateful and happy to have been given so many blessings and friendships, and opportunities to grow. It gives me the freedom to know I have given the greater part of my energies. It is time to begin letting go of ministry as I have known it. I am now 79 and know I need to allow others to shape our new directions. The time to begin is here.

Sister Sarah celebrating the Christ in Women, Christmas 1994

 

 

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