Wilma Ross, SCN (right) visited with Sharen Baldy, SCN, in Columbus, Ohio.
originally printed in the Catholic Times, Columbus, Ohio
Most sisters who have been in a religious community for several decades have served in many places. Sister Wilma Ross, SCN, is an exception.
Her first assignment with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth was to teach at Columbus St. Ladislas School, and she never left. She taught there from 1963 to 1981, then went into nursing and social work, and continues to live at the St. Ladislas convent, which includes a Eucharistic chapel open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays.
”I’m on call 24 hours, seven days a week at St. Ladislas and Corpus Christi parishes,” she said. “I do all the sacramental visiting for the parishes, train extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, go to hospitals and nursing homes on a regular basis, and do most of the planning for funerals.
“I also coordinate the parish bereavement group, am secretary-treasurer of our Senior Stars activities for older people, and direct a card party for the people of the neighborhood during the winter months. There’s always something to do, and I’m fortunate that I’m still able to get around to do it,” said Sister Wilma, 82. “In fact, I just renewed my driver’s license, so I’ll be able to keep up my work.”
Sister Wilma’s two parishes are part of a three-parish cluster on the city’s south side, along with Columbus St. Mary Church in the German Village neighborhood. Father Kevin Lutz is pastor and Father Nicholas Droll is the parochial vicar.
“I’ve known the people here for so many years,” she said. “Father Lutz and Father Droll often have told me how glad they are that I’m here and can help them serve three parishes. They’re wonderful priests, but I know it has to be difficult for them to serve three parishes.
“I’ve has a wonderful opportunity to practice my faith through serving the people of this area for so long and being available to those who need me the most. I grew up poor, and this is a neighborhood much like the one I was raised in, so I know what it’s like for the people living here.”
Sister Wilma grew up in Dennison Immaculate Conception Church, attending the parish school from grades one to 12 and graduating in 1952. “The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth taught all 12 grades,” she said. “I never had a man as a teacher until my junior year in high school.”
Dennison was a railroad town then, with railyards covering 40 acres and a train station that became known nationwide for the friendliness of the townspeople, who provided and coffee to more than a million soldiers passing through during World War II. The station is now a museum commemorating that heritage. Sister Wilma has two sisters (one of them deceased) and a brother. Their father was a retired employee of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Besides railroading, the manufacturing of clay pipe was the other big business in Dennison and neighboring Uhrichsville. After graduating from high school, Sister Wilma went to work as a timekeeper for American Vitrified Products, a pipe making company. “I never thought of going to college after high school,” she said. “I thought that was reserved for the very rich.”
She remained friendly with the sisters who taught her. “One year, I drove them to their Motherhouse in Nazareth, Kentucky, for the summer and picked them up,” she said. “One said I would be a sister someday, but I thought, ‘Oh no, I couldn’t. I talk all the time.’” She said her decision to consider a religious life began with a question from her niece, Roseann Bonamico, now a teacher at New Philadelphia Tuscarawas Catholic High School.
“Roseann asked me ‘What are you going to do with yourself? Are you going to live here all your life?’ and I told her, ‘That’s a good question,’’’ she said. “A friend of mine also was thinking of the religious life. We went together to Father Hugh Gilbert, our pastor, and he said we should at least make the attempt to become sisters and see if that life was for us.
“I wanted to go to the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth because I was familiar with them. Father Gilbert paid for my ‘dowry’ and did everything a sponsor could. I entered the convent at Nazareth on Sept. 8, 1958, five days before my 24th birthday, and became a postulant nine months later, on July 19, 1959, the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul, founder of the Sisters of Charity.
“Two years later, in 1961, on the same date, I made my first vows, taking the name Sister Joseph Marguerite. That’s the date members of our order use in determining their anniversaries of service, so I’ve been a sister for nearly 56 years. I made my perpetual vows on that day in 1966,” Sister Wilma said.
“I received a bachelor’s degree in education in 1963 from Nazareth College, which the sisters operated and is now Spalding College in Louisville, Kentucky, and began teaching that fall. I was supposed to teach in Kentucky, but another sister became ill and I was sent to Columbus instead. That thrilled my mother because I was closer to home.
“My first class at St. Ladislas had 60 students, which was typical for the time. We had 460 students in the building. I liked teaching and the kids liked me. It helped that we had some wonderful priests – Msgr. Frank Riehl and Msgr. George Mason,” she said.
“I stayed in education for 18 years and got a master’s degree from Nazareth during that time, then took a break and went to Spalding for training, earning a bachelor’s in nursing.” She returned to Columbus in 1985 and was a nurse until 1993 at St. Anthony’s Hospital (now Ohio State University Hospital East). She also worked at Ohio State’s Talbott Hall for people dealing with substance abuse during that time. “That was a real eye-opener,” she said.
The Franciscan Sisters of the Poor sold St. Anthony’s in 1991 to Quorum Health Care, which sold it to OSU eight years later. Sister Wilma worked in home health care with the Dominican Health Care system from 1993 to 2000, and has been concentrating on pastoral ministry at St. Ladislas since then.
She is one of four Sisters of Charity of Nazareth serving in the Diocese of Columbus. The others are Sister Sharen Baldy, SCN, who works with the Joint Organization for Inner-City Ministries; Sister Rose Mary Gerlica, SCN, in family ministry in Columbus; and Sister Dorothy Gerlica, SCN, who lives in New Lexington.
“I never wanted to do anything spectacular,” Sister Wilma said. “I just wanted to be of service to God and the people who were wherever I happened to be. I love my community, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky. It is my religious family and I cherish my membership all these years. Finally, I thank God for my parents, who gave me life to do his work on earth.”