God’s generous abundance continues to bless me in every season of my life!
My parents, James and Marie, had Mike, me, Tim, Patty and Jane within ten years. Dad was a laundryman and mom worked incredibly hard at home caring for the five children. My schooling began at St. Stephen’s, then St. Mary’s Academy in Portland. When I entered the convent in July, 1960 I started my training as an elementary school teacher at Marylhurst College. This marked the beginning of a lifetime of ministry in Catholic schools.
For eleven years I taught sixth, seventh and eighth graders – such insightful and happy years! Then I served as principal, beginning at Sacred Heart Mid High and Sacred Heart Academy, Salem. Much as I liked administration (most of the time) I recognized that I needed to know more about boards, marketing and revenue development - a quest that led to a year of internships in Hartford, Chicago, Omaha, and Arlington, VA. This information guided me when I served as principal at St. Mary’s Academy from 1983-88.
Reflecting on my life it is only right that I begin with the notion of home and family. The first grace of my life was being born to Gelsomina and Earnesto who brought me into the Stefani-Cavalli families.
This grace was nurtured by being raised as the third of four children and the only girl at that. All four of us children lived and learned the importance of family and loyalty to one another. Our parents were practical models of loyalty, respect, resilience to life and a sense of responsibility.
The second significant grace was my Catholic school education; St. Philip Neri elementary school, St. Mary’s Academy and later Marylhurst College. It was in the halls and campuses of these schools that I would form lifelong friends and grow to know the Holy Names sisters. These institutions became an extension of home.
On a very, very, very hot July 4, 1942, three boys and one girl were born at different hospitals in the Portland area. I was that one girl, the first of four children, Susan, Rodger and Rebecca, born to Fred and Dorothy Matthies.
After attending Sitton Elementary School for three years, I went on to attend St. Ignatius School from the 4th to the 8th grades and to St. Mary’s Academy for high school. Becoming a sister of the Holy Names entered my thoughts in the 7th and 8th grades and all during high school the idea persisted in my mind. I wrote my letter asking to enter the congregation, and I was accepted and entered the novitiate on July 25, 1960 with a magnificent group of women.
I was born in Seattle, WA and raised in Portland, OR, the third of four children. Mom: Mary Violet and Dad: William A. McKenzie believed in Catholic education and sacrificed much to help build a Catholic school at St. Rita’s parish in the Parkrose area of Portland.
One of my earliest and favorite memories of my mom is kneeling by the bed saying her rosary, no matter how late it was. The faith both mom and dad had meant so much to them and they not only talked about it, they lived it.
Our neighborhood was very simple – no sidewalks, lots of trees and at least 2 vacant lots and a half acre for a backyard. There was plenty of time and space to play, daydream and just be.
My family roots are in St. Paul, Oregon. Most of my elementary and all of my high school education was in public schools, but my connection with the Sisters of the Holy Names, especially with the High School Sodality, was enough to draw me to the Congregation, which I entered at Marylhurst in July of 1960, just after high school graduation.
Music had always been important to me, and the singing we did in the novitiate was a spiritual gift. When I began ministry, my love of singing melded with my teaching as I borrowed a guitar, learned four guitar chords and taught my own music. In the midst of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement and the renewal of Vatican Council II, I taught U.S. History, Mass and the Sacraments, sang civil rights songs with young people and began doing liturgical music with a Folk Mass group. It was one of my 5th grade classes that gifted me with my first guitar. I have been involved in liturgical music ever since.
The road to my vocation sometimes became bumpy, and had a few detours along the way but the summer of 1960 found me on the Holy Names novitiate doorstep. It was the fulfillment of a choice I made as a third grader, when I decided I wanted to become a sister.
Leaving my loving Irish parents, six brothers and an older sister was not easy, but we had good companions, lots of laughter (and a few tears) to carry us along the way. My ministry as a sister has been entirely devoted to education in some form. With a bachelor of education from Marylhurst, and a master’s in education from Portland State University, I have taught, mainly first grade, at St. Mary’s in Eugene, and St. Thomas More, and taught and served as principal at the Assumption and Holy Cross Catholic schools, in Portland.
As I reflected on this year of Jubilee, I became deeply aware of how blessed and abundant my life has been during my 50 years as a Sister of the Holy Names. I am grateful for my parents, Douglas and Marguerite, who brought me far from their Iowa roots to beautiful, green but quite damp, Oregon in 1951. I learned from them that family is precious, to “aim high”, that achievement is possible and so many practical ways of making life better for others. I am grateful for my four brothers and my sister, Mary Sue. We have supported each other through difficult times.
I am grateful for my Community of amazing, diverse women who have walked with me and given me so many opportunities to study and to explore unfolding paths of ministry. In the late 60’s I spent a summer in the deep South, Louisiana, during the Civil Rights movement and, in the 70’s, I earned a MA at a mid-Western innovative theology program, which included dance and drama. Since then I have tried to teach PE to sophomores, Gerald Manley Hopkins to seniors and whatever possible to 8th graders in Medford, Salem, Eugene and Portland. Weekends with youth group activities taught me to be thankful for the generous and talented Marist brothers who did the driving and cooking.
Reflecting on 50 years as a Sister of the Holy Names brings with it much gratitude to my parents Lucille E. Wolcott and Maynard C. Tibbetts who shared with me and my younger brother, Stephen, a love of adventure and an appreciation of excellence in one’s undertakings. My father, a sea captain, and my mother, both a school teacher and respected educator, introduced me to the beauty and wonder of nature in the Pacific Northwest amid family camping trips to a variety of remote destinations in Washington.
Music has been an integral part of my life since the second grade and would come to be a vehicle through which I came to hear, with clarity, a call to religious life. Attempting to listen to God’s continuing call has led me to a variety of places and to doing many things. I have served as a music teacher, nurse’s aide, business administrator, pastoral minister and administrator, hospice chaplain as well as a variety of community service ministries. Living amid a time of paradigm shifts within the Church and in general society has been both life challenging and life stretching.