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Feature Articles

A Century of Blessings
By Erin Reder

This week friends and family of S. Annina Morgan celebrated a century of blessings. A Sister of Charity of Cincinnati for 82 years, S. Annina turned 100 years old on March 9.

A couple of days before her 100th birthday, S. Annina reflected with me on the past 82 years. She credits her entrance into the SC Community at the age of 17 as a result of the example of the Sisters of Charity that taught her at St. Mary’s in Albuquerque. “They were always having a good time; I became close friends with many of them. … It doesn’t seem possible [that it’s been 82 years since I entered.] The grace to grow closer to God doesn’t come all of a sudden; it’s ongoing.”

Born in Alpena, Michigan, in 1916, S. Annina’s father died when she was just 5 years old. Her mother moved the family West to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to live with S. Annina’s grandparents. When her mother remarried, the family became Catholic. “Beautiful how God brings good out of tragedy,” Sister once said. “I would not be a Sister of Charity today had my own dad not drowned and left my mother a young widow at 26.”

Sister entered the Community in 1933, and for 33 years ministered in education – teaching grades five through college – in Michigan, Ohio and Colorado. She was principal at many of those schools. In 1968, S. Annina left formal education to serve as campus minister at Michigan State University in East Lansing and later St. Mary University in Mount Pleasant, both in Michigan. She returned to Cincinnati and Mount St. Joseph in 1974 to minister as personnel director for the Sisters of Charity Congregation, as director of the Women’s Center at the College of Mount St. Joseph and as retreat director for the Community – each for five-year terms.

S. Annina remembers her teaching years with fondness. “When I first started teaching, at the age of 18, I taught 74 fifth graders at St. Leo’s in Detroit, Michigan. I was there for 10 years, and when one of our Sister’s was out for a couple months, I taught 96 fifth-grade boys. We got along well, but two months was enough,” she laughs.

Another vivid memory comes from Pueblo Catholic High School in Colorado: “We held a bazaar at the school in March; burglars broke into the school and blew open the safe with dynamite. They only got fifty cents because S. Rita Schmutte has just deposited $15,000 in the bank,” she says with a grin.

Many of S. Annina’s students from St. Leo’s and Pueblo Catholic High keep in touch with her today, including 91-year-old Louis Rice, who was one of the 96 fifth-grade boys she taught at St. Leo’s. “They all say thank you for making an impact in their lives, and for helping them become the people they are today,” she relates.

Taking the opportunity to celebrate S. Annina during National Catholic Sisters Week, I wanted to get her perspective on the future of religious life, asking the question: How do you see religious life reflecting the goodness and compassion of God into the future?

“Religious life will always reflect God’s goodness and compassion because that is who we are and what we are dedicated to,” she said. “If it doesn’t then something is wrong with us. We are called to reflect God’s love to those we meet.

“It’s humbling to read letter after letter and realize how you have made God present to others.”

Blessings abound when you have lived religious life for more than 80 years. S. Annina holds close to her heart the friendships she has developed throughout the years, and the feeling is multiplied tenfold. It is said that those who know her are made to feel that they are her closest friend.

“Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quotation on friendship fits S. Annina perfectly,” says her treasured friend S. Mary Bookser. “‘A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.’ S. Annina has been the dearest of friends for close to 40 years. She is a woman who radiates goodness, grace, wisdom and love, and has shared these through all the years of her Sisters of Charity living. She is a blessing to all of the Charity family and to all who know her.”

As flowers and cards began to pour in the week of Sister’s 100th birthday, you couldn’t help but wonder if she ever expected to be celebrating this monumental birthday. “It’s a miracle in itself,” S. Annina said. “I have been told nine times that either I would not make it through the night, week or month.

“We stay alive because there is still something for us to do; to still have some influence. Even after I’m gone, the work is not over, it’s just my share is done.”

It was a joy and a privilege to reflect and hear Sister’s wisdom. Happy 100th Birthday S. Annina. You are a gem and a treasure to all who are blessed to know you.