What does it mean to be a sister in the time of COVID-19?

By Ramie Churchill

When Sister Rosemary Kolich, known as Sister Rosie, was a student at the University of Saint Mary, in the 1970s. She never saw herself teaching at the same institution, even though she loved it. After graduating with her Bachelor of Arts from USM, Sister Rosie went to get her Masters of Arts at Middlebury College, her Ph.D. at Saint Louis University.

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She also never saw herself as an online instructor. Today she is doing both. One is a passion since birth, and one has come from a need after the coronavirus in March of 2020, which has caused the school to shut down in-person classes.

What does it mean to be a Sister?

Sister Rosie has been a Sister of Charity in Leavenworth for 38 years. As a sister, she always knew she wanted to be a teacher. Teaching is work that sisters always do along with being nurses. When the Sisters of Charity started in 1858 after arriving in Leavenworth, Kansas, by boat, they started for three reasons. To teach, heal, and care for orphans. They have been doing this ever since, but today this looks much different because orphans aren’t just a baby left on someone’s porch; it is a much bigger picture like helping the community as a whole. Sister Rosie continues the mission of Sisters of Charity as a teacher.

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Sister Rosie said, “we respond to the times and the needs of the times.” and that’s why the services may look different now as they are evolving and responding to current news and events. But still adhering to their mission of teaching, healing, and caring for the greater community. She has served on numerous committees and in a variety of leadership positions, including Faculty Senate Chair. Currently, Sister Rosie is Chair of Rank and Tenure and Director of Mission Council. In 2010, Sister Rosie was the recipient of the University’s Sullivan Award for Teaching Excellence. Throughout her teaching career, she has presented at various conferences, including the Columbia Scholastic Press Association in New York, the NCEA (National Catholic Educational Association) in Minneapolis, and the Gaskell Society in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Sister Rosie said, “I have always believed when you get lost and deep in literature, it often brings us back to life.” literature helps to bring you back to the human connections. That is what she says is fun about being a teacher—being able to make those social connections through literature. This is especially important with the virus making many people feel the lack of human connection. Sister Rosie has been an English professor at the University of Saint Mary for 23 years. Through her missions and hardships, nothing could quite prepare her for the pandemic that would come in 2020. “I have never seen myself as an online teacher.” She believes being in the classroom helps to open up student’s horizons and helps them grow. Not only as students but as people, Sister Rosie always said she would retire before teaching an online class. However, it became a need, as the University was shutting down due to the pandemic. There was no other way to help, other than to start the online learning. This new experience has taken her to a new place. This unique place and new opportunity are directly related to COVID-19.

Photo of Lisa Churchill taken by Ramie Churchill

Admissions Counselor Lisa Churchill states how working from home has caused some challenges, just none she expected. “The challenge isn’t working from home, because I have worked from home before in a previous job. The hardest part is convincing my extravert co-workers that it’s doable, and it’s not as challenging as they think.” She works hard on trying to motivate her team during this hard time. Much like Sister Rosie is the positive light for this dark time.

The University of Saint Mary is trying to be creative and respond to the unknowns. The new place that the community now faces together as a student body, faculty, and staff it is time to take care of each other. A USM student studying elementary education recently lost her job and filed for unemployment and wasn’t getting the resources she needed, so after contacting USM about her worries and struggles, they helped her with her rent and grocery bills for the week. The actions provided have shown the support USM has for its own. The only way to get through it is to do it. Sister Rosie says, “It is allowing us to be critical and creative thinkers.” We do not know what is to come in the future, or how long teaching remotely will be a need. It is merely just the unknown. Never say never because you never know what life is going to throw your direction. It is unknown what anyone will end up doing, so it is essential to keep an open mind. You might end up doing the one thing that you thought you’d never do. To her, that was teaching at Saint Mary, and now it is online school teaching at Saint Mary. What is to come next?

COVID-19 started to show symptoms view timeline belowScreen Shot 2020-04-28 at 2.20.54 PM.pngat the end of the year 2019 but didn’t officially spread to the United States until around January of 2020. From there, it became an epidemic causing multiple deaths and many people getting infected throughout the world. Other than just being affected, this virus has caused lots of damage to people, especially college students, and recently posted in the UMKC newspaper, student Melody Holliday, studying music education. She lost her job due to them closing their doors permanently. The job closing is a direct impact of COVID-19. The virus has also caused her student teaching to be affected; she is unsure of the outlook for her future. Filing for unemployment is also up in the air because the system is overloaded from the lack of preparation causing many college students like Holliday to be jobless and have no income. Coronavirus has changed many things at USM as well as in other parts of the world. Still, it hasn’t changed Sister Rosie’s views of seeing what a need in the community is and fulfilling that need in any way she knows how. She is taking this otherwise negative situation and turning it into a positive one by helping students and spreading the USM values and, of course, the importance of being a Sister.

She says, “We cannot make light or sense of all the suffering and pain. But we can be grateful for the goodness, the kindness, the healing love we’ve witnessed from our neighborhoods to our world. There are so many valuable lessons in all this. I’ve learned that when push comes to shove, that we show up for one another, can count on one another. We can be flexible, adaptable, creative, compassionate, good, and kind. Our care for one another especially shines through. I like to think that together in this crisis we are like the tulips in the springtime – the Risen Lord manifest. And yes, right, I’ve learned never to say never.”

Ramie Churchill is a Junior at the University of Saint Mary Studying Digital Communications.