South Dakota Presentation sisters celebrate milestone years
By KELDA J.L. PHARRIS
Jan. 08, 2018
ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) — When Virginia Hallauer decided at the age of 19 that she wanted enter the convent, her mom put the brakes on the plan.
Now 92, Hallauer last year celebrated her 70th year as a Presentation sister.
"Don't tell your parents the way I did it. I quit my job and said I decided to go to the convent," she said. "I didn't go then for two years. My mother thought I was too young to make that decision. It kind of hounded me that whole time."
The second time around, Hallauer told her parents more gently about her interest in joining the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
She's never regretted her decision, nor has she thought of leaving, like she did when she was working at J.C. Penney's in Watertown in the mid-1940s.
Now retired, Hallauer still seeks to help where she can. She's known as a joker around the convent, always has a quick smile and seemingly never at loss for a punchline.
Seven Presentation sisters have celebrated milestone jubilees last year — 50 years, 60 years or 70 years, the Aberdeen American News reported . The women have combined for 440 years of faithful service.
Recently, Hallauer, Sister Francene Evans and Sister Janice Klein reflected on their careers during a visit at the convent on the north side of Aberdeen. Evans's 60th jubilee was last year. Klein has been on the job for 50 years.
Hallauer had a simple explanation for the group's longevity: "They put up with us that long."
She was Klein's first-grade teacher at St. Mary Catholic School in Dell Rapids.
Klein, 70, thought long and hard about joining the convent, an idea she first had at a young age.
"When I was in high school I started thinking about being a sister but I said to myself, 'I wouldn't get married right out of high school so I won't go to convent right out of school," Klein said. "And I love children, so it was very difficult in thinking about not having my own children. It was difficult but it was the right decision for me."
Jubilee is a time of reflection, and each sister said it would be nice to spend more time in contemplation and prayer. They explain it as more of a deep need now, having grown in its depth through the years.
Evans, 80 and originally from Conde, found the Presentation sisters to be role models while she studied as an undergraduate.
"I went to Presentation College. I met some sisters there who I admired. I was pretty serious about life as a young person. It seemed to me that I only had one life and I wanted to make it special," she said.
It's not in Evans's nature to pick out a favorite mission or one she's proudest of since joining the sisters in the late 1950s.
"I've mostly been a teacher, college level, psychology. I taught here and then Minnesota West College, there for 20 years. I helped resettle Vietnamese refugees in 1980s, volunteered at a prison before they hired any women at the prison," Evans said.
That was in in 1973, '74 and '75, she said.
"I'd just gotten out of the University of Minnesota (with my doctorate). At the university I was a teaching assistant, and we got a grant so I would fly into a 10-state area to do drug education workshops for state employees and teachers," Evans said.
Among other ministries, Evans today leads book studies. It's thorough work focused on updating theology, she said.
For Klein, joining the sisters gave her a sense of peace in multiple ways.
"The attraction to religious life was twofold for me. The opportunity and time to deepen my spiritual life, and secondly to be able to share that with others, help them deepen their own relationship."
She first did that through teaching after earning her master's degree in ministry at Loyola University of Chicago. Klein then stayed on in Chicago and worked in parishes.
"Then my community asked me to return to South Dakota and start the (convent's) development office friend-raising and fundraising. Really promoting the mission of the sisters," Klein said.
Klein also did a development mission in Sioux Falls. She is now president of the sisters and on the leadership council. The four-member team is elected every four years.
She appreciates being able to carry on the sisters' mission. She said it hasn't really changed since they first arrived in Aberdeen in 1886.
"The mission has stayed the same, we were founded by Nano Nagle in Ireland," Klein said. "Nano Nagle saw in Ireland the poor children who were not allowed to be educated because they were Catholic.
"It was illegal to start schools for those children, but she did. She could've been imprisoned. What we like to say — I think it's really true — Nano created a social reversal. If you take that mission down through the years and you take that to Aberdeen, when we first came, we came to teach Catholic children," Klein said.
For example, she said, in the late 1800s, there were children running around the streets in Aberdeen, something that displeased the business community, The sisters started schools for the kids, and as a result, everybody benefited. Eventually, Klein said, business leaders asked the sisters to start a hospital — St. Luke's.
"That's what we do. We go where the need is, help others respond to the need and then leave when we're not needed," she said.
"The poor have always been of great interest, today and in the time of Nano," Hallauer said. "We're drawn to them."
Fewer young women are joining the sisterhood, but unique partnerships and collaborations keep the Presentation Sisters' mission strong.
"If you look worldwide, we do have vocations. If you look in Aberdeen, we do not have many young members," Klein said. "We also see our lay partners — we call them Presentation People — who help carry and keep the mission robust."
Those laypeople include employees of Presentation organizations, donors and others. Klein explained that the sisters' mission of justice, alleviating oppression and promoting human dignity is carried out through the partnerships. Laypeople can be volunteers, disciples and staff at the college or medical facilities.
"Now we have a lot of laypeople who work with the sisters. We see them more as partners now, and we're connecting a lot more with Presentation Sisters around the world," Klein said.
Information from: Aberdeen American News, http://www.aberdeennews.com