Sister Rose Penouilh And Her Path To Carmel
The Sisters of Mount Carmel became a part of my life when Sister Josepha Maria MacNeil taught me in second grade and later Sister Martina Monk taught me in fourth grade at St. Dominic. I loved them dearly, and I wanted to be just like them. In other words, I wanted to be a Sister of Mount Carmel. However, I may have decided that I wanted to be a sister even before my second and fourth grade experiences with the sisters at St. Dominic. According to a story told by my mother so many times that I memorized it, it seems that God was already whispering in my ear and tugging at my heart when I was in kindergarten. As the story goes, my dad took me to the hospital to visit my mother and to bring her the Christmas present which I had made in kindergarten. I was so proud of my Christmas creation gift for my mother. It was a priceless gift, a coat hanger decorated with yarn. Remember those?
While I was visiting my mother in the hospital, a Sister of Charity came into the room. I had no idea what this person was who was all wrapped in a blue dress and who was wearing a huge white hat that looked like a big bird. When the sister left the room, I asked my mother what that was. She told me she was a lady who worked for God. Then and there I told my mother and dad that that was what I wanted to be when I grew up – a lady who works for God. Did I know what that meant? I don’t believe so, but I never forgot that encounter, and I never forgot that visit especially since my mother told the story often in my presence to so many people. The years flew by, and soon, I was fourteen and a junior in high school at Mount Carmel Academy. I knew a young girl could enter the community at fourteen if she would be fifteen shortly thereafter. So, I began asking my mother and dad if I could ask Mother Rita Monk to allow me enter in September. Finally, they agreed, but they were a bit sad. However, I was delighted though a little apprehensive. On Labor Day, 1944, my dad took me to the Motherhouse, and I was accepted by Mother Rita. Thus, began my years in Carmel.
Like any other normal human being, I had extraordinarily happy days and wonderful experiences; these were balanced out by some difficult days and sad experiences, but altogether they all added up to a very happy life in Carmel. This year, 2017, marks my 73rd year as a Sister of Mount Carmel. Seventy-one of those years, I have spent in the field of education. I taught elementary school, high school and college. I served as principal in both elementary and in high schools.
I have enjoyed my ministry in education wherever I have been assigned. Every place was special in its own way. Yet, some do stand out from the others. One special elementary school was St. Joseph the Worker in Marrero which had been a mission of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in Westwego, and, when I was first missioned there, had just been named a parish. The school was very small, more like a big family for me and Sr. Judith Hebert who was assigned there with me. Accompanied by many prayers of petition and thanksgiving, we worked with our pastor, Fr. Rousso, parents and student body, hopefully to help it become a very good Catholic school. It became just that. Time and the graduates covering a fifty year period evaluated the last year or two of their time at St. Joseph the Worker by the stories they shared with us. Some were funny stories, some very serious, but most were filled with gratitude for those years spent there and for the presence of the sisters. In fact, more than fifty years after their graduation from S.J.W., many of those former students still keep up with us.
Another special place was Mount Carmel in New Iberia. It was my first year as a high school teacher, and, a few years later, as principal. I had so much to learn, but also much to give to the student body, faculty, staff and parents. I think the years spent there, and those were many, are evaluated every time I am with former students and their parents at gatherings such as their annual Mount Carmel Alumnae Banquet. They bubble over with their expressions of gratitude for what they received while at Mount Carmel.
My present ministry is at Mount Carmel in New Orleans, another very special place. I had much more association with students at Mount Carmel when I was responsible for the Service Hour Program. This was very special and very different. I loved working with the students. I also supervised the science department and observed the fifteen science teachers at least twice a year. At a time convenient for the teachers, following each of my visits, the teacher and I met for a conference. Teacher conferences usually provide a relaxed opportunity to visit, review what I observed in their classroom, give them an opportunity to add or subtract from my observations and for me to take the opportunity to bring up things Carmelite which would lead to a very insightful conversation.
The fact that my office is on the main hall on the way to the cafeteria and the gym provides a natural venue for teachers, students, staff and anyone who comes by to stop in, say hello, or ask questions, and those visits give me the opportunity to mention things Carmelite when appropriate. Many stop by just to say hello or ask “How’s your day going?” And, I have equal time to do the same. Some ask for a time to come back and discuss different issues bothering them or to share special happenings in their lives, school or families. It is an easy, relaxed opportunity simply to be present and to share.
All my ministries have been times of grace and blessing for me, and I am happy to have the opportunity to share with faculty, staff and students when the time is appropriate. These are special times of grace and blessings which make my ministry so special for me and, hopefully, for them.
A call from God to religious life is very special and needs to be responded to prayerfully and with gratitude. It doesn’t mean saying “yes” immediately at that point. It does mean prayerfully asking God to “guide” you to the right decision.
Many of us pray regularly for all of you trying to prayerfully discern God’s will for you. Let us pray for one another to always make good, God-centered decisions. Know that we are with you in prayer.