Remembrance of the Life of Sister Evelyn (formerly Sister Evelyn Marie) Houlihan SL
(Editor’s Note: The following is the autobiography of Sister Evelyn Houlihan SL. It has been slightly edited by Eleanor Craig SL. Sister Evelyn died July 16 at Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary in Nerinx, Ky. She was 90 and in the 72nd year of her Loretto life.)
“I was the youngest of three children and the only family member to be born in Sterling, Ill. All others were born in and around Vinton, Iowa. My parents, Harold and Elizabeth Houlihan, [both from that area of Iowa, moved] to Illinois to find work when the farms failed during the Depression. In 1936, when I was 4years old, my 10-year-old brother was hit by a car and died before dawn of the next day. It was the first of many trips back to Iowa for burials.
“I lived the first 11 years of my life in Emerson, Ill., a rural village four miles outside of Sterling. I attended the two-room public country school for five years which was adjacent to our rented 4-acre mini farm. My father raised a cow, pigs, chickens, geese, a big garden, along with three kids while he worked at the steel mill in Sterling. My mother maintained a spotless house and kids with no electricity or plumbing. A battery-powered radio and later a three-party phone were our only luxuries. We were money poor but not space poor. My father never lost his love of the land. The animals and garden fed us well.
“We moved into the town of Sterling in 1943 and bought an old house. I entered St. Mary’s grade school in the sixth grade, graduating in l946. I graduated from Catholic Community (now Newman High School) with a scholarship for Webster College. I preferred the one from Loretto Heights, but ended up going to the Sisters of Loretto instead on Oct. 25, l950. [Evelyn would attend summer sessions at Webster and complete her bachelor’s degree in education in 1960.]
“Sterling was gifted with many fine SLs. I owe my Loretto orientation to Sister Ursula Griffith, who taught me commercial studies. She gave much time and interest to me in my searching senior year. I loved sports and was the catcher on the Sterling Chicks girls softball team my last summer home. The nuns feared I would be lured to play professional girls softball — it was tempting. Ah well, another road not taken.
“My novitiate days were a challenge for a girl used to doing her own thing. My favorite times were walks in the woods, quiet reflections before evening prayers as the sun set and the cows grazed in the pasture. I cared little for the formal classroom education or the constant choir practice. To this day I still marvel that I survived so well. As a second-year novice I took over management of the laundry. It was a great outlet for my organizational skills.
“My brief student teaching experience was at St. Benedicts in Louisville, Ky. I spent my first two years of teaching there also, then two years at Broadway and six in Lebanon, Ky., all in the primary grades which I had specifically NOT requested. My 10 years in Kentucky were eventually seen as hidden gifts but I always had my eyes on the West.
“My father was dying of cancer so I made a special visit home August of 1963, on my way to my new assignment at St. Vincent’s in Denver. Soon I returned to Sterling as he died on my entrance anniversary.
“My western stay was short. [After just one year] I went to Highwood, Ill., for two years. We lived above the school in an Italian parish next to the fire station. I began my studies at Notre Dame, sometimes in the habit and other summers out of the habit.
“I returned to St. John’s in Denver in 1966 where I only lasted two months. I was in the usual hot water with superiors for being independent, so I quickly agreed to fill a fifth-grade position at Blessed Sacrament for one of our ill nuns. This was the beginning of my ascent out of the primary grades. It was there that I became part of the ‘Out of Habit’ experiment also.
“Due to turmoil over changes at Blessed Sacrament, I again was changed, to St. Joseph’s in Ft. Collins, Colo., in 1968. Several of us from Denver had planned to experiment in small-group living and received the go ahead on it. This made it necessary for me to return to Denver, this time to teach at Holy Family.
“The three of us who eventually rented a duplex were Mary Kay Widger, Ann Carol Wickert and me. Lorraine Therese and Alicia Ramirez had planned with us but decided against the move. We lasted from September to February. Mary Kay Widger returned to Blessed Sacrament, I went to Holy Family Convent and Ann Carol Wickert left the order.
“In 1969 I returned to Blessed Sacrament with Carolyn Lanham as principal. I had three happy years there teaching Junior High and girls’ sports. My girls’ basketball team won the All-City Parochial Tournament. I also finished my master’s in guidance and counseling from the University of Notre Dame in July of 1968.
“By this time of my religious life, I had accumulated a bachelor’s degree in education from Webster College, a master’s in guidance and counseling from Notre Dame University and in 1976 [I would complete] a master’s in religious education from Boston College. I experienced Vatican II at its best with Mathew Fox, Richard McBrien, Anthony Padavano, Ray Brown, James Carroll, to mention but a few of my teachers.
“In the summer of 1970 I took a counseling job at the University of South Dakota with Upward Bound. It was a great learning experience for me with the Indians from the Rosebud Reservation. In the summer of 1971, I took a counseling job with Head Start in South Bend, Ind. This was very different from the above Indian experience. They both were extremely bureaucratic and unfulfilling but highly educational for me.
“In 1972 my next venture took me to St. James Parish as Adult Education Coordinator on a team with Eileen Mackin and Clem de Wall. We had a great parish team and spent four good years trying to implement Vatican II. [By the time I received my master’s in religious ed, however], our parish team was replaced; Eileen Mackin and Clem De Wall married, and I went on to other vistas.
“I had moved from Blessed Sacrament Convent in 1973 to live with Jane Kosters CoL. While living across Sloan’s Lake from St. Anthony Hospital, I applied for a pastoral associate position there and was hired Oct. 4, 1976. I lasted 14 months, finding my education too far ahead of the conservative Church mentality and resident priests. Sister Carol, the Franciscan nun in charge, was great but the male tide was too strong to swim against. Seminarians with less education than I were given Roman collar deference. Vatican II had not come to St. Anthony’s enough for me to want to stay. By this time, I was fed up with the Church so my next work move would be outside of the Catholic Church structures.
“I attended Jones Real Estate School and received my agent license April of 1978. Julie Stone had been on my committee at St. James Parish and asked me to join her company. I had few contacts so began to do books and manage the office for her. I also started to show rental properties and eventually did management more than selling. During the Denver real estate bust of the ‘80s I transferred my license in 1982 to Ken Simon of Simon & Co. where I remained until I retired my license Dec. 31, 1999. I did help Loretto get into house ownership starting with the three Bear Valley Houses.
“Jan. 1, l986, I moved from Jane Koster’s home after nine adventuresome years. Loretto housing was tight, so I spent three months on South Stuart with Kathleen Vonderhaar and six months with my friend Isabel Weisensel on South Leyden. Kathleen and I then rented a house on South Decatur. I moved to Loretto Center Jan. 22, l988.
“In l986, my broker, Ken Simon and his partner, Bob Pailet, opened an ice cream store in the old Dolly Madison store at 799 S. University. On Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, 1987, I was asked to step in as temporary manager until after the holidays due to the resignation of their manager. However, I ended up managing the store for the next 14 years. We were famous for our homemade ice cream, good service and well-trained employees. I called it BBIC University. In that job I needed every skill I ever used in the classroom.
“Sporadic tingling in my right leg and arm from August 1997 to February of 1998 left me with a diagnosis of MS. I needed to scale down my workload. By the end of 1999, I gave up my real estate license. My only official paying job would be management of Bonnie Brae Ice Cream in the new millennium.
“My travels have been vast. My friend Ray Ensman and I have toured Europe. My friend, Sister Anne Stedman OSB, and I traveled to Florida, Jamaica, Ireland, Thailand and Laos. Jane Kosters and I have been to Mazatlan, Mexico, to Switzerland to see the Matterhorn, and to Cambodia where we saw the ancient ruins of Siem Reap and experienced the results of the ‘killing fields’ era.
“My love of the outdoors has had me skiing and hiking the mountains and riding the bike trails of Denver. Nature has always been my cathedral and house of prayer.
“In the words of one of my favorite writers, Henry Thoreau, ‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and draw out all the marrow of life.’
“I refused to live an ‘unlived life.’”
Please keep Evelyn, her family and all her loved ones in your prayers. May she rest in peace.