Remembrance of the Life of Sister Sylvia Ginder SL
In early March of 1970, Sister Sylvia Ginder wrote to Sister Mary Luke Tobin, then completing her 12 years as the General Superior of the Sisters of Loretto. Sylvia’s letter is a kind of autobiography and the clearest statement of how she, a Dominican Sister from Oklahoma, became a Sister of Loretto.
Wrote Sylvia, “Dear Sister Mary Luke, …My spiritual director assured me that God would help me find a community where I could continue my commitment to Christ as a religious. It seems that the Spirit is guiding me now to ask you for admittance to the Loretto Sisters soon.
“Since August 5, 1969, I have had a leave of absence from the Dominican sisters, Springfield, Illinois, for one year. After the Special Chapter of 1968, I found myself unable to accept the decisions. However, I wanted to be a religious. So, with direction and guidance, I received the leave with the intention of finding a community which had adapted the principles of Vatican II, thereby allowing me to be a better religious without being smothered by structures which hinder Christian community life. I have contacted post-Vatican II communities, but these lacked stability and the type of in-depth spirituality which I find part of religious life.
“I am 39 years old and I have been professed for 19 years. … During these years I have been an elementary teacher in grades 1-5 and 7-8. My last four years included administrative work at St. Thomas School, Newton, Illinois. …
“I am presently at St. Norbert College, West de Pere, Wisconsin, where I am spending two semesters to complete my BA in Elementary Education. Upon [completion] of my studies, I will be anxious to join your community. …Sister Patricia Prijatu OP also requests permission to join the Loretto Sisters. Since we are at a distance, it would be convenient for us to share traveling expenses and join your community at the same time. Since Sister Patricia’s home is in Denver, there would be a possibility for us to be part of a Loretto community there during the summer in order that we might become acquainted. The only Loretto Sister I know is Sister Benedicta Feeney whom I met at DePaul University, Chicago, last summer.
“… If you would be coming to the Chicago-Milwaukee area we would be happy to meet you there…Also, any literature which you could send us concerning the Loretto Sisters would be appreciated…I have great confidence that God will guide both Sister Patricia and myself in our aspirations.”
Sylvia Theresa began life as the only child of two émigrés from Europe, Francis Xavier Ginder and Regina Johanna Kalbhen Ginder. Frank had come from an Alsacian part of France, Bartenheim; he and his first wife were farmers near Kingfisher, Oklahoma. They had a son Henry who became a pilot in his young adulthood, by which time the first Mrs. Ginder had died. Frank then married Regina, an émigré from Lichtenau, Germany. Their only child, Sylvia, was just 3 years old when her half-brother, Henry, died at the age of 20.
Sylvia was 6 when her parents purchased the home of Oklahoma Territorial Governor A. J. Seay on the outskirts of Kingfisher. It was and is a gracious prairie mansion that includes a reception hall, library, a ballroom, seven fireplaces and a distinctive domed-roof tower. Sylvia attended the parish school at Sts .Peter and Paul, taught by the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Ill. The family moved to Oklahoma City in time for Sylvia to attend John Carroll High School with the Sisters of Mercy. At the age of 20, Sylvia entered the Dominicans, with whom she served for her first 19 years as a vowed religious. Entering Loretto in 1970, Sylvia served another 51 years, altogether 70 years of vowed commitment.
Sylvia had told Sister Mary Luke that she wished to continue as a grade school teacher, and she began her Loretto service at Blessed Sacrament Grade School in Denver. With the freedom of choice in work encouraged by Loretto, it was only five years later that Sylvia moved into pastoral counseling, spending the rest of her working years in care of sick and elderly, even including her own mother, who died in Denver in 1989 at the age of 95. Regina had moved to Denver when Sylvia did, in 1970 and enjoyed traveling widely, often including Sylvia in her many trips back to Germany, where Sylvia met many relatives with whom she continued active contact through the years. In Sylvia’s file is a joyful photograph of Sylvia on a boat with green hills in the distance. Across the photo Sylvia had written, “My favorite place to be: The Rhine and its vineyards.”
From 1976 to 1984, Sylvia served as pastoral assistant at Mercy Hospital in Denver. There her counseling service was recognized with several honors, including the 1980 Mercy Employee of the Year. Having confirmed for herself that counseling was indeed her preferred ministry, Sylvia took a year to study, completing a master’s degree in counseling at the University of Northern Colorado in 1985. She went on to serve at Marian Plaza and St. Joseph Hospital, both in Denver.
In 1990 Sylvia applied to be the bereavement assistance coordinator for the Horan and McConaty Mortuaries in Denver, a position she filled for six years. In her application she wrote, “For some 11 ½ years I have been …directly involved in the ministry of death and dying both to patients and to their families and friends. Most recently, I suffered the loss in death of my own elderly mother at age 95. I believe that these experiences are valuable in meeting the qualifications required for the position of bereavement services coordinator.”
Also in that application and elsewhere, Sylvia gives glimpses into the wide variety of her skills, interests and depth of compassion: She lists her abilities to translate needs of patients to medical and nursing staff and to support patients and their families. She names her work as chair of the Denver Metro Chaplin’s Association. Noting that she is bilingual in English and German, she says she has traveled in Europe extensively, that she is professionally trained in piano and organ, and that she enjoys fine music. On a 1980 form for Loretto, Sylvia listed in even greater detail her hobbies and recreational preferences: “reading, swimming, hiking, tennis, cross-country skiing, indoor and outdoor skating, winter sports, horse-back riding and dancing.”
Sylvia began her vows as a Sister of Loretto in 1972, saying, “It is with joyful thanksgiving that I accept from God the gift to make vows for the purpose of growing in love through unceasing conversion and self-donatiion.” At the time of her golden jubilee last year Sylvia’s continuing joy was manifest as she named God’s blessings and the gifts of friendship through the years, and expressed gratitude for the loving care and comfort of the Motherhouse Infirmary.