It’s not typical for a big pile of broken, tangled Christmas lights to make anyone happy but Eric Krakowski couldn’t help but smile when he saw photos of a Duchesne Academy work truck filled with discarded broken lights. The school recently completed its fourth Christmas lights drive when it collects people’s damaged, broken, or otherwise unwanted strands of holiday lights and donates them to Scrap Central for recycling.
“This just started as a box outside of our building with a few strands but now it has grown and it is wonderful to see so many people participating,” said Krakowski, Duchesne’s assistant principal.
Scram Central donates the recycling proceeds from the effort to Lincoln Firefighters Operation Warm which provides coats to children in Lincoln. Over a five-week period, which began after Thanksgiving, Duchesne collected 550 pounds of lights, bringing its cumulative total to over 2400 pounds in 4 years, according to Krakowski.
“This project is perfect for Duchesne. It is part of our Sustainability Program, which is based in Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si, and is rooted in our Goal 4: a social awareness that impels to action,” said Krakowski, who is celebrating his 24th year as a Sacred Heart educator at Duchesne.
The weekend before Thanksgiving, I took a personal retreat at Creighton University Retreat Center in Griswold, Iowa. The log cabins in the rustic woods, hiking through endless paths in the forest, meditating in front of sculptures of Jesus, praying with my rosary beads while snuggled under a blanket in a rocking chair, silence inviting me to Lectio Divina with Scripture, attending Mass in a small, intimate setting, and seeing at least ten deer all deepened my relationship with God, myself, and creation.
What affected me most, however, was a sculpture called Tender Mother. The sculpture was of Mary tenderly holding her baby Jesus. This was meaningful to me as some of my most precious moments as a mother come from tenderly holding my baby Maverick. This sculpture of Mary as Tender Mother also sparked my memory of another image of Mary from two years prior.
Two years ago, I went on retreat at Saint Benedict Center in Schuyler, NE. As I stood outside on a brisk, cool morning before the sun came up, I found myself next to a statue of Mary. “Fruit of new creation,” the text read. I longed to be fruitful; I so desperately wanted to have “new creation” growing inside of me. I yearned to carry a baby, just like Mary. And with that, I lit a votive candle, asking for Mary’s intercession, that I, like her, might someday “be with child.”
It was quite random that I asked for Mary’s intercession on that crisp, fall morning two years ago. I of course honored and respected Mary, but I never had a particular devotion to her. If anything, I often felt frustrated with the portrayals of her as passive, submissive, and quiet. But it was out of desperation, longing, and yearning to be a mother that I lit that candle and offered that prayer. Some would say it was chance, that I just happened to walk by that statue of Mary that morning. I believe, however, it was the gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit.
And some would say it was chance that, two years later, I looked at the sculpture of Mary as Tender Mother at Creighton University Retreat Center as well; the gift store was closed that weekend and I didn’t intend to buy anything. Or maybe it was boredom – the gift store was right next to the dining room, and maybe I was looking to fill those few moments of boredom before the meal was served. Perhaps it was chance, perhaps it was boredom, or maybe, once again, I was led to view that sculpture of Mary as Tender Mother by the gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit.
As I gazed at this sculpture of Mary as Tender Mother, so tenderly holding the baby Jesus, just as I tenderly hold my son Maverick, a sense of gratitude flooded my entire being. Gratitude for my son. Gratitude for the gift of motherhood. Gratitude for Mary.
Now, as I write this reflection, we are in the season of Advent, the season of hope and waiting, the season where images of pregnant Mary and images of Mary as Mother of baby Jesus abound. For many years, such images filled me with sadness and grief, as I hoped and waited to become a mother. Now, these same images continue to fill me with the same sense of gratitude I experienced while meditating on that sculpture of Mary as Tender Mother at Creighton University Retreat Center the weekend before Thanksgiving. And as we look ahead to Christmas, I remember that the gifts of Maverick and motherhood mean more than any present under the tree.
OMAHA, Neb. — JoEllen Sumpter, RSCJ, A’58/C’62, has died. She passed away peacefully on November 16, at the retirement home for the Religious of the Sacred Heart in Atherton, California.
“We are heartbroken but comforted in knowing that she was surrounded by her fellow RSCJ, including Sister Lucy Hayes, when she died,” said Meg Brudney, head of school.
Sumpter was born in Omaha in 1940. She first came to Duchesne as a seventh-grade student and went on to graduate from the Academy and the College. It was during those formative years that she first heard the call to enter the religious life. After joining the Society of the Sacred Heart, Sister Sumpter returned to Duchesne and taught here from 1966-1968. Sumpter returned to Omaha and Duchesne in the early 90s and served in a variety of roles until her retirement in 2016.
“We still feel her presence in these hallways and speak of her with great love,” Brudney added.
Duchesne Academy invites Sister Sumpter’s former students, colleagues, and friends to pray the rosary for her at the school’s chapel on Wednesday, December 1, at 6:30 p.m.
Her official obituary from the Society of the Sacred Heart is below:
Lucy Hayes and JoEllen Sumpter pose for a photo on the front porch of the home they shared while they worked at Duchesne Academy. They retired in 2016 and moved to the retirement home for the Religious of the Sacred Heart in Atherton, CA.
Religious of the Sacred Heart, Josephine (JoEllen) Sumpter, died November 16, 2021, in Atherton, California. She was eighty-one years old and a member of the Society of the Sacred Heart for fifty-eight years. JoEllen was born on September 13, 1940, in Omaha, Nebraska, the only child of Charles Edward Sumpter and Helen Graffius Sumpter. Prior to entering the Society of the Sacred Heart, JoEllen worked as a lab technician and was head of the pathology department at St. Joseph Hospital in Omaha. She also was the owner, operator, and teacher for five years at JC Dance Studio. JoEllen graduated from Duchesne College in 1962 where she earned a B.A. in Biology. Following graduation from Duchesne, she entered the Society of the Sacred Heart on September 8, 1963, at Kenwood for the first part of her novitiate, with the second part at the international novitiate in Frascati, Italy, where she made her first vows in 1966.
After first vows, Sister Sumpter taught at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Omaha, Nebraska. From 1968-1971, she taught biology at Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart, and in 1971 became the assistant principal there. During this time, she earned an M.A. in Biology from Creighton University, graduating in 1971. After her time at Woodlands, she left for probation in Rome. She returned to Omaha after probation in 1972 and decided to make her final profession on February 4, 1972, at Woodlands Academy where she could share the experience with the province, her parents, and friends on the North Shore.
Sister Sumpter spent the next nineteen years at Woodlands, serving in a number of capacities, as the assistant to the curriculum director, boarding staff and teacher, chair of the fine arts department, and director of the boarding school. She also earned an M.A. in Dance Education at Northwestern University in 1975.
After a one-year sabbatical in 1992, Sister Sumpter was assigned to Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Omaha and served as director of services and fine arts for three years, registrar for ten years, and school secretary and registrar until 2007. From 2007 to 2016, she was assistant dean of students and then assistant to the administrative team at Duchesne.
Sister Sumpter also served the province as the Area Director in Omaha for a number of years. Some of the gifts and qualities her Sisters attributed to her were her ability to listen well without judgment, organizational skills, good insights, creativity, and her spirit of fun.
Sister Sumpter served most of her life in Omaha and loved the Society’s ministry there. In 2016, she retired to Oakwood, the retirement community for the Religious of the Sacred Heart.
On November 16, 2021, Sister Sumpter, peacefully went to God. Her friend, Lucy Hayes, was by her side, along with Sisters Sally Rude and Sis Flynn.
A funeral mass for Sister Sumpter will be held on Saturday, December 18, 2021, at 10:00 am in the Oakwood Chapel, 140 Valparaiso Avenue, Atherton, California 94027.
Duchesne Academy will host Catholic high school educators from across the Omaha area for a first-of-its-kind educational technology conference on October 11, at 8:45 a.m. at Duchesne Academy.
This event will include speakers, discussion sessions, and vendors. Kelly Gomez Johnson will deliver the keynote address about equitable teaching and leadership practices in STEM education. Gomez Johnson is an Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Her work and leadership projects have attracted nearly $4 million in funding since 2016.
Presenters and attendees will dive into the topics and funding models that are unique to parochial schools.
“Timely professional development is hard to come by during the school year. By hosting this event on an in-service day, we are providing teachers new tools they can take back to their classrooms the very next day,” said Jason Schlesiger, Duchesne Academy Director of Technology.
The conference will also feature a presentation from Julie Sigmon, Director of the Omaha STEM Ecosystem, a citywide partnership to maximize STEM, learning initiatives encompassing the Greater Omaha area, including 12 school districts.
Other topics include how to create virtual field trips in a post-Covid world, cyber security, incorporating art into STEM curriculum, and establishing sustainability programs.
When I was young I attended public school, which meant going to CCD. (Now it is called Religious Ed.) It also meant that my parents had to be very intentional about raising my brothers and me Catholic.
One of the ways my mom did this was by talking to us about prayer and asking us to pray together, especially in times of trial.
I remember when a well line broke on the farm, my mother gathered us to pray to Mary and ask her to help us find the break so we would have water for the livestock. The first prayer card I received from my mom was of St. Joseph. I remember having a discussion about his role as foster father and the power of praying to him specifically.
Over the years she and I have called, texted or shared in conversations and requests to have each other join in praying to St. Joseph for someone or about a particular issue.
When Pope Francis announced that 2021 was the year of St. Joseph, I was delighted! My mom sent me a whole book of prayers to St. Joseph. Tucked in the pages is the prayer she taught me, years ago, but there are so many other beautiful prayers there too!
I have spent 2021 contemplating the quiet, loyal foster father of our Savior. I love that prayers to St. Joseph are often labeled, ‘for impossible causes’ or ‘difficult situations.’ Guided by the Holy Spirit, St. Joseph faced a difficult situation with kindness and compassion and he was witness to the impossible made possible.
OMAHA, Neb — Duchesne Academy’s 2021 commencement ceremony will be the first full-capacity event at Saint Cecilia Cathedral since March 2020, the school announced Tuesday. Graduation will take place on the evening of May 27.
Administrators encourage students and their guests to wear a mask to help protect vulnerable people who may attend, but will not enforce mask-wearing.
“Many of our guests will be grandparents who, even if fully vaccinated, remain our most vulnerable population and break-through infections are still possible after vaccination,” said Principal Laura Hickman, Ed.D.
St. Cecilia Pastor Father Michael Grewe made the decision to open the event to full capacity after administrators made the request to do so on behalf of seniors and their parents. Graduates will be allowed up to nine guests and will sit with their families during the ceremony.
“These students have worked hard to maintain their grades and a strong sense of community during multiple closures. We are happy that they will be able to graduate in front of their families,” said Hickman.
Duchesne’s graduation ceremony will be live-streamed on the school’s Facebook page.