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.
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.
Ana Zulkoski says she knew Duchesne was different the moment she walked into the building as an eighth-grade student.
“Everyone was so welcoming and I could see myself walking through the halls. I liked how the teachers taught and that they were open and honest with all the students,” Zulkoski said.
Four years later, she says her classmates and teachers have helped her learn about the world and herself in a supportive environment. Given the difficulties presented by Covid, school administrators challenged Zulkoski and her classmates in A’21 with guiding younger students and ensuring they continue to build a supportive community.
“Duchesne is a place where there is a lot of love and a lot of community and connections,” Zulkoski said.
Their efforts have paid off. Younger students say they feel empowered to be themselves when they come to school.
“I love Duchesne because the community is really close-knit and everyone is always looking out for one another,” said Ina Satpathy, A’23.
The strong sense of community bonds students to each other and to Duchesne’s alumnae.
“If you haven’t been back to Duchesne in a while, I think returning would feel the same as it did when you walked through those doors as a student,” said Sophia Harding, A’23.
“Even though students are making new memories today the Sacred Heart foundation and family that you know and love is still here,” she said.
As they build community, students share their joy, creating an environment where every student can learn and grow into the woman she is called to be.
OMAHA (Duchesne Academy) – She was nearly 20 years into her teaching career but Martha Heck felt something was now missing. She loved her students at Elkhorn High School, but the job just wasn’t the same since leaving Cathedral High two years earlier following its closure. When she saw an opening for an English teacher at Duchesne Academy in the summer of 1996, she felt called to apply.
“The minute I walked through the doors at portry, my life changed,” she said.
After 25 years of teaching and serving as Dean of Students at Duchesne, Heck will retire at the end of this school year.
Heck says she feels this is a natural time to step away and allow a new person to serve as Dean. She plans to take time for herself and spend time with family and friends.
“I will miss the hundreds of students, colleagues, and parents who have immeasurably impacted my life,” she said.
Heck says she felt a connection almost instantly with her students and the school’s mission and Sacred Heart foundation.
“I had never taught in an all-girls school, she said. “I loved the openness and confidence that the young women exhibited in this environment. I was pleasantly surprised at how willing and eager they were to learn.”
Colleagues quickly recognized Heck’s passion for her students and her work.
“Duchesne has been fortunate to have had Martha working and teaching here for 25 years. She models our values every day and I know that I and all our colleagues have become better educators by following her example,” said Head of School Meg Brudney.
Dr. Laura Hickman, Duchesne’s Principal, remembers Heck’s first years at Duchesne, working as fellow teachers.
“Her gentle presence and love of literature made her an instant favorite among students,” said Principal Dr. Laura Hickman.
Soon, Heck earned a reputation as a firm but loving role model.
“One time, I heard of her calling a student to apologize for them not feeling loved and respected by our community at Duchesne. She does truly care and that she wants to do her job to the best of her ability to ensure that all students feel loved and supported by not only their peers, but their whole community at Duchesne,” said Caroline Ortman, A20.
After leaving the classroom for the Dean’s office, Heck found new ways to connect with students. She serves as the Student Council moderator and often chaperones student trips.
“I have been able to go to places such as Uganda, France, Italy, New Orleans and other cities within the Network,” she said.
Of course, when Heck leaves so will Frannie, her goldendoodle who accompanies her to work. She began bringing her dog into school as a way to help students relax. Now, Frannie is as much a fixture at Duchesne as Heck. They both hope to visit often.
“I love Frannie. She’s the perfect thing when you’re having a bad day, just stop by and she’s happy to see you,” said Marissa Brown, A22.
Heck was raised in Council Bluffs and attended St. Albert High School before earning her bachelor’s degree from the College of Saint Mary. She also holds a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She says she is a product of Catholic education believes in what it provides to children beyond regular subject matter.
“Catholic education is important to me because the teachings of Jesus, St. Madeleine Sophie and Rose Philippine inform everything that we do. We can, without any reservations, teach our young women to model Jesus and these amazing women. We can teach that ‘Love is our mission,’” Heck said.
Hickman believes Heck’s commitment to being an example of living the Sacred Heart goals and teaching with a loving heart will be her legacy at Duchesne.
Heck keeps a quote of Madeleine Sophie on her desk that reminds her “to never correct the children when out of humor or impatient; soften your reprimands with kind words; win them by an appeal to their piety.”
“This, in short, has been Martha’s impact. She has taught as Sophie taught and loved as Sofie loved,” said Hickman.
Enforcing rules can sometimes make someone feel isolated and Heck acknowledged those feelings in a farewell message to teachers and staff, but she says she found strength in Duchesne’s mission.
“Some of those days also brought anxiety, frustration, sorrow, and worry, but they were all part of teaching young women about the world and their bright futures. I cannot think of anywhere else that I would want to spend my days, and I thank all of you for that.”
Eveline Gnabasik Bethune, A05, has overhauled her company’s production line to make hand sanitizer for professionals fighting the spread of COVID-19.
Eveline Gnabasik Bethune, A05, and her husband, Kenneth, own and operate Coastal Bend Distilling in Beeville, Texas. They have stopped making spirits and are now making alcohol for hand sanitizer they’re donating to first responders. She took time out of her day to talk with Duchesne:
What inspired you to make sanitizer? Our distillery is founded on three values: craft, community and culture. We make it a point to live our values in every decision we make, and at this time we were really drawn to help our community in need. When we saw the opportunity to make use of our unique access to resources & how we could pivot our operations in a way that provided meaningful support during this time of need, we saw it as a way to support our community.
How long did it take you to switch from making spirits to sanitizer? It took us about 2-3 weeks to shift over to making sanitizer. Several supply chains were interrupted and still are today, so our orders on bottles are often backlogged. We also had to be creative when sourcing hydrogen peroxide and looked to local or regional grocery and pharmacy businesses to help supply that.
How are you delivering the sanitizer to first responders? Over the years our employees have formed a tight network in the community, and so we were already in close communication with local law enforcement, healthcare and other first responders before we even had product to market. Since then word has spread like wildfire and they’re contacting us faster than we can reach out to them. This has truly been an eye-opening experience to see the high level of demand that is out there for sanitizer and related products!
What is it like operating a business right now? It’s uncertain times for small business owners. You have to be preemptive, innovative, and adaptive to change. That goes for all kinds of small businesses, not just our distillery. If you aren’t adapting with the times, you’ll lose essential income and lose relevance to your customer base.
Any message for current Duchesne students? Try to learn from the unexpected changes thrust upon you right now. Your “normal” life may be temporarily upset, but try to look at it with a silver lining and keep faith that God has a plan. What skills do I have that can answer a need in the community or among my peers? How can I grow from this? How can I be a leader and a role-model helping to drive our community forward to a solution? If we all become more self-reflective during tough times like this, I think we’ll succeed in making the world a better place.
You can find out more about Coastal Bend Distilling here and by following them on social media: @coastalbenddistilling.