2015 Jubilarian, Celebrating 50 Years from First Vows
Nancy Koke, RSCJ believes we are given clues throughout our lives to help us discern what God is calling us to do. These invitations come in diverse ways: an article that captures our attention, an encounter with someone in need, “a still, small voice” within …
As a student at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, St. Louis (City House), young Nancy probably never imagined that she would one day live in the heart of Africa. Born February 18, 1943 in St. Louis, Missouri, she was introduced to the Society of the Sacred Heart in kindergarten. She grew up learning about Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat and the history and traditions of the Society. She gained a clear sense of the Society’s mission early on and was struck by the joy and serenity of those who taught her, as well as their desire to bring out the best in each person. Now, as she celebrates fifty years from her first vows in the Society, it is she whose mission it is to bring out the best in those with whom she works.
Sister Koke is in her seventh year of service in the Uganda-Kenya (UGK) Province of the Society of the Sacred Heart. During that time, she has worked in Kenya as an English and Math and Religion teacher in a polytechnic school for two years, then as an administrator of a health clinic for three years and now as the assistant novice director in Mbikko, Uganda. In addition to working in formation for the newest members of the UGK Province, she provides spiritual accompaniment to Religious of the Sacred Heart, seminarians and others in the Mbikko area.
It was during her senior year of high school that Sister Koke seriously began considering religious life. She mentioned this to some of her former teachers, members of the Society of the Sacred Heart, who encouraged her to attend a Sacred Heart college and to stay in touch. After just two years at Maryville College (now Maryville University, then owned by the Society of the Sacred Heart), Sister Koke decided it was time to formally ask to become a Religious of the Sacred Heart. She made her first vows on June 11, 1965.
Following graduation from Maryville College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Sister Koke began teaching middle school at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. Three years later, she moved back to St. Louis to teach at Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School for two years before leaving to prepare for her final vows. She made her final profession on February 18, 1973.
Sister Koke returned to St. Louis. Over the next ten years, she earned her Master of Arts in Theology from Saint Louis University, taught at two Sacred Heart schools in the area, and was a member of the provincial leadership team.
Sister Koke spent the next fourteen years away from her hometown, half in Houston as the principal of Our Lady of Guadalupe School and half as a retreat and part-time vocation director at the Society’s Spiritual Ministry Center in San Diego. In 2002, she moved to Chicago and later to Boston where she continued as retreat and vocation director until 2008. She returned to St. Louis in August 2008 to prepare to serve in the Society’s Uganda/Kenya province in Africa.
While Sister Koke loved each of her ministries here in the United States, she had long felt called to serve as a missionary. In 2009, she moved to Kenya, teaching at St. Charles Lwanga Technical Training Institute for two years and then serving as administrator at St. Charles Lwanga Health Center for three years before beginning her current ministry as assistant novice mistress.
“I remain in religious life because I truly believe God has called me to be a Religious of the Sacred Heart,” Sister Koke said. “That call continues to deepen as I open myself to the promptings of the Spirit on a daily basis. I love belonging to an international community that constantly challenges us to be contemplatives in action, open to conversion and an ever-deepening relationship with God. RSCJ challenge each other to be open to the needs of our world as we move beyond ourselves in responding to the poor and marginalized, especially women and children in whatever ministry we are involved.”