2015 Jubilarian, Celebrating 50 Years
By Sharon Karam, RSCJ
Born in Fenton, Louisiana, I grew up in what I thought was endless space – the rice fields and country of southwest Louisiana. I attended the local public school, played basketball and tennis, loved the outdoors – including fishing and hunting with my dad and cousins. While the word was unknown to me then, I was well aware of being from a bicultural background: my father was from an immigrant Syrian family and my mother’s family was French. Every Sunday of my childhood I had two Sunday dinners, one in each extended family household, with great family stories and characters that could fill an anthology.
I attended the local public school until after my sophomore year, then transferred to the Academy of the Sacred Heart, Grand Coteau, for my junior and senior years. Between my sophomore and junior year of high school, four of us from my public school attended a three-day retreat, and while sitting on the gallery, I watched one of the nuns go by in deep conversation with a student. It was late July or early August, and I realized that the students weren’t yet in school, but I was so moved by the relationship and the care the nun showed for the student (who would later be one of my roommates (but that’s another story).
So I reflected on the things that drew me to this life and they were two: the prayerfulness and peace (expressed by several in the garden and in the chapel, as well as the sister in charge of the retreat) and the utter selflessness of the person in conversation with that student walking by …
There was only one problem: at that point, I expected to get married and have a big family, like my dad’s side of the family. So I set out for a long walk and said to the Lord, "Well, you better solve this if this is what you want from me, because I can’t do both ..." And by the time I came back from the walk down Pine Alley, I experienced a deep sense of peace and call, which has never left me. I asked to see the superior, convinced, in my impetuous, naïve manner, that I should just enter then, having just turned 16! She, Sister Marjorie Erskine, who would later be my superior, took me absolutely seriously, but suggested that I continue to pray over these things, that it was important to finish school, and that she would stay in touch!
The rest, as we say, is history…
After entering, in September 1962, I discovered two academic loves: literature and theology, and have taught in both areas, though mostly in literature. I am certified to teach social studies and literature from grades 7 through 12. My very favorite part is watching a student grow in her ability to express herself, find her voice, and feel confident that she has something unique to say. Last week at our annual fundraiser, an alumna I hadn’t seen in several years told me she remains grateful for the class and how much confidence it instilled in her. That kind of spontaneous feedback is the “icing on the cake.”
One year, in New Orleans, I found myself chairing both the English and Social Studies departments, and teaching history, theology, and English. I loved the mix, but mostly loved the interaction with the students, and the chance to show the reality of what we were learning in the classroom by doing social awareness activitites with them in the city. I also began a club called “Sophie’s Bunch,” which was a service club, the equivalent of what I currently run here at Duchesne Academy, Houston, called the Community Service Club. We visit the elderly, work with social issues, and work in the poorest part of the city; back in New Orleans, we worked alongside Sr. Helen Prejean before she got involved in death-row issues.
Going with the younger students to various service sites like Angela house, a local ministry which serves women exiting prison, is one of the most enjoyable parts of my work. We bring dinner, play a few rounds of bingo, and converse with the women who look forward to our monthly visits with real eagerness. I love this part of my ministry. I now have some alumnae wanting to join us, which is a great compliment to the program.
Over the years, I also had several administrative positions, but always find my way back into the classroom, because that’s what I do best. Probably my epitaph should read: “she never found anything that didn’t become part of a lesson plan.”
Yet as I celebrate my 50th anniversary of first vows this year, I realize that, while I love the classroom, my real vocation is to lead others – students, parents, alumnae, anyone I work with – to see “God’s grandeur” in Gerard Manley Hopkin’s words – and love in everything around them …
Sister Karem currently teaches four English classes: two Senior AP Literature classes and two senior Composition classes, and one Social Awareness class to sophomores at Duchesne Academy in Houston. She recently has begun to enjoy working with adults in retreat ministry. One of her poems is attached below.