The Call - S. Mary Barbara Philippart
By Josh Zeller, Communications intern
“God provided a lot of influences that led me here,” says S. Mary Barbara Philippart of her motivations to enter into a religious life. It was the example of her family, and the Sisters who taught her, that led her down the path towards a vocation.
Growing up, religion and faith formed a large part of Sister’s family life. Prayers were said before and after meals, and her family always went to Mass together; her mother always said her rosary, and her father attended Mass and Communion daily. “… I guess you could say we were very Catholic, but religion was just a normal part of our lives!” S. Mary Barbara remembers. Until about fourth grade, the children—Sister was one of four—would go downstairs and say their evening prayers to their mother, who would sit in her chair as they prayed. In the June 1975 issue of Reflections on Commitment as Sisters of Charity, S. Mary Barbara said that “the splendor of the love of [her] family” was one of the great gifts of her life.
Sister first encountered the Sisters of Charity in first grade when her family moved, and she began attending St. Luke School. While in grade school, she became fascinated with the ministry the Sisters were performing in China at the time, as detailed in a monthly periodical called The Lotus Leaves. She herself determined that she wanted to become a missionary (she later did, in Peru), and eventually became head of the mission club. In eighth grade, she determined that she wanted to become a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati: “[They] had an aspirant’s school at that point…,” Sister remembers, “and my parents said, ‘No.’” They felt she would be a better Sister when she was a little older, after she had completed her education.
Though she was angry with them at the time, she was afterwards grateful, because she had great fun at Little Flower High School for Girls in Royal Oak, Michigan. Because they lived in Detroit, Michigan, the school had to be reached by three buses (a two hour journey, five days a week), but this did not matter, because Sister felt “an ambience of God’s presence in everything that happened”: whether it was in a science class, in the school play that she directed, or in a basketball game, she knew it was there.
Reflecting again in 1975, Sister Mary Barbara also acknowledged the influence of her high school years, which had just as vital a role in helping her to realize her vocation as her family: “My Sister of Charity teachers and school friends—many of whom have kept in contact these many years—are also part of my song, part of what has made me, part of my book of life.”
All of this made her sure by the March of her senior year that she wanted to become a Sister of Charity; with the blessing of her parents, and support of the Sisters at Little Flower High School, she went down to Cincinnati in September of 1947. Now, nearly 69 years later, S. Mary Barbara still holds her family and friends in gratitude, as she continues to serve those in need.