Meeting Her Grace
By S. Joan Elizabeth Cook
S. Victoria Marie Forde (back) was born in Ashtabula, Ohio, the oldest of three daughters.
S. Victoria Marie Forde, a Sister of Charity for 75 years, is a model of wholeheartedness, quiet determination, concern for those who are marginalized, and appreciation for history. She was born in Ashtabula, Ohio, the first of three daughters to Mary and Lewis Forde. Her sister Justine is deceased and her youngest sister Jacquelyn lives in Westerville, Ohio.
S. Victoria attended elementary schools in Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland, and attended Ursuline Academy of the Sacred Heart in Cleveland for her first year of high school. Then the family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where their mother found relief from the asthma she suffered. S. Victoria and her sisters enrolled at St. Vincent Academy at the beginning of S. Victoria’s sophomore year.
S. Victoria was attracted immediately to the Sisters at St. Vincent’s. She found them to be very welcoming women and fine teachers, and their range of ministries appealed to her. S. Winifred Keyes’s stories of her missionary experiences in China broadened S. Victoria’s horizons. And she appreciated the encouragement she received from S. Victoria Waldron, who was S. Victoria’s Latin and history teacher. S. Miriam Clare Glandorf also taught in the school, and helped Victoria get ready for the Community.
S. Victoria entered the Community on Sept. 7, 1947 and made first vows on Aug. 15, 1949. She then studied at the Teachers College of the Athenaeum of Ohio, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Education. Her first students were in primary and intermediate grades at St. Mary’s, Hyde Park; St. Francis Xavier, Pueblo; Cathedral in Denver; Pauline Memorial, Colorado Springs; and St. Saviour, Rossmoyne (Cincinnati). She enjoyed encouraging the children’s creativity.
For several years S. Victoria taught high school students at Carroll High School in Dayton and St. Mary’s, Albuquerque. Her mentor, S. Eugene Fox, encouraged her to invite the students to discover in literature that their concerns united them with the whole human family of God.
S. Victoria Marie Forde earned a Master’s Degree in English at the University of Notre Dame followed by a Ph.D. in English in 1973.
S. Victoria earned a Master’s Degree in English at the University of Notre Dame in the summers, then continued full-time, earning a Ph.D. in English in 1973. An unexpected joy during that time was having the opportunity to ice skate again. After moving from Cleveland to New Mexico, she found her skates to be few and far between. When she learned the University had an outdoor rink that was open to the public every day at noon, she was thrilled! During her time at Notre Dame she also spent a summer studying at the University of London, England. Then in spring 1982 she served as administrative assistant and rector for the Notre Dame program in London.
She began teaching at the College of Mount St. Joseph in 1973, immersing herself in the life of the College, teaching Humanities, literature, writing and Women’s Studies courses. She took a special interest in the women of nontraditional age, creating programs and courses that enabled them to study within the constraints of their responsibilities as mothers.
S. Victoria willingly accepted opportunities to promote women’s gifts. She addressed the Cincinnati Archdiocesan Priests Senate on the subject of Inclusive Language and Imagery; served on the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center Women Church committee; and gave a presentation for the celebration of 125 years of SC ministry in New Mexico. She explained that, in those early years, “Epidemics were not unusual and during these the Sisters gave up their food and beds, and slept on the floor while the patients were two in a bed. Catherine [Mallon] tells about nursing from 5 a.m. until midnight and once for two weeks all night with little rest during the day.”
In 1988 S. Victoria received the Sister Adele Clifford Distinguished Teaching Award from the College of Mount St. Joseph. The College honored her again with the Faculty Appreciation Award in 2006. The citation read, “A professor with a passion for teaching. A writer inspired by literature. A Sister of Charity dedicated to social change. These qualities of Sister Victoria Marie Forde inspired countless traditional undergrads, Weekend College students, and adult women in Liberal Studies over 21 years old at the College of Mount St. Joseph.”
S. Victoria Marie Forde (far left, facing camera) helped establish the Women’s Studies program in 1973 along with three other colleagues.
After nineteen years at the Mount, a sabbatical experience led to a new chapter in S. Victoria’s life. Her years in Albuquerque had introduced her to the richness of the Hispanic culture, such as the processions and festivities to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe. So during her sabbatical, she became more fluent in the Spanish language at the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio, Texas.
A retired Air Force colonel and his wife invited her to help with migrant ministry in the Cincinnati Archdiocese. She visited migrant camps, especially in Tipp City, Troy, and New Carlisle. There she taught GED and English as a Second Language classes and taught children through the Ohio Migrant Education Center, serving as liaison between schools, principals, counselors, teachers, and children. Rural Opportunities, Inc. helped her secure funding for books for migrants. She involved area college students in tutoring the migrant children in the summers, and helped with quinceañera celebrations.
Reflecting on this ministry, S. Victoria voiced her humble gratitude that she experienced the “preferential option for the poor.” She was “transformed more and more deeply by the migrants, their deep faith in God in the midst of their oppression, their love of family and joy in community, and their love and acceptance of me.”
Fluent in Spanish, S. Victoria Marie Forde (left) enjoyed volunteering her time in Guatemala with S. Sarah Mulligan (right).
Recognizing her diminishing physical energy, she organized volunteer groups to continue the work. And she served as Contact Sister for the first SC Associate in Volunteer Ministry, John O’Connor, a teacher and coach at Catholic Central High School in Knoxville, Tennessee. John spent a summer as a tutor and recreation organizer in the Ohio migrant camps.
S. Victoria continued volunteering in Guatemala with S. Sarah Mulligan, participating in weekend prayer vigils at the School of the Americas, and working at Su Casa in Cincinnati.
The National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York, honored S. Victoria with a plaque on the Women’s Wall of Fame, commenting, “You are to be commended for steadfast dedication to your family, friends, and community.”
In the SC Archives she processed the Seton Writings and S. Blandina Segale material, and began interviewing Sisters in Mother Margaret Hall, recording more than forty oral histories for the Archives. She continues to record the oral histories of our Sisters in Mother Margaret Hall, creating a valuable record of the women on whose shoulders we stand.