A Prayer of the Heart
By S. Georgia Kitt
S. Nancy Bramlage entered the Sisters of Charity Community in 1962.
“We must pray literally – without ceasing – in every occurrence in our lives – that prayer of the heart which is independent of place or situation – a habit of lifting up the heart to God as in a constant communication.” ~ St. Elizabeth Seton
This quote of EAS might be seen as the connection that has carried S. Nancy Bramlage through her 60 years of life as a Sister of Charity. That prayer of the heart, asking to be open to the Spirit, led her to enter the Sisters of Charity in 1962, to choose French as her college major, to pick up a twinning project S. Ruth Jonas (her French teacher at the College of Mount St. Joseph) had started with African children and students learning French in Cincinnati, and to follow a call to the foreign missions. These initial “yeses” offered a familiarity for other ministries that followed. All of this occurred in the first 20 years of S. Nancy’s SC life.
While teaching at Archbishop Alter High School in Dayton, S. Nancy Bramlage felt called to serve as a missionary in Malawi, Africa.
S. Nancy came to realize that God’s grace goes with her; that grace has served her both as a challenge and a strength. It was while teaching French at Archbishop Alter High School in Kettering, Ohio, that she used educational materials which S. Ruth had developed in Upper Volta (now known as Burkina Faso), a West African French-speaking country, to twin students in Africa and the Cincinnati area who were studying French. Experiencing this connection eventually led S. Nancy to request to join S. Ruth and other Sisters of Charity who were serving as missionaries in Malawi, Africa. “Living with my Sisters in community in Malawi, living among the very poor, I learned from my Sisters how to be gentle and reach out to the people who had so many needs. We couldn’t meet all their needs, but we could treat them with respect and kindness. They taught me to accept with gratitude the warm hospitality they offered us. I have great memories of my seven years in Africa. ”
Through this broadening experience, S. Nancy adopted an awareness of the world around her and the injustices they lived with. All along the way she called others to realize their responsibilities to try to make things better. This thread next led her to be open to serve as personnel director and foreign mission coordinator for her congregation. She assisted other SC missionaries, helping to link 18 of her Sisters serving in six countries, providing a sense of connection for them – a prayer of the heart for sure! During this time she benefitted from ‘hands on education’ regarding existing social justice issues. Through her visits she was able to provide the Congregation with an understanding of what was happening in the countries they lived in: Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, St. Lucia, Nicaragua, Cuba, El Salvador, and Haiti.
As director of the Center of Social Concern at the University of Dayton, S. Nancy Bramlage accompanied her students as they participated in civial disobedience at the School of Americas in with students at School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia.
In 1988 the University of Dayton was looking to expand their Campus Ministry program and offer more experiences for students in implementing the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. This was another thread of connection leading S. Nancy to say ‘yes’ to serving as director of the Center of Social Concern at UD for the next 15 years. It brought her ever closer to sharing her passion for social justice with students and staff who desired to get more involved in experiential education with people in poor countries or in their “own backyard.” She spent nine weeks of the summer watching the UD students work with children in Appalachia. Other students participated in civil disobedience at the School of the Americas, and others protested at the Y-12 nuclear plant in Tennessee. It was wonderful seeing the world view of the students grow and the new career plans they began to make. “They brought enthusiasm and hope to me,” she recalls. Her students would say, ‘She teaches us how to live in community. She challenges us to work for the common good. The learning environment she creates builds character and increases our knowledge of current social justice issues.’ S. Nancy’s response, “Students desire to work for change, to make things better and UD was willing to work for change along with them. I loved every minute of my time there.”
That ‘prayer of the heart’ of Elizabeth Seton continued to call S. Nancy. She served in SC Leadership for eight years, and then helped create a communal living setting for the women who were discerning life as a Sister of Charity. Sisters Carol Leveque, Maureen Heverin, Terry Thorman and Nancy offered their ‘yes’ in 2008. “What a gift to be part of the community life of the Sisters of Charity Novitiate!” she stated. “The grace of communal prayer, the deepening of relationships within the group, the day-to-day interactions that help persons to really get to know one another cannot be put into words. These years of sharing and listening to the hopes and dreams of these honest and gifted novices has been a rich blessing for me. What a gift to be a part of that discernment. What a joy to celebrate the eventual vow ceremonies!”
As she marks 60 years as a Sister of Charity, S. Nancy would encourage us to go on building a community that looks outward to the rest of the world, doing our part to make it better by our being in it, bringing that prayer of the heart.
“God gives us every grace; this grace is able to carry us through every obstacle and difficulty.” ~ St. Elizabeth Seton