"The greater the work the more
important it is to establish it on
a solid foundation. Thus it will
not only be more perfect; it
will also be more lasting.”

St. Louise de Marillac

“Be diligent in serving
the poor. Love the poor,
honor them, my children,
as you would honor
Christ Himself.”

St. Louise de Marillac

 

Joyful Beginnings

By Erin Reder

Looking at the person she is today, S. Whitney Schieltz can’t help but see the growth that she’s experienced since entering the Sisters of Charity in 2015. The Dayton, Ohio, native first came to know the Community after a chance meeting at a Martha Dinner in 2014.

While she was raised Catholic, S. Whitney will be the first to tell you she didn’t have much of a personal piety throughout her youth. In fact, it wasn’t until she was living in Lexington, Kentucky, and attending graduate school, that she started revisiting the idea of going to church. Her housemates were attending a nondenominational church and talked freely about their faith and spirituality. Out of curiosity S. Whitney decided to tag along, and while she enjoyed the church, she sense that it wasn’t quite the right fit for her. She returned to the Dayton area after her degree was complete and began attending a Catholic parish in Beavercreek. Since she didn’t have a strong religious formation in her younger years, it was suggested she participate in the RCIA program. It was in this experience that she learned about the Martha Dinner that ultimately led her on the path to discernment.

The event was for women wanting to learn more about religious life. “I think I knew it was specifically for women considering religious life but I was also curious enough that I figured, what’s the worst that could happen?” she explains. There she met Sisters Tracy Kemme and Andrea Koverman (Novices at the time) as well as Sisters Lois Jean Goettke and Janet Gildea. They casually talked about her interests and gave her a brochure. At home S. Whitney visited the SC website and when she came across a blog S. Tracy published at the time, “Diary of a Sister-in-Training,” it was then that she started to realize this may be more than just a casual visit to learn about religious life. “I started freaking out a little bit,” she says with a laugh, “amazed that I was even entertaining the idea.” But something kept pushing her forward and she ended up visiting the Motherhouse that February and getting to know more about the Community and Sisters. She continued to visit and take part in opportunities presented and the one thing she realized throughout: “It never felt weird or wrong,” she says. “Why fix something that’s not broken?”

In September 2015 S. Whitney took the next step and began Affiliation with the Community. She moved to New Mexico to live and minister with the Sisters on the U.S./Mexico border. These next few years were a time of tremendous growth and of being stretched to her limits. “Trying to navigate that first year was pretty difficult,” she recalls. “I remember struggling a lot in my discernment and thinking I’m not cut out for this. But, there was something about being stretched and pushed out of my comfort zone that made me realize I didn’t really want to have a life where I’m not being challenged. It may be not always be easy, but this is the kind of life I want to have.”

One of her biggest challenges involved discerning ministry and determining how to put her architectural and historic preservation background to use. She didn’t feel that her gifts could fully be utilized at the clinic run by the Sisters in Anapra, Mexico, and so, near the end of her first year of Affiliation, she began serving at Villa Maria, a transitional women’s shelter in the Segundo Barrio in El Paso, Texas. Here she began to realize her ministerial calling as she helped the women seek housing and employment opportunities.

Once she returned to Cincinnati in August 2017, S. Whitney again found herself trying to determine how to do ministry as a Sister and use her gifts. After a variety of volunteer experiences during her first year of Novitiate, a phone call from S. Barbara Busch, executive director of Working In Neighborhoods (WIN), set S. Whitney on a path that has ultimately led her to the joy and fulfillment she experiences today. “WIN needed someone to work on their housing development projects, and I was excited to help,” she recalls.

As the current housing coordinator and volunteer coordinator at WIN, S. Whitney finds herself wearing many hats. Her days are filled with a variety of tasks, which can include but are not limited to funding applications, collaborating with architects and engineers, soliciting bids from contractors, applying for permits, working with potential homebuyers, placing volunteers and sometimes just providing a listening ear. “Hearing our clients’ stories is humbling,” she says. “Coming from a lifestyle where you aren’t worried about paying the bills or struggling paycheck to paycheck, it’s helpful for me to stay grounded by accompanying people whose lives are more economically challenging than my own.”

She continues, “The thing I really like about WIN is even though I focus on our housing development projects there’s also opportunities to work with our community building and financial literacy teams. As an all-encompassing community development corporation, there’s no boring day at WIN. It’s been a place where I’m learning a lot and growing, and I have had opportunities to connect with other professional mentors and to collaborate.”

S. Whitney’s architectural and historic preservation expertise were also called upon by her congregation these past few years. In 2020, as the Community prepared for the demolition of Seton Hall on the Motherhouse property, S. Whitney joined the property planning committee and used her gifts and knowledge in the areas of demolition/salvage, adaptive re-use and new construction. “It was fun to use all my design software again and actually do architectural drawings and models,” she says. “I was able to use a lot of different expressions of my repertoire of knowledge, in many different ways, and in a relatively short amount of time.” She was instrumental in the design of the congregation’s new ministry center, La Casa del Sol, located across the street from the Motherhouse and constructed with a number of state-of-the-art energy conserving technologies.

She adds that her involvement beyond her ministry and the SC Community has also led to personal growth and fulfillment. S. Whitney is an active member of Bellarmine Chapel located on the Xavier University campus, getting involved with multiple liturgical ministries and social mission teams. “Having another source of community has been a blessing,” she says. “I realized during formation that most of my closest relationships at the time were with women religious, which was great, but diversity is also important. I was starting to feel a greater need for interaction with other people – especially with the pandemic causing increased isolation – and Bellarmine has been one of those places where I’m able to connect with people from a variety of backgrounds and lifestyles.”

Eight years after she first entered into the process of becoming a Sister of Charity, S. Whitney now looks to the future with joy. She knows that she has become a very different person from the individual she was when she first entered. She’s gained a new-found confidence in herself that allows for endless possibilities.

“The reason I entered is not quite the same as what has kept me here,” she says. “When I entered I felt like this was a place where I could be a part of something greater than myself and receive spiritual nourishment and encouragement. Now it feels much more like what’s kept me here is realizing that this congregation is what’s helping me grow into the version of myself I want to continue to grow into. I feel like even though there’s been a lot of challenges, there’s been a greater sense of peace in my life as I have had the Community by my side. Finding a ministry that actually gives me a sense of purpose, I feel much more joyful and excited about what I can contribute. My mindset has shifted from what can I receive to how can I be a contributing member and take the nourishment I receive from this SC Community and give it out into the greater community.”

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