Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Shirley Spilker reflects on the beginnings of her life and the many graced experiences that are hers because of her call to be a consecrated woman religious.
My life began on July 6, 1933 in Appleton, WI. My Mother was attending a wedding shower and felt I was about to come into the world. Her Uncle quickly drove her home. The midwife was called. Dad took my older brother and sister to his sister’s home so that she could take care of them. That afternoon I, the daughter of Joseph and Beatrice Spilker, came into the world in the sewing room with the help of a midwife. Twelve years later our family was blessed welcoming a precious baby brother into our family.
We attended St. Joseph School taught by the Notre Dame Sisters. I enjoyed studying and my school years. My vocation was greatly influenced during the upper grades as the Sisters encouraged us to say the rosary and make visits to the Blessed Sacrament when we passed the Church. Some Mondays my friends and I would attend the Devotions to Our Lady of Perpetual Help held after school. I would see my Mother there too. One afternoon in eighth grade a Missionary Sister came to give us a talk. After she left, Sister asked us what we learned. The first answer she received was “Sister has ears?” Any Sister we had ever seen had her ears covered. But I was greatly impressed by her message and later on I did seek information from Maryknoll, a missionary order. In ninth grade a few of us interested girls went with Sister to see the Notre Dame Motherhouse in Milwaukee.
My Dad’s older sister was a “Lake Franciscan”. Our family would go each summer to visit her at St. Francis on the outskirts of Milwaukee. The other Sisters would always tell us how good and holy my Aunt was. My parents were supportive in my interest in religious life. No way was I going to enter my Aunt’s order and try to live up to her saintly reputation and be compared to her. Our girlfriend’s sister was a freshman at Holy Family Convent in Manitowoc. We went to visit her. I felt that this was the place for me. On asking for application papers I was told to go home, think about it and in a week to write for the papers. That I did and the following August I entered Holy Family Convent.
At Reception time Mona was one of my name choices. Thru the years of change I kept the Blessed Mother as my patron even when I went back to my birth name, Shirley. After Profession I had asked to be a nurse. Mother Edna said, “NO,” as we had enough nurses, three being in my group and one in the group below us. Teachers were needed as many new parish schools were being built. I taught in Wisconsin and loved it. Religious communities were asked to send Sisters as missionaries to South America. I volunteered and was amazed and happy to be among the first group of seven Sisters to be sent to Lima, Peru. We were sent to Ponce, Puerto Rico to attend a four month intensive Maryknoll Missionary Preparation Program. On December 12, feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe we flew to the other side of the island. The next day, December 13, the feast day of Mother Odelia we set foot on the soil of Lima Peru. Our mission was sure to be blessed. The four of us teachers served at the newly formed parish school, Collegio Maria Reina, in the building vacated by the Marianist Brothers. In March classes began. I did learn to speak Spanish and enjoyed teaching the eager and happy children. They were always ready to help me by suggesting a Spanish word when I floundered.
Two rewarding experiences in Peru stand out for me. I greatly enjoyed visiting the poor squatters recently migrating from the Mountains and living in makeshift huts in vacant lots in our area. Three of us met with some poor mothers in one of the huts and helped them to sound out words and begin to learn to read and write. What joy they had in receiving their first reader and being able to print their own name. We also taught religion classes, a required subject, on Saturday mornings to poor boys in an old house used as a school. My class room was only a cardboard room built on the flat roof of the house. Yet all were happy to attend.
After a six year prolonged illness contracted in Peru, I began and enjoyed 26 years of serving our Community and Sisters in the Bursar’s Office. On retiring, I now am grateful to serve in Health Care at Holy Family Memorial Network here in Manitowoc. I join other Sisters and Lay Volunteers in being the hands, feet and heart of Christ serving suffering patients and family members with kindness and compassion.
Living Community Religious Life has been very inspiring and joyful. Each day was and is an honor to serve God’s people, the rich and poor, the young and old, the sick and the suffering, and sharing with them the peace, joy and love of the Lord. In moving in obedience from place to place, from one apostolate to another I have found peace, joy and intense love of the Lord in letting God be my guide – “Let go and Let God”.