For 49 years, the sisters of Notre Dame have blessed the St. Jude community in Fort Wayne. They served the parish and school as teachers, principals and caregivers throughout their time there. On Sunday, June 26, with heavy hearts, the parish said a bittersweet goodbye as the sisters move on to serve and touch the lives of others in need.
The parish celebrated the sisters that Sunday with a large gathering in the church basement, inviting all the parishioners and sisters that served in the past. Everyone in attendance reminisced with favorite memories and thanked the sisters for their kindness, compassion and stewardship.
The Sisters of Notre Dame first arrived at the parish in 1973, succeeding the Sisters of Providence, who originally helped open the school with 105 students enrolled in grades 1-4. The new group of sisters were welcomed by the fourth pastor of the school, Monsignor William Lester. As the parish grew rapidly, more sisters from the order were asked to come and teach the students.
They were welcomed with open arms and genuine gratitude from the parish and school. Sister Charleen Hug was the first principal to serve the school and remembers how accepting and supportive everyone was upon their arrival. “The people accepted us so fast and openly. I was very impressed with that. They were just wonderful people.”
When sharing some of her fondest memories, she said, “The whole place was a favorite for me. I loved the atmosphere, people and students. I felt really bad leaving there.”
Sister Kathleen Marie Kneuven was also one of the first to arrive, serving as a first-grade teacher for the first couple years before being assigned to serve elsewhere. In 1998, she was asked to return as principal and led the school for 17 years before leaving for the final time in 2005.
At a young age, she knew she wanted to become a sister, specifically with the sisters of Notre Dame. Throughout her schooling, she spent much of her time with them and felt God calling her to be a part of their mission. When asked about her time spent with the students and staff of St. Jude, she had nothing but compliments to share. “I just felt very welcomed. The school had such a beautiful spirit. It was a God-filled school. The faculty always took the initiative to volunteer and to take leadership roles in the school. I felt so blessed. I could never have done it by myself. They were the ones who carried it along.”
In 1985, Sister Richarde Kaufman was called to mission as an eighth-grade teacher and became principal the following school year. “I consider it a blessing that I had a year there to get to know the teachers and staff, the parish and the people and then to become principal. It was such a blessing for me.”
In her six years there, she was amazed at all the people who served the parish for decades. When she attended the celebration, it brought back many memories of some of her favorite people. “Oh, the teachers. Some of those same teachers were there long after I left, and some have just retired recently. And I do say this, a few of them have gone home to heaven already, but my time spent with them was one of the best times of my life.”
All three sisters were very grateful to be missioned at St. Jude. “The sisters that followed me, they all felt the same as I did. Everyone was very accepting and I am very sorry they had to leave. I want to tell them to be the same way to everyone that follows as you were to us,” said Sister Charleen.
Sister Richarde would like to say thank you to everyone she worked with and the others who followed after she left. “Just thank you for providing me with seven wonderful years of my life. Out of my 50 years in the classroom, seven of them were spent at St. Jude. It was a wonderful learning and growing experience and I just appreciated being there with everybody and it was wonderful seeing everybody on Sunday.”
“I also want to say thank you to the parish. It was the happiest time of my life…such a beautiful experience. I want to thank the families, the faculty and the students who I was so privileged to minister with and minister to. I’m grateful for their love, support and their prayers.” added Sister Kathleen.
The Sisters of Notre Dame will greatly be missed by the St. Jude community and are hopeful that the legacy of their founders will continue in the years to come.
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