AHeavenlySurprise Sister Rose Ann Menke

"It was a surprise."

These first words from Sister Rose Ann about her life seem to capture everything about her. Always genial, with a ready smile and persistent laugh, she is known as a Sister who inspires confidence. No matter the challenge, simply being in her presence is enough to convince you that everything is going to be fine. Providence has made use of her adaptability by putting it on display with one surprise after another.

The first year Sister Rose Ann taught, she got a surprise. "I was called to go to Takoma Park [in Maryland]. I had been at St. Thomas [in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky] for three months, and on a Saturday morning I was called and told of the change. I headed for Maryland with the assistant to the provincial, but when we got there in the middle of the night, they had not yet heard about the decision. So it was a surprise for them, too!" she says, laughing at the memory.

She stayed there, at Our Lady of Sorrows School, for the rest of the year, teaching sixth grade. Then, another surprise: The Congregation had opened a mission in Lexington, Kentucky, and sent her to Lexington Catholic High School. She had specialized in business courses in college and passed those business skills to her students for the next five years.

Providence working as it does, all that teaching about business served her well, because she was then sent to the chancery office to work for a year as secretary to the chancellor. Teaching had left its mark on Sister Rose Ann, though. When it came to her secretarial duties, she confides with a wink, "I didn't particularly like it, and I let that be known."

So she was back at St. Thomas, teaching business, for another nine years. The Sisters decided they had use for those business skills closer to home and asked Sister Rose Ann to serve as provincial secretary. While serving in that role, she took classes at the Athenaeum, earning a master's degree in lay pastoral ministry.

That took her to parish work in St. Joseph, in Winchester, Kentucky, for five years. But the surprises didn't stop coming. "Lo and behold, I got a call from the provincial, saying, 'We're thinking of sending you to New York." It was clear to Sister Rose Ann it was beyond the "thinking about" stage. Ever-adaptable, she got ready for her next assignment.

Recognized for her business acumen and administrative skills, Sister Rose Ann seemed a perfect fit for the role of director at Jeanne d'Arc Residence, a ministry of the community. She found the women's residence an exciting place, describing it as "so multicultural." In a mock conspiratorial tone, she confesses, "I had come from working in Kentucky, which is predominantly Caucasian, and at Jeanne d'Arc, there were almost no Caucasians. There was every denomination, every ethnicity, every culture you could think of. After about a week, I had to ask one of the Sisters, 'Are you sure we're in the United States?'" The arrangement was such a good fit that she stayed from 1992 to 2004, an especially significant span of years.

"I was in New York City for 9/11."

Jeanne d'Arc is a seven-story building with a rooftop terrace. "One of the residents had been on the roof and came down to me out of breath and said, 'We saw this huge plane coming down 6th Avenue! It was so low, we could see the people in the windows! And then it went right into the World Trade Center, and it's on fire!'"

She turned on the TV right away and started to see what the whole world was seeing. Her immediate concern was for the women of Jeanne d'Arc. "We had three or four residents who were working at the World Trade Center, and 140 residents altogether. I knew we had to account for each one. Others might have been shopping or running errands in the area and anything might have happened to them."

Soon the subways were shut down, the buses stopped running, and that part of the city grew still. A few residents brought in friends and coworkers who had no way off the island of Manhattan. The Sisters took them in, making sure they first phoned home to anxious parents. Hours after the onset of the attack, the last resident, Lily, came through the door. Soaked from the sprinklers in the World Trade Center, where she had been working on the fortieth floor, she did not know what had happened, or that the towers had fallen. Relieved, Sister Rose Ann set aside Lily's emergency contact form (which she had on her desk), and told her the sad story.

"It was a traumatic experience, but I commended the Sisters for making sure everyone was safe and accounted for, and for doing what they could to help the city recover."

Sister Rose Ann loved Jeanne d'Arc and its residents. "They came from more than 40 countries, lots of cultures, and they all had different paths--working or going to school. But no matter where they were from or what they planned to do, we took care of them. It became their home. They were safe."

After her tenure at Jeanne d'Arc and another stint in provincial administration, Sister Rose Ann had the chance to visit the Holy Land, which she loved. One of the biggest surprises of her career came when she was assigned to Assumption Parish in Mt. Healthy, Ohio--the parish in which she grew up. She recalled watching a movie about St. Therese when she was in third grade. "That's when I thought I would become a Sister."

Other ideas about the future took center stage as Sister Rose Ann grew up, but the idea of being a Sister never left her. "To complicate the situation, I had five aunts in the convent, and I wanted to make sure my vocation was authentic and not something I inherited. God kept knocking at my heart until I responded and entered the convent."

Sister Ann Rose's class was among the first to follow in the footsteps of John-Martin Moye, a pilgrimage along the route taken by the CDP founder through France. One Sister wrote of him,

"He didn’t live closed in the rectory. He walked the streets and alleys of his parishes, went to see his parishioners in their homes, counseled, explained, encouraged, but always with tact and temperance. He saw, he heard, he listened, he perceived the more subtle challenges from the silent misery or vice. He was familiar with the misery and abandonment of the young. He carried the weakness, the scandals, the flagrant injustices of the urban society of his time in prayer."

For Sister Rose Ann, this is a good description of the work of the Sisters continue today.

Now she teaches English as a Second Language to immigrants two or three times a week at El Centro to native speakers of Spanish and Korean. "I enjoy helping people to find their way in life." She also gives Communion at St. Elizabeth Hospital and serves as Sister Companion to the Associates.

Throughout the years, she has found something unexpected in every position--a welcome challenge and a good fit for her unflappable personality. "I always liked surprises," she says, laughing (of course), but, "I never expected the variety of surprises I received as a Sister of Divine Providence."

Created By
Kathleen Carroll


Created with images by Vitaliy - "Gift box on abstract background"

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