A Sign of Providence Sister Juanita Marie Nadicksbernd

Doing the right thing is not always easy; knowing the right thing to do can be even harder.

Sister Juanita Nadicksbernd was faced with a difficult situation in 2008 while serving as principal of St. Camillus Academy in Corbin, Kentucky. The school building, dating from 1914 and on the National Register of Historic Places, had become an expensive burden. Its antique plumbing and wiring had made it impractical for classroom use years prior. A new building was constructed on campus in 2004 to serve that purpose.

The old building was beautiful and beloved, by the Sisters, by the town, and especially by the alumni. It stood empty for three years while an alternative use was sought, but ultimately, none of the proposals were successful. Converting the structure into office space or a bed and breakfast would be an additional cost and, moreover, would not contribute to the Sisters' mission in the community. Sister Juanita explains the final decision simply:

"We were there to educate the students."

It was decided that the aging edifice would be demolished but, as principal of the school, Sister Juanita faced some criticism and uncertainty. "It was a lovely place. I don't think anyone appreciated it more than I did. But we had to do what was best for the school, the students, and the community," she says.

During demolition, some reassurance appeared when someone working nearby snapped a photo of the building.

Many who saw this photo wondered why the statue of the Blessed Mother was not relocated before the building was torn down. But that's no statue. It's the demolition crane.

A local paper carried the story and the photo under the headline Divine Sign?

Sister Juanita expressed to the Times Tribune that the image gave some indication, some reassurance, that the Sisters had made the right decision.

From her first profession in 1958 (and her very first teaching post that year in Wheeling, West Virginia), Sister Juanita has always focused on mission first. She was in the vanguard of CDPs teaching in a two-room school in Martin, Kentucky. There were just 35 students in the whole school, but area doctors agreed to provide treatment for them only if someone could guarantee a good-quality education for them, so the Sisters took up residence.

Martin, Kentucky, by Brian Stansberry - own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68541338

After two years, she and another Sister opened St. Matthias School in Lanham, Maryland. "That was a fun time," Sister Juanita recalls. "I was young and the school was new--not even completed yet."

After just two years in Maryland, it was back to tiny Martin, just in time for one of the town's perennial floods. "It is in the mountains, on a creek subject to flash floods. It came up into the hospital, where we were staying with the Sisters who worked there. The water didn't last very long, but the cleanup did," she remembers.

After that, "I was so many places," Sister Juanita says. "St. Vincent de Paul in Newport, St. Michael in Kalida (Ohio), Holy Spirit in Newport for 16 years, Corbin for 8, St. Philip here in Melbourne for 2 years, St. Aloysius in Covington for 2, St. Bernard in Dayton.... I was principal for 31 years and taught every grade from first to eighth."

Sister Juanita's primary concern has always been for her students. When four Newport schools were being merged, she recruited teachers from each of the closing schools to work at the junior high, where she was principal. "That was a lot of work, and a lot of heartbreak for the kids. They needed to feel wanted and loved. I wanted to make sure they had at least one familiar face among the staff after the merger."

Through the years, Sister Juanita has collected a wall full of awards and a scrapbook of accolades. She was named Outstanding Woman of Northern Kentucky in 1997 and received an outstanding service award from the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky. The schools where she worked were likewise showered with honors, for everything from academic achievement to multicultural events.

"Not quite a third of our students [at St. Camillus] were Catholic," she says. Many residents of the area had international roots and sent their children to St. Camillus for an excellent education. " We had students from countries around the world, including Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, India, and the Philippines. We had a lot of parents who were very involved, too, so it made for a rich learning experience."

"We won many, many awards over the years," Sister Juanita says. "We [the Congregation of Divine Providence] celebrated 100 years in Corbin while I was there. They gave us the key to the city. When a public school was built on the former site of St. Camillus, they kept a small remnant of our building in a park there. They always said that they could not be the school they are today if it weren't for the Sisters and St. Camillus."

Sister Juanita is now the assistant animator at Holy Family Home in Melbourne, Kentucky. She organizes outings and activities, prepares the dining room for celebrations, and works to enhance the Sisters' lives in many ways.

Two other Nadicksbernd sisters are also CDPs living at Holy Family, and Sister Juanita's brother, Father Elmer Nadicksbernd, SVD, serves as chaplain for the community.

Even with 60 years of consecrated life, how has one woman managed to make an impact on so many people, in so many places? Sister Juanita offers this perspective:

"You just do it without knowing it. You just do your job and later--maybe--you find out what it meant to people."
Created By
Kathleen Carroll

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