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Your Love Is Enough Sister Alice Marie Schmersal

A 5th-grade Alice stayed up late, reading by the light of the Christmas tree. She had been given a prayerbook as a gift and, somewhere among its pages, found the prayer of a Sister. "This is where I'm being called," she thought. And so it was.

She completed high school while at the convent, and began teaching almost immediately. "I worked on my A.B. degree mostly nights, weekends, and summers, like many of us did," she says.

She loved teaching. One of her earliest assignments was at Our Savior School in Covington, Kentucky. It was a small school. Most students lived in subsidized housing and the school itself was just two classrooms. Sister Alice taught grades 1 through 4, all at once.

"You had to plan well," she remembers, "and be flexible." This was in the early 1960s and a lot of people were prepared to write off her poor students. "They'd tell me, 'Oh well, we don't expect very much from them.' I listened, but I thought, 'No way!'"

"It was a politically charged time," Sister Alice says. Of course, her students learned the usual subjects. But she tried to meet the needs of each student individually and, most of all, to teach them "You are worth something. You can be someone."

Sister Alice discovered a passion for teaching and spent more than four decades in education. She was an educator in schools large and small, urban and suburban, in about seven dioceses and archdioceses. "I was a teacher, a principal... I earned my master's degree at UK to learn new ways of teaching. During each mission, I learned from the diverse groups to see the spark of God in every person, no matter their race, nationality, or life experience."

She had a special love for students who had more challenges than others, she says. "Along with other Sisters, I worked with kids that learned differently. That's why I pursued a master's in these different modalities of teaching."

After years of teaching in Covington, at St. Camillus in Corbin, and in Lexington, Sister Alice had a slight change of pace.

Everybody knows Sisters don't retire.

She was sent to northwestern Ohio to serve as DRE for twin parishes. In her nine years there, she started Vacation Bible School and taught religious ed classes in the evenings. "They used to call me 'Principal of the Night'," she laughs.

She then began work as a pastoral associate in a little mountain mission in Manchester, Kentucky. "They wanted someone who could do a little of everything, including playing music," she says. "I told them I was pretty good at playing the radio, and I was on my way."

The setting in Manchester meant a lot of additional ministry, too. She worked at the pregnancy center, with Dismas Charities, and ministered to inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution just outside town. The inmates there were "so used to people rejecting them," she says. "I know with my heart that our Compassionate God loves us, even though we are sinners. Even though you have heard the message that you are no good, a mistake, the bottom line is that God loves you and with the Grace of God you will become the best version of yourself."

Sister Alice had decided to come back to Melbourne, Kentucky, on the feast of St. Anne to attend her jubilee celebration (she celebrated 60 years of religious life in 2019), chapter, and a retreat. She was finishing up the fiscal year in Manchester when, driving on a winding mountain road, everything changed.

"All of a sudden, I saw a van coming straight at me."

There was a terrible crash. Sister Alice was trapped in her car, bleeding and numb from the waist down. That numbness was a blessing.

The crash had crushed her foot and broken every bone in both legs, except one. "They had to do 15 X-rays just to see what was broken," she said.

Her recovery has been slow, but also, in its own way, miraculous. She has progressed from being immobilized in a hospital bed, completely dependent for all her needs, to using a wheelchair, to using a walker to navigate Holy Family Home, where she is continuing to heal.

Part of that healing is art. She learned watercolor on a sabbatical in 1989, and has been creating art for greeting cards, retreats, and gifts for her students and others in the years since.

"For me, painting is a part of my prayer," she says. Her work centers on themes of movement, change, risk, and new possibilities. "I just begin working," she says, and trustingly she prays:

"OK, God, let's see what you're going to do next."
Created By
Kathleen Carroll
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