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Sister Eileen Rice, OP (1944-1994) taught me to see the world in new ways
In my senior year at St. Joseph’s Academy, Sister Eileen Rice, OP, became our school principal. The previous principal, Sister Jean Cecile Hunt, had served the school for years and many of us greeted her retirement enthusiastically. When Sister Eileen arrived, no one knew quite what to make of her. Young, energetic, full of innovative ideas about education, Eileen threw out the tested and true and embraced the untried and new. If anyone had an idea, she responded without hesitation, “Let’s try it!” Courses, teachers, and activities sprung up like clover in the newly mowed field behind the Academy.
Eileen made learning fun, important, and stimulating. With her Micky Mouse t-shirt, striped pants, long hair pulled back in a ponytail, and infectious smile, few outsiders recognized her as the principal. “She’s a nun?” they’d ask incredulously. “Yes, and an amazing one,” we’d reply with a bit of pride.
I stayed connected to Eileen as she moved on to teach in the School of Education at Siena Heights University, my undergraduate alma mater. A few years after I graduated college, cancer stole Eileen’s health. Her spirit, however, never wavered. I met her for dinner one evening at a local diner. That’s when she told me that her diagnosis was terminal. With hardly a pause, she asked, “Do you think you could find Star Trek episodes (Original Series, of course) that I could play on my VCR? I’ve never watched much TV, but so many people have talked to me about that show. I was thinking that maybe when I’m bed-bound, I’d like to watch it.”
It took me a minute to recover from the thought of Eileen bound to a bed, and then the thought of her watching Star Trek from her bed as she lay dying, but if nothing else, Eileen taught me to say yes, and I did.
I brought her a compilation of the first season just two weeks before she died. I doubt she ever got to watch it.
Eileen’s vivacious and imaginative spirit has challenged me throughout my life to do things differently, see things differently, expect much of myself and others, and not to forget to have fun doing it. She would expect nothing less of herself.
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