June 2009: SISTER ARLENE WINKLER
There is a Chinese Proverb that states: “Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” The path of learning is one that Sister Arlene Winkler has followed throughout her life, and this month, as she celebrates her 80th birthday, she shares the highlights of her faith-filled journey.
The Winkler family
She was born on June 21, 1929 in Leipsic, Ohio, to Louis and Lauretta (Lammers) Winkler. At baptism she was named Mary, her father’s wish, and at her reception into the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, she was given the name Arlene, her mother’s wish. She has two older sisters and one younger brother and sister. She and the family members worked together on the farm hauling hay, hoeing corn, and blocking sugar beets.
“We often gathered for music with my Dad playing the violin and my mother playing the piano. Prayer was our daily food, and as I child, I remember that at night we prayed three Hail Mary’s so we would know what God wanted us to be when we got older. My Dad said that ‘God has a plan for each of you and you must pray to find out his plan – for you’ll never be happy in life unless you follow it’.”
Decision for Religious Life
While she had witnessed the example of two aunts and several cousins who had made the decision to enter religious life, she also was open to the idea of it for herself. “During a high school retreat, Father Raymond discussed the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis with me, and I wrote a letter to the Provincial. When I received a response inviting me to the Community, I knew this was where God was leading me,” Sister Arlene explained. Her entrance date happened to conflict with her sister Hilda’s wedding, but there was no question in Sister Arlene’s mind as she explained how she couldn’t be a bridesmaid and gave the bridesmaid’s dress to her other sibling.
Throughout her 58 years in religious life, she has had served in Litchfield, Highland, and Springfield (including St. John’s Hospital and St. John’s Tuberculosis Sanitarium). She also has served in various capacities at the Motherhouse including Occupational Therapy and Activity Department. In 1973, she began a Candy Striper program for high school students to assist the Sisters at the Motherhouse. “In looking back at this time in my life, I began to realize the value of what it means to be among those who are ill, what it means to be no longer in ministry or work, and how to be present to those who are dying was very important,” she said. “There is such a value in listening to our Sisters who have lived such a productive life. They have such deep faith and have made our community what it is today.” “I love the elderly because they are full of wisdom and are very inspirational to those who listen.”
Example to others
In 1971, Sister Arlene was diagnosed with macular degeneration, and while it has affected her vision, she has not let it have a negative effect on her life. Over the years, she has shared her gifts as a nurse, occupational therapist, photographer, author, vocalist, trumpeter, PSR teacher, and one who loves to crochet. She has completed seven courses for the Hadley School of the Blind, wrote volumes of research on topics including family genealogy, History of St. John’s Hospice, and a significant interview with Monsignor James Gatton, priest director of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis from 1936-44. Technology has called her to continue reading through an overhead projector connected to her zoom text computer screen. She also is able to communicate by e-mail and is a user of the Internet.
Since 1993, she has been a volunteer at St. John’s Hospital as a Hospice Team Member. “I love my work in hospice and have learned so much from the patients and their families. Sometimes I even sing songs I have composed. Patients share stories and countless words of wisdom. It has been a privilege in being present to the dying at such a sacred time and a gift from God,” she said. I thank the community for letting me use my gifts.”
Following her graduation from St. John's School of Nursing, Sister Arlene earned a bachelor’s degree from Marillac College, a master’s degree in gerontology from Sangamon State University, a certificate in clinical pastoral education from St. Francis Medical Center (LaCrosse), and a hospice training course from St. John’s Hospital (Springfield). She has been recognized by the University of Illinois at Springfield with a Loyalty Award in 2003. She still maintains her involvement with its Alumni Association. She also continues to work as a bereavement volunteer at hospice and is an example to many. She has experienced the gift of journeying as a pilgrim over the years to the Motherhouse in Germany, Assisi, Rome, and the American southwest and northeast. "It is such a blessing in community to see these places where we have originated from and where the spirit of God is present." Her closing words resound in each of us: “Learn all you can from others, especially the elderly - their journey of faith, despite obstacles at times, is a gift for the next generation.”