April 3, 2014
By Karel B. Lucander
Sister Anne Henehan meets with Emmanuel Torres Garibay, one of six seminarians she currently mentors at the House of Formation in the Diocese of Little Rock, AR.
Photo courtesy of Omar Galvan
Sister Anne Henehan wore many hats before becoming a Sister of Mercy at age 45. She lived and studied in Spain, and was a Fulbright scholar teaching at a university in Slovenia. She also taught English as a Second Language (ESL) at a boarding school in Texas, led an ESL adult education program for immigrants in Michigan, and even taught in Zacatecas, Mexico.
But while attending a four-day silent retreat at a Jesuit house in fall 1996, she had a revelation about considering religious life. Within a couple months, she began looking into the Sisters of Mercy because “I knew they were ‘out there’ in terms of social justice.” A pre-candidate for two full years (January 1997-99), Sister Anne continued working while completing her preformation. Her Jesuit priest friend John Koeplin, whom she dubbed “the nudger” and who originally planted the idea that she considers religious life, presided at the masses for both her first and final vows.
“At first I thought, what: Me a nun? And I wondered: Am I good enough? Am I brave enough? Is this what God wants me to do? As someone who was not a religious, I thought you had to be better than other people to be a priest or nun. Then you learn, no, they are just answering this particular call from God.”
“It totally caught me by surprise,” she adds. “It reinforced for me that God will bring you forth into what you are supposed to be doing. I went to Catholic grade school, high school, and college, but becoming a sister was not on my radar back then. I was an active single Catholic. A lot of people are doing other things in the world and then receive the call from God.”
Today, Sister Anne, now 60, is an academic mentor and teaches ESL in the House of Formation of the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas. The house is dedicated to discerners to the priesthood and also seminarians who still are pursuing their undergraduate studies. There are currently six candidates living there, from ages 18 through their early 20s, and she helps them from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with reading as well as writing and grammar skills. She adapts her schedule around theirs, and cites flexibility as key to this ministry.
“I have gifts to bring, but the way that I offer them changes according to what the students themselves need. I am working with men who are balancing going to the university and living on a stipend in the seminary. I have a chance to really get to know them as men of faith as well as college students. It’s a small but effective ministry,” she says.
The scripture passage to which she turns often is Isaiah 58:11: “… the Lord will renew your strength … and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.”
“I like the image and it sustains me,” Sister Anne says.
When she is not at the House of Formation, she enjoys reading, walking outside and being in nature, and practicing the art of calligraphy.
“The paper, ink and pencils bring me to a place of peace and creativity,” she adds.