Humor, can-do attitude go a long way at convent

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By Beth Rogers Thompson

Sister Judy Gradel’s welcoming smile and warmth immediately make a visitor feel comfortable at McAuley Convent in Cincinnati, Ohio. You can feel the embrace of the convent’s homey environment.

Sister Judy has been extending Mercy hospitality and a can-do attitude as McAuley’s administrator and community life coordinator since September 2005.

Previous ministries

Prior to that, she ministered in education, as a teacher and an elementary school principal. At her alma mater, McAuley High School in Toledo, Ohio, she taught math and earth science. Later, she taught math for 18 years at McAuley High, which is next door to the convent in Cincinnati. “I loved teaching, the thinking involved, especially in calculus, and the performing aspect of teaching,” Sister Judy says.

Born in Toledo, she met the Sisters of Mercy when she attended McAuley High School there. “I always wanted to be a teacher, and the sisters were excellent teachers,” she says. “That, their dedication, and their lifestyle were what first attracted me to religious life.” She entered the Sisters of Mercy in Cincinnati in 1963.

For two years somewhere in the middle of the teaching, Sister Judy ran an emergency service center in Covington, Kentucky. She felt she did a good job of stacking food, straightening donated clothing and record keeping, but eventually decided that the best of her talents lay elsewhere.

Today, as convent administrator, she supervises all the employees and helps to see that the sisters’ needs are met. “The employees are devoted to the sisters and treat them with such respect and gentleness,” she says.

She describes McAuley Convent as kind of a “therapeutic workplace.” There are times when the employees have an opportunity to share their lives with the sisters. They find good listeners and know the sisters will hold them in prayer.

“I really enjoy being with the sisters. We laugh a lot around here,” Sister Judy says. “I also find it heart-warming the way the sisters take care of one another—pushing wheelchairs, fetching whatever another sister needs. When you’re a person used to serving, you want to continue to be of service to others as long as you are able.”

Sister Judy says she has learned a lot as an administrator—about finances, about medicine and, unfortunately, about death and grieving.

“And also about letting people be themselves, rather than trying to get everyone to do the same thing,” she adds.

Haunted bathroom?

She also finds that a sense of humor can help you get through the day. One of the strangest situations that has occurred at the convent was what she calls “the ghost and the toilet.”

A sister complained about a toilet in the basement that didn’t work. A new maintenance man called a plumber, who came and took it apart but didn’t have time to fix it that day. The next day they found it put back together, the day after that, apart again, and then back together. There was concern that someone was breaking in the building, taking toilets apart and putting them back together. It had not been the plumber. Some people wanted to put additional locks on the doors. Sister Judy’s thought was that, if someone wants to come and repair one of our toilets, why should we be concerned about it at all? In the end, the men realized they were looking in two different bathrooms.

To relax, Sister Judy enjoys watching “Jeopardy!” and playing the “Luminosity” brain games. She also loves to read, swim and take nature photos, which she makes into notecards.

One of her greatest joys is spending time with her 16-year-old godchild, Maya, who has autism. Maya often visits the convent on Saturdays. She always wants to perform a song for the sisters and enjoys passing out candy to them. Maya’s unusual take on life (e.g. “If a glass fell from a septillion miles in the air, would it break the sidewalk?”) brings much food for thought and occasion for laughter.

Sister Judy receives much of her inspiration for prayer from her love of mathematics and nature and their connections. This interest began when she was a high school student, and was something she always tried to share with her students. She usually spends part of each retreat marveling at the Fibonacci numbers and the Divine Proportion and the way they occur in nature around her.