Sister Annette Skyles
A Life of Generous Service
“I am myself,” remarks Sister Annette Skyles. “I enjoy people and try to be honest and compassionate with them.” These few words of self-declaration describe the straightforward and clear statement reflected in Sister Annette’s way of life from her youth, through her years of teaching and parish visiting ministries to the present ministry of prayer and community.
And the more of it? This tall, unassuming woman religious with a placid visage is described by community members, former students and others as humble, appreciative and companionable. In her 10 years since coming to live at Mount Loretto motherhouse, generosity in volunteering can be added to Sister Annette’s qualities.
A Catholic school elementary teacher for 52 years, Sister Annette was inspired to teach because of the Presentation Sisters she had at St. Joseph grade and high schools in Mason City, Iowa.
“Our family of eight (four girls and four boys) had a combined total of 96 years schooling at St. Joe’s,” she boasts. Sister Annette lovingly recalls many of her Presentation teachers and principals – Sisters Mary Aloysius Rush, Clement Bird, Robert Reidy, Victoria Gereau, Vivia Cranny, among others.
Her Presentation mentors and models instilled in Sister Annette her own love of teaching which she gratefully paid forward. She proudly names all of the places where she taught grades fourth through seventh: Waukon, Osage, Dubuque, Cedar Falls, Epworth, Storm Lake, Key West and Algona in Iowa; and Oregon, Illinois.
In 1998, Sister Annette was recognized by “Who’s Who Among American Teachers,” having been nominated by one of her students from St. Mary School, Storm Lake. In 1999, she received the Excellence in Education Award from the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa.
Making others comfortable with her sense of humor and offhanded way, Sister Annette is able to share stories about former students, such as the boy who once told her, “Sister, we have a lot of work, but we get all the work and you get paid!”
“Sister Annette loved me as I entered her classroom for my second year in first grade,” remembers Sister Suzanne Gallagher. “I was young, very shy, and needed the love that would help me learn and grow into an independent, self-confident person. As I learned in later years, she was a teacher who sought out and helped the children in the margins without any fanfare; as simply as a lunch sack on the shelf in the locker room for the hungry who had no lunch from home.”
“As a new teacher myself, she tutored me on managing my first classroom of 35 first-graders, tips beyond the textbook of phonics and the basics of Saturday football. My first mission experience was a ‘Camelot’ of community life and Sister Annette’s simple yet profound vision of what we are about had a mighty impact on my life.”
Dedication and generosity have continued to shine strong in Sister Annette since her retiring to community prayer and service. Whether playing a weekly card game with some of the sisters and her friend, Tim Toohey, who comes to Mount Loretto, looking after the card and gift shop or spending time in prayer, Sister Annette continues to give of herself.
Classmate in community, Sister Joan Lickteig remarks, “Sister Annette has always been faithful and appreciative – faithful to daily religious exercises, faithful to teaching and faithful to community.”
This points to Sister Annette’s having a great love of community fondly earmarked by such experiences as “making Christmas candy at midnight with Sister Marilyn Breen” while teaching at Resurrection School, Dubuque, and companioning classmates Sisters Dominic Church and Therese Marie Hawes in their years of diminishment.
Friends in community for many years, Sisters Annette and Barbara Rastatter have shared a closeness. “And, we could lovingly ‘read the riot act’ to each other when necessary,” says Sister Annette with a serious smile.
In recent days, while experiencing changes in her health, Sister Annette has been experiencing others “paying and praying it forward.” The love and care in community from sisters and employees at Mount Loretto reflect back to her sense of compassion, care and empathy. Participating in fun and joy with others, she recently shared a wide smile and dancing brown eyes when three sisters came to her door with flowers and shiny Happy Birthday balloons.
Sister Annette Skyles, seen by some as a tall drink of faithfulness and fun, quietly follows her thirst for the living God.