Sister Catherine Wingert
Mentor and Friend
How does one begin to describe Sister Catherine Wingert? Sister Julia Wingert, niece of Sister Catherine, accepts the challenge. “Sister Catherine is a woman of simplicity, common sense and wisdom. Her consistent concern is for the common good. She exudes a zest for life, a positive attitude and a love for fun. She is quick to offer a word of thanks, an affirmation or praise for a contribution, no matter how small. She is grateful for every kindness shown her.”
“By her words and actions, Catherine taught me not to squander the luxury of being human," adds Sister Suzanne Gallagher. “Sister Catherine is accepting and non-judgmental and lives her life totally dependent on God and filled with gratitude. She is a celebrator! Always ready for a party – any occasion.”
Sister Catherine was born Mary Cecelia Wingert, named after St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians. Her mother wanted her daughter to be a music teacher. Sister Catherine has a deep love for her parents and credits her steadfast work ethic to them, often quoting her mother’s words: “It’s better to wear out than rust out.” She declares that she has big hands because she helped her dad milk cows.
“My parents provided me with everything I needed for a good education,” Sister Catherine remembers. “My family accepted me just the way I was – a live-wire,” she grins. “I still remember one thing my dad said to me when I entered religious life, ‘Don’t you ever change.’ And I haven’t.”
Sister Catherine ministered as a teacher and principal for more than 50 years. Her first principalship was at St. Columbkille School in Dubuque, where the enrollment neared 1,000 and she had no assistant, not even a secretary. It was at St. Columbkille that she mentored beginning Presentation teachers. Sister Catherine recalls some of her first young teachers, “I remember my teachers were scared to death standing in front of the classroom. I would gently put my arm around them, take their book and continue reading to the students, giving them time to collect themselves. In later years, many sisters told me how much that meant to them. I didn’t give it a thought; I just didn't want to see them shaking,” she adds.
“Sister Catherine was my principal when I began teaching,” shares Sister Louise Scieszinski. “Her enthusiasm, energy, direction, commitment, challenge to professional excellence, care for students and their families and insistence that every student needed to and could succeed were clear guidelines for a new teacher, unsure of the road. In fact, it was “wise use” of one’s professional training to create ways to assure that every child experienced success and that all students recognized and expressed peer respect.” Sister Louise continues, “Sister Catherine constantly found ways to improve the instructional program for students and helped teachers implement purposeful instruction. She never met a stranger, nor was any student or teacher ever lost from her loyal concern and direction. Her humor and enjoyment of people combined with dedication to learning enabled ‘continuous improvement’ to become a reality for students and teachers.”
Sister Raeleen Sweeney also benefitted from Sister Catherine’s guidance, “I share my Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching with Sister Catherine because from the beginning, she challenged me as a teacher, guided me, mentored me and modeled accountability, discipline and excellence in teaching. She continues to be a mentor for me today.”
The last school principalship for Sister Catherine was St. Dorothy School in Chicago, Illinois, where she ministered for 15 years. At St. Dorothy’s, Sister worked closely with the African-American community and made many good friends with whom she continues to stay connected. “I am most grateful for the opportunity to have experienced another culture. Their friendships provided me with a new perspective.”
Sister Lou Cota, who worked and lived with Sister Catherine for over 20 years in Chicago, adds, “Sister Catherine exemplified the charism of Nano Nagle in her administrative role. She was loved by teachers, students, parents, her parish and her community. Her talents were recognized when she was named the Outstanding Principal of the Year by the Archdiocese of Chicago, subsequently as Outstanding Principal in the region and finally as one of the top eight principals in the nation.” Sister Lou continues, “Like Nano Nagle, Sister’s day was hemmed in by prayer, beginning early in the morning and concluding with Vespers and Compline. Her dedication to the service of others was a great inspiration to me. She consistently went out of her way to be of service, while ignoring her own needs.”
After years of generously giving of herself in active ministry, as educator and principal, Sister Catherine retired in 2009 and is now taking delight in a more leisurely schedule. Along with playing cards several nights a week, reading, writing to her friends, and visiting, Sister Catherine enjoys line dancing. When she’s up to it, she teaches line dancing classes on Saturday mornings. In retirement prayer continues to outline her day. “Each day I want to put into my prayer something that struck me when I talked with others. Their hardships teach me a great deal, especially not to complain. I have a wonderful life,” smiles Sister Catherine.
Sister Catherine Wingert enjoys the camaraderie of her close friends in community. Left to right: Sisters Lois Lehmann, Donna Determan, Rosanne Rottinghaus, Anthony Rottinghaus, Catherine Wingert, Francesca Presseller and Annette Skyles