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Sister Donna Determan

Loving Every Minute

For over 50 years Sister Donna Determan ministered in Catholic elementary schools in Iowa and Illinois. She loved every minute of every year of teaching. In August of 2009 she was called to community prayer and service at the Mount Loretto motherhouse in Dubuque. Here Sister Donna has been reunited with many sisters with whom she taught and sisters who taught her.

Sister Donna, the youngest of four girls, was born in Mason City, Iowa, to Bonita and Raymond Determan. “We had wonderful parents. They were loving and so good to us,” recalls Sister Donna.

Growing up, the Determan girls lived only two blocks from St. Joseph Church and School. From the time she was young, Sister knew that she wanted to be a sister and a teacher. After attending Clarke College, Sister joined the Sisters of the Presentation community in 1958. Her older sisters, Sister Bonita and Sister Rayanne, were very influential in her life as were the Presentation Sisters who taught her. When requesting her religious name, she asked for the name Donna in honor of her married sister, Donna Umbarger.

Sister later received a bachelor’s degree from Clarke College with a major in history and elementary education. Her first teaching assignment was at St. Columbkille School. “It was a perfect beginning for me.” When

Resurrection School opened in Dubuque in 1961, Sister Donna was assigned to teach there. “Oh, did I love it! I really liked working with the younger children. They brought such enthusiasm to the classroom and to learning.”

Sister also had the opportunity to teach third grade at St. Dorothy School in Chicago, Illinois. “Teaching and living in an African-American community was a wonderful experience. The students, the staff and the families were delightful.”

During her teaching career, Sister Donna also taught at St. Mary School in Storm Lake, Iowa. She was there for over 24 years. “I really enjoyed helping the children prepare to receive First Reconciliation and First Communion. It was a thrill for me to see former students grow up and then to have families of their own.” One of the students nominated Sister Donna for the Teacher of the Year award. “Receiving that award was an honor. I am proud of the legacy and quality of education the students received from everyone with whom I taught.”

Sister Donna was one of St. Mary’s most avid fans. “I tried to support the students whenever I could. I often rode with parents or on the bus to many out of town games and activities. I am still an avid sports fan, especially of Notre Dame teams – that loyalty comes from my dad, a big Notre Dame fan.” Thanks to friends in Storm Lake, Sister has the fun and joy of attending a football game each year in South Bend, Indiana.

In retirement one of Sister’s favorite past times is playing ping pong. Sister recalls having a ping pong table at home. Neighbors and friends took part in the fun of friendly competitions. Sister Donna also enjoys visiting with family and friends. She likes to help at the motherhouse however and whenever she can. Her day includes time for praying, walking, reading and writing. During their busy season she helps at the Trappistines candy factory. Sister is an active member in support of Dubuque County Right to Life. She spends time in prayer for sisters in their various ministries and for vocations to religious life.

In 1978, Sister Donna, Sister Bonita and Sister Rayanne (known as “the Determan Sisters”) went on a Pilgrimage to Rome, Holy Land and Greece, thanks to the generosity of their dad. “This will always be a special memory of a wonderful trip,” recalls Sister Donna.

Sister Donna’s favorite Scripture quotes are: “I am with you always,” and “Whatever you do to others you do to me.”

In retirement, Sister Donna finds it heartwarming to see the joy, the peace and the happiness of the senior sisters at Mount Loretto.

Left photo: Sister Donna Determan enjoys her company.
Right photo: Sister Donna Determan loves a good game of ping pong.

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