Sr. Anselm Lives!
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
April 10, 2003
Having just turned 54, I believe I can credibly offer a few thoughts about some basic truths of life. One of these seems to me to be that there are at least three formative phenomena that influence us all of our lives:
- Formal education, and
I truly believe that I have been blessed with all three. However today I would like to speak to you about Number 2, our formal education and a certain teacher, a nun that influenced my life significantly if not profoundly. I just learned of her death.
It is interesting that the passing on of someone who touched our lives sparks a recollection of memories and a sense of contemplation of what they really meant to us. Such is the case with the passing of Sr. Mary Anselm Bergjans, popularly known to her students as Sr. Anselm. A sense of resoluteness permeated the air around her. She was kind on the outside, steely disciplined on the inside.
I have never thought myself to be good at math. Perhaps because of my own self image, I was not. She taught me Algebra. I struggled to find a way to like or even survive math. Daydreaming sometimes becomes the alternative to the reality that "attention to seemingly dull subjects is important". Sr. Anselm had an uncanny knack for knowing just when my attention in class drifted. Invariably it seemed she would call on me for the next problem just when I lost my focus.
I will never forget what she said to console this dejected soul when I felt that all was lost in solving some algebraic equation. She said: "When you don't know what to do, do something!" With a little action on the problem, my paralysis usually turned into resolution. How often in life do we find ourselves in the dilemma of not knowing what to do and so we feel paralyzed. Sr. Anselm's algebraic advise has always come back to help me out of problems that need action not paralysis.
Sr. Anselm was also direct and honest. She did not beat around the bush about her feelings either. In the sixties and seventies, sideburns were in style and I had a pair. That did not stop Sr. Anselm from pinching my sideburns and telling me to cut them. I really bristled at her telling me that, at the time. Today I look back with appreciation for her boldly telling me what I needed to know and what was in my interest whether I knew it or not.
Later after I graduated from both high school and college, I had the honor of serving as President of the St. Gerard High School Men's Club…at 23 years of age! I was so excited because most of the membership was twice my age. Shortly after the election, I saw Sr. Anselm. As I recall, she had become the Principal at St. Gerard High. Beaming just a little over the election, I told her of my election as President. Sr. Anselm quickly acknowledged it, congratulated me but added, "But I still think you're too young." Ouch!
Interesting how the words of someone in a position of authority influences you way beyond high school. We are all in such great need of heroes and role models. My first role models and heroes are my parents. But right after them are people I met gaining a formal education. I have accumulated more than a few role models since then too.
You see, life is so full of challenges. We are all in such a need for constant inspiration. It seems that inspiration is God's way of lifting us up above its challenges. I am sure that each and every one of you no matter where you are in life, age wise, has at least a few if not many role models. I want to encourage you to count your blessings for every one of them. Surely, they live within us into eternity. May the spirit of Sr. Anselm and those blessed souls like her live on forever in you and me!