Sister Profile: S. Audrey Olson

Sister Audrey Olson

What was your motivation/inspiration in entering the CSJ community?
I went to the CSJ’s kindergarten through high school, in Peoria, Illinois. I always admired the sisters because they were always so friendly. When I was in high school, particularly in junior year, I was dating and forgot about wanting to enter. Then in senior year, the guy I was dating went off to the Army; it was during World War II. A number of us were crazy about Sister Anna Rita Higgins. I maneuvered to take private piano lessons once a week so I could have a half hour with her! Three of us entered – and three of us are here at Nazareth: Sisters Teresa John Zilch, Mary Shryock, and me. I had no grandiose reason why I entered, except I liked the sisters and wanted to be like them. I don’t regret it.

What is your favorite ministry you have served or been involved with?
I have done many things in my life as a Sister of St. Joseph and have loved every one of them: teaching grade school, high school, college, justice and peace office in both the community and the diocese of Belleville, Illinois and La Crosse, Wisconsin, the first full-time director of associates, coordinator of sisters at Nazareth – I loved every job I had. They were all very different. I don’t have a favorite – I loved them all.

Do you have any “Aha!” moments where you discovered something about yourself?When I was a young professed, I lived at Carondelet and taught at St. Teresa’s Grade School on Grand Avenue. One day, I saw Father Leo. He told me that I have a great capacity to love. I have never forgotten that. It was something I’d never thought about, but something that came back to me through the years.

Do you have any “Aha!” moments that gave you a new perspective on the world?Back in 1974, Sister Marilyn Schaefer, the social justice coordinator for the L.A. province, sent me a postcard with a painting by Corita Kent, the IHM artist. It sent me on a whole new journey. The message on the painting was, “You are a field of energy in an infinite energy field – yield.” This is what set me off in a whole new spiritual path into what became the new cosmology and the new interpretation of theology. What is the only thing that exists in every single atom of existence? God – an infinite. loving energy field. I’ve been walking that way ever since.

What would you say is the most important societal or worldly problem we face? Why?
The whole world is in a state of chaos and transition. Out of this chaos is going to come something entirely new. We’re moving toward that. But in the meantime, so many of the wars and killings going on are based in the conflict between religions. You begin to wonder, will we come to a point where we can bear our own traditions, but acknowledge we are all in relationship with the same infinite being? I wonder, as the new paradigm is evolving, if this will be a part of it.

What did you want to be when you were younger?
I wanted to be a sister. But I had a hard time entering. The year before I entered, a sister from Kansas City, Julia Frances Hishion, died in the novitiate from leukemia. The community let her say her vows on her death bed. Well, I had a low blood count. I was told they couldn’t accept me unless my blood count went up. The doctor put me on iron pills and it went up right away, so I entered.

Mother Henry visited the three of us who were entering while we were still in high school. We were called in to visit with her, and she asked if we had any questions. I asked her, “Mother, I really like French. Could I take my French book with me and study French during recreation?” I’m sure she was laughing inside, but she told me, “No, do not take your French book. If you need it, you can send for it later.” I never did.

What was your favorite subject in school?
I guess it was history, because I’m an historian. I earned my master’s degree and my doctorate in history. When I was in Denver, I had just finished my bachelor’s degree at Loretto Heights. I majored in English and history. Mother Lillian Marie met with me when she came for visitation and asked, “Which area would you like to go on in?” In five seconds, I had to make up my mind. I told her, “History.” If I had said English, I would have had a totally different life. Things happen that you don’t plan yourself.

Where have your traveled?
I have traveled a lot. As director of the justice and peace office in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, I traveled to Latin America, Peru and Bolivia. I visited the missions where we were sending powdered milk for the breakfast program one of our diocesan priests was running.  The lay woman who was director of the diocesan’s refugee services and I went to Thailand to visit the refugee camps. At the time, we had Hmung refugees from Laos who were settling in the La Cross area. We stayed in Japan and visited refugees there. While we were in Asia, we went to Bangladesh and visited a priest’s brother who was working for our government there.

So I’ve had some significant trips. I’ve been in 37 countries! I’m half Swedish, so I took a Scandinavian bus trip through Holland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. I’ve also taken a bus trip through England and Scotland. I’ve visited Ireland. When Sister Marie Joan Harris won an international chemistry award, I went with her to Milan, Italy, to pick it up. Then we visited Austria. I’ve been around! I’ve been privileged to see a part of the world.

What is the last thing you do before you go to sleep?
I try to thank God for all the things I’m grateful for that happened that day.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to read. I do some archival transcribing for Sister Jane Behlmann, one hour a day when she needs it. And I like to play bridge.

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