One Week in the Spotlight

By Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger

This week, we celebrate Catholic Sisters Week. As the Catholic Sisters Week website says:

Fifty-two weeks a year women religious stand with the poor and immigrants, teach children, fight injustice, heal the sick, share spirituality, empower women, defend the planet, promote peace, create community, offer hope …

But for one week, we shine the spotlight on women religious.

On the whole, sisters don’t seek the spotlight. But for one week, we make the exception and highlight the good work being done by our sisters around the world. So, in honor of Catholic Sisters Week, I thought I would offer you a look at one sister who is a shero of mine: Sister Marlene Schemmel.


Sister Marlene with associate Marlene Rink

Sister Marlene actually has done all that in the list above, in one way or another. Most of it since she moved “beyond the habit” in 1965.

Like so many of us, Sister Marlene has taught children about everything from spelling to Jesus, and served in administrative positions in Catholic schools—creating community as she went along.


Sister Marlene with students

She has offered hope to the marginalized—especially women—by standing in the margins with them, and fighting the injustices that would keep them there.

1994 Marlene Schemmel in Bolivia

Sister Marlene doing justice work in Bolivia

Sister Marlene is a founding and ongoing animator of one of our Congregation of St. Joseph Spirituality Centers, The Well. Her ministry there is essentially one of integral ecology, fostering a holistic quest for health of mind, body and spirit; as well as promoting peace in many ways, including the care of our beloved planet.


Sister Marlene with students at “Peace Camp”

When she’s not on the ground in Haiti with medical and educational trips, Sister Marlene is fundraising for them back in the States.

2006 Marlene Schemmel in Haiti

Sister Marlene on a recent trip to Haiti

A stalwart member of the Congregation’s anti-racism team, Sister Marlene has “walked the talk” in opposing institutional racism, at home and in society.


Sister Marlene with Linda Eastman from the CommUnity Diversity Group, from which she and the congregation received an award for anti-racism efforts

Last year Sister Marlene was among the many sisters who served migrants in El Paso.  Everywhere she goes, she tell the story of the pain and injustice experienced by the asylum seekers. She illustrates these hardships by sharing her experience of witnessing the tender, yet bittersweet, reunion of one man with his wife and children.

Reunited at the border

Through it all, Sister Marlene lives with God and neighbor in humble friendship, exuding gentleness, peace and joy. She has great trust in the power of prayer, and is grateful in advance to all of you who will hold her in prayer as she faces kidney cancer. Indeed, we sisters and associates are all eternally grateful for how you have sustained us with your love and prayer throughout the years.


Sister Marlene, shining her light

Sister Marlene is just one example of a sister who has made a difference in the lives of others. This Catholic Sisters Week I’d like to ask, what difference have sisters made in your life? Consider thanking a sister today!


About the Author

MaryJo.LoResSister Mary Jo Curtsinger, CSJ, holds a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree from Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago where she later served as the director of the Biblical Study and Travel Program. She was received as a candidate for vowed membership with the Congregation of St. Joseph in 2002 and professed final vows in 2011. She taught theology courses at Nazareth Academy in La Grange Park (a sponsored ministry of the Congregation), and now serves as Co-Director of Vocations Ministry for the Congregation.


13 thoughts on “One Week in the Spotlight

  1. Marilyn Ledger says:

    I met Sr. Marlene while working at Interfaith Comm. Partners , an organization that provides transportation for older adults to mostly medical appts. by trained volunteers. We rented an office from the Srs. She is one of my favorite Srs; always pleasant with a twinkle in her eye. I’m sad she’s ill and am praying for her recovery. When I see the Srs. at Mass (including Sr, Marlene) my spirit becomes lighter.


  2. David Middleton says:

    Sister Mary Jo,

    A pleasant surprise to find yourI remember posted memory regarding Sister Marlene Schemmel. I remember her as a student of mine when I was a supervisor of CPE at Lutheran General Hospital. Someone mentioned the twinkle in her eye and I recall that as well. She is well remembered and continues in my prayers. You mention that you are a graduate of CTU. The founding President of CTU, Fr. Paul Bechtold ,was also one of my students after he retired and we remained dear friends for years and for the rest of his life. I would love to correspond directly with Sister Marlene and would appreciate it if you would give her my email.
    The Rev. David Middleton


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