Perham's last nun
So long...farewell...auf weidersehen goodbye...
At 89 years old, Perham's only remaining sister, Sister Sylvia, bid her beloved city of Perham goodbye. On August 27 she left for the Motherhouse in Little Falls where she will continue her treasured vocation working with children.
A Franciscan Sister of the Catholic Church since her teenage years, Sister Sylvia leaves behind her a legacy of service to the Catholic Church, community, and countless children she's blessed along the way.
Sister Sylvia (Schik) was born Dec. 26, 1920 in Butler Township. Her parents, Victor and Anna Schik, both came to the area from Holland in 1910. Her mother, from the Hendrickx family, settled in the area first, with her dad following shortly after. Sylvia was number six of eleven children.
As a child, Sylvia attended the District 228 School, a little country school in Butler Township. "I always told my parents I wanted to be a sister from little on," Sister Sylvia explains. "I had never met any, except my mother would always tell me about them. She would tell me about the sisters in Holland."
Sylvia fondly recalls her mother's many stories, including those about the poor kids back in the home country who wore wooden shoes. According to Sylvia, her mother didn't get to wear wooden shoes in Holland, because her school was higher up in the class system.
"I told my parents, 'I know we don't have a lot of money, but I will work my way through school,'" Sylvia says of her early passion to join the sisterhood. Her parents supported her aspirations and allowed her to attend St. Francis High School in Little Falls, Minnesota.
She started working at the school at age 15, sleeping in some rooms in the hospital that were reserved for workers. The next summer, Sylvia did the same thing, paying her way for her education.
Sylvia entered St. Francis Convent in Little Falls at the young age of 16. Since then, she has spent her life in service to the church, working in hospitals and schools throughout Minnesota. Her youngest sister is also a nun, and currently lives in St. Cloud.
In her early years as a sister, Sylvia spent much of her time working as a laboratory and x-ray technician at hospitals. From 1963-1967, Sister Sylvia worked at Perham Memorial Hospital before it was given over to lay people. The Franciscan Sisters started the Perham hospital in 1903. "There were as many as 18 of us at one time," Sister Sylvia reports of the number of sisters working at the hospital back in 1967.
"People would ask us, 'When do you sisters sleep?' because we'd work all day and scrub the corridors all night," Sister Sylvia reminisces. "I loved it. We had so much fun. We still wore our habits."
For Sister Sylvia, the transition to lay clothes was not one she particularly enjoyed. "The habit was warm all the time. I liked all being dressed alike," Sister Sylvia says of her former garments. Today, even without a dress code, she says she usually tries to wear blue or black.
After her time in Perham, Sister Sylvia lived in Onemia, Minnesota from 1975-1989, working at a seminary for boys. When the seminary closed in 1989, she came back to Perham and began her work at St. Henry's Area Catholic School.
"As soon as I went into the school, I felt so at home," she says. Sister Sylvia taught art to the kids in 1st - 6th grade, and also served as a librarian. Even at nearly 90 years of age, Sister Sylvia still cleaned the parish house and occasionally served as a lector at St. Henry's Church. She continued her work at St. Henry's right up until her departure to join the Franciscan Sisters in Little Falls.
Sister Sylvia explains how she was informed of the need for her help in Little Falls, "I got the call from the Motherhouse that one of our sisters who came on the orphan train broke her hip, so she can't work anymore. She's 98 years old, so I think she was leaning towards retiring anyway."
"I'm going to take her place working with children there," Sister Sylvia continues. "As far as I understand it, they're children who can't afford to pay for their music lessons from the teachers who are working there. When I get there, I'll find out."
Undaunted by the unknown, Sister Sylvia is excited about the new opportunities her time in Little Falls will bring about. "I'm eager to know just what I'm going to do. It's being with children, and they always surprise a person with what they come up with anyway."
Reflecting on what she'll miss the most about the Perham area, Sister Sylvia says it's definitely the kids she's grown to love at St. Henry's. Seeing the schoolchildren put on their programs is one of Sister Sylvia's favorite things. She says she'll also miss visiting with the elderly and spending time with the friends she has here.
"Things can be kind of tough some times, but I always try to find something positive," she says. "Life is too short to spend it lamenting over things."
Throughout her years as a woman of faith, Sister Sylvia has learned to take delight in even the simplest of activities. One of her favorite pastimes is taking walks, and she looks forward to the strolls she'll be able to take on the beautiful grounds at the Motherhouse.
While out walking, she may even catch a glimpse of one of her favorite modern marvels, the helicopter. "I like the miracle of helicopters," Sister Sylvia explains. Whenever she hears one, she runs outside to watch the giant metal bird's flight up in the sky. "I always say a prayer for someone who needs help," she adds.
In her free time, Sister Sylvia paints, reads and likes to watch classic movies like Fiddler on the Roof. "I've seen that I don't know how many times," she says, adding how she also has a special place in her heart for The Sound of Music. She says she enjoys watching the sisters in the movie, and is always fond of films that tell stories about families.