June 22, 1930 – January 8, 2017
Shout joyfully to the Lord, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful song. (Psalm 100:2)
Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Sister Nancy Gnau was the oldest of Norman and Marietta Gnau’s five children. An early memory of Nancy’s centered on her parent’s commitment to Catholic education. It was the middle of what would become known as the Great Depression, but they were determined to make the sacrifices necessary to send Nancy to Catholic school. Because of their commitment, Nancy was part of the third generation of women in her mother’s family to be educated in Dayton by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.
Toward the end of Nancy’s sophomore year, the Sisters assigned an essay to be written about what each student planned on doing in her future. The essay was part of the efforts the Sisters made to make sure students took classes that would help them achieve their goals. Decades later Nancy remembered her mother talking her through it, “Would you like to be a secretary? A nurse? A teacher?” Nancy thought teaching might be a good match. Nancy would later say that moment planted a seed for what happened one Wednesday afternoon the following October. Nancy was walking home with friends and stopped to get a drink of water. She let her friends go ahead as she noticed the sun shining through the changing colors of the leaves on the trees. In that moment she felt and heard the call to be a Sister of Notre Dame. It literally stopped her in her tracks. She turned around and returned to school to talk to her French teacher. Sister advised her to pray over it and to keep the experience to herself for a while. Her teacher may have thought it was a passing fancy, but for Nancy it was a done deal. It led to a strong feeling of security – she knew what she was being called to do and did what she needed to respond. The clarity of that afternoon experience stayed with Nancy for the rest of her life.
The third family member of her generation to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame, her parents were pleased with Nancy’s desire to enter religious life, although her mother warned her life in the convent would be “upside down.” On her first day Nancy knew her mother had not exaggerated when she had hotdogs for breakfast and cereal for supper. Known as Sister Ann Christopher and already acknowledged for her gold medal pianist skills, Nancy prepared to teach music by studying at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. However, after a couple of years only teaching music when she wasn’t needed to teach something else, Nancy asked to move into either secondary English or History. The community agreed. Except for one chorus class where she was charged with preparing sophomore boys to participate in an operetta, Nancy spent the rest of her teaching career in social studies.
In 1963, Nancy was missioned to her Alma Mater, Julienne High School, to teach and serve as Assistant Principal and later Principal. By 1971, the Church, the Sisters of Notre Dame and Catholic education in Dayton had changed considerably. Two co-ed Catholic High Schools had opened while both Julienne (all-girls) and Chaminade (all-boys) were both experiencing diminishing enrollment. Nancy and the principal of Chaminade raised the question, “Can we afford to remain two separate institutions?” They decided they needed a committee to study the reality and come up with recommendations for the leadership of their respective communities. Two years later the decision to merge the two schools was made and it was time to implement it. Nancy was chosen to serve as the first Executive Director of the new Chaminade-Julienne High School. In that role, she was responsible for working with a team of four administrators in charge of academics, recruitment and development, student services and administrative services. The school was in a different location, had a melded student body, a larger staff, a new administrative model and was a collaborative effort with another religious community—all of which required constant adjustments on Nancy’s part. She met the challenge with grace and determination to ensure that both the Notre Dame and Marianist charisms and educational traditions would influence the school community. In 1973, Nancy was honored as one of the Ten Top Women of Dayton for her work in education, which included promoting Dayton as a community and as an extension of the classroom. She was determined that the education offered to young men and women at Chaminade-Julienne would “be quality education and meet their needs and provide the background for full human lives.” After three years, the school was stable and Nancy felt it was time to move on. For the rest of her life she would maintain a keen interest in the development of Chaminade-Julienne, including mentoring future leaders of the school, and was proud of how it flourished in the Notre Dame tradition as it continued to serve the city of Dayton.
When Nancy left Chaminade-Julienne, she and Sister Mary Lou Stoffel, who had also been serving in school administration, were sent to Notre Dame University’s Religious Leaders Program. It gave both Sisters the opportunity to re-energize and deepen their leadership skills. Their shared experience led to a life-long friendship, a blessing for which Nancy regularly thanked God. After the year at Notre Dame, Nancy joined the faculty at Notre Dame High School in Chicago and was soon made principal. At NDHS, Nancy implemented a team model of administration, oversaw physical improvements to the facility, encouraged staff involvement in the decisions affecting the life of the school and curriculum development, expanded opportunities for professional development and established an Office of Development. In 1987, the school worked with the city of Chicago to formalize “Sister Nancy Appreciation Day” as a thank you for her dedicated leadership.
When Nancy returned to Ohio, she expressed her openness to serve the Province wherever she was needed. The Province knew it needed to establish an Office of Development; would Nancy be willing to do that? She knew she was no good at asking people for money, but yes, she could serve the Province by laying the groundwork for the Office. Then the Province needed someone to serve at Chaminade-Julienne on the Administrative Team; would Nancy be willing to do that? Yes, she could serve in that role. Then the Province needed someone to take over Facilities at Mount Notre Dame; would Nancy be willing to do that? Well, she didn’t know much about maintenance and buildings, but she was willing to learn. Then the new Health Center needed someone to do Payroll and take care of the Sisters’ budgets; would Nancy be willing to do that? Yes, she was willing to serve there. At different times Nancy also filled the need of a SNDdeN to serve on the Board of Trustees of Mount Notre Dame High School and the Summit Country Day School. Nancy’s administrative skills, coupled with her willingness to listen to and collaborate with others who had the skills she lacked, proved applicable to situation after situation.
In community, Nancy was generous with her time and skills, available to her Sisters, supportive, an excellent listener, sympathetic but honest in her responses, patient and participative. Her natural disposition of experiencing, reflecting on the experience and only then moving to action helped Nancy see the bigger picture and keep mole hills from turning into mountains. Nancy enjoyed taking care of the physical space of places where she lived and took special joy in gardening. She appreciated sharing life with her Sisters: deepening connections with other Sisters living under the same roof and with Sisters in small communities as they gathered in small groups. Nancy appreciated having fun with her Sisters, sharing prayer, and doing so many other things that were part of supporting one another through life’s ups and downs. Nancy enjoyed sports, loved to read, knit, crochet, embroider and sew and at one point, she enjoyed creating beautiful stuffed dolls that were then given as gifts. Music remained a life-long interest. At the time of Nancy’s 50th jubilee, she had the opportunity to get an electric keyboard and renewed her skills on the piano. She described relearning music as a delight and a re-creation. The community delighted in opportunities to hear her play.
Nancy was living alone when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She later shared that the diagnosis “brought her up short.” Her prayer and reflection as she lived with the disease opened her to a call to become a resident in the Health Center that she had helped bring into being. Nancy decided it would be better to move to the Health Center before the Parkinson’s became too severe and later said it was a good decision for her to join the Health Center Community in 2007. She continued in her ministry and entered into community life, which included adding her good voice to community singing and taking part in the Chimes Choir. She gladly took responsibility for the enclosed garden off of the Marian Activity Room. It quickly became known as ‘Nancy’s Garden’ and Sisters delighted in the beauty Nancy brought forth there. When it became impossible for Nancy to till the soil herself, family members came and helped her with spring planting and other tasks. Another Sister became her hands and knees and gladly followed Nancy’s direction. As Nancy’s ministry responsibilities diminished, she had “a good time experimenting with free time in retirement.”
Nancy loved her family members deeply. She appreciated time spent with them, both in their homes and when they would visit her. She was “Aunt Nancy” to expanding generations of nieces and nephews and delighted in seeing a fourth and fifth generation taught by Sisters of Notre Dame in Dayton. The same openness that allowed Nancy to recognize God’s presence on a sunny afternoon, and allowed her to pull forth gifts within herself to meet so many ministry situations, also allowed her to recognize God’s goodness and presence in her family members, community members, friends and coworkers. In a 2015 interview, she said, “My family, the community, the people here make it easier for me to do what I’m able to do as best I can. I’m so grateful for all that is done for me and I’m doing my best to give some of it back. God is good in everything – evidence is all over the place and I thank him for that. God is more that the God I knew when I was 18 years old... and I’m delighted. I appreciate God’s supporting me and hanging on to me through all of this. God is much more real to me and I’m much more aware of God’s presence in my life.”
As we celebrate Nancy’s life her family, Sisters and friends delight with her in all the ways God’s goodness was made known to and through her. We pray that God will continue to open her to the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ that she may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Paraphrased from Ephesians 3:18-19)
Born June 22, 1930 in Dayton, Ohio
Parents: Norman Gnau (born in Cincinnati, Ohio) and Marietta Stomps (born in Dayton, Ohio)
Siblings: Norma Gnau Schewell, Edith Gnau Meyers, Mary Gnau Richard, Thomas Gnau
Baptized June 29, 1930 at the Church of the Holy Angels in Dayton, Ohio
Confirmed November 20, 1938 at Corpus Christi in Dayton, Ohio
Entered July 26, 1948 at Mt. Notre Dame
First Profession: January 27, 1951
Final Profession: August 13, 1956
Corpus Christi Grade School, 1944
Julienne High School, 1948
Bachelor of Arts, Ohio Dominican, Columbus Ohio, 1957
Master of Arts, St. Louis University, 1964
1952-1954 Summit Country Day School, Cincinnati, Ohio
1954-1955 St. James School, Wyoming, Ohio
1955-1957 St. Mary of the Springs, Columbus, Ohio
1957-1961 Hartley High School, Columbus, Ohio
1961-1963 Notre Dame High School, Chicago, Illinois
1963-1973 Julienne High School, Dayton, Ohio
1973-1976 Chaminade-Julienne High School, Dayton, Ohio
1976-1977 University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana
1977-1987 Notre Dame High School, Chicago, Illinois
1987-1991 Director of Development, Province Offices, Reading, Ohio
1991-1993 Chaminade-Julienne High School, Dayton, Ohio
1993-2001Facilities Manager, Mount Notre Dame, Reading, Ohio
2002-2009 Payroll Clerk, Mount Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio
2009-2015 Finance Assistant, Mount Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio
2016 Finance Advisor, Mount Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio
Died: January 8, 2017 at Mount Notre Dame Health Center
Sr. Kim Dalgarn SNDdeN
January 9, 2016