July 6, 1930 – August 11, 2023
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine. Because you are precious in my eyes and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you.” (Isaiah 43:1,4)
The theme of call and responding to the infinite love of God started weaving its way through Sister Eleanor’s life even before she was born. Her mother, Eleanor Focke, grew up in Dayton, Ohio. Eleanor was educated by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and graduated from Notre Dame Academy, Franklin Street. One of her sisters became Sister Julia Loretto, SNDdeN. Another of her sisters went out to Wichita, Kansas where she became very ill. Eleanor answered the call and journeyed to Wichita to help care for her sister and her sister’s family. There Eleanor Focke met and married Tom Colgan. There all five of their children were born. The last two were twins named after their parents: Tom and Eleanor.
Little Eleanor and her siblings grew up during the Great Depression. Later Eleanor called it “a blessing in disguise because that was a time when wants and needs were in distinct categories.” They learned to "make do" or to do without and to be grateful for what they had. As a family they attended Mass, First Thursday Holy Hours, attended the yearly Forty Hours Eucharistic Adoration in the parish, and at home prayed the rosary together. The Sisters who taught in the grade school and the parish priests were all positive influences during Eleanor’s childhood. She described her vocation as a desire to be a Sister that God planted in her heart in the first grade. Eleanor went on to say, “I suspect my vocation also has a lot to do with my mother's prayers. She never told me she prayed for that. She did, however, tell me that upon seeing a holy priest at church on one occasion she was inspired to ask God to call one of her sons to the priesthood. God doubled that number and added on my vocation besides.” Besides the power of prayer, Eleanor recorded four other important lessons she learned from her mother: there's no real love without sacrifice; Jesus taught us how to pray in Gethsemane saying: "Not my will 'but Thine be done"; trust in God's providence; and the more you have, the more you want.
Another “call” came during Eleanor’s first year of high school. Her father was called home to God. Without a father in the home, Eleanor’s mother felt Tom would do better in a school staffed by men. She reached out to her family in Ohio, and with Sister Julia Loretto’s help, the three of them moved to Cincinnati. Tom was enrolled at St. Xavier High School and Eleanor was enrolled at the Summit where her mother took a teaching position in the Boy’s School.
Eleanor later wrote of three special “God events” that brought to fruition the seed of a call to religious life. First, at her mother’s invitation Eleanor attended a Day of Recollection at her brother’s school. The final talk was on Jesus’ suffering and death. It brought the love of God alive for Eleanor in a profound way that she never forgot. Second was her experience of her brother Jerome’s ordination and First Mass. The third was during Confession when the priest asked if she had ever thought about being a Sister. For Eleanor that did it. The call from God was “Come. Now!”
She chose the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur because she felt they offered more opportunities to serve God than other orders she knew. On Eleanor’s entrance application she was asked to rank five different ministry possibilities. She labeled teaching as number one and left the rest blank. Next to “other” Eleanor wrote: missionary work. She took the religious name Sister Martin de Porres. It was a statement of Eleanor’s desire to respond to God’s love by helping her brothers and sisters in need. She would spend forty years teaching, but her experience of what she considered “missionary work” was limited to a mere six weeks of preparing little children in Sonora, Mexico, for their first Holy Communion in 1966. That same summer Eleanor and the rest of her family suffered the death of her twin, Tom, who was killed in an automobile accident. “Not my will 'but Thine be done” took on a much deeper meaning for Eleanor.
Her favorite subject in high school was math, and her least favorite was English. Ironically Eleanor spent more time teaching English than any other subject and loved it. At various times she also taught Religion, Spanish and History and was called to share her organizational skills by serving as department chair for the English and Foreign Languages departments. While she did not have a degree in Spanish, she loved the language and culture, studied them extensively and was grateful for the opportunity to study for a summer in Madrid, Spain. In 1976 Eleanor’s Spanish skills and desire to serve those most in need made her a perfect choice to join a five member apostolic team appointed by the Archdiocesan Social Action Commission to spend the summer ministering to the social, spiritual and material needs of 200 migrant worker families in Darke and Mercer Counties. The following summer found her volunteering as a pastoral minister in Phoenix.
When she retired from formal education Eleanor was called to lend her teaching skills to adult education programs. In 1994 that call took Eleanor to Arizona where she taught adult immigrants in the ESL Programs of two school districts. For her it was a rich and rewarding experience bringing her into relationship with people from Bosnia, Africa, Mexico, Central America, India, Africa, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Haiti and Puerto Rico. Some came as refugees, escaping from dangerous situations, others from terrible economic conditions. Eleanor said, ''It was marvelous to experience their interest in fellow students and their desire to learn each other's cultural values as well as their keen desire to learn English and their respect for and appreciation of teachers.” She admired their work ethic and ability to juggle classes, family demands, work and adjusting to a new culture. Eleanor also served on the diocesan committee for religious vocations and was invited to participate in the Catholic Retreat for Young Singles programs. She found the young adults’ deep desire for a relationship with God, for learning the teachings of the Church, for sharing faith and for service “just plain inspiring!” Eleanor was forced by poor health to return to Ohio where she continued her work with adults in structured educational programs and through tutoring individuals. She took great joy in tutoring seminarians and Sister-students who struggled with English.
In community Eleanor shared her skills of cooking and sewing. She liked good conversation – especially about current events and politics. Eleanor enjoyed watching “good educational TV,” a good joke well told, and deeply appreciated the warmth of her Sisters. She was an avid reader who often shared what she was reading at table. Eleanor took an individual interest in people she encountered. She was gracious to new community members, coworkers and visitors, often reaching out with little kindnesses to make others feel at home and appreciated. She kept herself open to new experiences, including after supper activities in Cuvilly. Perhaps no one was more surprised than Eleanor that she enjoyed playing chair volleyball! Her favorite season was Spring because of new life blooming in nature, and because it brought the great joy of the celebration of the Paschal Mystery. When thinking about entering, Eleanor said she’d “never be one of those meditating nuns.” She soon discovered a great love for meditation and contemplation, especially in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Until diminishment took away her mobility, anyone looking for Eleanor in the evening knew the best place to look was in the Chapel where she would be found in prayer.
Eleanor was firm and unwavering in her beliefs, and many wondered how she could weather the call to renewal received from the Second Vatican Council. For her the primary commitment continued to be growing in union with God and helping others experience God’s love and goodness. She felt social justice issues were not and could not be isolated from prayer and community living. She said, “The Holy Spirit speaks to us in various ways and leads us to deal with justice problems in community, in our apostolates, and in our countries. We are also strengthened to lead those we serve to deepen faith commitments so that they too, led by the Spirit and not by the media, will affect the society in which they live.” A key issue for Eleanor was abortion. She gave her time and gifts to many pro-life activities and to educating others on the issue, including volunteer work counseling young women faced with unwanted pregnancies.
Later in her life she was asked why she stayed when so many others left religious life. Her response was, “Jesus’ invitation to the consecrated life is a gift and you don’t throw precious gifts away. You cherish them.” She went on to describe her experience as “…a marvelous adventure. And it is still an adventure lived in union with lots of Sisters who share the vision and who support each other in our efforts to be united to Jesus Christ in His love and service of the Father.” As we gather to give thanks for Eleanor’s life it seems fitting to share part of a poem she wrote in 1977:
Jesus, your love is overwhelming
so un-called for,
with nothing to be gained except
Your happiness in my happiness.
It’s thrilling that You’ve called me so gently, so meekly
and yet so compellingly.
It’s frightening, too, that you’ve called me to follow You
in your obedience – even to death; and I so often measure
my responses, give a faltering yes to what I think
you may be asking or don’t listen enough (because of
fear or because of distractions of which I am the center)
to find out what You are really asking.
It’s thrilling, too, to live with such a dedicated group of
Sisters intent on You, on prayer, on service, on happy
living. Your Spirit is here in them: again overwhelming,
overflowing and so uncalled for, gratuitously given.
We celebrate with Eleanor that she has answered God’s final call to be embraced in our good God’s overwhelming love, so gratuitously given. We thank Eleanor for all the ways she has made God’s goodness known in our world. We know she will continue to pray for all of us and for our world that is so in need of God’s gift of Love.
- Born July 6, 1930, in Wichita, Kansas
- Parents: Thomas P. Colgan (born in Wyoming, Illinois) and Eleanor D. Focke (born in Dayton, Ohio)
- Siblings: Margaret Colgan Neff, Fr. Jerome Colgan, Rita Colgan Stolz, Father Tom Colgan
- Baptized July 20, 1930, at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, Wichita, Kansas
- Entered July 26, 1947, at Mount Notre Dame
- First Profession: January 28, 1950
- Final Profession: August 13, 1955
- Bachelor of Arts in History, Our Lady of Cincinnati College, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1959
- Master of Arts in English, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1973
- 1951-1953 St. Agnes School, Dayton, Ohio
- 1953-1959 St. James School, Wyoming, Ohio
- 1959-1960 Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, Glendale, Arizona
- 1960-1966 Bishop Hartley High School, Columbus, Ohio
- 1966-1976 Notre Dame High School, Chicago, Illinois
- 1976-1978 St. Joseph Academy, Columbus, Ohio
- 1978-1985 Mount Notre Dame High School, Reading, Ohio
- 1985-1990 Catholic Central High School, Steubenville, Ohio
- 1990-1991 Lehman High School, Sidney, Ohio
- 1991-1992 Sabbatical
- 1992-1994 Teacher of English as a Second Language, Reading, Computer Classes – Alliance for Work-Based Education, Cincinnati, Ohio
- 1994-1998 Teacher of English as a Second Language, Phoenix Union Adult Learning Center, Phoenix, Arizona
- 1999-2001 Receptionist, Mt. Notre Dame Convent, Reading, Ohio
- 2001-2004 Adult Education/GED Teacher, Winton Terrace location of Scarlet Oaks & Su Casa, Cincinnati, Ohio
- 2003-2004 Tutoring, Cincinnati, Ohio
- 2003-2011 Adult Education Teacher & Tutor, St. Edmund Campion Academy, Cincinnati, Ohio
- 2011- 2023: Ministry of Prayer and Presence, Mount Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio
Died: August 11, 2023, Mount Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio
Sr. Kim Dalgarn SNDdeN
August 13, 2023