By S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - As a girl in Wisconsin, Sister Collette Bruskewitz, O.S.F., was steeped in the Catholic faith at home and school, as well as at church.
“It was integral to everything,” she said. “It was just normal to come into the house and say, ‘Praise to Jesus Christ,” to use holy water coming in and going out…”
Her parents were fine examples to her.
“My dad would bless us at night,” Sister Collette remembered. “We would pray before and after meals. We went to all the novenas at church, especially during the war time… I would be in the choir and my brother [Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz] would be the server.”
The elementary school she attended was taught by the School Sisters of St. Francis, a local religious order that had originated in Germany. The sisters came to the United States in 1874, eventually building a motherhouse in Milwaukee.
In fourth grade, Sister Collette was invited to take part of a pageant celebrating the sisters’ 75th jubilee. She carried one of the banners representing the locations where the sisters taught: Nebraska.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to go to Nebraska someday?’” Sister Collette smiled.
Sometime during her seventh-grade year, Sister Collette and her classmates studied the mystical Body of Christ. Their teacher emphasized that every person has a role within the Church.
“The Lord has a plan for you,” Sister Collette recalled her teacher saying.
With her brother then at a high school seminary, Sister Collette took the invitation to consider the religious life seriously.
“I was always thinking, walking home, ‘If You really want this, I’d be glad to try it. I’m not very good at this prayer stuff, but I could teach (like the sisters).”
Her eyes twinkle with this memory – a young girl, sincerely and spontaneously praying but saying she wasn’t “very good” at prayer!
She enrolled in the sisters’ convent high school, Saint Joseph, and fell in love with religious life.
“My folks were generous,” Sister Collette said. “My dad said, ‘The Lord could take you any way He wanted, and if He takes you in the way that makes you happy, I’m very glad.’”
Sister Collette took her first vows in 1958 and final vows in 1964. With her musical background, she became a “teacher organist,” adding the responsibilities of choir director, organist and liturgist to teaching. While working in various schools in Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, she earned a degree in educational administration over the summers to be a principal as needed. She served as a teacher and administrator until 1992, when her brother was appointed Bishop of Lincoln. With their widowed mother moving to Nebraska and the bishop without an administrative assistant, he asked his sister to come serve the diocese as his secretary.
Sister Collette readily agreed.
“Neither of us expected to be together,” she said.
Because he was then based in Rome, her brother had missed the profession of her vows. Serving in the states, she had missed his priestly ordination in Rome.
But then, “God gave us the opportunity to be with our mother. We never would have thought it would be possible,” she said. “Sometimes I say I hope that I can get to heaven, because God has been so good to me here.”
While helping the bishop with various secretarial duties and teaching CCD at Sacred Heart Parish in Lincoln, she decided to get her Nebraska educational certification. It was a good thing she did, because several months after her arrival, she began serving as a temporary school administrator.
By 1993, she was assistant superintendent of schools. She has served the Diocese of Lincoln in other capacities, too, such as drawing on her background in Church music and Latin to serve on the liturgical committee.
Since Bishop Bruskewitz retired in 2012, Sister Collette has continued to split her days, working for the schools half the time and as her brother’s secretary the other half.
According to Bishop Conley, “Sister Collette is a big part of what makes our schools so extraordinary. Every school is blessed by her work in the education office. And by her service to Bishop Bruskewitz.”
She’s seen many changes in education over the years.
“At one time, it was mostly religious teaching, and now there are very few religious,” Sister Collette said. “And probably the size of the classrooms – fewer students.”
If the Lord is Sister Collette’s first love, and her family second, teaching must be a close third.
“It’s a beautiful job,” she said.
She has much praise for parish schools, where children can be rooted in the faith, and “known” by the entire school.
“You know them and they know you know them,” she explained. “You give them the roots so that they can make those connections” between their life experiences and their faith.
She is grateful to the Lord and to the Diocese of Lincoln for giving her such a good place to serve.
“I am very grateful for the diocese, for the priests, for the people who are here, for the sisters who are here,” Sister Collette said. “This is a blessing to be in this diocese.”