Our Lady of Grace Parish Honors Sister Michael Henry on her 80th Birthday
By Jan Dalske for the News Ledger
Parishioners of Our Lady of Grace Parish in West Sacramento gathered in the church hall last month to celebrate Sister Michael Henry’s 80th Birthday. Sister Michael Henry has served the children of the Our Lady of Grace Parish for forty four years.
Sister was born on December 10, 1936 at her family home in Moosup, Connecticut. She was given the name Lorraine Catherine Moulin, and was baptized a few weeks later. Three years after that her only sibling, her brother Henry, was born. Sister graduated from All Hallows Elementary School in 1950.
She attended Putnam Catholic Academy in Putnam, Connecticut, and graduated in June of 1954. After her graduation she was hired to work in the local 5 and 10 cent store where she stayed for six months. When a local dentist asked her to work for him as a dental assistant, she decided to do that. A year later he told her that he would like to send her to school. He offered to pay for her education to become a dental hygienist. She thanked him for the kind offer but turned him down.
Lorraine had always wanted to be a religious Sister. She entered the Novitiate of the Daughters of the Holy Spirit in Putnam, Connecticut where she made her Profession of her First Vows on August 23, 1957. She took her final vows five years later, on August 23, 1962. At that time when you took your final vows, you could select three names that you would be called when you became a Sister.
She selected her three choices. Her first choice was “Sister Agnes Marie”. The second choice was “Sister Anna Marie”. This was her mother’s name. For her third choice she picked her father’s name: “Michael Henry” as she did not want him to feel left out. Lorraine did not really want a man’s name when she became a Sister. But, to her surprise that was the name that was selected for her.
After her Profession of Final Vows, the local newspaper listed the new Sisters names. There was a prisoner in Connecticut who had the same name: Michael Henry. He got her address and wrote her a letter. He felt that if a Sister would pray for him, maybe he could be saved. Sister Michael Henry felt that if God could help one person through a name that she did not really want, she would keep that name.
At that time, after Vatican II, the Sisters were allowed to go back to their baptismal or birth name, but Sister MH chose not to do that. The prisoner and Sister MH corresponded until he died. Between the years that Sister had taken her first vows and her second vows she earned her B.A. and her Connecticut Teaching Credentials. She was sent to teach first grade at St. Joseph’s in Waterbury, Connecticut.
The day after Sister MH made her Profession of her final vows, she was driven to New York where she boarded a flight to California. She was twenty one years old. She had never been to New York, She had never been on a plane. And, she was going to California! There was a saying that if you died on or soon after your Profession that you would go straight to Heaven. As soon as Sister MH got seated on the plane, she said an Act of Contrition. She was convinced that she was going to Heaven.
Our Lady of Grace School opened in 1960. Sister Michael came to the school to teach second grade in 1962. After teaching there for four years she went to teach third grade at St. James School in Davis, CA. She was there for four years. Then, she taught for two years at St. Rita’s in Fairfax. Following her short time at St. Rita’s, she returned to Our Lady of Grace School in West Sacramento.
Every summer she studied at Dominican College in San Rafael. At that time it was the Pacific Coast Branch of the Catholic University of America which is located in Washington, D.C.-where she received her Master’s Degree in Education. After her return to Our Lady of Grace School she taught 2nd Grade, then 5th Grade. She then became the Principal. She replaced Sister Joseph, another sister with a man’s name. Sister Joseph was the founding Principal of the school. She moved to San Francisco in 1984.
From 1984-85 until she retired, Sister Michael taught for twenty two years and was Principal for twenty two years. And, she will tell you that she enjoyed every one of those years. In 1997 she was selected as one of the twenty five most influential individuals in Catholic Education. She has been honored by the Diocese of Sacramento for outstanding service and leadership.
Some years were more difficult for Sister. She had two cancer surgeries. From September 1995 to September 1996 she lost her father, her mother and her brother. She celebrated her Silver Jubilee in 1982, and in 2017 she will celebrate her Diamond Jubilee with sixty years of being a Sister.
She has been working as a teacher or a principal for all of those years. Most of the children that she taught have grown up and they came to honor her on her 80th Birthday. They appreciated her dedication. The cards they gave her expressed their feelings. “There is not just any way to sum up how much you mean to everyone! You are the essence of OLG School. God blessed us with you and kept you with us all of these years. You will always be in the heart of so many people whose lives you touched with your beautiful spirit and love, and of course, your beautiful smile. I feel so blessed to call you my dear friend.”
“You see the good in everyone, must be because there is so much of it in you;” “You are the essence of OLG School’” “You are a treasured friend of our family;” “You put such wonderful energy out into the world;” “Our family was very blessed to have you in our lives;” “In 80 years you’ve touched so many lives, shared so much wisdom, and made such a difference to the world;”
“We would like to express our deepest gratitude for all you have done for our family over the years. As an excellent educator and spiritual guide to our children they have grown to be productive citizens and able to provide for their own families. But most of all, we thank you for the love and affection you have always shown them. In turn, our children have grown to be kind and generous adults whom we can be very proud of. We love you and wish you the very best.”
Sister Michael is not really retired. She is the Spiritual Director for the OLG Women’s Council, plays the piano at Mass, and works with the kindergarteners at school. Sister Michael feels that teaching is one of the greatest professions. When you are a teacher you never forget the students that you have taught over the years. And, it is plain to see that all of Sister Michael’s students have never forgotten her. There are many people who come and go in our lives. Very few of them touch us in ways that change us forever, making us better in many ways just by knowing them. And, Sister Michael is one of those special people.