Sister Shirley Kolmer

“Perhaps we will come to see the day when everyone recognizes that we all inherit the earth and we can allow each person, each people to claim their rightful inheritance”

Sister Shirley Kolmer


It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Sometimes life happens and blogging does not.  But in the typically ebb and flow, things settle back down, or perhaps more aptly stated, the usual level of chaos is restored.

So, needless to say this post is way overdue as the topic is the Sister Shirley Kolmer Grant which was awarded at the St. Louis University (SLU) Women’s Commission “Women of the Year Luncheon” on April 25, 2018. The Commission was founded in 1973 (the year I was born) and its goal “has been to provide ongoing support to the status of women, as well as educational opportunities, enrichment, and leadership experience for women of the University.”

One of the signature events of the Commission is the annual luncheon which honors women who have made outstanding contributions to the University.  One of the prior honorees made an anonymous contribution to provide the initial support for the Sister Shirley Kolmer Memorial Grant which allows the Commission to “support SLU women in a tangible, financial way”.

Sister Shirley Kolmer, ASC, a nun, a PhD in theoretical mathematics, and a former professor at St. Louis University was killed on October 23, 1992 in Liberia.  She was serving with 4 other nuns who were all killed in the country’s brutal civil war; they were given the title “Martyrs of Charity” by Pope John Paul II.

Sister Shirley was a member of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ (ASC), “an [international] group of religious women, founded in Italy … to educated young girls.”  As described by her sister Elizabeth Kolmer, “[We are] a bunch of women doing all kinds of good stuff because we do the things that need to be done…”  Another member of the community, Sr. Raphael Ann Drone stated, “I belong to a group of people who can make a difference in the world.  You know when you are by yourself you can do a lot of things, but when you have a whole group of people behind you, together we can do a lot.  It doesn’t make any difference how old either, we just keep on going.”

In the 1970s, while traveling back from Rome on a trip with the Provincial of her order, a detour was made to Liberia.  Sister Shirley recognized that she could teach at a local university in Libera and subsequently returned there in 1977 on a Fullbright scholarship.  She remained there for 2 years before she was called back to Illinois to serve as the Provincial.  Drawn by her mission to serve the poor and to provide teacher education, she returned to Liberia in 1984 and remained there until her death in 1992.

Diane Shirley Kolmer described her aunt as a “born leader”, a “force of nature”, “ridiculously smart”, and “so damned funny”.  The following quote taken from a letter Sister Shirley wrote to her sister in September of 1991 captures some of that spirit: “Maybe I’ll go for a swim at the beach and dinner at the beach house.  I’ll have to see if I can manage, it’s a busy time now, but one must grab opportunity when it comes.  Remember always give into temptation, it may never come again.”  It makes me smile to hear a nun offering advice to give into temptation.

(This link will take you to a page with information about the Martyrs of Charity.  There is a YouTube video on the page that nicely depicts the nuns, their mission, and the impact of their service.

I was honored to be selected as one of this year’s Sister Shirley Kolmer Memorial Grant recipients along with Dr. Jintong Tang, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Management.  Her work will focus on promoting women entrepreneurship on campus.  My grant will help fund my Homeward Bound costs.

Below is a picture taken at the luncheon (from left to right):  Dr. Tang, Dr. Frances Pestello, Faculty in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the first First Lady of the University (all of the former University presidents have bene priests), and me.


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