When most people think of Christian stewardship in the Catholic tradition, they think of a concept, a pastoral letter, a definition, or even a story from the bible. When I think of stewardship, I think of a person – a selfless disciple of Christ who is the ideal model of stewardship as a way of life for me and many of the 72,547 Catholics in our mission diocese, the Diocese of Lubbock, Texas.
For that reason, it gave me great pleasure to learn that the board of directors of the International Catholic Stewardship Council (ICSC) had named Sister Lalemant “Lale” Pelikan, RSM, as the 2013 recipient of the ICSC Christian Stewardship Award. Each year ICSC recognizes individuals for their unique and extraordinary witness to Christian stewardship as a way of life by honoring them with the Christian Stewardship Award.
“Lale” is pronounced “Lolly,” an apt choice of name for one whose constant smile, rosy cheeks, positive attitude of gratitude and boundless joy have given her the nickname “Jolly Lale” by most everyone in the Diocese of Lubbock.
Indeed, her office is full of knick-knacks, children’s toys, books, artwork, a Noah’s Ark and teapot collection, inspiring posters, and even a clock that chimes with bird calls that bring a smile to anyone who enters the room. A sign on her desk facing the visitor notes: “It’s not fitting when one is in God’s service to have a gloomy face or a chilling look. – St. Francis.” Sister Lale exemplifies the type of steward who finds, and encourages in others, true joy in serving the Lord.
Her life’s work has been in teaching – in Catholic schools at all levels, in religious education programs, in adult faith formation, and for the past 16 years, as coordinator of catechetics and lay ecclesial ministry instructor for the Diocese of Lubbock – but her Christian model of stewardship as a way of life is her legacy.
Lale lives simply, with clothing that are garage sale treasures and on modest meals; but, she gives from her abundance – sharing her peanut butter or soup with others for lunch, crafting needlework items to donate to a church by unraveling an unfinished project found in another garage sale, leading recycling efforts, fighting for justice for immigrants, praying in death penalty vigils, advocating for Catholic issues at the state capitol, and otherwise using every minute of her awakening time in loving service and in prayer to the Lord.
Children, youth and adults of all ages are drawn to the warm and generous 76 year old bilingual nun, who might be introducing a toddler to the people in a nativity set one day and teaching adults detailed points about the Second Vatican Council the next. Yet, as much as she teaches, she learns. From the simple migrant Mexican people in South Texas, from cotton farmers in West Texas, from groups of women touched by loss, from foreign-born priests adjusting to the American language and way of life, and many others. And when one of these humble people makes a comment to Sister Lale that illuminates Church teaching or a concept in the bible, they get one of her trademark winks as she boldly proclaims, “You got it!”
Each year, Sister Lale drives thousands of miles across the 23,400 square mile diocese to offer Lent and Advent programs, train lay ecclesial ministers, conduct scripture studies, assist parish catechetical leaders and RCIA teams, and support the various potlucks, Jamaicas, festivals and celebrations of the Catholics worshiping in 62 parishes in West Texas. Through it all, she is an exemplar of Christian stewardship.
Born Mary Virginia Pelikan on March 3, 1937, in St. Louis County, Missouri, Sister Lale grew up in a middle-class family of strong faith that provided her the living example of stewardship as a way of life. She attended Catholic schools all her life and entered the novitiate immediately upon graduation from Mercy High School in 1955. As her early life had been so heavily influenced by the Sisters of Mercy, it was a natural progression for Mary Virginia to choose the international community of Roman Catholic women religious vowed to serve people – especially women and children – who suffer from poverty, sickness and lack of education.
In 1962, Sister Lale first came to Texas and fell in love with the vibrancy of the Hispanic Catholic culture she found in Brownsville, then McAllen, then San Antonio. In late 1963, she left Texas to work first in Arkansas and then back in Missouri; but, ten years later, she participated in the Mexican American Cultural Center’s Intensive Spanish language program to prepare her to work in West Texas, which has been her home for close to 40 years. Assigned to the mission Diocese of Amarillo, she arrived at St. Alice, in Plainview, a poor, rural cotton farming community of Hispanic majority, to serve as director for the catechetical center for three parishes in the fall of 1974. In 1975, she lived her Cursillo at the Catholic Renewal Center in Lubbock, which then was part of the Diocese of Amarillo.
Due to the shortage of priests in the diocese, in 1979, Sister Lale moved to live in a trailer at one of the three parishes, Sacred Heart, to serve as pastoral minister for Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Guadalupe parishes.
In 1984, Sister Lale became part of the newly formed Red River Valley Catholic Mission Team, working from Silverton, Texas, and serving the four counties of Tule, Briscoe, Hall and Childress. During that time, she brought new life into the parishes by assisting them in implementing vacation bible school programs because most of them never had one.
A year later, at the request of Bishop Leroy Matthiesen, Sister Lale moved into the rectory at Sacred Heart Parish, Memphis, Texas, and picked up a new puppy Jeremiah—a poodle/dachshund mix – who became what she affectionately called her “co-pastor.”
In 1994, Most Rev. Plácido Rodríguez, CMF, was installed as the second bishop of Lubbock, a mission diocese carved from Amarillo and San Angelo in 1983. He asked Sister Lale to join the young diocese as pastoral administrator for two of its isolated mission parishes in Stamford and Haskell. Sister Lale’s community has had a strong presence in the diocese since 1929, when it founded Our Lady of Mercy Hospital in Slaton, Texas, and established a convent there.
Sister Lale continued to serve the diocese in mission parish work until August 1, 1997, when she began work at the Pastoral Center, as coordinator of catechetics. In September 2005, the diocese celebrated Sister Lale’s 50th Jubilee with a well-attended Mass celebrated by the bishop.
Sister Lale uses every single moment of her time in joyous, loving service to the Lord. On long drives to St. Louis, she listens to books on tape and previews catechetical materials. As a member of her parish’s spiritual life commission, Sister Lale provides resources and valuable direction to that group, as well as teaching studies and assisting in the parish ministry fair.
When the diocese was fortunate to host the West Texas and Eastern New Mexico Stewardship Conference in 1999 and the Region X Stewardship Conference in 2008, Sister Lale was integral in preparing materials and presenting break-out sessions. She continues to provide resources for the diocesan stewardship education effort.
While I was acquainted with Sister Lale through some of her prayer groups, workshops and bible studies, we truly became fast friends when I went to work for the Diocese of Lubbock in October 2009. Spending time with her on a daily basis brings so much richness and joy to my life that consider working with her one of the very best “out of this world” perks of my job.
While attending meetings and classes, and during her lunch hour or other “free time,” she busily does needlework projects to donate to Church Jamaicas (parish carnivals or festivals) or other fundraising events. She cannot recall the number of times she has crocheted her now famous “Our Lady of Guadalupe” shawl which has been raffled or auctioned at countless sausage festivals or school fundraisers. She literally broke into tears, then immediate prayers of gratitude when I told her that the humble gift of her time and talent had raised $5,000 when auctioned at a recent dinner to fund seminarian education.
For her evangelization and witness to the Gospel, catechesis and faith formation, acknowledgement and empowerment of parents’ stewardship of the domestic church, stewardship of simplicity of life, stewardship for ecology of the globe, lay witness in the marketplace and in formal institutions, financial accountability in personal and parochial affairs, stewardship of collegiality and collaboration in parish life and ministries, and stewardship of social justice and work for peace, I was glad to learn that the ICSC board of directors agreed with me that Sister Lalemant Pelikan, RSM, was well deserving to receive this year’s ICSC Christian Stewardship Award.