CHARLESTON—Sister Sandra Makowski and Sister Colie Stokes sat across from each other at a conference table and laughed. For almost an hour.
The two Sisters of St. Mary of Namur were telling stories from their 50 years of service, and came to one clear conclusion: Religious life is anything but boring.
Some of the tales can’t be printed, and others couldn’t even be spoken. Sometimes the sisters would just look at each other for a minute, smiling, and then they’d say, “No, we can’t tell that!” “But we can tell this …” and off they’d go, recounting another adventure.
The two women entered the international order’s Eastern Province, based in Buffalo, New York, in 1965. It was the same year that documents from Vatican II were published, and it signified a big change in religious life.
Heeding the call
Sandy and her twin Carole Jean were taught by the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur and took piano lessons from them at the convent.
“We never met anyone who seemed so happy to be together. They were so kind to us in school, nothing like the stories you hear,” Sister Sandra said. “What we wanted to be was to be happy like them.”
After high school, the twins entered the congregation together.
Sister Colie recalls a similar experience with the religious women.
It was the 1960s and the Church was at the forefront of integration. Sister Colie said the sisters were so loving and friendly with everyone, and courageous in the face of difficulties. After watching one sister interact with a young burn victim at the hospital, Colie’s course was set.
“Whatever she has, I’d like to be that way,” Sister Colie recalled thinking. “I wanted to emulate that … for me that was extraordinary to see women that way.”
Sister Sandra quickly discovered that teaching was not her calling and happily made parish work her focus. In 1987, she earned her master’s in canon law and worked for the Buffalo tribunal, then came to Charleston in 2007 to work for the tribunal here. She now serves as diocesan chancellor.
On the flip side, Sister Colie loved teaching, but by then the order was moving away from schools and into the parishes, where she has dedicated herself to religious education. Sister Colie returned to her native state of South Carolina in 1981. She came to Blessed Sacrament Church in 1998 and has been here ever since.
The course of friendship
Over the years, the sisters spent a lot of time together and reminisce about participating in blessing cows and fields, and having children arrive at CCD on snowmobiles.
One time, Sister Colie said she received an SOS from their motherhouse requesting that she pick up Sister Sandra from a potential mission area that had not panned out — the sisters put a humorous spin on wary residents who did not welcome strangers and primitive conditions, such as sleeping on floors and hearing the crunch of bugs whenever they moved. When Sister Colie arrived, she said she wasn’t even at the steps of the shack before Sister Sandra had zipped past her and climbed in the car, calling “Come on!”
The two women have shared countless good times, but they also shared the most traumatic event of Sister Sandra’s life: the death of her twin sister Carole Jean, who also was a Sister of St. Mary. In 1981, Sisters Colie and Carole were traveling by car with two other religious women. Sister Carole was in the back seat and was killed when a tractor trailer hit the car. Sister Sandra said she was so devastated she couldn’t work for six months. Sister Colie also suffered the loss, but provided a rare source of comfort to Sister Sandra.
On the horizon
Talking about “fulfilling their potential” creates one of the few serious moments in the conversation.
The sisters reflect on moments in history that have impacted them: changes made by Vatican II, participating in civil rights, the emotional protests against the Vietnam War.
Sister Colie said they have witnessed extremes of suffering and joy and believes fervently that they are called to be signs of kindness in all times.
Sister Sandra agrees the world has become a harder place, adding that their role is to show there is more than meanness; there is simplicity and joy.
For the sisters, that is the important work they will continue to do.
Friends and family will host a golden jubilee celebration for Sister Sandra and Sister Colie at Blessed Sacrament Church on June 27 at 11 a.m.
Top photo: Sister Colie Stokes, left, and Sister Sandra Makowski enjoy a recent event.