Sister Lorene Heck isn’t slowing down after 55 years in ministry
From her 46 years of teaching ministry, Dominican Sister Lorene Heck knows that hard work is not always followed by immediate and visible results. Life requires patience.
A plaque she was given hangs in her bedroom: “Teachers Plant Learning Seeds.”
“The thing is, you’re not always around to see things come to fruition,” Sister Lorene said. “You do your best and give your best … and hope. And that’s all we can do with anything. And you rely on the grace of God to move people.”
The lack of instant gratification has never discouraged Sister Lorene from pouring her heart and efforts into any task at hand. George Monica, who taught social studies and U.S. history alongside Sister Lorene for 37 of her 40 years at Bishop Blanchet High School in Seattle, was always impressed — even amazed — by her energy.
“The No. 1 thing that stands out … is her work ethic,” Monica said. “It’s absolutely incredible.”
Her passion for teaching and helping students wasn’t confined to the classroom, Monica said, adding that faculty and staff would also often seek her out for help.
Sister Lorene never stopped planting seeds.
“One of the things that we always talked about at Blanchet, and Sister was very much a part of it, was: What kind of impact are we having on kids now, but [also] what are we preparing them for in the future?” said Monica, who was also a coach and athletic director at the high school. “That was as important to her as anything.”
Christina Gregori was one of those students that Sister Lorene prepared for the future. The 1997 Bishop Blanchet graduate even followed in her footsteps, becoming a history teacher in the Lake Washington School District.
Gregori tries to bring some of Sister Lorene’s enthusiasm to her own teaching.
“She had really high standards for all of us, and it made us all feel supported because she expected so much,” Gregori said. “You didn’t want to disappoint her, because she knew we could do it.”
“She was just a fun teacher,” Gregori added. “She really loved what she was teaching and loved teaching us.”
When Sister Lorene left the school in 2015 to serve as prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Dominican West Chapter, she told the school magazine she hoped Bishop Blanchet “would continue to offer that something extra, and vital: the possibility of an encounter with Jesus Christ, the living breathing God who is in our midst.”
‘Ministry is life’
The school days may be behind her, but, at 73, Sister Lorene’s schedule remains plenty full.
As the chapter prioress of a region covering seven states, she works out of the office of the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, just north of the University of Washington. She’s not alone in serving past a typical retirement age. She cites fellow sisters in their 90s who are still working at hospitals or schools.
“In the sisters’ understanding of ministry, you don’t retire,” Sister Lorene said. “You’re always doing volunteer work. We’re a crazy lot, because ministry is life.”
So naturally Sister Lorene answered the call when Archbishop J. Peter Sartain asked her to work on the Called to Serve as Christ campaign, which aims to raise $24 million to support women religious in Western Washington — $3 million each for the seven “legacy orders” that have served in the archdiocese since the mid-1800s, and $3 million to be split among several other orders serving in the archdiocese.
That financial support will not only provide for older sisters but also will benefit the younger ones as they continue their ministry among those in need, Sister Lorene said.
In addition to benefiting women religious, the $100 million campaign will also support senior priests in the Archdiocese of Seattle — $40 million for pensions and $15 million for medical costs — and provide $15 million to parishes.
“I hope we meet our goal — and it would be wonderful if we exceed it — because the needs are great,” Sister Lorene said. “I hope it comes to fruition.”
‘I wanted to be holy’
Sister Lorene is a member of the campaign’s advisory council and chair of its Women Religious Committee.
“Sister Lorene has been an incredible participant and supporter of … the campaign,” Archbishop Sartain said. “As a well-known religious woman in our archdiocese because of her years of service at Bishop Blanchet High School and other ministries, she has true credibility for her devotion to thousands of local young people and their families. When she offers public comments about the campaign, people listen — and so do I!”
In giving talks for the campaign, Sister Lorene has spoken about the long history of religious orders in Western Washington, as well as the challenges they now face in caring for their older members who have no Social Security or individual retirement and medical benefits.
She also jokes about the irony of doing fundraising work now. Her first job, as a 16-year-old, was making calls from a cubicle in a downtown office building, selling magazines.
It didn’t go so well.
“I was not pushy enough, probably,” Sister Lorene said. “After one week, I hadn’t made one sale, so they fired me. Now here I am again. I hope I gave a better pitch this time.”
Because of the urgency of the undertaking, Sister Lorene has devoted up to three days a week to the campaign.
“I have a day job that is very consuming, so I just make it work,” she said. “The other sisters trust me to pay attention as much as I can.”
Sister Lorene got to know the Edmonds Dominicans after moving from North Dakota to Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood when she was 11. It was perhaps fate that her family’s home was across the street from the convent at St. Alphonsus Parish. After being taught by the sisters at Holy Angels Academy at St. Alphonsus, she entered the order in 1963. (The Edmonds Dominicans merged with the Adrian Dominicans in 2003.)
Recently, Sister Lorene was asked why — why had she chosen this lifestyle, these 55 years of service?
Her answer was simple.
“I wanted to be holy.”
Editor’s note: Northwest Catholic is supporting the Called to Serve as Christ campaign by highlighting senior priests and sisters and their continuing contributions to the people of the Archdiocese of Seattle.
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