Their lives have been structured by prayer and the ever-ringing school bell for at least half a century.
When Sr. Lynn Winsor and Sr. Joanie Nuckols gathered to celebrate 50 years each of religious life as a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the school where they spent the bulk of those decades, both activities were in order.
The dual jubilee celebration began with Mass in the Chapel of Our Lady Oct. 21 at Xavier College Preparatory.
Guests who served at Xavier with the sisters or attended there since the ‘60s filled the pews. The setting sun shone through tall stained-glass windows that depict a litany to the Blessed Virgin Mary and gently illuminated their prayer time. A jubilee fiesta followed, but no school bell told the sisters when to sit, stand or move from one place to another.
Sr. Joanie, Xavier’s principal, and Sr. Lynn, Xavier’s vice principal for activities and athletics, freely moved about Founders Hall, a building they helped open five years ago, to re-connect with former faculty, alumni and others across time who became part of their vocation journey.
The only time a bell did ring was when Sr. Lynn picked up an old-fashioned hand bell toward the end of a litany of “thank yous” the sisters offered at the unscripted fiesta. “We’re so plaid you came!” a small sign on it read, a nod to the girls’ uniform.
The Xavier community — alumnae, faculty and donors — could say the same thing about the dynamic sisters.
Sr. Lynn graduated from Xavier in the ’60s and returned with Sr. Joanie in 1974. Sr. Lynn wore a trio of coaching hats in the early years then spent the last 40 focusing on her vice principal role and as the nation’s most successful high school golf coach “bar nun,” according to a 2017 headline.
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Sr. Joanie began as a history teacher and returned in 1983 after serving closer to her Montana home for a bit. Beyond teaching, she became department chair, yearbook coordinator, campus minister and vice principal for academics and campus ministry. She is known to be a “super tour guide” on the side. Sr. Joanie became Xavier’s principal in 2016.
Together, the sisters have racked up 81 years at Xavier. Sr. Lynn calculated the number of weeks, hours, minutes and even seconds — in the one billion range — since she, Sr. Joanie and a third BVM sister directing the Catholic Deaf Ministry for the Archdiocese of Portland entered religious life. The numbers were large.
The newly renamed “Sr. Joanie Nuckols and Sr. Lynn Winsor Heritage Center” in the welcome space of Founders Hall — a surprise gift on behalf of Xavier — proved their longevity in religious life. When the black drapes covering the lettering and photos dropped, the pair joked, “We get it. We’re old.”
Sr. Lynn put her own spin on it. “Fifty” spelled out in Scrabble tiles totals far less — something in the teens, she said proclaiming, “In spirit, we’re that young!”
They certainly have teen energy. Xavier has won more than 200 state championship titles under Sr. Lynn including 34 in golf. The decorated coach and athletic director survived decades of desert heat coaching all sports on six blacktop tennis courts.
“They just keep getting better. They don’t lose their steam which is wonderful,” said Sr. Joan Fitzgerald, longtime principal who now serves as the school’s president.
Sr. Joanie oversees a school that has nearly 1,200 girls and 79 faculty. She spends Holy Week in Lourdes each year with Xavier students.
“It helps me to realize the worldwide Catholic community and respond to the journey that God calls each of us to follow,” Sr. Joanie said.
Denise Macrina, dean of students, has served under the sisters — and in the same hall as Sr. Lynn — for the last 10 years. She described them as loving and “just so fun.”
“Sr. Lynn and Sr. Joanie are two of the most magnificent women I know. They know how to lead, but they also know how to empower our students,” Macrina said. She was among four faculty members who attended the sisters’ three-day jubilee celebration at the BVM’s motherhouse in Iowa over the summer.
Fr. Kevin Dilworth, SJ, who has served, traveled and prayed with the sisters the last 25 years, mentioned in his Phoenix homily the “Let Us be Grateful” theme that guided the Arizona and Iowa celebrations. He reminded the 300-400 gathered that sisters “proclaim God’s presence in our life and in our world. Thank you, Lynn and Joanie, for living out faithfully this call.”
Current students get a daily dose of it, and at least from one perspective, that bond of faith and friendship endures long beyond graduation. Maddie Murphy-Larkin graduated in 1979 and still meets up with former Xavier basketball players every two or three months, even those who graduated in different years. She treasures how the sisters pushed students to pursue excellence at home and in careers. Murphy-Larkin called Sr. Lynn “the cheerleader of Xavier” and is amazed how well the sister keeps tabs on where alumnae are and what they’re doing now.
“It’s interesting how you can bring God to kids through sports and clubs,” Sr. Lynn said.