By Renae Bauer
There are some people in life who are just easy to be around. They accept you - warts and all - and sincerely want you to be happy.
If you're not sure you've ever encountered such a person, take a drive to Brillion and ask around for Sister Cecelia Blonde. She's recently retired -- but that doesn't mean you'll find her at home. Between attending daily Mass, hosting prayer groups, substitute teaching, visiting the homebound, singing in the Holy Family Parish adult and funeral choirs, and other volunteer duties as accepted, Sister Cecelia is busy.
"I visit the sick and the lonely and try to bring sunshine into their lives," she says. "Also, I am working with a lady here on teaching her the Mass, rosary, etc. It is such a humbling and faith-filled experience."
On this particular day, Sister Cecelia is home long enough to invite in two neighbors Phyllis Galoff and Mary Cohen Kane. Together, they share in a rosary prayer outreach Thursday mornings at a community residential facility for the elderly. It's evident the three women enjoy each other's company as they laugh and tease each other in a gentle way.
"There's a lot of laugher!" says Mary, describing their time together.
Smiling and laughing are definitely Sister Cecelia's wheelhouse. Whether at church or at home, in a restaurant or a nursing home, she exudes genuine joy.
"Life has been a joy. I have met so many wonderful people," she says enthusiastically. Sister moves effortlessly among people. Young or old, makes no difference. She has a smile and a "God bless!" for all.
Originally from the Preble area of east Green Bay, Sister Cecelia and her siblings Marty, Annette and Joni were raised on a family farm. Their parents, Clem and Frances Blonde, grew produce and raised chickens they sold at local farmers' markets. Sister Cecelia has fond memories of family life but also knew God had something else in store for her.
"I think I was very young, probably in grade school at St. Philip School" when the call to religious life occurred, says Sister Cecelia. "I did lots of babysitting and loved it. I always wanted to be a teacher, a Sister teacher."
Telling her parents about this call was another matter. She hadn't said much to them -- and she's not sure why - until her sister, Annette, announced to the family her wishes to become a woman religious. Not but a heartbeat later Sister Cecelia made a similar proclamation.
"And then I thought to myself, 'Did I really just say that?'" she chuckles.
That was 1957. She entered the convent that September, and after a few years of formation she was sent out to teach elementary schoolchildren. She remembers well her first assignment: 49 first-graders at St. John the Baptist in Duck Creek (now Howard). "I loved them all," she says sweetly.
From there she taught at Bear Creek, New Franken, and Goodman, and served as teacher principal in Lena, Institute, and Columbus, Texas, before receiving her two longest assignments -- Peshtigo (16 years) where in addition to teaching she established a food pantry and a Bible study, and Brillion (12 years) where she retired in 2012 after more than 50 years of teaching.
"I moved where I was needed," she explains. "I have to say, 'Thank you, God.' I have used the gifts and talents that have been given to me."
While she remains busy in retirement she insists she has more time than ever to pray. "My gift to myself is to pray at the Shrine (of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion) and then I also try to visit my Sisters whenever possible. I have the privilege of praying more now and love it!"
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JOY IN GOD'S GOODNESS: Sister Cecelia Blonde sits near the Nativity window at Holy Family Parish in Brillion. (Renae Bauer photo)
PRAYER AND FRIENDSHIP: Ruth Spatchek, right, is one of the residents whom Sister Cecelia Blonde visits in Brillion. (Renae Bauer photo)