A DAY IN THE LIFE — Catholic sister

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ Sister Christine Feagan, OP, has been the head of Hispanic Ministry at St. Mary’s Catholic Church for 20 years. She has been a member of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa for over 50 years.

Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series spotlighting various professionals in our community, highlighting the impact of their work. Have an idea for the series? Email sjordan@timesrepublican.com

A painting of ”scar Romero, the slain archbishop social justice reformer, hangs on the wall of Christine Feagan’s office in the Saint Francis of Assisi Parish Center. This year marks 20 years serving as director of Hispanic Ministries at St. Mary Catholic Church. Feagan is in her 52nd year as a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa.

Unlike nuns who live a cloistered life inside a convent, focused on contemplative prayer, sisters live an active or “apostolic” life, employed in a variety of fields.

Feagan describes being a Catholic sister as a ministry, rather than a job, made up of three components: religious, social and community outreach. Emergencies, crises and the needs of the parish aren’t confined to normal business hours.

She conducts counseling sessions, helps connect people with housing and jobs, offers translation services, takes people to and from appointments, organizes religious classes, writes the church’s Spanish-language bulletin and more — answering her cell phone at all hours of the day or night.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Feagan recently returned from a two-week long visit to El Paso, TX where she worked as a volunteer at Annunciation House, a hospitality center for immigrants and refugees.

She recently returned from a two-week stay in El Paso, TX, a trip arranged through the Dominican sisters. She lived and worked in the 500-bed Casa del Refugiado, which opened April 14 in a 125,000 square foot former warehouse, run by the Catholic organization Annunciation House.

In that time, Feagan and fellow volunteers processed 1,500 people who had just been released from ICE. She sorted through mounds of donations, including clothing, food and toiletries. She also helped coordinate travel arrangements so the immigrants could reach their sponsors in all corners of the United States.

“The warehouse costs $30,000 a month to lease,” she said. “It was costing $10,000 a day to pay for 200 hotel rooms, so this was better, but it’s supply and demand. After five or twelve weeks of being in detention and never having the opportunity to take a shower or change their clothes, it was an oasis.”

Feagan said she listened to heart-wrenching stories from immigrants seeking asylum. People spoke of loved ones being kidnapped, murdered and dismembered by drug cartels and gangs.

“Drug dealers will actually steal the kids as they’re leaving school. Especially the girls,” she said of the stories she heard. “When my ancestors came here from Ireland or Germany, they came because they heard stories about the streets being paved with gold and they were going to have this wonderful life. It’s not the same for these people (from Mexico and Central America). I take it on as a responsibility to do ‘reverse mission’ — tell people what I saw and what I heard — because some of these people who have been released from ICE are in our community seeking asylum. Some have come to our office. They have no work permit. They have to wait for their court date and most haven’t been given one yet. They’re in limbo. What are they supposed to live on?”

Feagan also visited the memorial dedicated to the victims of the shooting at the El Paso Walmart.

Her experience, although personally fulfilling, was emotionally and mentally draining.

The sister has had a myriad of experiences in her half a century of service. Born in Detroit in 1947, she grew up in Illinois. She answered the call to join a religious order upon graduating high school. She applied to the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa, based in southwest Wisconsin. After being admitted, she spent time studying theology and philosophy, and taking basic college courses. She enrolled at Edgewood College in Wisconsin, earning a degree in French. She received the Feast of Saint Dominic on Aug. 4, 1966, and made her first religious profession on Aug. 5, 1967, and her final vows on May 1, 1976.

Feagan decided to live out her ministry as a school teacher. She taught French in Bloomington, Ill, then in Freeport, Ill and later in Milwaukee until a superior approached her with a life-altering opportunity to serve in youth ministry in Bolivia. In 1994, after 15 years in that country, she returned to the U.S., but struggled to again find her footing in a classroom setting. After getting connected with Marshalltown priest Father Bernie Grady, she accepted the position as director of Hispanic Ministries in September 1999.

What it means to be a Catholic sister has evolved over time.

“Most Dominican sisters were in teaching, but now they’re educational consultants, attorneys, doctors, etc., — people who have taken on different roles in the community,” she said. “Sisters back in the old days didn’t get a paycheck. We got room and board and a building where we lived and slept. It was pretty much you were living on a shoestring and what people gave (to the religious order). Now in the church itself, there is a greater sense of justice. I am paid the same as any person doing the same work. That change occurred little by little. It was a good thing.”

Feagan said about five years ago, she made the decision to not come into the office on Mondays, reserving that day for personal use. She enjoys unwinding with a swim at the pool, reading and going to movies. She said that although the number of women entering religious life continues to decline, those who feel called should give it thoughtful consideration.

“When I joined, I had 59 girls in my group. Today, two or three join every year,” she said.

As the only Catholic sister working and living in Marshalltown, she said social media and email have become essential tools for staying in touch with fellow Dominican sisters.

“It’s really a privilege to serve the community,” she said.


Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at

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