By JOANNE FOX
The Diocese of Sioux City now has two fans of the Denver Broncos.
Sister Esther Mary Nickel, a Religious Sister of Mercy of Alma, Mich., joins Denver native Bishop Walker Nickless, as another promoter of the NFL team.
“I’m not good with the stats,” she acknowledged. “I just simply enjoy the game, the Super Bowls and the enthusiastic fans.”
Sister Esther Mary, formerly on the faculty of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, joined the staff of the Office of Worship as associate director on Jan. 26. She will be assisting Father Brent Lingle, the office’s director, with various projects in sacred liturgy and the sacraments, as well as other areas of ministry in the chancery and throughout the diocese.
A native of a small rural town – Ida, Mich., south of Ann Arbor and north of Toledo, Ohio – Sister Esther Mary is number three in the birth order of seven siblings, the only one in consecrated life.
“I am convinced that it was God who called me to live my vocation as a religious,” she said. “I freely responded with an enthusiastic ‘Yes!’ to his invitation.”
Sister Esther Mary, who professed first vows in 1982 and perpetual vows in 1987, gravitated to the Sisters of Mercy because of its founder.
“I met members of the community and saw how they lived the legacy of Venerable Catherine McAuley of ‘union and charity’ among the sisters,” she said. “‘Mercy’ is a wonderful gift to the church and the Religious Sisters of Mercy live out this charism in a most beautiful and generous way.”
The Religious Sisters of Mercy are associated with the Sisters of Mercy who operate Mercy Medical Center – Sioux City, as both orders share the same founder in Mother Catherine McAuley, Sister Esther Marie explained.
“Our community was given the permission from Rome in 1973 to express our religious life by maintaining our desire to live in community – in convents or Homes of Mercy – to have a common life of prayer, and to wear our habit which was modified after the Second Vatican Council,” she said. “The cross that we wear was from the rosary that the Sisters of Mercy had historically as part of their habit.”
Sister Esther Mary will be working three days a week in the Central Catholic Offices in Sioux City, returning to the convent in Jackson, Minn., where she resides. Sister Esther Mary has an office at Sacred Heart Mercy Health Care Center in Jackson – a Catholic medical clinic owned and staffed by the order since 1981.
Sister Esther Mary earned a bachelor’s, a master’s degree and a doctorate in agronomy from the University of Minnesota. Before her theological studies in Rome, Sister Esther Mary was responsible for her community farm in Southwest Minnesota and conducted research in sustainable agriculture. Her sacred liturgy degrees, including a doctorate, were awarded by the Pontifical Institute for the Liturgy at St. Anselm’s in Rome.
From 2004 to 2016 Sister Esther Mary served as a professor of sacred liturgy and sacramental theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and superior of the order’s Denver convent for a dozen years.
“It’s been a great joy for each one of the sisters assigned here to work in the seminary, to collaborate and to bring it together,” Sister Esther Mary said in an interview with the Denver Catholic newspaper. “Our hope was that as new priests were formed [at the seminary], they would eventually take over our jobs and that is happening.”
Sister Esther Mary enjoys being “always religious” and experiencing recreation with her community.
“There are many occasions for hiking and enjoying the beauty of nature,” she said. “It is a gift to be with friends.”