GREEN BAY — As a young farm girl growing up in Dorchester, Wis., consecrated life was not in the plans for Sr. Celine Goessl. Instead, she was interested in boys.
“My parents wanted me to go to a boarding school in Merrill (Our Lady of the Holy Cross High School, run by the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross),” recalled Sr. Celine. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, just a bunch of girls. What am I going to do when I want to date?’”
But God had other plans, said Sr. Celine, who volunteers at St. John the Baptist Parish in Howard. “He was like the hound of heaven. He was there pushing me. I walked with my hand in God’s hand all of my life.”
It was her boyfriend, not her parents, who finally convinced her to attend the boarding school run by the Holy Cross sisters.
“I had a boyfriend at home who was going into the service at the time,” said Sr. Celine. “He said, ‘I wish you would go to that school where your sister went. I want you to be here for me when I come home.’ Well, I thought, at age 15, ‘I’m madly in love with this guy. Absolutely.’ He left and I went to this school.”
But something happened that turned her life around. She discovered that the sisters “were young and vivacious. By the time I went home for Thanksgiving, I said, ‘God is calling me.’ I did not resist.” That was the end of boyfriends.
After graduating from Our Lady of the Holy Cross in 1952, Sr. Celine entered the convent in Merrill. She professed her first vows in 1954 and for the next six decades found different ways to serve and walk with the Lord.
“There were always people who helped me take the rough edges off my personality,” she said. “I’ve been walking with my hand in God’s hand ever since then — and listening because I could see the pattern that God had for me.”
For more than 30 years, the pattern entailed parish ministry and education.
Sr. Celine received a bachelor’s degree in music education from Alverno College in Milwaukee, a master’s degree in theology, with a liturgy concentration, from St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., and a doctorate in parish pastoral ministry from St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore.
Sr. Celine was serving in Omro and Appleton in the early 1980s when Bishop Robert Morneau told her about a doctoral program in parish ministry that Bishop Alyosius Wycislo was promoting to priests. She and two other women, along with 19 priests, spent one week each month taking classes at St. Norbert Abbey.
The program included visiting lecturers from Baltimore and gatherings with parishioners where they served to help create parish ministries or services based on classroom discussion.
Sr. Celine received her Ph.D. from St. Mary’s in 1985 and began putting her classroom knowledge to work. After a short stint in the Superior Diocese, she accepted a pastoral administrator’s position at St. Luke Parish in Bellaire, Mich. The mission parish had no resident priest and she helped lead the congregation in all aspects except sacramental ministry.
“The wonderful thing that I had the opportunity of doing was to encourage the laity to own what goes on in the parish,” she said. “That’s what my doctoral thesis was all about. So I always relied on the gifts of God given to the parishioners.”
One of her duties was to offer scriptural reflections when priests were not available. Sr. Celine kept a file of all those reflections based on the church’s three-year liturgical calendar. “In breaking open Scriptures for my people … I tried to talk to them about life right now,” she said. Sr. Celine never reused a reflection.
After nearly 18 years in Bellaire, Sr. Celine stepped down in 2004. Two years later she was elected as provincial for the Merrill-based community, an international religious community headquartered in Switzerland. She retired after leading her community for six years.
“I thought, ‘I retired twice. I’m going to sit in my chair and rock myself into heaven,’” said Sr. Celine. “God had a different idea.” She also had made a bucket list. “At the top of the list before I die, I wanted to write a book.”
She first considered a book of poems but didn’t have enough written to fill a notebook. Instead, Sr. Celine opened the file of Scripture reflections written over more than a decade. Last June, she self-published “Breaking Open God’s Word,” a 379-page paperback book with the three-year cycle of reflections on the Sunday readings of the liturgical year.
According to Sr. Celine, the book’s audience is the Catholic community of adults. “But it is written in such a fashion that I have sold it to a lot of Protestants.” She has been traveling around the diocese, promoting her book. On Oct. 29, Sr. Celine will be at the Leadership Convocation in Green Bay, signing her book at the Cathedral Bookstore booth.
With the book writing checked off her bucket list, Sr. Celine’s latest — and final — project is one for which she has a deep passion: putting an end to human trafficking.
“Pope Francis has asked us to help eliminate human trafficking by the year 2022,” she said. “I think as long as I have the energy, and as long as I feel that this is the will of God for me, I will continue to work in human trafficking. … I will stay in this ministry until I die.”
Sr. Celine is doing whatever she can to bring awareness to the issue of human trafficking. She said people are unaware or unwilling to believe this is a problem locally. In an effort to shed light on trafficking, Sr. Celine is organizing a human trafficking awareness event for Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, 8 a.m. to noon, at St. John the Baptist Church. The keynote speaker will be Theresa Flores, a human trafficking survivor.
Sr. Celine, a member of several local civic and religious groups fighting human trafficking, also speaks to groups on the issue. Parish groups interested in hosting a discussion on human trafficking can email her at celine [email protected]
From a young girl interested only in dating to a woman religious making a difference in her part of the world, Sr. Celine believes God is her guide — as long as she keeps walking with him hand-in-hand.