OSHKOSH — For the 13 years that Charlene Dishaw taught theology at Lourdes Academy, she mentored thousands of students and earned the loving nickname, “Mama Dish.”
Before she died unexpectedly in January, Dishaw also took great joy in leading the service each May when the statue of the Blessed Mother in a courtyard of the school was crowned.
On May 6, the annual honoring of the Virgin Mary also honored Dishaw.
“The service was something she felt passionate about,” said Michelle Sorenson, the band director at Lourdes. “Her willingness to use her voice to glorify Mary and to bring this service to life is something the students all remember after they leave Lourdes.”
Sorenson said Dishaw liked to draw people’s attention to all the ways Mary intercedes for them and was an example of “living as Mary would have — comforting others, caring for others, trusting in the Lord.”
During the service, a lilac bush was dedicated in the courtyard in Dishaw’s memory, and it is hoped that the wafting scent will “bring loving thoughts — thoughts of Mary’s undying motherly love to our hearts as Charlene would want for us all,” Sorenson said.
She said Dishaw acted as a mother figure to countless students, especially those who felt they didn’t belong in the mainstream, and “all who walked through the halls of Lourdes as students or staff.”
Olivier Ndorimana, a 2016 graduate, returned for the service. He was an exchange student from Burundi and now studies at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. He is majoring in philosophy and minoring in theology and business, with hopes of becoming a priest.
Dishaw taught Ndorimana in religion classes. “She was always very kind to us and contributed to my college fund,” he said. “She was very kind and loving.”
One former student who contributed thoughts said, “She was the one religion teacher I had in all of my years of Catholic school that encouraged me to think for myself, to explore and ask questions, and to come to my own conclusions about what I believe. I’m still so grateful for that.”
“She has played an instrumental role in the faith formation of thousands of students throughout her teaching career, challenging them to ask questions and delve deeper into their faith,” said David Mikesell, principal at Lourdes.
“We are grateful to Charlene for the energy, knowledge, love and faith she shared with us. She has touched our lives and will live in our hearts forever,” he added.