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Sister Ann Dutrow feels ‘at home’ with Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, will profess final vows

Sister Ann Dutrow will profess final vows with the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia on Aug. 6. Dialog file photo

When she graduated from high school in Baltimore, Ann Dutrow joined the School Sisters of Notre Dame and began a long career in education. After nine years, she left the congregation.

“I had a sense of a calling, but it just wasn’t the right fit for me,” Sister Ann said. “The right church, the wrong pew.”

But she found the right fit the second time around. It just took a few decades for that to occur. And on Aug. 6, she will profess final vows with the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia in Aston, Pa., with her biological and Franciscan families on hand.

After leaving the School Sisters of Notre Dame, Sister Ann was a school teacher in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, where she grew up. She retired from teaching 10 years ago, and even then, she didn’t see life in a religious community in her future. She said she didn’t even meet any Franciscans until she was 16 years into her teaching career. Sister Ann became familiar with them at the Catholic High School of Baltimore.

“What I met was so unlike anything else that was happening,” she said in mid-July.

Sister Ann described a group of women who brought great joy to the students and faculty alike. She kept in touch with the community over the years, but it took many years before she applied to be one of them.

The process of reaching final vows involved a year of candidacy, two years in the novitiate, and temporary vows, which she professed three years ago. Some of the Franciscans wondered why she was interested in joining them at her age; it was a question she had asked herself before she took the first step.

“I can understand that very easily,” she said. “It’s not a matter of coming to religious life for security or for care of anything like that.”

Some of the general process of studying for religious life was familiar to her from her days with the School Sisters of Notre Dame, but in terms of spirituality, it was quite different this time, she said. The church was emerging from the Second Vatican Council when she was a young woman.

Religious communities underwent some changes after the council. Some, like dressing like the people they served instead of in habits, were visible. Others involved examining whether communities were maintaining their charism.

“I think there’s been a huge effort in religious communities in the last 30 years or more to really identify with our founders and look at the pure intentions they had and trying to be sure we’re maintaining the charism that’s given to each family,” she said. “If we’re not doing that, what are we doing? I think the Franciscans have made an amazing effort at doing that and being open and honest about themselves and their goals and what service they try to give.

“That also was a very attractive thing for me. Even before I asked to come to the community, it seemed like such a good fit. I felt very at home from the get go.”

Growing up in Baltimore, Sister Ann knew she wanted to be a teacher from an early age.

“I’ve never been as sure of anything. I’d sit my brother down and teach him. I just loved working with people and helping them discover and unfold,” she said.

She spent most of her time in middle and high school, and she spent some time as an adjunct professor at a community college. She enjoyed having students who were parents coming back to school to better themselves.

Since joining the Franciscans, Sister Ann has had a few different jobs. She worked at Neumann University during her novitiate, and she also spent time at St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Chester, Pa., and its school, Drexel Neumann Academy. The city of Chester has long been beset by problems, but the academy is a ray of light.

“To have a school there where the kids show up, they are committed,” she said. “The parents are involved. It’s just an amazing place.”

Sister Ann lived in the Elsmere area of Wilmington after retiring from teaching, working as a substitute teacher at All Saints Catholic School and in parish ministry at Corpus Christi Parish. She is now back in Baltimore, working at the Catholic High School of Baltimore, an all-girls school, as the director of mission. The Franciscans sponsor the school. She hopes to remain there as long as she feels she is being productive.

“I feel an obligation to give back. We all share the same call to a sense.”