By Sister Nancy Surma, OSF
I went to my 50th high school reunion this past September. It hardly seemed possible it was that long since I left the halls of St. Andrew High School, which was located in a working class neighborhood on the west side of Detroit.
I remember clearly the day I graduated—June 6, 1965. The girls wore white caps and gowns, the boys, royal blue. We each held a strange mix of idealism and reality after going through those formative years where we experienced John F. Kennedy’s inspiring presidency, then assassination; the surge of the civil rights movement before the bloody riots in Detroit a few years later; the stability and rigor of a Catholic education in a Polish parish while Vatican II was unfolding across the ocean; and the peace of nuclear families who ate supper together each evening while the Vietnam war was unfolding.
There were 112 of us who graduated that sunny June day. Many went on to college, all became gainfully employed. Nearly everyone except me married. All of us were Catholic, having gone through parochial grade school and high school.
The turnout at the reunion was good—over 80 people there, some of course being spouses. It was affirming to see how many couples had stayed married through all those years. Those who spoke to me of religion seemed to be active Catholics still, but I can imagine those who had “fallen away” or converted to another denomination wouldn’t speak so easily of religion to “Sister.” The majority were retired, having passed the age for Medicare several years back, but there were a few who, like me, were still employed full time and enjoying it.
What hit home for me was that at least 15 of our classmates had died already, and two were in nursing homes in serious health decline. I don’t know if that’s a normal percent of people who died out of the baby boomers born in 1947 or 1948, but it seemed like a lot to me, particularly since many of them I hadn’t heard about (living out of the Detroit area most of my adult life) and two were girls I hung around with a lot in high school.
The mystery of choice and chance came into clearer focus for me that night. How could it be that I was still in relatively good health and active when so many of my classmates were finished with life on this earth? How is it that I was given the gift of a vocation to religious life and the grace to persevere all those years? Why was I supported throughout my life with a loving family, a wonderful religious community, opportunities for growth and ministry I could never have imagined in high school?
I don’t know the answer to those questions. I only know I left the reunion with a grateful heart.