“Being a nun was the last thing I thought I’d ever do,” Sister Liz Cole declared. She grew up in a Catholic home, but by the time she chose religious life she already had been teaching psychology courses at Gonzaga University in Spokane for 14 years.
Born September 4, 1948, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Liz moved with two brothers and her parents, following their father’s work, to just outside Philadelphia and then to Portland, Ore. Liz graduated from the University of Portland with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1970 and then earned a graduate degree at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook.
She moved to Spokane to teach undergraduate psychology. “I liked the kids because they were fun, and I liked the one-on-one advising, but towards the end, my heart was not in teaching anymore,” she recalled.
Awakening came in a retreat
Her awakening came in 1987-88, while she was participating in a Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Living (SEEL) retreat at Gonzaga with Providence Sister Clare Lentz as her director.
“I remember walking to school and seeing Sister Renate Hayum and another older woman in the novitiate walking through the old law school parking lot on the way to church,” Sister Liz said. “I thought ‘no way in hell!’ But it was the classic, ‘she doth protest too much’,” Sister Liz explained. “At a Gonzaga faculty retreat the spring before, we had been instructed to pray about ‘anything you have been resisting’. Like a jack-in-the-box, religious life popped up. I addressed the issue in the retreat with Sister Clare and came to realize I wanted a life centered on God and working with the poor.”
There were other things that caught her attention that now seem significant. She wanted to live where she could walk to work at the university; her Dad encouraged her to think about buying a house. “It ticked me off that the houses at 1008 and 1002 East Boone (where the novitiate was at the time) had a Sisters of Providence sign in front of them,” Sister Liz said.
Experienced her novitiate in Edmonton
She entered the Sisters of Providence on August 6, 1989. “The biggest gift for me was that the year I was a canonical novice, the novitiate was in Edmonton (Alberta).” Her novice director, Sister Josie Ramac, took her on a tour of the former Sacred Heart Province, including Seattle, Portland and Yakima, so she got to know the sisters there. And while in Edmonton, she got to know those sisters and had the opportunity to play her cello to accompany Sister Margaret McGovern on the flute.
Seeking a volunteer position during her apostolic novitiate year in Walla Walla, she found a part-time job with migrant education in a nearby high school. “I spoke some Spanish, and again I loved the kids but hated trying to teach them in a group,” Sister Liz said. That further reinforced her resolve not to teach.
Still, when her first vows were followed by a surgery “when everything went wrong,” she had been slated to teach psychology courses at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla. The medical trouble turned out to be “a nightmare experience that was totally providential.” Since the semester already had started, she was assigned as a second teacher in the ESL classroom in the penitentiary’s medium security, which she enjoyed because the teaching was primarily one on one.
Learns derivation of “slammer”
In Walla Walla, Sister Liz enjoyed joining other volunteers to conduct a Communion service. She remembers well one of her first times there, when during the quiet reflection following Communion there was a loud door slam. The inmate sitting next to her whispered, “That’s why they call this place ‘the slammer’.”
In the fall of 1998, Sister Liz took classes at St. Louis University to prepare for entry into formation ministry. She took her cello along, playing in a student string ensemble.
Back in Spokane, she worked in formation with Sister Teresa White from 1999 to 2002 and then worked on her own with Edmonton novices Magaret St. John and Catherine Chan. In 2004, with no canonical novice to work with, Sister Liz returned to Gonzaga University to take a job in university ministry. She also was novice and formation director for a few sisters living at a distance.
Since 2006 she has been intake coordinator for St. Joseph Family Center in Spokane and also is on the board of the Transitions intercommunity ministry. She also is a past board member of Community Frameworks.
“I like this work; it’s been eye-opening,” Sister Liz said. “I hear the stories of people suffering and can connect them to the help they need. This experience of religious life has changed me in ways different than I would have thought.”
In her spare time she reads, browses the Internet, sends and receives email, and enjoys watching Gonzaga basketball on television and even more so, going with friends to the women’s games. Sister Liz is especially grateful for the opportunities she has to connect with friends from her years at Gonzaga.
In addition to her own Jubilee celebrations, Sister Liz will go to Edmonton with Sister Eleanor Goligoski for the Jubilee celebration there in June.