Sister Gill at 90 still enjoys responsibility of looking after people

Sister Miriam Gill, the director of religious education at SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, updates student records at her Huntington home.
Sister Miriam Gill, the director of religious education at SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, updates student records at her Huntington home. Photo by Steve Clark.

Originally published Sept. 19, 2013.

Sister Miriam Gill, the director of religious education at SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, turns 90 on Friday, Sept. 20.

One thing that hasn't changed with time is her role in life.

Case in point: Gill, the oldest of five children, looked after her younger siblings growing up. She enjoyed that responsibility and it's one of the reasons she became a teacher. Today, in her capacity as the church's director of religious education, she's still looking after people, students and teachers alike.

Gill was born in Huntington in 1923. Growing up, she attended SS. Peter and Paul Grade School and Huntington Catholic High School. While there, she developed an admiration for her teachers, who were members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, a worldwide religious institute of Roman Catholic nuns dedicated to education.

That admiration, coupled with the enjoyment she derived from taking care of her younger brothers and sisters, steered her toward a career in education.

"So, I said, ‘Well, I would like to be a teacher,'" she explains. "And since I liked the sisters and the way the School Sisters of Notre Dame taught, I said, ‘Being a School Sister of Notre Dame would be a good thing.'"

In the fall of 1942, that's exactly what Gill set out to become. First, she entered a convent, and upon earning her degree to teach, she became a second grade teacher.
Gill climbed up the education ladder from there, teaching fifth grade in addition to second at her school before pursuing a master's in secondary education administration.

"Then I went to a different school and I taught fifth grade and eighth grade, because if I was getting a master's in secondary ed. administration, I needed to get away from the second grade," she notes.

Gill moved up to high school, where she taught math, and eventually got a chance to put her master's degree to use.

"When they needed someone to be an administrator, then I went from teaching math to an assistant principal and then from there I became a principal," she says.

Those years were spent at schools in Michigan and Wisconsin. Gill was looking for a new job around the same time a family hardship occurred and facilitated her return to Huntington.

"Before I came here, I had been the assistant principal, again, at Oshkosh, WI, and then I was leaving there and I was looking for some place to teach," she explains. "My mother had a minor stroke, and I had been in Michigan and Wisconsin all my life, so I was hoping to get closer to her.

"My superiors gave me permission to look for something in Indiana. The father was looking for a DRE (director of religious education) here. So, I got permission to come to Huntington, stay with my mother and do the DRE job here. And so I've been here since."

Gill has been at SS. Peter and Paul in Huntington for 23 years. Though she gets involved with the students for important events such as first communion and confirmation, she mainly works with the teachers, for whom she has high praise.

"They're volunteers, so they're not in it for the money," she says. "But they love children and they love to teach. It's really a pleasure to work with the teachers here, because they're so dedicated to what they're doing and they love the children and they have a very positive attitude with the children."

She admits that whether or not she plans on retiring is a common question.

"I was in our retirement home last weekend and one of the sisters asked me that and I said, ‘You should ask God that. I don't know,'" she shares. "Because as long as I'm in good health and I'm able to do what I'm doing, there's not a really great need for me to retire. So, I have no idea."

While her enthusiasm for teaching hasn't changed over the years, Gill says certain aspects of the Catholic Church have.

One of those changes has been the attire worn by her and her fellow sisters. When sisters were granted permission to drive, they donned simplified habits that would make driving easier, Gill says. And after the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, which brought about a variety of changes in the Catholic Church, their attire changed again.

"After Vatican II, the sisters were given permission to wear a suit and either wear a veil or not wear a veil, their choice," Gill says. "Sister Loretta lives with me and she does not wear a veil. She prefers not to and I prefer to, so I do."

Gill notes that the length of time one must fast prior to receiving communion has changed, too.

"I think my first communion we fasted from midnight until whatever Mass we went to," she says. "So, when we would come to school and go to 8 o'clock Mass in the morning, if we went to communion, we needed to bring something along to eat for breakfast because we fasted from midnight.

"They changed the fast from midnight to just three hours before whatever Mass you went to and now they have it one hour before the Mass you go to."

When it comes to her longevity, Gill credits the religious sister lifestyle.

"We have a number of sisters at our retirement home, several of them at least that are 100 years old, and there are a number of them in their 90s," she says. "We have a very regular schedule. We get up at a certain time in the morning, have a regular schedule during the day and we retire at a decent hour at night.

"So, we have this schedule that I think helps to keep us healthy. And then we eat regularly and we try
to exercise and take care of our bodies as much as we can. We also don't smoke or drink. I think all of those things make a difference."

Gill says her mother's stroke coinciding with her looking for a new job is one of the major ways God has influenced her life, but says it's far from the only instance.

"He's worked in my life all along," she muses. "When I went from one job to another, I've always been in communities where I've felt very much a part of the community and very much appreciated for what I did.

"It's been a very rewarding and happy life for me."

Complete caption: Sister Miriam Gill, the director of religious education at SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, updates student records at her Huntington home. She has been with the church for more than 20 years and will celebrate her 90th birthday on Friday, Sept. 20. She continues to work full time and says she has no plans to retire.