“My mother used to say, ‘The problem with you is the world is your oyster,’” said Sister Adele Thibaudeau, OSF, ’67, remarking how her passion for social justice and global causes made it difficult for her to focus on a single project. “And I think in campus ministry I have found a way that I could explore many different things that I love. …And it was absolutely stimulating and fascinating, and I met so many wonderful people.”
For 27 years, Sister Adele’s joyful, hopeful, and peaceful presence made new experiences, global perspectives, and deep introspection possible in the lives of hundreds of students at Stritch. Starting in 1985 teaching summer courses, Sister Adele soon became Stritch’s director of campus ministry. In 2010, her work evolved as she created the University’s Center for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation and served as its director.
And, in June, she chose a new path, leaving the University to serve as the full-time vocation director for the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, a ministry she worked in 40 years ago both for the Sisters and then for the Milwaukee archdiocese as the first woman to work with the diocesan priest director.
“I laugh and say I’m a recycled vocation director,” Sister Adele said. “Even though I regret leaving Stritch, I can’t say I’m moping. I have new energy, and I think that’s a gift and a blessing.
The transition comes with a learning curve, but Sister Adele embraces her responsibilities with characteristic enthusiasm and optimism. She said spreading the word about a Franciscan order is much easier with Pope Francis winning hearts worldwide.
“People are deeply moved by what Pope Francis is doing and we want to get on that bandwagon, if you will,” Sister Adele said. “It’s really our own bandwagon, but to have that kind of media exposure is very helpful."
Sister Adele earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Stritch and her master’s degree in religious studies from Mundelein College in Chicago. She then taught grade school in Minnesota and Milwaukee and high school religion, English and pantomime classes for six years at the Academy of Our Lady in Chicago.
In her years leading campus ministry at Stritch, Sister Adele not only dedicated herself to continuing the University’s ministry to the St. Ben’s Meal Program, established by her predecessor Sister Doris Pehowski, OSF, ’48, but also created a variety of new opportunities for students to encounter the community and discover their faith through service.
Her Stritch legacy includes Habitat for Humanity trips, Global Awareness Week visits from missionaries, annual excursions to the National Catholic Student Conference, Saturday daytrips to hold drug-exposed infants at St. Coletta’s of Illinois, Franciscan Heritage Week activities, and interfaith experiences that carried on the work of former faculty members Sisters Lucille Walsh, OSF, ’40, and Jessine Reiss, OSF. She credits the influence of her parents, the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, and her teachers for her “deep joy in learning, delight in diversity, and all of creation."
Sister Adele’s work to promote service-learning at Stritch proved key in helping faculty members recognize new ways of teaching classroom concepts through meaningful service opportunities. She also assumed a leadership role as the campus community discovered and incorporated the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition, working with faculty to examine their various disciplines through a Franciscan lens.
Sister Adele formed bonds with countless students during her years at Stritch and hopes to continue making those connections with students as a volunteer at the University. Sal Di Stefano, ’98, of Boston names her among a few special influences during his time at Stritch.
“She’s just really inspirational and always has such a smile on her face,” Di Stefano said. “She’s done so much in her life and is a great example of how to be a Franciscan and how to treat other people.”
To keep in touch with Sister Adele, contact her at:
2909 E. Oklahoma Ave. Milwaukee, WI, 53207
See a video interview by Father Toby Collins of Vocation Culture as Sister Adele remembers her call to serve and shares some of her life experiences.
Read Sister Adele's personal reflection about her time at Stritch plus her 1998 autobiographical essay from "Our Stories: A Franciscan Heritage."